I spent almost half this week with a face the colour of a tomato. Not extreme embarrassment this time! Instead I’d had an allergic reaction that left me with tight, hot, itchy skin. Was so NOT fun! I am very grateful to be almost back to my normal ‘glow in the dark’ shade of pale, and still resisting the urge to scratch. I hope you all had a better week! Here is Chapter Thirteen 🙂 Please remember this is a rough draft, and as the author I own FULL copyright to it. This work may not be copied/shared in any manner other than a link to this blog. Thanks and enjoy!
‘Test samples for experiments four and five are both showing clear signs of mitosis, with no degeneration of the original.’
Eoin whooped in delight at Holi’s calm announcement. Sprawled on the couch in the living quarters in the midst of reading on one of the thin electronic reading pads Holi had introduced them to, Ally gave a enthusiastic victory cry. Tossing the device onto the couch she came out to join him, face bright with excitement.
‘What does that mean?’ she asked Eoin.
Humming with excitement Eoin reached out to pull her next to him, pointing at the images Holi projected on the wall in front of them. ‘It means I’ve successfully copied the original nano-virus.’
Ally nodded equably. ‘So same place as beginning, huh?’
Eoin wrinkled his nose at her as he squeezed his arm around her waist. ‘Funny. It means I have a proper starting point. It’s a big break through.’
Ally gave an impish giggle and reached for his face, dropping a kiss on his lips. ‘I know. Well done!’
Eoin released her and she took a seat at the long desk framing the room. Pulling his own seat in to the desk, Eoin began noting down what to tackle next. He needed to figure out what within the nano-virus triggered the sterilisation of females. Oddly enough it wasn’t forced menopause, as many had assumed back home. The hormones in the blood sample records kept within the lab showed they stayed steady throughout a female Promethian’s life. Which meant something else…? Eoin drummed his fingers as he stared blankly at the electronic note pad, mind running through the various possibilities.
‘Holi, why do we have the nano-virus?’ Ally asked, leaning back in her seat long legs extended out toward the image of the blonde that shimmered to life at her question. ‘Couldn’t they have designed us better? Leaving no need for it?’
Idly watching the two women, unintentionally comparing the minute differences in species, Eoin didn’t really hear Ally’s question. But Holi’s reply struck his central nerve system like a bullet.
‘What? How?’ Eoin was on his feet before he realised it, voice and mind eager. ‘The sterli-‘
‘By releasing a secondary virus that shuts down the original nano-virus. Sending any infected Promethian into complete organ failure within minutes.’
The rest of the word died in Eoin’s throat as he gaped in growing horror at Holi. The projected image was as calm and collected as ever.
Meeting his eyes with a complete unadulterated expression of stark terror, Ally stammered, ‘Do-does such a virus exist?’
‘That is classified information.’
He could hear Ally’s gasps of breaths as loud as if she stood next to him, wait, was that his own breaths?
‘Shut down, Holi!’
The projection vanished with a calm bow of the blonde head. Ally stared at him still. Eoin had no words and no idea in that moment of what to do.
‘I’m going to do a perimeter check,’ the gravelly tone was so unlike Ally’s normal smooth contralto. Eoin went to protest, heart hammering at the thought of being alone in this moment but his wife made a sharp gesture with her hand, silencing him. She left at speed, feet fast and quiet.
In the sterile silence of the lab Eoin calmed himself, letting the panic wash away and the normal pragmatic side take hold. Abruptly standing he began marching a lap of the room, mind working away at this sudden influx of information.
‘A virus to shut-down our current virus. An antivirus,’ Eoin snorted to himself at the term. ‘And I thought the birth control issue was going to be tricky.’ He huffed a breath out and stopped short, tipping his head back, considering.
‘Greetings Eoin, is all well? I apologise for concerning you earlier.’ Holi’s projected image kept the easy melodic tone, smiling like she hadn’t announced the potential eradication of his entire species.
‘Holi, I,’ Eoin paused, trying to decide the best way to approach the topic. The more he worked with Holi the more he became aware that while she had instructions to help a Promethian scientist, she also had warnings set in place to prevent him doing certain things. But her settings did only account for the protocols programmed into her. If he approached the subjects cautiously he might be able to trick the computer into giving him the desired information.
‘Holi, you said there were other Promethian Labs scattered about. Are you able to forward my workings to the one nearest my home? I’m worried I won’t be able to finish my research before we have to leave.’
