( I don't normally do fluff. I hate fluff. So does Straker now.)

'Go away Colonel. You can see I'm busy.'

Alec Freeman let the large box rest on the edge of the desk. 'Just for tonight. I borrowed it from FX for the party at Janice's and I'm going to Moonbase in a couple of hours. No time to take it home. I'll shift it as soon as I get back tomorrow.'

Straker sighed. 'Very well, but put it over there.' He waved a hand and carried on working as Freeman hauled the heavy carton up again and carried it to the other corner of the room. It slid from his hands before he could lower it the last few inches and there was a soft thud and the sound of something cracking.

'Heavy?' Straker had not looked up.

'You could say, but nothing breakable.' Freeman pushed the package further into the corner, well out of the way of chairs and legs and inquisitive commanders. 'I'll leave it here. Thanks Ed.'

'Uh huh.' Another page turned, a note made in the margins, a hand stretching out for his calculator as Alec left, unnoticed.

Coffee and a slice of real Stollen an hour later- just one slice though it was tempting to have more - a quick tour of the control room and then he went back to submerse himself in the end of month report. A couple of days to go before it had to be on Henderson's desk. But he was on the home stretch now, the end in sight and he put the pen down for a moment, enjoying the prospect of an early night and a couple of days off in the lull between Christmas and New Year. The box in the corner caught his eye again and he frowned. A diversion. Something out of place in his neat world. His curiosity itched to open it, but he resisted the temptation; work was calling as usual, though sometimes he wished it had a slightly more seductive voice.

His priority now was a brief walk to stretch his legs and relieve the boredom. He flicked the switch, the doors slid open - and then it happened: a crackle from somewhere in the room, the faintest scent of smoke, a flash …

It was blind instinct more than training that made him throw himself down behind his desk with its bomb-proof glass, curling up in an attempt to reduce his surface area. The explosion, a micro-second afterwards, was not severe enough to rupture eardrums or damage limbs but even so the percussive blast stunned him for several seconds. He lay still, his hearing deadened, the distant sounds of voices and alarms muted behind the thick buzzing in his head, and waited for the first indication of injuries; shards of metal or glass in his flesh, burns and broken bones.

Nothing. And he could move his toes and fingers, arms, legs. What the hell happened? He opened his eyes, expecting to see the floor covered with smouldering scraps of paper, the warped remains of chairs, shattered glass and ceiling tiles wrenched from their frames.

No. He could see nothing but a blur of white, terror flooding through him for a moment before the outline of the desk emerged and he saw his own hand in front of him. Not blind then. The room was white. A cloud of whiteness, filling the air, swirling round him. He was aware of something landing on his lips and eyelids, cheeks and throat. Tickling his skin with the lightest of touches. He reached on hand up to the edge of the desk gripping it with all his strength and hauling himself up to stand on shaking legs, trembling.