You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly, Part 4

Posted: 10 January 2013 in fiction, writing, You'll Never Believe A Man Can Fly
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Chapter Two (continued…)

A few hours after Dr Rosemary Clooney was contemplating the potential survivability of her career, Ian Davies was sitting in a meeting, being bored out of his skull. If the two of them had known about each other’s predicament, they might have been tempted to swap.

He’d almost completely written off the events on the way to work, and was in fact more concerned about that bus, by now convinced that if he’d have stayed on the bus he’d have made it to work faster. It didn’t matter a huge amount if he was officially half an hour late for work. Some of his colleagues often didn’t get in until eleven, but Davies hated to be late for anything, especially when he had a meeting to prepare for. All through the morning, and into the early afternoon, he’d had a slight headache, but he loathed taking painkillers unless necessary. The slight dizziness that had assailed him as he took the stairs to the third floor meeting room three at a time for his meeting at two had gone just as quickly as it arrived.

He’d felt fine when he got to the room, although he had a suspicion that he was putting on a bit of weight, since his trousers seemed a tad tight; probably a good idea to take the stairs, then, rather than wait for the lift, he thought. He surreptitiously fingered his waistband but then realised, though he gave it no serious thought, that the tightness seemed to be about his legs rather than his stomach.

There were six of them in the room, including three of his colleagues and a director of the agency. The five people from the agency were sitting around the magnificent sixteenth century mahogany desk that was a family heirloom of the senior director. Six inches thick, it had needed a crane to lift it into the building through the large glass double doors leading to the balcony. It sat twenty people. Not comfortably, but it sat them. But five around the table was more than agreeable.

The sixth man was standing, and was currently speaking. And it was he that was the cause of the ennui that had settled over everyone else.

Davies tried to pay attention to the man talking. It wasn’t easy. The monotonous tone would have had a good chance at putting a teenager on amphetamines into a deep slumber and it was only the faint chance that the speaker might actually say something important kept Davies even semi-conscious.

The meeting, however, was an important one, to discuss a new client pitch, and how that client might best be served by the PR firm of Doncaster and Monkton, known in the industry as “Donkey and Monkey”. The speaker was the media buyer for Allied Cosmetics, a big account and one that, if Doncaster and Monkton gained the contract, would secure large bonuses for all. And Davies, like any other PR man, liked bonuses. He liked them a lot. They even occasionally made up for having to sit through meetings like this.

Davies kept his eyes on the image being projected on the wall, hoping the view would spark some creative juices. Three faces of women, supposedly the same woman at three different ages: twenty, fifty and eighty. Davies knew that there were professional models who were in fact grandmother, mother and daughter. There were even computer applications that could, with a modicum of talent from the operator, show what someone would look like in thirty years’ time. He had even heard rumours that there were women who kept photographs of themselves of what they looked like when they were younger. None of this knowledge answered the single question he was sure the others shared: why the hell did none of the women look like they belonged to the same species, let alone the same family? He leaned forward, and made some notes on his scratch pad, filling the remainder of the fifth page, and then turning a page, starting a sixth.

And the meeting had only been going on for two hours.

Above his head were four things, none of which Davies paid any attention to. The lights were, as one might expect, lit, and securely locked in place, performing their usual function. The discreet and almost hidden cameras and microphones were similarly unmoving, and were, for the moment turned off, since the room wasn’t being used for focus groups or other meetings that required later documentation.

It would have been helpful later if they had been turned on, since that year’s Christmas blooper reel would have been substantially more interesting. As it was, the most entertaining bit was when someone in a focus group, while tasting a new product, swallowed twice and then promptly threw up over the rest of the product range.

The fourth object above Davies was a spider. It wasn’t a special spider. In fact, as spiders go, it was fairly typical of the species. Relatively small body, eight legs, spins webs. The usual. The only point of note was its position, directly above Davies. The spider lowered itself down on a thin strand of web-line and without knowing why, carried on going down… down… down, until it was almost at the large pink thing that everyone else in the room would have called a “finger”. The spider continued towards its target, not knowing why, but convinced (as much as a spider could be) that it was destiny. Slowly it continued, almost stalking its prey.

In a moment of sheer desperation, while attempting to stay awake, Davies stretched his neck muscles and arms, knocking the spider completely off its web, where it fell onto the table, rather puzzled. The puzzlement didn’t last though, as Davies, surprised and with a hitherto unknown dislike of spiders, slammed his hand down on the tiny arachnid.

Whatever anyone was expecting to be the result, what happened wasn’t it. Davies’ hand moved through the air so fast that it set off a small sonic boom in its path and it hit the table with the force of a steam metal press. The impact was so contained that a six-inch thick hand-sized piece of mahogany was neatly excised from the table and hit the ground, burying itself three inches into the carpet.

Davies lifted his hand in shock. Very, very slowly.

