Fierce Alchemy

A lone plane flies over London, the pilot paid to deliver an unknown payload into the clouds.

Panic hits the streets of south east London as a mysterious illness takes hold, leaving hospitals unable to cope. Police attempt to stem the flow of chaos along the suburban streets, with disastrous consequences.

Unless the authorities can act quickly and decisively to stop the rampant spread of the contagion, the entire country will be put in peril. With the imminent start of the Olympic Games, the government throws every available resource it has at the problem, determined not to succumb to supposed terrorist attacks.

Charlie’s work-a-day existence comes crashing to a halt when he gets embroiled in this urban nightmare. Little does he realise he is caught up in events that will lead to a quantum leap in human development.

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1. The Beginning.

The Complete book is available on Amazon for Kindle

 

There is nothing noble about being superior to some other man.

The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.

Hindu Proverb

 

 


 

 

Chapter 1 Friday 29th June, 2012 – two days previously Delivery

Ever since he first learnt to fly, William had liked these types of mornings, especially here in Kent, his favourite county. Cool, with just a hint of dew, especially heavy in the early shadows of dawn. The airstrip was situated just south west of Maidstone near West Malling, surrounded by trees and was not easily visible except from the air, from where it would only be seen as an open, slightly elongated grassy field. The sky above was crystal clear but large clouds loomed to the west, indicating a probable storm during the day. The Met Office’s forecast the previous evening had predicted occasional rain with thunderstorms and that was most likely what they would get, for once, he reckoned. But for now, as William uncovered the plane he was to fly.

It was a clear, golden morning, birds chirping their early hours song. Spiders’ gossamer threads shimmered wet in the low sun’s light as it spread across the flat landing strip from which the day would start and finish. His plane would be joining the birds in their flight in less than an hour’s time; the thought made his heart race and a shivering sensation of pleasure squeezed his stomach. Flying on his own was his favourite activity, nothing could touch it, not even sex.

Today’s flight was special. William had a task to perform that would make him rich before his time. Perhaps when things calmed down, he would buy himself a plane like this one. Its lines were feline; parked here as it was, it looked like it was already moving fast. It was a sleek, long-nosed, 30 year old Cessna 310R. In spite of its age it looked brand new, as if it had just rolled off the assembly line. It had one significant difference to all others, something that would make it one of a kind, at least in the UK. On its tail were two brackets mounted either side in front of the rudder. Opening the suitcase stored in the boot of his car, the young pilot removed one of the two three-foot long cylinders that had been dropped off at his house. So far no-one from the planned operation had required a face to face meeting. In fact, in spite of the anonymous nature of this job, he did not have any qualms over the deed he had to perform. It would give him enough money to start his life afresh elsewhere, but as they had already made a down payment of fifty per cent of his fee into his Andorra bank account, he decided to trust them. Trust in them was a requirement because this money would enable him to get out of the country, away from his lying, cheating wife of four years. Four years was all it took for her to completely gut him and leave him a husk of the man he once was. The sooner the job was over, the sooner there would be no danger of alimony payments catching up to him, not where he was going.

The cylinder was four inches in diameter, was pointed with a spray nozzle at one end, and smoothly rounded at the other, its perfection only interrupted by a stainless steel female hose fitting. In the middle were two clips that allowed him to quickly snap it onto the brackets on the tail. With one now attached William picked up the second identical cylinder and fitted it to the other side. He then ran the cables and tubes already inside the aircraft through the rubber grommets on both sides of the fuselage out to the cylinders. The parts fitted together perfectly. Standing on the wing’s walkway, he reached into the cockpit, flicked the master switch on and pressed the test button for the system just assembled. Both lights green, it was ready to go. Switching the master switch off once more, the whine of the gyros faded away and silence descended once more.

Putting the empty suitcase and the aircraft cover in the car, he began his pre-flight fuel tests and walk around. This gave him the chance to bond with the airplane prior to flying it; for William it was a ritual of quasi-religious importance. As had been drummed into him as a snot-nosed rookie pilot, or ‘tyro’ as they were known in the Royal Air Force, it was better to be down here wishing he was up there than up there wishing he was down here. Fixing problems before take-off was always the preferred practice.