Holi’s image shimmered as she processed his words. ‘I should be able to but my data cables have been damaged at some point, if you can repair those then I will be able to forward your workings.’
Eoin affected a frown and disappointed tone. ‘Unfortunately we were sent to find this lab and work on the virus details, but nothing more. No equipment beyond our basic travel requirements was provided.’
Holi shimmered again and a couple of minutes ticked by as Eoin waited for her next solution. A whisper of noise caught his attention and directly in front of Holi a skinny tube rose up from the floor.
Holi made a smooth gesture toward the tube, graceful in a way that only a simulation could possibly be. ‘This token will store your data.’
Stepping close to see, Eoin reached to pick it up when Holi gestured at it again. The small flat oval almost the length of his thumb looked like polished silver with a small perfectly rounded nodule protruding out near one end of it. He rubbed his thumb gently across the surface, so silky smooth it almost felt wet. When his thumb touched the nodule it depressed slightly and went from solid matt black to a deep red flashing light.
‘Holi?’ Eoin said in concern.
‘That is the homing beacon,’ Holi waved her hand over Eoin’s the close proximity of light and image making him blink and stand back in surprise. At times it threw him to be reminded she wasn’t literally there.
‘When you are within fifty metres proximity of a laboratory it will alert you. To turn the alarm off you hold down the beacon.’
Eoin stared at the little silver tablet with a spreading sense of delight, an actual method to find another lab! Fifty metres might be like finding a needle in a haystack, but still, it gave him a better chance than hoping he might fall down another entrance by accident.
‘Don’t forget the chain,’ Holi prompted him, causing Eoin to look back at the tube he’d taken the tablet from. The thin silver chain slipped through the small hole at the opposite end of the oval, allowing the beacon to hang against the top of his ribcage when he draped it over his head.
‘I think I’ll let Ally wear it,’ he commented to Holi who gave her rare cheeky smile.
‘Too fashionable for you?’
Eoin laughed, always amused at her sporadic moments of humour. ‘Yes.’
The tube slipped back down into the floor, vanishing completely from sight, the floor looking as solid as normal. It tuned his mind back to the issue at hand. With a nod to Holi, Eoin settled back at his desk and began studying the samples.
The viruses appeared to be perfect replicas, and because he’d created these versions he could also take them apart. The records of the nano-virus on Holi’s computer system wouldn’t allow him to break them down to the point of understanding what parts triggered the virus to respond. The equipment in the laboratory was more than sophisticated enough to allow Eoin to fully map out the virus, but it wouldn’t do it on command. He had to decode the virus himself, sequence by sequence, until he understood all the variants.
The problem was, he hadn’t the time to do that.
Ally thought they had three days, five days if they were very lucky before the raiders returned. He personally thought an easy seven, but as Ally was the one tasked with getting them out alive, he left it in her capable hands.
Eyes running over the data he had so far extracted, Eoin found himself dawdling across the information that detailed the creation of the virus within the body. As a biological nano-virus, it had been designed to replicate within the bone marrow, produced within the body’s megakaryocytes. These cells produced the blood platelets that in nature were the cells that caused blood coagulation and transported and released certain vital chemicals. The nano-virus hitched a ride within the blood platelets around the body, reacting to rises and falls in chemicals released within the body when under various stresses.
But something seemed to stand out.
Uncertain if he was reading the information correctly, Eoin pulled up the samples on record of human blood. Examining the two samples, and comparing them to the breakdowns of his creations, Eoin found several anomalies. None made immediate sense. Not suggesting sterilisation, or swift death in the case of the antivirus.
Frustrated he sat back with a heavy sigh.
‘Can I help?’
Holi’s query made him jolt on the seat, having forgotten her presence entirely.
‘Oh ahh.’ An idea occurred to him.
‘Actually yes, Holi I’m not understanding the addition of this protein here. It seems to be designed as a signal, what could it trigger?’
Holi studied the data silently, her outline shimmering and eyes flickering. Seconds ticked by, edging into minutes.
‘I’m sorry, Eoin, I have no answer for you.’
‘Is it classified?’
Holi stared coolly at him, no expression on her face. ‘I have no answer for you. I have not been provided with the data you have requested.’
It wasn’t a definitive direction, but gave him hope that the reason she had no answer could be because the data was extremely sensitive. If he could pick out the other anomalies and receive the same response, he might be on the right track.
With that tenuous beginning, Eoin instructed Holi to whip him up a stimulant drink and set to work.