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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2. The Story Unfolds.

Chapter 2 13:21, same day Salisbury train station

Erica’s taxi from Porton Down arrived with 10 minutes to spare before the train to London was due. She hoisted her backpack onto her shoulder, paid the driver and awaited her receipt. Thanking him, Erica walked into the redbrick Victorian station building and up to the ticket counter.

“Single to Plumstead, please,” she said when the clerk finally looked up.

“Are you sure you don’t want a return? It’s cheaper in the long run,” the clerk said helpfully, full of sales vigour.

“No thanks, not sure when I’ll be returning. Just the single.”

“Sure, how do you spell ‘Plumstead’?”

“Like the fruit with S-T-E-A-D on the end.”

“OK.” After a brief pause, “that will be £38.80.” Erica held up her credit card.  “Ah, please insert your card into the reader.”

Erica paid by credit card and as she was putting it back in her purse she heard the train coming into the station. Quickly thanking the clerk she rushed to the automatic ticket barriers, fumbled inserting her ticket into the machine. The gates opened, she grabbed her ticket and ran to the down ramp into the subway to platform two. Always the furthest platform away when you’re rushing, she thought.

The carriage door had just closed behind her when the train started to pull out of the station. Great, she thought, just under two hours to spend catching up on the reports she had printed out prior to leaving the office. Her excitement at the start of an investigation was always compounded by the hope that one day she might find something of unique scientific significance – biting butterflies! Perhaps this was the day. The reports were hard to believe and had to be a mistake. Perhaps it was a beetle of some sort. If only they could capture one, it would be good to identify it as there were no indigenous species that exhibited this type of behaviour in the UK. Probably came in with some fruit cargo, she thought, after all Kent was the gateway to and from Europe and London’s New Covent Garden was a leading destination of organic imports.

As usual the journey went quickly with only four stops before Waterloo Main Station. Arriving at Waterloo always reminded her of visits from University to her friend who, coincidentally, also lived in Plumstead. The Police Station in those days was a charming old Victorian building. Now it was a state of the art edifice with sloping blast-proof walls and a forbidding appearance. Erica wasn’t sure who or what they were expecting when they built that.

Crossing over to Waterloo East Station she saw there were about three minutes to get to platform A and her train. Excellent timing, waiting on platforms was always to be avoided, she always ended up standing next to the only weirdo for miles.

 

 

15:45, the same day Plumstead – the front line

Arriving at Plumstead around quarter to four she made her way up the High Street. Good old Plumstead.  Although it was not a wealthy town, it was always buzzing with life. In her university days she and her friend used to have some great times here, especially in the pubs. Many of the buildings were the same, a few new shops but overall not a lot seemed to have changed.

In less than ten minutes she was walking through the front entrance of the police station. At the duty desk Erica introduced herself to the PC on duty.

“Hi, my name is Doctor Dawson from DETAR. I’m here to speak with the Duty Officer please.”

“From where?” he responded with an air of disinterest, barely looking at her.

“The DETAR, Department for Emergency Tactical Analysis and Response, based at Porton Down.”

“Wait here,” he responded and walked away. She tried not to think bad thoughts about modern British courtesy, instead wanting to believe it was a one-off response from a person in the wrong job. She walked over to the row of vinyl covered seats against the wall and sat down.

After a moment, the side security door opened and a man’s head, balding with greying remnants of hair above the ears, appeared around it and smiled. “Are you Doctor Dawson? I was told to expect you.”

“Yes,” she responded, returning the smile.

“May I see some identification please? This is a secure area and we have to follow protocol.” She held up the DETAR ID card up and he inspected it.

“Your photo doesn’t do you justice, but I suppose they never do.” That smile again, thinks he’s charming. Erica returned the smile and he led her away from the reception area. “My name is Detective Sergeant George Spartan, the Duty Officer today. I have a room you can use during your stay; you won’t have to share so you can make yourself comfortable and set up whatever you have to. It is a secure room with a passcode door lock.”

