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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3. The Hospital.

Chapter 3 1900, Monday 2nd July, 2012 Charlie Rogers’s house.

“Ellie! Can you come upstairs please?” Charlie Rogers stood on the scales on the floor in the back bedroom and had a perplexed and frightened look on his face. He had lost another four pounds in weight.

Ellie walked up behind him, “what’s the matter, love?” Walking over to where Charlie was standing she looked down at the scales and gasped. “That’s great. You’ve definitely lost some weight!” Putting her arms around him and squeezing, she purred, “I can even feel your muscles more clearly.”

“I’d like to think it’s great but I’ve lost SIX pounds since yesterday!” The stress in his voice was evident. “Nothing feels wrong, I feel more alive. Yep, that’s how I’d describe it. More alive.”

“Okay,” Ellie’s brow was furrowed, serious once more, “six pounds is a lot but let’s not panic. You say you feel better. Start with the obvious, have you had to use the toilet more than usual?”

“No, I’d say there’s been no physical change other than weight loss. Perhaps the scales are wrong. You stand on them and see what they say.”

Ellie stepped on and read the scale. “Within a pound of what I expected. So it’s not them. Let’s not panic, if you want we could go to A&E and see if they can find anything. I think six pounds is too much to lose to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude.”

“God, that’s a good old drive to the Queen Elizabeth. And then there’s the parking, you know how bad it is there, everyone and their visitors trying for half as many spaces as are needed! Yuk. Let’s get a taxi.”

“Okay, you take the front door key around to Reggie next door, he can keep an eye on Oskar while we’re out. We shouldn’t be long but you never know. I’ll call for a taxi.” She hugged him reassuringly and went back downstairs to the phone.

Ten minutes later a cab pulled up outside the house and moments later they were on their way. Traffic was light considering the hour and they pulled up outside the hospital entrance in no time at all.

“I hate hospitals. I always walk out feeling worse than when I went in!” Charlie complained.

“Stop grizzling, better to be safe than sorry,” she said, getting out of the taxi. Probably Man Flu, she thought, he’s certainly complaining enough. “Keep the change,” she said and handed the driver a tenner. He acknowledged her generosity and drove away.

They walked into chaos. It seemed that everyone in the place was trying to talk at once. A large crowd had gathered around the reception desk, behind which a desperate looking young woman was trying to keep order. “You’ll have to wait like everyone else! I’ve got your name and a nurse will see you soon. Go and take a seat.” The disgruntled patient, if ever a misnomer was ever more appropriate, just glared and leaned over the counter menacingly. If he smelled as bad as he looked, then the receptionist wasn’t being paid enough, Charlie thought, watching the altercation. The man reached over to grab her coat.

“Oi! Leave her alone!” Charlie shouted. Ellie cringed and tried to pull Charlie away from the encounter.

“Don’t!” she whispered with urgency.

“Who the fuck do you fink you are? Piss off!” The patient rounded on Charlie and moved towards him menacingly, balling his hands into fists. “Wocha gunna do about it?”

As the man swung his fist wildly hoping to land a punch, Charlie grabbed it with casual ease and twisted it, driving him down and to Charlie’s right, allowing him to draw the arm up behind the patient’s back. Twisting it a bit further the man fell to the floor and lay there still shouting the odds and swearing gibberish. Security rushed over and relieved him, securing the violent man, allowing Charlie to stand up. The security guards marched the man towards the exit.  He had started to drool and his front was covered in blood.

“What in God’s name do you think you were doing? You could have been really hurt!” Ellie looked at Charlie, clearly appalled, but there was also an element of surprise in her voice. “How did you do that?”

“I don’t know, it just felt right. Let’s get out of here, now, before I’m accused of assault.”

“No, we’re here now, let’s get you seen.”

The receptionist attracted Charlie’s attention, smiled and thanked him for his intervention. She asked how she could help. “I appear to be losing weight quickly,” he replied. Realising how banal that sounded, he grinned sheepishly.

“I mean I have lost six pounds in less than a day.” Yep, considering almost everyone in the A&E were at least some two or three stone overweight, it still sounded like a non-problem compared to the obvious pandemonium around them.