Once in the cockpit William performed his pre-ignition checks and started the engines. Both fired up quickly, no problems, just as expected. The plane had recently undergone its scheduled maintenance and it certainly felt like it. The two Lycoming engines roared as he prepared the aircraft for the flight, and after a couple of minutes they were warm enough to taxi. Brakes off he eased a little power into the right engine to make steering to the left easier and gently eased the plane to the threshold of the runway.

The grass surface was bumpy and a more than a little slippery with dew, and with care the aircraft was lined up on the imagined centre line. Increasing the throttles as quickly as the slippery surface allowed, the plane began its headlong rush down the short grass strip. At sixty five knots airspeed he added one notch of flap. The extra lift this gave him pushed him into the air almost immediately. How he loved that manoeuvre, the sensation of power almost bestial.

Concentrating on his climb, he raised the flaps at four hundred feet and levelled out at five hundred. Achieving the right airspeed he descended once more to no more than two hundred feet above the ground. Stay under the radar was his instruction. No shit, William thought! Being caught flying into the wrong airspace these days could result in the aircraft being forced to land or even shot down. If he survived it would be followed by arrest, trial and at the very least loss of licence. Not for him, today especially. In this geographic area, the Cessna was shielded from radar by the small range of hills that bisected Kent, as long as he stayed low. The speed of this plane meant he was going to be at his release point in a little over five minutes. At least there was no need for radio communication, no need to ask for airspace clearances. This secrecy reduced his workload, he just needed to concentrate on where he was going and to get the job done.

He overflew the Clacket Lane Services on his approach to Biggin Hill Airfield from the south. Ahead was the hill on which the airfield sat, resplendent in its former RAF glory.

Hugging the terrain, now as low as one hundred feet, the sleek aircraft came in low and fast. Witnesses would later say they thought the plane had scraped the trees on its way past and up the hill. Of course it hadn’t, the pilot was too good for that. William burst over the airfield, silent and peaceful at that hour, and climbed suddenly up into the storm clouds. From that moment all that could be detected from the ground was the uneven throb of the hard working engines as it climbed against the winds aloft.

Inside the cockpit, William counted to five before pulling the lever that started the spray from the cylinders. He had been assured the contents were not harmful to people, just an experimental rain cloud management system. It was common knowledge that clouds could be seeded to produce rain so this explanation made sense to him, the money offered him for this work making the logic of what he was doing all the more acceptable to his way of thinking. They told him that his part in this action would save them lots of development time and time was money, after all.

Spraying done, the plane performed a stall turn, diving once more for the cover of the hills and headed back to the private airstrip.

Reports later said that the radar signature the plane left when it rose high enough to be detected was more like a comet, a sharp cone with a soft, feathery tail. Not at all normal, it disappeared as quickly as it had come. The Hot Zone for one of the biggest changes in human history was just north of Biggin Hill, south east London.

 

Sunday evening 1st July, 2012 The Golfers

To the east of Biggin Hill Airfield are several golf courses. All types of people used these private facilities, including one man, a managing director who was busy working out how to steal his employees’ pension fund without getting caught; he wanted to retire in style. The man liked the irony of his impending crime. His name was Eric Reynolds and although he despised the game and all who played it, Eric played at golf so that he could have private phone conversations out of earshot of all but his trusty personal assistant, Alice. She was a leggy brunette who was employed not only for her exceptional good looks but also for her ability to please him. It was fortunate she could type and file documents as well.

While lining up on the seventh hole for the drive down to the green, his mobile phone rang. With a sigh his hand dipped into his pocket, fished it out and flipped it open. “Yes,” he answered tersely, hating it when his concentration was interrupted. He listened for a minute and then rang off, sighed but said nothing. Resuming his focus on the ball Eric swung for the drive. It was not a good shot. Having sliced it, the ball sailed off into the trees.

“Shit!” he cursed. His face florid with rage, jowls quivering, he flung his golf club down cursing at having made such a basic mistake. His toupee slipped a little at this sudden gesture and with an irritated but practiced motion he adjusted it back to its proper position. Would nothing go right today? He ordered Alice to pick up the club while the not-so-consummate golfer went to the wheeled caddy and started to drag it in the direction of the ball.

“What’s the matter, darling?” Alice asked, making sure she stayed out of the reach of his slapping hand. Her high heels were digging into the green; another reason to despise him for playing this stupid game.

“Nothing, it’s just going to take a little longer than I was told yesterday,” he murmured, paying her little attention, concentrating more on finding the ball. Settling for Winter rules was despicable, it always came over to him as cheating; after all, he had his pride.

