James Woods

The Bacteriolgist

   Mark Hanson, his face furrowed into a frown, was looking intensely at an assortment of test tubes; his assistant, William Johnson, was busily tidying up a workbench close by. 
   “It’s there Bill, I know it is,” said Hanson as he smoothed back a lock of hair from his forehead. It’s just got to be there, I know it.” 
   Hanson, a rugged but fairly good-looking character, was an up and coming research scientist. He was experimenting strictly and exclusively in the non-too- popular subject of Bacteriological Warfare. 
   This Top Secret establishment had been his base for several years and he had become the respected head of the research team. 
   Bill Johnson had become his assistant soon after joining the establishment and had been with him ever since. 
 
   Bill moved closer and, together, they stared quietly at the array of rectangular glass containers, before them.  All contained liquids of various consistencies and colours. Most of them quite motionless! 
   Three tubes had been set aside from the remainder, this being due to slight variations, compared with others in the experiment. Up until now, there had been little change, their green contents showing no further variations. 
   There appeared to be no changes since the containers were isolated four weeks ago, with the exception the one in the middle. 
   Bill was about to react negatively, when he noticed the slight disturbance in the centre tube. It was so slight; the movement would have gone unnoticed to any with lesser interest or keenness of vision. 
He moved closer.
  
All three tubes, housed in a sealed glass rectangular chamber, about six feet in length, were isolated from each other with individual access via a sleeved opening. 
   They were in the latter stages of an experiment that had commenced in the previous month. 
   Normally, after a few more days, the experiment would have been abandoned. 
 
   An icy tingle ran down Bill’s spine. 
   If what Mark Hanson was trying to develop ever became a reality, it would be more than the ultimate deterrent! 
   It would threaten all living creatures on the planet. Victors and vanquished would all suffer the same fate. 
   Bill only knew part of the experiment and for that he was thankful. 
   Secretly, on numerous occasions, he had wished for the tests to be discontinued. 
   
   The experiment was based on finding a virus, a virus that attacked and destroyed the brain cells that are contained in the memory part of the brain. 
   It was a process of degeneration that could make man forget even how to walk!  It was a form of Dementia, but with more drastic consequences. 
   It would drastically reverse the normal process of life as we know it, rapidly reducing its victims to that of infancy, followed inevitably by  death.  
    Not instant death, but slow enough for man to understand what was happening to him, and to wish for release.
 
   Hanson’s voice brought him back to the present.
   “Ah well… I think we’ll call it a day! 
   Don’t disturb the little bastards,” he said, gesturing to the row of glasses.
   “It’s encouraging there’s something happening in the middle tube. It is reacting more to the pressure; we’ll concentrate on that one tomorrow.” 
   Mark said, “ Goodnight,” discarded his protective overall in the incinerator and went through the decontamination unit. 
   Feeling refreshed after the shower, he dressed and made his way to his car.
   The night air was fresh and cool and the half moon hung low in the sky. 
    He climbed into the green Bentley and drove slowly to the main gate. 
   As routine demands, he stopped to show his pass.  
   The guard recognised the Bentley and it’s occupant, raised the barrier, and with a clipped “Good Night sir,” waved Mark on. 
   The car eased slowly past the barrier, past the company sign A.B. Pharmaceuticals, and accelerated away down the country lane.
   He arrived home earlier than usual and turned into the driveway, parking his car alongside Jill’s in the open garage. 
   He entered by the front door to be greeted by his wife Jill.
 
“Hello Darling, You’re home early,” she said, giving her husband an affectionate peck on the cheek.
    For the first time in months, Mark had arrived home before she had even commenced to prepare the evening meal.  
   “Drink,” he called as he poured himself a scotch, “How was your day?” 
   Jill followed him into the lounge, took the proffered glass of sherry from his hand, and sat down on her favourite leather backed armchair. 
   “How lovely,” remarked Jill. “We should do this more often.”
   Most wives would have, perhaps, enquired how his day had been? But not Jill.”   
   As a General Practitioner she deeply resented the type of work in which Mark was engaged, and always avoided any reference to it. 
   She smiled wryly as Mark settled on the settee opposite her. 
    “Isn’t it marvellous,” said Jill, “I’ve spent seven hours dealing exclusively with clients who are more concerned with their looks. 
   Personal health appears to have taken second place; People are more concerned with their looks and overweight problems.  
   They don’t seem to realise the more they eat, the bigger they become.” 
   She let out a big sigh, 
   “Nobody seems concerned about anything really, and you!  What do you do?”
   The tone of her voice had become harder.  More critical!
    “I spend my time trying to improve the quality of life, while you,”
   She took in a deep breath. “your interests lie in the easiest, and quickest, methods of eradicating life, no expense spared.” 
   Her voice had crept to a higher pitch  “Why can’t you do an ordinary job like everybody else?”
   Mark grimaced; he knew she was right in her thinking. 
   Here was a G.P, whose general ambition was to preserve and enhance life, while he, as a research scientist, spent the whole of his time searching for positive methods of inflicting pain and death on whole nations.  
   