“Okay, let me get someone to look at you. Come with me.” She left the reception and led him and Ellie to a cubicle and drew the curtain closed. “Would you fill out this form while you are waiting, please?” She handed him the clipboard and pen she was carrying.

“Sure, and thanks for this,” he said indicating the cubicle.

“No problem, I just wish security was more on the ball, all that Elf ‘n’ Safety rubbish. They’re afraid of being sacked for doing their job these days,” she smiled conspiratorially. “I hid you in here so that no-one out there would get the chance to complain about what you did. I’ll come back in a minute for the form.” She slipped out of the cubicle and was gone.

“You ought to do that more often,” Ellie said, whispering in his ear, still sounding a little annoyed, “we could jump queues at museums and restaurants.”

“Not sure if it would work as well, I think mugging patrons is frowned upon,” Charlie responded, ignoring her sarcasm. “I won’t do it again. I think I am just fed up with people like that making life hell for decent people.” Charlie thought again, “actually it felt really good. For a moment there I felt completely in control. It’s a while since I’ve felt that great.”

“Well, at least it’s got us away from all the noise out there,” Ellie said, glad to be away from the chaos that was A&E.

A female doctor, looking frazzled and ready to give up, peered around the curtain. “Hi, my name is Doctor James. Let’s see what we can do for you.” She entered and took the form Charlie had filled in. “Losing weight, six pounds in less than one day? The first question, are you regular?”

“As clockwork and nothing has changed in the last day. If anything I feel really good. I wasn’t sure if I should even come in; don’t want to appear to be a time waster.”

“Well, better to be sure. I think we’ll take a sample of your blood as a first step, see if your blood chemistry is right.” While talking she checked his eyes, gums, temperature and was currently working to read his blood pressure. “We can determine other possibilities once we have done that. A nurse will be in shortly to take some blood. Everything I have checked appears fine, in fact your blood pressure is excellent. Before I go, would you stand on the scales for me please?”

Charlie stood on them and gasped. “I seem to be down another couple of pounds since we left home!”

“Don’t worry, that could just be the difference between your scales and ours.” She wrote down the weight.

“Don’t forget that’s with my clothes on and food in me,” Charlie added quickly with a sheepish smile.

“Don’t worry. No-one’s here to judge,” she replied, somewhat humourlessly. She asked a few other questions not covered by the form and left the cubicle.

“Great, now I’m going to have an empty arm to take home with me. And I have to wait for a test to come back. That could be ages and I can hear a glass of red calling me.”

“Me, too. The upside is your blood pressure. It was a little high and getting higher. Now, even with all this, it’s fine?” Ellie smiled, wanting to be happy at this news, but was concerned that more was to come that wouldn’t be so positive. Her prevailing fear was the big C. Weight loss, dramatic weight loss was an indicator of that, wasn’t it?

A petite Asian nurse entered the cubicle, and with halting English said she was to take a blood sample. With deft and experienced movements she drew the blood after which, with a tight smile, she turned and left the cubicle.

“Well at least that bit was painless.” Charlie said, frowning.

They waited.

 

 

21:10 Same evening, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Isolation Unit

Erica Dawson was perplexed. All four patients, as they now also had the one from Dartford, were exhibiting the same violent behaviour, expectoration and the desire or need to bite. All this from a butterfly swarm? The victims were each in separate rooms and secured to a bed for their own safety and that of the nursing staff. With the exception of bloody drool all over their white linen sheets, their situation resembled more an asylum than a hospital. The sclera were by name alone the whites of their eyes. Now they were an angry red as blood pooled from broken capillaries, blood even mixing with their irides to make a grisly, sinister sight. Their hands were clenching and unclenching in what appeared to be an unstoppable rage, their legs uncontrollably twitching and rigid in spasm. Their skin had become a sickly yellow, possibly indicating a liver complaint, although, considering the undocumented state of their symptoms, no-one could tell at this stage.

