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Authors: James Carlson

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Sudden Death: A Zombie Novel

BOOK: Sudden Death: A Zombie Novel
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Sudden Death

 

James Carlson

© Copyright.

Registration with Copyright House:
May 2013.

Copyright holder:
James Carlson.

All rights
reserved. Any copying, duplication, reproduction, selling, hiring or distribution, for either commercial or personal use, without the author’s direct permission, will constitute infringement of copyright.

 

 

Chapter 1

Rajesh & Sally

 

 
Arkley Medical Research Centre, a five storey imposing building, loomed atop a hill overlooking north London. It was a drab, grey block, whose gothic facade made no attempt to portray any remorse for the suffering that went on within.

A
Metropolitan police patrol car passed by the front iron gates. A security guard, performing his rounds of the perimeter, nodded at the officers in the car. They ignored him.

“What’s that
place?” Sheena, the female officer in the passenger seat, asked. She was fresh out of training school and still getting to grips with the layout of the borough.

“Vivisection labs,”
John, the driver, replied. He had eight years’ experience in the job, the first five of which he’d spent in Camden before he’d come to sleepy Barnet. “All sorts of shit goes on in there. They use the place to play around with germs and viruses. I’ve heard they’ve got stuff like malaria, cholera, anthrax, and other things even worse in those labs.”

“Really?”
Sheena asked, her eyes widening.

“That’s why if there’s ever an ‘I’ grade
emergency call from there, SOP is to send a response car from this borough, one from Herts, another from Harrow, and another from Enfield all at the same time. Same with LAS and LFB.”

“Why?”

“In case there’s a leak of some airborne shit,” John explained. “That way, it doesn’t matter which way the wind is blowing. Someone should be able to get there alive.”

His operator’
s eyes narrowed a little in disbelief. “Has that ever happened?”

“No,” John
said, smiling.

He’d been spun exactly the same story when he had first come to this
borough. Even now, he wasn’t sure whether the rumour was true.

“You sometimes get called to protesters outside the gates,
” he told the woman. “Woolly-hatters and swampies with nothing better to do. They’re generally peaceful and you just let ’em get on with it, but you always get one or two idiots that are begging to get nicked. You know, climbing over the railings, throwing red paint.”

“Sounds exciting,
” Sheena said.

“Yeah, brilliant,” John
responded with heavy sarcasm.

He hated being posted out with brand spanking probationers. They showed too much enthusiasm, asked too many questions and
frankly, were a liability when the proverbial hit the fan. If he’d wanted to teach newbies, he’d have got a job over at the training school.

 

Inside the research facility, in a hermetically sealed sterile room, a geneticist stood peering into the twin oculars of a microscope. ‘Dr Raj Shah,’ said the name on the badge, attached by Velcro to the carbon-lined paper suit he was wearing. He lifted his head for a moment, blinked a few times, then bent down for another look, twisting the focus knob ever so slightly. The protective goggles, which lab policy forced him to wear, made a simple task such as this so much more difficult.

The slide he was studying supported a thinly sliced cross section of rat abdomen, barely a few molecules thick. It must have been the fiftieth sample from this particular specimen he had observed today.

The repetitive monotony of the experiments he and the others involved in this project were performing did little to quell their excitement. After all, the successes and advancements they had made thus far, served to show that they were well on their way to the greatest breakthrough in genetic science ever. Hell, what they were working on might well be considered the most important breakthrough ever in any scientific field. This, in Doctor Shah’s mind, was no small boast.

He and the other doctors here were mere months away, a year at the most, from a cure for the big issues such as
Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, even cancer and AIDS. His project had started as research into the nature of stem cells, studies that had brought their understanding of the human body a long way - but this had been just the beginning.

“Damn it,” Raj
cursed into his facemask.

“Doctor?” a technician asked, looking over at him.

“The same as usual,” he told her, with a deep sigh of frustration. “The sample is necrotising at an accelerated rate.”

The rapid cell death their manipulation of the genetic coding was currently causing meant the window for study was greatly diminished.

He took the sample slide and tossed it into a large metal dish, labelled ‘Sally’, which contained a dissected rat. As the plastic slide landed in the open chest cavity of the animal, Raj saw one of its feet twitch. Odd, he thought. It was clearly nothing more than a spasmodic response of the nervous system but the animal had been dead quite some time. All bioelectrical activity should have abated by now. He dismissed it.

Although no exact figure had
yet been officially decided upon by the governing scientific bodies, it was currently being argued that the number of cells in an adult human was somewhere in the range between fifty and one hundred trillion, most of which were programmed to perform a specific role. Each and every one of these cells was an individual living organism in its own right. From one perspective, the body could be said to be a huge community of specifically programmed cells, some having been made into red or white blood cells, some into brain cells, others into lung, heart, or liver tissue. So specialised were they that, without their incredibly complex interaction within this community that was a living person, they would not be able to support themselves as individual organisms.

No matter what their adopted specialisation though, each cell had
started its life exactly the same, as an unformatted stem cell, capable of becoming any one of the innumerable specialisations. It was due to this pluripotency of stem cells that they were considered such an important area of study. It was the reason why AXA and the government were pushing so much of their revenue Doctor Shah’s way.

It
was already widely known that stem cells could be used to rebuild any damaged, missing, or diseased tissue within the body. Placed into the affected area, they would receive chemical ‘triggers’ from the native cells surrounding them and thereby adopt their function. The problem lay however, with the fact that stem cells were notoriously hard to acquire. The main process in current usage, the growth of cloned foetuses, was still a controversial matter to say the least.