They arrived at a nondescript brown wood veneer door with a code lock by it and an aluminium handle. He tapped in the code and opened the door. “3696, spells Down on a telephone keypad, should be easy for you to remember, coming from Porton Down.”

“Very clever, thank you.” Erica’s eyes widened in feigned enthusiasm. Inside the room was lit by standard energy efficient lighting in the ceiling. There were opaque glass bricks high on the far wall and a good size desk under them. The office chair was a new, faux leather executive one and there were plenty of filing cabinets to the left of the desk. This was better than her own office, shame it would only be a short stay.

“Each room on this corridor has its own sleeping facility so if you’d like to use it, that wouldn’t be a problem. I may be making an assumption but I’m guessing you’ll be here a few days with your investigation?” he asked.

“Probably, there are two strings to what I am doing here. Sleeping facilities would be useful. Can I settle in there now so I can get on with my work? I’ll most likely work ‘til late so sorting my quarters out now would be a benefit.”

He walked towards the desk and pressed a button on the wall. A humming began to the left of the door and a slab drew away from the wall and tilted down until it formed a bed. “There’s a sleeping bag and a pillow in the cupboard in the corner,” he said, pointing.

“Wow, are you sure this is England? Mod cons and amenities in a Police Station?” Erica asked, amazed at the facilities laid out before her.

“This station is a secure, advance Situation Control Centre. We need to have our personnel around when it matters, not going home to sleep. There are separate-sex showers and other facilities down the hall.”

“What, no button for that?”

He smiled and bade her good day. “Let me know if you need anything, dial 9 for an outside line, international calls must be directed through our operator, for that, dial 0. For the emergency exit follow the stampede.”

He left and closed the door quietly. Erica unpacked her personal gear, not that that took long, it was only a small backpack.

 

 

17:25, same day Plumstead Police Station

Erica’s concentration on her reports was broken by the sound of a klaxon sounding in the hall. Unsure as to its meaning she stepped out of the room and tried to move towards the main duty area but was swept backwards. Men and women in riot gear were hurrying past her towards the rear of the station where their vans were parked. “Get a move on there, keep the corridors clear!” A Sergeant raced past her, pushing her back in her room. “Stay in there until the troops are out. Then report to the Duty Room down the hall.” He hurried past her followed by more heavily-clad personnel. After a couple of minutes the hall was silent, the intensity of which gave her a frisson of fear, trying to figure out what caused the riot police to be called out in such a hurry. A riot she surmised, using the law of succinctness, Occam’s Razor.

Upon entering the Duty Room, she saw George Spartan on the phone at his desk. He hung up and turning, saw her. “Hi Doc. I was about to come and get you. We need to get going now. Some people were supposedly bitten by butterflies, a likely story but I’m too long in the tooth to ignore it as the codswallop it sounds like. I know you’re here to investigate these reports so I need to involve you,” he said, as if hoping Erica would tell him it was a hoax. “Anyway it appears that in what may be a related incident, lots of people have gone crazy and are attacking and biting people, anyone that gets close enough. Their bite seems to spread something that affects those bitten inside a couple of minutes. They just get up and go berserk, doing the same thing. That’s why we’ve called out the TSG. That was them racing out of the station just now.”

“The TSG, they’re the riot heavies, aren’t they? Is it that bad?”

“And then some. It appears that hundreds of people are now affected and we need to cordon off the area to stop it spreading. You and I need to go and pick up all of the known alleged butterfly victims that may have been the start of it and contain them in case it’s true. Get your coat. We’re going with a TSG van for support.”

Erica raced after George; they were headed out to the back of the station. Once out there she saw the last remaining TSG van, already full and slowly moving towards the exit gate. George pointed to a blue Vauxhall Ampera, the latest in electric cars for the ordinary man. “So we get the fast car, do we?” asked Erica.