At least she now had a sample of their blood, which would certainly tell them more. It was as strange as George Spartan had previously observed. It appeared to shimmer when placed on a surface. Taking a glass pipette, she dipped it in the first sample and placed a drop on a microscope slide. After placing a fine glass cover on it, she slid it onto the microscope stage. Increasing magnification until she could see individual cells, her mouth dropped open with shock.

She did not see what she expected, the usual Brownian motion of random movement of cells in a liquid medium; indeed, some of the cells appeared to be actively swimming. Their movement made them appear as if they were hunting or searching for something. Then, before her eyes, she saw one attach to a red corpuscle, clinging to it using fine tentacles and inject something into the healthy cell. It would then disengage and swim on to the next cell. The cells, having received this treatment, darkened slightly and then appeared to elongate. Then nothing. “Hmm, I’ll need to get this under an electron microscope to look more closely,” she said, whispering to herself. While she was contemplating what she might have been observing, the elongated cell split down one side and out popped a new cell similar in appearance to the swimming, hunter cell. The red host cell then closed up and appeared to be unaffected by the encounter. It was replicating using the red cells! Without damaging the host cell? Well, I’ll be damned, she thought, I’ve never seen that before!

The big task was to discover what this hunter cell was. Logically it must have come from the butterfly but that really didn’t help. How many replications had occurred since the original infection had taken place? What did the original contagion look like? It appeared to replicate like a virus but the host cell survived and that was very unusual. It behaved more symbiotically than a parasite or virus, both of which usually caused destruction of their host’s cells and ultimately the host body.

She picked up the phone at her work station and placed a call to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, the HTD, just off Tottenham Court Road, London. “May I speak to Professor Bird please? It’s Doctor Erica Dawson.” She heard a click and after a small pause a familiar, slightly high-pitched voice came on the line.

“Hi Erica, it’s Birdy!” He was American, with a Southern drawl which made him sound relaxed about everything, as if always talking to an old friend. He was a genius, receiving his first University Chair at Harvard for Biochemistry at twenty two years of age; since then he had developed world-renowned expertise in microbiology and genome mapping. At the University of London, he was not only working with the HTD, but was also responsible for research into the integration of nanite technology with biology, called bio-nanites.

“Hi Birdy. You won’t believe what I have here under my microscope! I really need your help.”

“And good evening to you too, young lady. And yes, you are lucky you caught me, I was just about out the door when you called. Have you looked at your watch lately?” In spite of his relaxed attitude, Birdy never took prisoners when he was tired.

“Oh, sorry about that Birdy. Good evening to you too. I am a bit rushed here,” offering an excuse while trying to slow her pace of delivery down to his speed, “I really need your help on something I am working on. Have you heard about the street violence happening here in the south east?” Despite his brilliance, he was a typical egghead, rarely looking outside the window away from the centre of his life.

“Yes I have, I also heard something to do with butterflies but that can’t possibly be right!”

“I know. Sounds wacky doesn’t it? Problem is there may well be a link. Can I send you a sample by bike courier? I need your scanning electron microscope as a matter of urgency. I have a sample packed ready to go.”

“Sure, as long as it doesn’t take too long. I did promise Margaret I would be home while she was still awake.” Margaret was his long-suffering wife of many years. Fortunately she had her own career to occupy her and often she got home later than him. Hence the marriage survived on a series of mutual absences; clearly the exception that proves the rule.

“Okay, let me get this off to you and I’ll call you back. I need to go over some other stuff with you as well. Have a seat handy when you see this!”

Erica hung up and put the sample container in the labelled courier pouch.

“Erica!” A call came from the other side of the lab, “you should see this. I suspect it may be related to what you are doing.” It was Alan, a post-grad working on blood samples from the hospital A&E.

“How do you know?” She hadn’t spoken to anyone other than Birdy at this point.

“Look behind you, there’s an LCD screen linked to your ‘scope! I just watched what you saw.” He came over with another slide. “Here, look at this,” he said replacing her slide with his.

This time Erica looked at the LCD screen. Damn, its contents were almost identical to hers, except the hunting cell was a deeper yellow in hue than her sample.

“Where did you get this?” she asked.

