The Moon Stealers and the Quest for the Silver Bough

The Yorkshire town of Parsley Bottom has a problem…

Peter Crisp, a boy with an unusual gift of being able to see things that others cannot, goes missing after spending the night in a graveyard. Two of Peter's school friends, join forces with a Knight of King Arthur to attempt to find him but come across some mysterious engravings which propel them on an adventure beyond their imagination.

Meanwhile MI6 operative Steven Knight is sent from London to investigate a meteor landing site, but Steven is advised by his own boss not to trust the puppeteers that hold the strings to his investigation. Within the core of the meteor is an alien bacteria that evolves at an alarming rate that not only puts Steven's life at risk, but the entire human race.

By unravelling ancient codes and riddles the children journey within the bowels of Edinburgh Castle as they attempt to find the key to Peter’s disappearance. The children not only need to save Peter, they need to save the world while they’re at

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25. A Shocking Revelation

The knocking on Steven’s door began again, this time slightly more urgently. He stood from the desk, cautiously opened the door and looked into the face of Georgia who gave him a kind, but nervous smile. Steven quickly realised that she was not alone as the tall figure of Coldred stepped out from the behind her and pushed open the door to enter the room. He was closely followed by Seward, both of them dressed in dark suits like they had just come back from a funeral.

Georgia lay a gentle hand on Steven’s arm as she entered the room and sat herself on the edge of the bed.

Steven wouldn’t expect the two men to come all the way from London to Parsley Bottom if it wasn’t for a very important reason so he decided to be patient and wait and see what they said. By the time Steven closed the door Seward, who appeared to look quite a bit older than he had inside MI6, had already sat himself down at the desk and was looking at the sketch of the river map that Steven had drawn earlier in the day. Coldred was standing to the side of the window looking out to the green in front of the pub.

‘What have you have found out so far?’, demanded Seward who obviously didn’t even have time to say hello and seemed to be in a very bad mood.

‘Well, I spoke to Mr McRae, the gentleman who found the original meteorite, and have since been carefully searching the land around his watermill for more meteorites. So far I have found a further two, all of which appear to be intact,’ Steven decided it would probably be best not to mention the box of meteorites that had been stolen from the car to these two.

‘Where are they?’, interrupted Coldred.

Steven opened the wardrobe door, reached inside a bag and passed the two blackened meteorites to Seward.

‘We took further water samples from the river and I also have a draft report from the Pathologist about the arm that we found,’ he placed the piece of paper that Sergeant Allen had given to him that morning on the desk in front of Seward before continuing. ‘The report describes the muscles and skin as being “in a state of early decomposition” which sounds similar to the description of the muscle changes in the cow that went to Newton Rise Abattoir, I’m sure you would agree that it would be a good idea for the Pathologist’s samples from the arm to be tested for the alien bacteria. I’ve also mapped out the path of the river. If the bacteria is transporting itself through the water, the extent of the contamination could become quite considerable.’ Steven purposely hadn’t talked about the strange creature Mr McRae had brought to them this morning, hoping that they would tell him what they had found out. There was silence in the room. Steven wondered which of them would talk first, finally it was Seward:

‘We have some very dark times ahead of us, Mr Knight, very dark indeed,’ Steven wondered if the dark rings under Seward’s eyes had anything to do with what he was about to hear. ‘We are faced with a danger on a scale this planet has never seen before and unless we take action, we will never have the opportunity to see again. Our very existence as a race faces a much greater risk than we have ever encountered from any natural or manmade disaster in our entire history. How we act now will define the future of the human race as well as the world we live in for generations to come.’ Seward’s words hung in the air. Steven sat down next to Georgia on the edge of the bed. Suddenly the mood was very sombre.

They all looked at Seward, waiting for him to explain what he was talking about.

‘The bacteria we found inside the meteorite is the same as that found in the river water as well as that found in the muscles of the cow. We heard yesterday that the man who worked at the Abattoir has also now died, as have his wife and a daughter. A third member of his family, the eldest daughter, is critically ill in an isolation booth in hospital. The Abattoir has now been locked down, all employees are being tested for the bacteria and so far 87% of them have tested positive and are now in a secure military wing at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham. I can also tell you that the arm you found in the river does indeed contain traces of the alien bacteria.’