“Just hop in Doc, it doesn’t run on sarcasm. Vauxhall & the Met have a deal so we get to look green while catching the bad guys. First time I’ve driven one too,” he added, looking at it uncertainly. She was rubbing him up the wrong way, coming over a little sarcastic, not a trait he was keen on. He would cut her some slack as it could be fear talking. Going on a shout for the first time was truly daunting, even if you were trained, although in truth he couldn’t remember his first blooding. George got in the driver’s side, his first time behind the wheel of one of these; it would be interesting to try it out. Erica climbed into the front passenger seat. He continued to brief her, “now, there are three known butterfly victims in this local area and one past Deptford, a female apparently. Someone else from a closer station is getting that person.”

In his hand was a piece of paper with their names and addresses which he passed to Erica. “The three people we need to get are on this list, the first is only two streets away.”

George put his foot down to catch up with the TSG van and the car leapt silently forward, surprising him with its power. Nearly rear-ending the van, he stamped on the brakes and they came to a quick stop once more. “Yep, the brakes work, just checking!” Erica noticed a slight reddening around his neck, clearly embarrassed by his blunder. So the professionals could make mistakes, too. Her tension eased.

They moved off at a more sedate pace behind the TSG van. The van had its blues and twos running and the traffic scattered ahead of them. They raced down the high street and skidded left up past the fire station. They turned left again and were soon braking to a halt in front of a row of terraced houses. The PCs in the van spilled out, two of them running down behind the row of houses effectively cutting off any exit to the rear. The rest, including one with a black painted ‘Enforcer’, a hand-held battering ram for breaking in doors, were in line outside the house. George and Erica got out of the car.

“Stay here by the car, Doc. We don’t know the condition of the victim just yet, let us do our part first and you can do yours in a moment.” George hurried over to the other officers, and conversed quietly with the team leader. The leader turned to his men and spoke. They all lowered their visors. George approached the door of the house. He knocked and waited.

A strangled cry erupted from inside. George tried the front door and when it didn’t open he signalled for the ‘Enforcer’. The officer stepped over and after one quick practice swing he hit the door with a splintering crash. It swung inward and George stood aside to let the TSG run into the house.

Shouts of “Police!” and “Stand still!” could be heard and then there was silence. George tentatively walked in and found the team had used their Perspex shields to restrain the victim in a corner of the living room. He was spitting and hissing like a feral cat. The spittle was dark and bloody. As it dribbled down the Perspex it appeared to be shimmering, almost with a life of its own. With a practiced movement, they manoeuvred the victim to face the wall. By now he looked much less like a victim and more like a predator, the anger on his face like nothing George had ever seen, and he was used to late night policing on London streets. “Get those cuffs on him, quickly! Keep your visors down!” the team leader ordered. One of the team came in from behind and grabbed the man’s wrists and quickly applied the cuffs. “Right, get that hood onto him, I don’t want him spitting at anyone!” A white cloth hood was drawn over his face and secured around his neck.

“Right, get him out of here and into the van. Was there anyone else in the house?” George asked.

“Not that we’ve found, we’re checking in the loft. He appears to live alone, no evidence of anyone else living here.”

“Good. Well, that went well,” he said, puffing with the adrenalin rush, “on to the next one, quickly.” They all filed out. George left the house just as the man was being forced inside the van, with difficulty as he was struggling like a man possessed.

Erica came over. “Why the hood?”

“Due to what we’ve been told about the disturbances elsewhere, we came prepared. He was spitting like crazy. It looked really weird and unreal, it seemed to shimmer on their shields after it hit, nothing like the blood and gore I’ve seen before. The way he’s behaving you’ll have to wait until we are at the hospital and he is secured before you can do your thing.”

“Are we going there now?” she asked, eager to have a closer look.

“Not until we pick up the other two on our list, then we will take them all there. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital isn’t far; they have an isolation unit set up just for us.”

By now everyone was back in the vehicle and they set off at a fast pace, sirens screaming once more. The remaining two victims were in a similar condition to the first and all were secured in the van. The TSG were big blokes who brooked no disagreements, especially on duty; however, the behaviour of these poor souls was making them behave with a newfound respect for human strength. Arriving at the hospital the van backed up to the isolation building.

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