“There is someone in the A&E that has just given blood. While the other work-ups were being done, I put some on a slide to look for anomalies. I was told that this was a strange case and it doesn’t disappoint. Can we do a joint article for the Lancet?” His hopes were high, what he had just seen was something quite unique, he just didn’t realise quite the impact it would have on the world. His paper, if ever written, would cast his name amongst the greats, or so he hoped.

“One day at a time, Alan. Haven’t you noticed there is something big going on out there? Give me a sample of the blood you have and I will send it to Birdy.” Realising her assumption, she continued, “sorry, Birdy’s a professorial colleague of mine at the HTD and is waiting for my sample. As yours is similar we can kill two birds with one stone. I think he needs to see them both.” Reluctantly he agreed to hand the sample over, realising that they would have to share the glory of this find.

Alan handed Erica the labelled phial which she also placed in the pouch. She then rushed out of the lab and back to the main reception. “I believe I need to come to you if I want an urgent courier to the HTD?” she asked the sleepy looking receptionist.

“I can call one now for you. Have you authorisation?” The receptionist was looking more alert now, anticipating the task.

Erica unclipped and handed her the hospital badge announcing her DETAR credentials. The receptionist nodded and, after handing the ID back, hit a fast dial key on her console, reading the destination address on the package. A short conversation later and she turned to Erica, “a motorbike courier will be here in five minutes. If you leave it with me I will give it to him when he arrives. Deliveries to the HTD will take about 20 minutes.”

“Great, thanks Nikki,” Erica had read the receptionist’s name tag. “If there is a problem, please let me know immediately. Here’s my card with my mobile phone number.”

Erica rushed off, following the signs to the A&E unit. It was further than she expected, that was the problem with these new major hospitals. She hoped she wouldn’t regret not dropping a trail of breadcrumbs when she tried to find her way back to the lab.

At last she entered the A&E and went straight to its reception. It was chaotic in here, which she imagined was pretty unusual for a Monday night. Flashing her ID card she gained the attention of the receptionist.

“I am looking for a patient named Charlie Rogers. Can you direct me to him?” she asked.

“I can do better than that, I’ll take you to him, give me a mo’.”

“The personal service even in this chaos?” Erica was surprised at her helpfulness in spite of her obvious workload.

“Well he did help us out earlier, it’s the least I can do.” She smirked remembering him. Dishy as well, she thought.

Handing off the reception duty to another harassed looking older woman who just raised her eyebrows in acceptance, the receptionist came around the side of the desk and asked Erica to follow her. She took Erica through swinging double doors into a quieter but none the less frenetic area.

“We’ve had a large number of admissions this evening and most appear a bit demented. We thought it was drink or a bad batch of drugs at first but they are drooling strange stuff and are a bit ’bitey’, for want of a better word. It’s been keeping security well busy.”

Erica kept her thoughts to herself as she realised that this problem was likely to get very big, very fast.

The receptionist peered around a curtain and then invited Erica into the cubicle. Smiling at the occupants the girl left, leaving Erica facing a couple, both of whom were in their mid-thirties and both had the same worried look on their faces.

“Hi, I’m Doctor Erica Dawson and I have been working on blood samples from selected cases at the hospital.” As it was not normally part of her usual routine, she was unfamiliar with how to talk to patients about their medical problems whilst at the same time keeping them calm. Here goes, she thought, picking up the patient notes on the end of the gurney. “You are Charlie Rogers?” she asked, smiling.

“Yes, I am.” He smiled back.

“I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions, some of which may sound a little odd, to say the least.” She smiled to reduce the worry she might cause with some of what she was saying.

“Sure, if it helps. I feel great though, so I’m not sure what I can add to the picture.”

“Would you stand on the scales again please, I just want to confirm your weight.”

Charlie stepped onto the scales and then stepped off again quickly. “I’m about two pounds less than when they weighed me at about 7:45, that’s only about two hours ago!” His face visibly paled.  “That can’t be good,” he said quietly.

“Okay, before we continue I think I want to transfer you to another part of the hospital where we can have a closer look at you. I’ll be back in a moment.”

“Do you know what it is?” Charlie asked, stopping her from leaving.