“How much longer?” she persisted.

“About a week, now will you help me find the bloody ball?” and quickly softening his tone, “please?”

She scrambled into the undergrowth cursing under her breath and after a while the only evidence that she was there was the sound of her thrashing the bracken with a stick. Eric was also looking hard for the ball. That was when he noticed the shimmering black mass, about head height, clinging to the tree trunk directly in front of him. It was beautiful, he’d seen nothing like it in his life. The blob was black but it writhed as if breathing, the colours glistening off it like an oil spill in a puddle. Its gentle, rhythmic motion lured him closer, fascinated by its exhibition of colours, attractive as a lure to a trout. Small flapping noises were detectable now, slithering, like metal on metal. He reached up to it using his golf club and gently prodded it, the club disappearing deep into its mass. Realising his mistake, his nerves jangled with warning as the low slithering noise that had attracted his attention initially escalated into a more general white noise, the level increasing menacingly.

Eric was mesmerised as the blob smoothly worked its way down the golf club until it reached his hand, whereupon he could feel tiny pinpricks and stinging; it was his gloveless hand. Instinctively trying to pull the club back, the effect was as if he was lifting a fluttering, overgrown lollipop, whereupon it fell onto his face. His screams were muffled by the sheer number of creatures.  Some even entered his mouth and stung his tongue. The pain was intense. His last thought before passing out was of confusion; he’d thought they were only butterflies.

“Eric, love. I found the ball!” Alice called out to him. She had trodden on the ball, digging it into the soft ground. She dug it out, cleaned and placed it in a clear patch that would offer him a decent chance of returning it to the grass in one swing. “Darling? Are you there? I’ve found the ball,” she called more stridently, hoping to attract his attention. Leaving it where it was, she walked back to the grass, desperate to wipe her shoes clean of mud. He wasn’t there. She looked back into the tree line and noticed his yellow and white plaid golfing trousers, another reason why she hated this game, just visible at the edge of a holly bush.

She walked over cautiously, not sure what she was seeing from this distance. Approaching slowly she was able to see more of him. When his face came into view she screamed. It was puffy, red and bloodied; if it hadn’t been for the trousers she would not have recognised him. Floating above him was something black and shimmering. She couldn’t focus on it but the noise it made scared her more than she could cope with; she turned and ran screaming back towards the club house.

 

The Lovers

“Come on,” Gerry panted excitedly with anticipation, pulling Sharon along by the hand, “I know where we can be alone, and I’ve got a blanket this time.”

His amorous advances on a previous attempt at al fresco love-making had ended in disaster because of an ant nest. It had taken him a long time to talk her into a second attempt and as far as she was concerned he was going to have to get it right this time.

They hurried through the thickets, her long, blonde hair occasionally getting caught in the finer branches of bushes as they hurried past. This had better be worth it, she thought, this seemed like a lot of effort but at least he was trying. Their relationship had been going stale of late and they were trying to inject a little romance back into their lives. These days they needed all the help they could get, what with his redundancy and the death of her father, both events coming so close together. It was like the gods were conspiring against them.

“We’re here!” he announced as they entered a small, green leafed clearing. A single beam of evening sunlight lit them, as if their activities were finally being given the seal of approval from the same gods that had conspired against them previously. They were concealed from all directions and she wondered how he’d found the spot in the first place, her old suspicions returning for a fleeting moment.

He let go of her hand and swung the duffle bag from his shoulder onto the ground and untied the draw rope to open it. He pulled out a tartan car blanket as if it was a magic trick and, billowing it in the air, expertly let it drop evenly onto the ground.

“I hope you have checked for ant nests,” she asked, still somewhat uncertain about all of this. The outdoor life to her consisted of sitting in the back garden, sipping a cold glass of white wine on a sunny day. This was something else again. In spite of her misgivings, she smiled with pleasure as, from the same bag, he produced a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses.

“See, I do pay attention to your needs,” he proclaimed, “it’s even chilled.” It was her favourite tipple, an un-oaked, Australian Chardonnay. Undoing the screw-cap, he poured out the wine and handed her a glass. They toasted each other with a clink of crystal and took their first sip. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad, she hoped.

He gently pulled her down onto the rug and put both glasses to the side. He put his hand to her face, and stroked it with a light, warm touch. She closed her eyes and waited for his kiss. He leaned forward and their lips touched. They stayed like that for a moment, until their hands began exploring each other’s bodies. She froze, then pulled away. He looked at her quizzically.