‘How are the workers from the Abattoir being treated if the bacteria is new to this planet?’, asked Steven.

Everyone turned away from Seward towards Coldred as he spoke to them all, even though he continued to look out of the window. ‘As the bacteria shows similarities to the Streptococcus bacteria or “flesh eating bacteria” that we already have on Earth, they are being treated in the same way with high doses of antibiotics as well as Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy,’ answered Coldred.

‘What’s Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?’, asked Georgia.

‘It’s like a glass chamber that you lie down in. The Oxygen level is increased inside the chamber to control the infection and encourage healing.’

‘Will they die?’, asked Steven.

‘Some will,’ Coldred casually replied, ‘some may not. We don’t know yet. We are working on a vaccine that can make you immune to the bacteria, but until then we need you both to take a course of antibiotics just in case you’ve come into direct contact with the bacteria,’ added Seward. ‘Some of the vaccines we have already tried have been successful in preventing the disease in the laboratory and all major UK drugs companies have now been ordered by The British Government to produce it as a matter of great priority.’

Steven was amazed at how much speed could be achieved when it was really necessary.

‘Start taking these tonight,’ instructed Coldred who threw a small box of tablets over to Steven and Georgia.

‘But what about all the other people who may have come into contact with it? Some have had more contact than us: Mr McRae, Sergeant Allen, all the policemen who had contact with the arm in the river. Anyone could be carrying the bacteria, what about them?’

‘The exposure of the alien bacteria to the wider public has become a greater risk than we first thought,’ said Seward. ‘Tomorrow morning a press release from the Ministry of Health will be reported on all news channels. In it there will be a statement about a new strain of Flu that has already caused illness across Britain and for the first time ever, everyone will be required by law to take the antibiotics until the vaccine can be found.’

‘You mean you’re going to lie!’ shouted Georgia to the surprise of everyone. ‘Shouldn’t people know exactly what is happening? What about those people that decide not to go to the doctor and take the antibiotics?’

‘They will probably die,’ Coldred said without feeling.

‘Miss Brown, we are faced with a very dangerous problem and need to act immediately so that we can save as many people as possible and protect the future of the human race,’ said Seward gently. ‘If the public knew the truth, there would be mass panic, resulting in more death. We need to be able to provide an orderly programme of protection. It’s the only way we can make sure that as many people are vaccinated against the bacteria as possible.’

‘Believe me,’ Coldred interrupted Seward, ‘the bacteria is the least of mankind’s worry. There is a much greater threat to come out of the meteorite than the bacteria, one we don’t know how to protect ourselves from. Even if every one in the country was vaccinated, we may still not be able to stop them from dying.’

Coldred moved away from the window and stood in the centre of the room almost like an actor moving across the stage to stand in his spotlight. He paused for drama, making sure that all eyes were on him and he had everyone’s attention, before continuing his story.

‘The thing that Miss Brown brought to London could be described as an animal,’ he began, ‘but certainly not one that exists on this planet. Do you remember what I told you about how quickly the bacteria was changing and how we constantly have to re-label it as the molecular structure changes?’

Steven nodded, thinking back to the meeting below MI6.

‘After enough growing and feeding, that creature is a later version of the bacteria, but there’s no way of knowing how it will change from here on.’

‘But that’s impossible isn’t it?’, added Steven in an amazed voice. ‘How can something grow and change in such a short space of time?’, he asked.

‘This is something I’ve been thinking about too. Their fast growth could be caused by the difference in air pressure or gravity compared to that on their own planet. All planets have a gravitational force that sticks things to the ground, but on some planets that gravity is greater, making things heavier. If the gravitational pull on the alien bacteria’s planet is different to our own, their growth rate could also be very different. For example, one of our years, could be equivalent to 100 of their years.’

Coldred pulled a thin portable computer from his case and pressed a button on the side. The screen flashed awake and after he pressed certain areas of the touch screen, a series of pictures of small shapes dividing and growing began.