“At this point we are doing some tests and should have a better idea in an hour or so.” Erica maintained a professional and aloof demeanour, determined to ensure Charlie stayed calm. “Give me a moment to sort the transfer.”

Erica left the cubicle and went back to reception. “Hi, I need a porter and a wheelchair to Charlie Rogers’s cubicle right now.” The receptionist got one of those looks on her face that said ‘you and everyone else’. “I know, but it’s urgent, his life may depend upon it!” Erica egged the pudding a little with this comment but she wasn’t sure if she wasn’t inadvertently right on the button with the diagnosis. “Can you point out Doctor James? That is the name on the notes for the patient.”

The receptionist pointed across the room. “There she is.” She turned her head and spotted a porter. “Emil!” she called and gestured to him to come to the desk. “Can you go to cubicle number six with a wheelchair and take the patient with this woman? Where to?” directing this last question to Erica, who had just turned away and was walking towards the doctor.

Erica turned back, “the isolation area we have set up at the back of the hospital.” Erica hoped she could find her way back as she hadn’t remembered the room names or numbers; with luck the porter would know. “Let me speak to the doctor first.”  She walked briskly across the room, ducking around a patient who was projectile vomiting blood and gore across the floor. Medical staff were scurrying around, looking frazzled and quite desperate, housekeepers were trying to clean up the mess, but clearly on a losing streak.

“Doctor James! I need a word.” Erica held out her DETAR ID. Doctor James raised her eyebrows on seeing it.

“What can I do for you?” The good doctor was looking more harassed than Erica had seen anyone look in a while, making her feel grateful she hadn’t opted for her second career choice of medical practitioner.

“I need to move a patient of yours to our isolation rooms. I have seen his blood work and we need to get him to where we can treat him more effectively. From what I have seen so far I believe it is related to something more serious we are working on.”

“That butterfly thing, I’m guessing? We’ve had a number of cases this evening with symptoms that don’t add up to a specific ailment. At first we thought it might have been a batch of bad drugs on the street but the victims’ symptoms appear random and their blood comes back negative for narcotics. Is it true about butterflies? Sounds absurd to me.”

“It does sound daft, doesn’t it. It could be true though, I’m not sure yet. I’ve seen no evidence of butterflies. Has anyone brought one in? Have you seen one?” the doctor shook her head at this, and Erica continued, “okay, never mind. We are still testing but when we get more information, especially about treatment, I will get it over to you.”

“That’s great ‘cos these cases are backing up and quite frankly we aren’t set up to cope with the aggression we are seeing. We’re tying patients to the gurneys to subdue them! Which means we will run out of gurneys soon. God knows what we’ll do then. Let me sign him over for our records and you can have him. Can you take any others off my hands?” Erica handed her the papers and the doctor added her final notes in medical hieroglyphs and passed them back, keeping the top copy.

“Not really, we only have a few rooms allocated to us and have no spare gurneys or medical staff. I was only sent here to investigate, I’m not a doctor of medicine.”

“Fair enough, had to ask. Not sure how much longer we will be able to keep admitting patients, though.” Just then an ambulance, sirens blaring, drew to a halt outside. The doctor sighed and turned to go.

Erica thanked her and headed back to the cubicle where the porter was waiting with Charlie sitting in a wheelchair. “You’re lucky to get a chair as most is bein’ used! Tonight is just crazy, man.” The porter’s observation was right on the money. As they started to walk away from the A&E a scream erupted from behind them. “Jus’ keep walkin’,” the porter said, “you hear all sorts from dis place when it goes mad, maybe dere’s a full moon tonight!” He finished, flashing brilliant white teeth as he laughed at his own humour.

The raucous sound of trouble erupting faded as they walked away. “Do you know where the labs newly set up for DETAR are?” Erica asked the porter.

“There is only one place they can be, on the east side of the complex. Jus’ up here on de left.”

“But I walked for ages to get to A&E!” retorted Erica, dumbfounded.

“Easy to do, you took a left when you should have taken a right turn.” He smiled at her, “all newbies do that!”