This raging issue was of no concern to Doctor
Shah and his associates. He considered foetal cloning, for the purposes of harvesting their cells, to be backward, unnecessarily laborious and ultimately redundant, as he was sure his own studies would soon prove.

He and his co
lleagues here had already shown that any cell, no matter how it had specialised, still held within itself the genetic coding that had been the blueprint for its initial construction. This meant that all cells, if this initial coding were accessed and reinitiated correctly, were capable of de-formatting themselves and returning to their blank state. In essence, every cell had the capacity to become a stem cell, and then to reinvent and rebuild itself into any other specialisation. The ramifications of this were virtually limitless.

Giv
en just a little more time, Doctor Shah would be able to not only replace damaged cells, but also rebuild lost organs or limbs. As if these things alone were not enough, this research could potentially be the cure even for aging – and therefore, for death itself.

Dr Shah stood upright once more a
nd rubbed the back of his neck, before preparing another sample. He’d been stooped over the microscope for some time, so intent on his examination that he had been unaware that the muscles in his back were beginning to ache. He arched his spine and stretched out his arms.

Despite the room being maintained at a cool seventeen degrees Celsius, he felt sweaty in his
paper suit and lab coat. His hair itched under the cap that he wore and re-breathing the moisture from his lungs, which gathered in his facemask, only added to his discomfort. The gloves were the worst though, skin-tight rubber that trapped the sweat inside and made the skin of his fingertips wrinkle with saturation.

He felt the sudden need for a cigarette. He’d given up three weeks ago
, giving in to the demands from his fiancé, but his yearning to feel that creamy smoke filling his lungs was now just as strong as ever. His mind raced, his thoughts whirling around inside his head like a tornado.

The problem he
currently faced was that the re-programmed amoeboid cells, as he had dubbed them, were doing their job too well. As they had been designed to, rather than accepting the chemical triggers of the cells that surrounded them, they instead passed on their own coding and thereby converted every cell that they came into contact with. Unfortunately, keeping this process under control was proving difficult and such a rampant unchecked spread of cellular de-specialisation was of absolutely no use. It was evident from the tests so far that introducing the amoeboid cells to any living host would cause such a radical breakdown of organ tissue, they would kill a patient far more efficiently than whatever illness or injury they might be suffering from.

So far, Raj’s people
had managed to include within their recoding, the ability for the altered cells to recognise tissue specific to the nervous system and some areas of the brain. As the doctor’s studies on the rats showed, the re-programmed cells were now leaving these particular types of cells unaffected, even if injected directly into those areas.

It was
dramatic progress, but it failed to impress their governing bodies as much as he had hoped. It seemed that they would not be happy until Raj and his team were able to programme the amoeboid cells to ignore any given type of cell. Only then, would his research be of practical medical value. Only then, would the financers be able to start marketing the product, to see a return for their investments.

Raj looked over at the clock on the wall and sighed heavily. Was it really six thirty already? That was enough for today, he decided.

His passion for his work often caused him to labour far later into the evening than this. Tonight however, his partner, Kate, was meeting up with her old University friends for a girls’ night out, and he wanted to see her briefly before she left. Both his work here and her shifts as a surgeon at Barnet General meant they spent precious little time together. He knew that they had to make every effort they could to prevent the two of them from becoming strangers.

Raj
removed the sample slide he had only just prepared from the viewing stage of the microscope and tossed it into the metal tray, with the remainder of the rat carcass. Picking up the tray that contained Sally, he carried it over to the incinerator.

The rats were not named through any level of sentimentality. That would be ridiculous. It was simply that the human brain found it far easier to associate a specimen by name
, rather than the string of digits beneath the barcode on their cage.

As he was walking with
the tray held out in front of him, the rat carcass suddenly convulsed violently, almost flipping over the rim. The dead animal’s limbs thrashed out, the blood that had pooled in the tray splashing up the front of Raj’s protective suit. A foot caught hold of the man’s thumb. Gripping tight, the rat’s claws scratched at him and snagged his glove. It was enough to pierce a miniscule hole in the rubber.

Crying out in fright, Raj threw Sally and the tray into the incinerator and slammed the glass door shut.

“What’s going on?” Another Doctor asked with surprise, as everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and stared over at Raj.

“My specimen just had a convulsion,” Raj told them, breathing heavily. “It seems the new Omega Six cells are working better to protect the nervous system than we anticipated.”

“Good,” the other doctor replied. “Let’s just hope we can learn to control them just as well in other regards.”

The puncture in Raj’s glove was so
small that he didn’t even notice. Nor did he feel the tiny cut in the tip of his thumb.

With the rat locked inside what
looked like a large microwave oven, he pressed the red ignition button. In the brief moment before the violent blue-white flames burst into life, out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Sally lift her head, her teeth chattering wildly at him. Before he could turn to look properly though, she was consumed by raging fire.

Within a matter of seconds,
everything but the metal tray had been reduced to a fine ash. The fire then extinguished itself, with the same sudden certainty with which it had ignited, and a powerful fan extracted the ash through a number of small vents.

“You all done?” asked
another fellow geneticist, whom he had headhunted from a Canadian pharmaceutical company two years before.

“Yeah, I’m
done for,” Raj replied wearily. “I’ll complete my report on the spectroscopic analysis of Sally tomorrow.”

“Fair enough. See you bright and early in th
e morning,” the doctor responded, her cheery words a contrast to the level of fatigue in her voice.

BOOK: Sudden Death: A Zombie Novel
11.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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