“What’s that noise?” she asked, looking around quickly, apparently startled.

“I didn’t hear anything. Come here,” he said as he tried to pull her face back to recapture the moment but she resisted. Something was wrong.

“I did hear something,” she said, her tone saying that playtime was over.

Sharon continued to look around her until she spotted some movement near the wine glasses. Two butterflies, black with an oily sheen on their wings, had settled on the rims. “Oh, look! How beautiful. Are they lovers too, do you think?”

“I think they love Chardonnay,” he said, breaking the mood of the moment. God but he could be an oaf, she thought, no wonder we’re having problems.

The two insects were joined by a few more, the noise that had alerted her to their presence becoming louder. In that moment she felt the danger and began to get up, pushing his resisting hands away. “I think we should go, now!” she whispered hoarsely.

“Why? They’re only butterflies.” He looked around more closely this time, “well, quite a few butterflies.”

That was the last thing he remembered saying before his vision blacked out and his face became smothered by them. Sharon, too, succumbed to a thick layer of the insects, both suffering repeated bites all over their exposed skin. They lost consciousness as the swarm overwhelmed them. After a few moments, as if on a command, the butterflies took off as one, task completed, reforming as a single swarm once more.

The two lovers remained where they lay, unconscious. Their faces were unrecognisable, having become swollen and blood-smeared, their breathing shallow. Sharon never was and never would be a proponent of al fresco love-making.

 

 

Suburbia

His name is Charlie Rogers. He is in IT sales, not wildly exciting but Charlie likes it and it pays the mortgage. His greyhound, Oskar, for all its size and aggression against small furry things, was afraid of the dark. On sending the dog into the garden, on its own, to do what it had to at night, the brave hound would stand by the kitchen door looking back towards the garden, waiting to return to his warm bed; Oskar would rather cross his legs all night than be outside in the dark. So he, the dog’s servant, would go out with Oskar each evening.

Occupying his time in attendance of the dog at night led to his habit, bordering on obsession, of looking for satellites as they crossed the sky mostly from south east to north west. With the frequency of this task he was getting pretty good at identifying constellations as well.

That night Charlie had a fright. Standing in the garden while the dog was thinking about what next to sniff, there was a rustling in the undergrowth off to one side. Definitely not the usual fox activity they were accustomed to, it sounded more like feathered metallic blades lightly rustling against each other; not a sound heard before but the image conjured was instant. As a fan of horror movies, it was rule number one that you don’t walk towards strange sounds in the dark, but as he turned away and in spite of his imagination-fuelled precaution, something dug into his arm, like a sharp sting. Looking down, what looked like a black butterfly appeared to have settled on his forearm, wings spread, with a tungsten rainbow sheen reflecting from it in the house lights. Its fine legs were clearly visible and even in the low light he could see a needle-like projection from its head which appeared to be penetrating the skin of his forearm. In revulsion he flicked at it quickly, it flew off and was immediately gone from sight. All that was left was a small pin head of blood covering the puncture mark. Rubbing his arm he went inside again calling his dog to do the same. Not breaking previous habits and sensing his owner’s urgency, Oskar didn’t loiter either.

Charlie never shared his experiences when outside at night with his wife; if that mistake was made she would just start humming the theme tune to ‘The X Files’ or the ‘Twilight Zone’, so he’d given up on that. Same with this encounter; there was no evidence of a bite or sting so even he had soon forgotten it. That night he slept like the dead.

 

Monday 2nd July, 2012 The Last Normal Day

Next morning Charlie woke feeling strangely invigorated and was soon at his home office desk working. Waking early on Mondays was his normal routine and he would quickly get to work planning the week ahead. As he performed this process he felt in control, something he craved in his life although rarely achieved for more than a moment at a time. Meanwhile his wife slept on and the dog grumbled his satisfaction as he stretched while lying at the top of the stairs.

His sedentary work, and his long, irregular hours were his excuse for the spare tyre developing around his waist. Love handles he called them, in spite of the fact that he hated them. At least there was still a full head of chestnut brown hair to be proud of, more than he could say about most of his colleagues. Working from home, the commute was just about right. While nursing his one and only cup of coffee of the day he started the computer and the warmly familiar scene unfolded once more. He felt great today; strangely he appeared also to have lost a couple of pounds in weight. That in itself was a feat as the pursuit of weight loss had always been his biggest failure in life. He kept it to himself in case he was wrong.