All of a sudden Erica realised they were there, much to her relief. Of course, it did mean that they were only a corridor away from the A&E so it would be easy to pass their observations and possible treatments on the problem back quickly.

Guiding them into an empty room, containing only a basic chair, a multi-function monitoring station on a stand and a bed with straps for restraint, she said, “Right, we have this room for you. Don’t mind the straps, these were the only beds they had available at short notice, Charlie,” Erica paused, “you don’t mind me calling you Charlie, do you?”

“No, not at all, I presume I can call you Erica?” Charlie’s look of concern was evident but he still appeared rational, hopefully not going the same way as the other victims tonight. “What’s this all about?”

Erica asked the porter to wait as he would be needed again in a moment. Turning to Charlie, she said, “there have been some unusual occurrences in this area in the last day or so. It sounds strange but people appear to have been infected with something after being, well ‘attacked’ appears to be the best word, by a swarm of butterflies. Or so we are led to believe.” She paused to gauge his reaction to what she was saying.  “These people have been exhibiting peculiar behaviour and symptoms.” He nodded his understanding. “Can you tell me when you noticed any changes and if you had any odd experiences prior to this weight loss?”

“Oh, yes.” It dawned on him, the memory of the previous night coming to him in a flash. “Of course, last night I was outside with the dog when I could have sworn I was bitten by a butterfly on my right arm. But that can’t happen, can it? They can’t do that, surely?”

Erica looked at his arm but couldn’t see anything indicating a bite. The same as the others. It was as if nothing had happened.

“When did you notice the weight loss?” she asked.

“This morning. It pleased me then but I’m not so sure now.”

“Do you have any other symptoms? Nausea, rashes, anything?”

“If it’s a symptom to feel great and unstoppable, then yes.” He smiled at Ellie who smiled tentatively back. “Don’t worry,” he said reassuringly hugging her, “I’m sure it’s nothing, after all I do feel pretty good.”

“Right, get comfortable, would you? If you could get into this gown, I’d like to get you in for an MRI scan, check you out inside to make sure there’s nothing untoward going on.”

“You said earlier you were checking my blood and you don’t appear to be a doctor on this staff. Where are you from and what have you found? I think I have a right to know.” Charlie had stopped smiling now.

“Sure, my apologies. I work at the Department for Emergency Tactical Analysis and Response, or DETAR, at Porton Down, as their scientific coordinator.” She paused. “I was called up to London to look at some alleged cases of butterfly attacks. Sounds weird but apparently they have been swarming and attacking people. It also appears that they either bite with jaws or bite like a mosquito, injecting the victim, with what we don’t know at this point. It’s my job to find out.”

“Have you seen the butterflies?” Charlie asked, “’cos I have.”

“What did it look like?” asked Erica, eager for more information, “up to now for me it’s only been a story.”

“I only saw it at night but against the light from the house it looked strange. The legs were very clearly defined and felt strong, not what I’d expect. The wings were black but when they caught the light they shone like oil on water with spectral colours. It seemed as if it was injecting me like a mosquito. It stung a little, that’s why I looked down to see it. I brushed it off and it flew away.” He paused to think. “Before that I heard their wings, lots of them, it sounded like lots of slivers of metal or thin knives rubbing together. It spooked me and that’s when I decided to go inside. That’s when I felt the butterfly on my arm.”

“So it looks like you only received a single bite, for want of a better word.” Interesting, she thought. What if each butterfly had something in it different to the others? That might explain the different appearance between the two blood samples under the microscope.

“Why didn’t you tell me last night, Charlie?” Ellie looked upset at this point. Charlie started to hum the theme from the ‘X Files’. “Ah.” She said, “I’m sorry, that night sky stuff always seems a little far-fetched to me. Perhaps we could have done something earlier if you had mentioned this though.” Now she was looking miserable and Charlie couldn’t help but hug her.

Erica walked to the door and said, “please get into the gown and we’ll take you for the scan. Thanks.” She closed the door behind her and walked across to the lab. Picking up the phone she dialled the HTD’s number. “Professor Bird, please,” she said when it was answered. After a pause, Birdy came on the line.