‘This is a picture of a single particle of the alien bacteria inside a container. The time between each picture is only 37 minutes, but look how quickly the contents of the container changes. This picture,’ he clicked onto another, ‘was taken after just 11 hours. You can see from the cracks beginning to show in the sides of the plastic container that the volume of bacteria has increased so much that it is putting it under a huge amount of pressure.’

Steven and Georgia looked closely at the picture that was now on the screen. Inside the clear plastic container, a dark multicoloured mass similar to a fungus had grown and was now causing the plastic to crack and shatter like thin ice over a pond.

‘When we received the animal this morning, we took all precautions,’ Coldred continued. ‘Dissection of the creature was performed using the latest electronic laser cutting devices with robotic surgeons that were controlled from a separate room. Although the creature was at a far more advanced stage of growth than the bacteria we have grown in the laboratory, this shows all the signs that it was an infant creature.’

‘You mean this was an alien child?’

‘Yes. The creature was only two foot three inches tall and had no recognisable legs but it did have the shortened limb buds ready to develop into arms and legs. There was also the early development of a Patagium, similar to what bats need to fly.’

‘What’s a Patagium?’, asked Georgia.

‘It’s the thin skin that stretches across the arm and fingers of a bat’s wing. Without it they wouldn’t be able to fly,’ replied Coldred.

‘So that alien creature we looked at this morning could actually fly?’, Steven interrupted.

‘Not yet. But presuming an adult developed in the same way, it would seem likely that this creature could fly. At the rate they grow, it would only take around three days for the infant to become a fully grown, flying adult.’

‘This is incredible,’ said Georgia. On the screen of the computer, there were now some short films of sections of the creature being dissected.

‘Unfortunately, there is much more to this creature than first appears. It is actually a deadly chemical animal that is armed to kill. We found traces of several chemicals that could be excreted from under its skin. The first is a powerful Neurotoxic drug which would create a numb feeling in its victim, as well as muscle paralysis so that it became unable to escape or fight back. The second chemical is Nitric Acid and is used in a similar way to the acid inside your stomach, designed to dissolve and digest its food.’

There was silence in the room, Steven and Georgia couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but they could see on the computer screen the creature they had unwrapped this morning on the grass outside the pub being examined by robotic probes.

‘As well as having an impressive set of weapons, this creature is also developing some defences. Initially the bacteria in the laboratory showed signs of being sensitive to sunlight, but this variation has a thicker coating of cells on its back forming a hood-like cover over it’s head area. These cells form an interlocking series of armoured tiles like those on a Woodlouse or Armadillo, still allowing flexible movement but with some protection.’

‘How do they breathe?’, asked Steven.

‘They have a series of small openings around the body that lead into a network of air tubes similar to that of a Cockroach. They appear to filter Nitrogen from the air.’

‘But if they don’t breathe oxygen how can they survive? The air is made of Oxygen isn’t it?’, Georgia asked.

‘You’re right, there is oxygen in the air but only about 21%. 78% of the air is actually Nitrogen. Although we breathe Oxygen to survive not everything does. Plants, for example, actually need the carbon dioxide from the air to survive. There are also 23 strains of bacteria on this planet that live in certain soil types that actually breathe Nitrogen; others use Methane from the atmosphere.’

Steven thought back to the morning when he had lifted some of that blackened skin up and seen what he thought was an eye.

‘Can they see?’, he asked.

‘Yes, but they only have one eye. The actual eye is not very good when you compare it with ours. We have a clear lens so that we can see effectively; however, theirs is rather cloudy. This may protect their vision from the sunlight. They are able to adapt to their environment incredibly well. We have no way of knowing how these creatures will change, but we can only assume that they will change according to the conditions they are growing in.’

‘This is unbelievable,’ said Steven. ‘It’s like watching evolution at fast speed. Charles Darwin would be amazed.’

‘What do these creatures eat to survive?’, Georgia asked cautiously.

‘Because of the rate of growth these creatures need a diet with plenty of protein in as well as other nutrients and the easiest way to consume large quantities of protein is by eating meat. Consuming animals such as cows and sheep will certainly supply them with proteins, but there’s a bigger source of protein on this planet made up of 7 billion animals.’

‘What animal’s that?’ Georgia asked.

‘It’s us. Humans.’

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