 

10:00, same day Porton Down, Department for Emergency Tactical Analysis and Response

Long-time veteran of the centre and now in charge of Emergency Coordination, Bill Harley was a placid man. His many years’ experience taught him that as events went, there would always be something stranger than the last. This one caught him off guard, the call had to be a joke. He mentally checked the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1st. If the call had not come from his old friend and associate Metropolitan Police Commissioner Edward Barnes-Smythe he wouldn’t have believed it, whatever the date. People were being mugged by butterfly swarms, a ludicrous notion. The only evidence to be found was a good deal of blood on their faces, small but quickly fading bite marks and thereafter the individual would remain catatonic for three to four hours. Hospital reports said that when the victim regained normal function there was usually some disorientation but they soon recovered, certainly enough to be released to go home after a short time of further observation. Other than that they appeared none the worse for their experience.

The attacks centred on south east London and appeared to be gradually spreading towards the City, probably as a result of the commuting population; after all it was a working day for most. At this time Edward had only called him out of courtesy and administrative notification and didn’t think it needed investigation. But then nor was he a scientist.

Bill called Erica into the room to brief her on his recent phone conversation. “I remember back in 2009 when there were ladybird swarms in Somerset and people complained they were being bitten, but that was all about lack of water and the drought. All the little buggers wanted was a little moisture and sustenance, but,” he sighed, “I’ve never come across this before.” Bill frowned as he considered the situation.

“Swarming by butterflies is more common than you’d think, Bill,” responded Erica Dawson, his scientific coordinator. Erica had a graduate degree in Zoology and post-grad qualifications in both entomology and behavioural sciences. It appeared to Bill that there was nothing she didn’t know or a solution she could not extrapolate from evidence presented. She was petite, blonde and had a vulnerable quality that brought out his protective nature. Not that she was vulnerable, anything but, in fact. He was in love with her; god he loved a smart woman, best aphrodisiac in the world. Shame she didn’t reciprocate his feelings, she was always on another plain, never appearing to notice him as more than a work colleague. Science and the pursuit of knowledge was her life.

“The problem I have is that butterflies can’t draw blood. In fact they don’t have the jaw apparatus to bite or skewer. They have a proboscis, or should have.” She continued, “this may mean we aren’t dealing with butterflies. Has anyone seen this or caught any for us to look at?”

“Not that I’ve been told, but this is a new phenomenon and only appears to have been reported today,” he had his cynical face on. “I’m doubtful it’s a butterfly or moth, this just isn’t possible. I do, however, think it needs following up. Although it probably isn’t an ‘attack’ as has been reported, it could be a health hazard,” he finished with a smile. “Will you go up to London for me? You can report to Plumstead Police Station, it’s a primary station and their Intelligence unit is top rate. They’ll be able to assist you with your investigation.”

“Actually that works for me, Bill. While I’m there I can investigate a couple of sightings reported in the same area of an unidentified aeroplane flying erratically and illegally through restricted airspace. Apparently it gave a strange radar return the one time they succeeded in recording its flight, directly overhead Biggin Hill Airfield. Biggin’s an old WWII fighter station that wants to be London’s third airport. It was probably flying low to avoid being spotted and only popped up on their screens for just a moment.” Erica smiled in anticipation, she had her private pilot’s licence and loved aircraft; any excuse to visit such an historic site.

“Surely that’s a job for the CAA investigators?” he pushed back.

“Two birds with one stone,” she retorted, completely unfazed. “It also depends upon what he was doing in the area.”

Erica knew he fancied her and was quite prepared to use that knowledge to get what she wanted. He was as soft as putty in her hands. She did like him too but the thought of a workplace relationship was not one she would have considered, especially as he was also her boss. She loved her job too much. Perhaps if their work relationship changed…

“All right then, just remember to get receipts from your travel, meals and other incidentals. The accounts department is playing hardball these days and I can’t sign off without receipts and details.” Bill sighed as he returned to his desk to complete the day’s administration. Where had all the fun gone from his job?

Erica walked with a light step towards the exit, whistling softly with pleasure and anticipation. Bill knew she loved being out in the field investigating; anything to be away from a desk. The next day or two would be fun for her, or so he thought.

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