“I can see why you’re so excited Erica! I have just put the first of the two samples under the SEM. Wow! What more can I say.”

“Well, how about telling me what you can see,” she responded, an eager look spreading across her face.

“I can do better than that, give me your email address and I will send you a picture!”

Erica gave him her DETAR email address and he went away for a minute or so. He came back to the phone just as her smart phone buzzed. She selected her email and opened the new entry from Birdy.

“I am looking at it on my phone and already I can see the predator cell isn’t a natural one.” It was surrounded by an elongated, smooth-cornered cell wall but inside the wall was revealed a rectangular block with what looked like, my God, cogs! It was like the inside of a watch in miniature, a combination of mechanical parts and electronic connections. It was a miniature machine protected by a surrounding cell. The shapes were a little fuzzy, probably from the fact that the edges they could see were made by bundles of long chain molecules rather than a stamped out profile as you’d see in a watch.

“Birdy! It’s a nanite. But it’s so advanced. The most complex one I’ve seen, and only in photos, was a box with a single cog that was driven by light on a small photovoltaic cell. Can you see that tiny square on the end of the block? What is that? Could that be a PV cell?” Erica was concerned that these cells had their own way of generating electricity using photovoltaic materials, enabling them to survive a long time under their own power.

“My guess is you’re right. That may well be some sort of light sensitive material, it might explain the shimmering you get when you shine light on the blood, like mica dust particles in water. Someone has developed a nanite incorporated within a biological cell-like structure. Perhaps the cell is to reduce its chance of being attacked by the body, maybe it has another or multiple functions. I’m guessing right now so don’t quote me.”

“Do you realise the impact of such a development? I thought this was still only theory and early machine stage. The question is, who made this and the second question is, why?” Erica sat back in her chair, feeling drained at the thought of the possibilities of this discovery. “Can you have a look at the other sample, Birdy? The sample you have looked at is from a man in his thirties who appears to have been bitten only once by these butterflies. The other is from an A&E patient who was attacked by a swarm of them. Send me pictures on my email when you have them? Thanks for this.” Erica hung up and let out a long sigh.

She was slumped in her chair, looking at the ceiling. Questions flew across her mind and it was hard to put them in order of importance. Was this some form of advanced bioterrorism or an accidental release from a lab? Is there anyone in the south east of London with this capability? Not very likely.  She knew most of the work that was being done at the Kent Science Park, the biggest aggregation of advanced technology companies in the area, situated just south of Sittingbourne and they had nothing like this. There was no other scientific work of note in this region that could explain their discovery.

She walked back to Charlie’s room where the porter was waiting patiently, talking to Charlie who was sitting in the wheelchair. It was noticeable that Charlie already looked slimmer than when she had last looked at him only ten or so minutes ago. “Right, let’s get this under way.”

They started to walk towards the MRI suite, Ellie following carrying Charlie’s clothing over her arm. Erica looked at a piece of paper with extension numbers and called the hospital switchboard. “Please put me through to the MRI Suite,” she asked.

A pause and then an answer, “MRI Suite. How can I help?”

“Hello, I’m Doctor Dawson of the DETAR and I’m bringing an urgent case down to you. He needs a full body scan right now, it’s an emergency.”

“Sorry doctor,” the male voice said, “we are snowed under and there are at least three ahead of you.”

“This man may not have that much time,” she whispered out of earshot of Charlie. “We need him scanned immediately, I am not exaggerating!” This last part she whispered while turning away so Charlie couldn’t hear her side of the conversation.

“Look, we’re just finishing up a patient, I will check to see if we can let him jump the queue, give me a moment.” She heard him walk away and the sound of distant murmuring. One of the voices sounded strident and upset. He came back to the phone.

“Can you be here in five minutes?” Erica could hear the exasperation in his voice.

“We’re just arriving at the suite now.”

“Okay, I’m coming out,” he said and hung up.

 

iF YOU HAVE ENJOYED THESE THREE CHAPTERS, THE BOOK, FIERCE ALCHEMY, CAN BE PURCHSED ONLINE as a kindle book through AMAZON, or as an ebook through LULU.COM or through iTunes/iBooks

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