– o –

At precisely four o’clock, Dr Rosemary Clooney knocked on Toster’s door. She had with her four small files and one large one, containing summaries of her work on the material that she’d sent out that morning. She’d been puzzled when she got a call from her contact at March & March asking why it hadn’t arrived but following the morning’s discussion, she had made the quite logical, though incorrect, assumption that Toster had recalled the package and that was why she was being taken to task. It hadn’t even occurred to her to contemplate that the package hadn’t arrived for another reason.

“Come in,” she heard and opened the door, walking into the room showing a confidence that she did not entirely feel. To her surprise, Toster wasn’t alone. With him was a dark man in a darker suit. He walked to her, extending a hand in greeting. “Dr Clooney? I’m Jez Docherty, from HMG.”

“Really?” asked Clooney, shaking the proffered hand, “Which department?”

Docherty smiled a deliberately insincere smile and answered “The Post Office.”

Toster didn’t even bother to be discreet. “So what do you have for me?”

She addressed herself to the current situation, knowing that leaving the matter unresolved, though almost preferable, was not an option. “Dr Toster,” she replied, “let me bring you up to date on…”

“Sorry?” interrupted Toster. “Are you under the mistaken impression that I’m unaware of the scale of this monumental snafu?”

Now that shook her. She wasn’t prepared for that. Anger, yes, but the contempt was new.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Dr Clooney,” continued Toster. “But let me just confirm that I’ve got the situation straight. You, on your personal authority, sent out by courier delivery material recovered from… the site. Yes?”

“Well, yes, but…” attempted Clooney, but Toster had more to say.

“And, you’ll forgive me if I’m unclear about a couple of details, but…” he went on.

Cocky bastard, thought Clooney.

Toster paused, almost as if he’d heard her thoughts. “Yes, I am,” he said, “and with good reason.” He raised a finger to forestall Clooney’s next comments. “It’s not me who’s made a cock-up the size of this one. Continuing… it was also you who chose to send mutagenic material to another lab for them to confirm your tentative findings on the material, without checking it with anyone else, yes?”

There was a pause of a few seconds.

“You may now speak,” he said, in what he undoubtedly considered a magnanimous tone.

“The material is mutagenic,” Clooney exclaimed, “I don’t deny that. But I’ve shown that only under a specific set of circumstances could those mutagenic effects come anywhere close to being activated. Without those, the material is completely inert.”

“Yes, yes, yes, I read your reports, Dr Clooney.” Toster closed his eyes, and when he opened them, he stared at Clooney with eyes of flint. “Now,” he said, with ominous care, “remind me what they were again.” He and Docherty shared a glance, but not one Clooney was able to interpret.

There was a warning buzz at the back of Clooney’s mind, but she ploughed on regardless. “First of all massive trauma to the material, a sudden application of force…”

“Like sudden deceleration, perhaps?” asked Docherty.

Clooney paused for a moment, and considered. “Yes, that would do it, why?”

“No reason, please continue,” Docherty said.

“The trauma needs to be followed by exposure to rapid heat expansion…”

“Oh, say, like a petroleum explosion?” interjected Toster.

This time Clooney paused for a lot longer before answering. “Yes… why do you ask?”

A wave of the hand led her to continue.

“And finally, close exposure to recently deceased tissue.”

“Hmm,” Toster murmured. He looked at Docherty, who nodded slowly, twice, then moved away from the wall he’d been leaning against.

“Dr Clooney,” asked Docherty, calmly, with another half-smile. “Let’s suppose that this material did go through the process you hypothesise. Would the material be harmful to human life?”

“Of course it would,” she exclaimed. “Are you an idiot?”

“Dr Clooney, please,” Docherty protested mildly, lifting a hand. “I’m just trying to sort out what has happened here. You say it would be harmful to human life. How harmful?”

“Oh, deadly. Anyone within twenty metres of direct exposure would die. Simple as that. There’d be some genetic malformations, at the cellular level, and they’d die.”

“Hmm…” said Toster again.

“Luckily,” said Clooney, “the effects would be short lived.”

“Well, if the victims are shorter lived, that doesn’t strike me as particularly lucky,” Docherty said, raising an eyebrow.

“No,” replied Clooney, shaking her head, “I mean that the contamination area is small, no more than fifteen or twenty metres, and any contamination within that area must take place within less than a minute. Otherwise it metabolises and evaporates.”

“A hypothesis, if you please, Dr Clooney,” said Docherty, his hands in his trousers, leaning against the wall again.

“Sure,” she nodded.

“Let’s just say that exactly your scenario is met. Rapid deceleration, breach of secure holding, exposure to a petroleum explosion, contact with dead tissue and contamination at, say, exactly twenty metres. What would happen to the person so contaminated?”

Clooney laughed out loud. “I’ve no idea,” she said, “The idea’s so ludicrous. You’re talking about odds of tens of millions to one.”

Docherty walked to Toster’s desk, opened a leather briefcase and took out a newspaper. Clooney could see from the masthead that it was the first edition of the evening newspaper. He threw it gently onto the desk in front of her, and it lay there, open at the front page story, “CHEMICAL BLAST NEAR BANK INFERNO”.

“Checked your lottery numbers lately, Dr Clooney?”

– o –

© Lee Barnett, 2013

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