   Of course, he preferred to believe that his aims were to discover methods of neutralising the power ambitions of nations; nations who themselves have similar ideas in mind. 
   Chemical weapons! Bacterial weapons!  What did it matter?  
   It mattered, in fact, that we need to achieve such weapons in this field, before our potential enemies do so. 
   It was a search for a deterrent for the good of mankind, the ultimate deterrent, which would restrict all such activities worldwide.
   He had tried many times to convince Jill of the need for such activities.
   “It’s a case of us or them” he retorted.
   Marks soft voice penetrated her thoughts, but before she could respond, the voice had risen several decibels.
   “Look Jill. Supposing I gave up my job tomorrow, do you think that would stop the Russians and the Chinese, not to mention the Americans from experimenting in germ warfare?” 
   He became angrier,
   “Do you think it right for yet another scientist to give up the battle to find antidotes to the horrible diseases that are already being developed throughout the world?”
   “But that’s not what you are doings,” retorted Jill. “There’s a difference! 
   You, having created the damned disease, then have to find an antidote.”      
   Her eyes blazed. 
   Mark breathed in deeply and slowly expelled the air from his lungs.
   “Look, Jill, if I can achieve what is in my mind to keep up with the threatening powers of this world… or even to excel and produce the ultimate deterrent. That will bring this whole lousy business to a halt, only through the knowledge of its very existence.” He hesitated, “For the past half century war has been literally outlawed by the very fact that both sides have nuclear weapons, which they will not use!  This is solely with the fact that if they do attempt to use them, they can expect a similar response from the other side.
   Currently an even more terrifying weapon is necessary to keep abreast of the other side, and preferably go in front.  At present Jill, the other side are in front, and they will not hesitate to use what they have. 
   That is how desperate the situation has become, and we have to deal with the problem with full commitment. 
   If we don’t, there will be a war!”
 
   For a while neither of them spoke. This same argument had happened frequently in the past and always ended up with this interlude of silence.
 
   Jill broke the silence and she rose from her seat, 
   “I will make us a snack, I don’t feel very hungry.” 
    “Me also,” retorted Mark, as he rose from the settee, replenished his glass and switched on the television. 
   He hated these arguments each time he arrived home.
   
   Jill brought in the food and they ate in silence, apart from the occasional comment about what was showing on the screen. 
   The atmosphere was strained and he tried to break the silence, asking how her car was running; it had been serviced the previous day.     
   Jill followed on, informing him of her sister’s pregnancy and they joked casually about the number of children her sister had. 
   She sat beside him on the settee and relaxed, as in silence they watched the television.  
   Both were watching the screen, but neither of them paid much attention to it, their innermost thoughts re-absorbing the details of their previous discussion.
   Mark glanced at the antique looking clock in the corner of the room, 
   “Good Lord! How time flies.” The clock chimed nine as he spoke; at the same time the sound began to fade from the television causing both heads to turn in that direction. 
   The image on the screen began to fade and Jill casually reached for the remote, her intension being to re-adjust the sound but this had little effect. 
   The picture faded and a high-pitched sound took its place as both watched in silence’ 
   Mark sprang to his feet in alarm.  Both image and sound had now subsided, leaving a brilliant pinpoint of light. This began to expand rapidly into unusual patterns across the screen. 
   Jill remained seated, hypnotised by the transformation that was taking place before their eyes. 
   The light increased in intensity, causing both to shade their eyes   Mark appeared as paralysed as the light spewed from the screen, filling the room and hurting his eyes. The silence was broken by a gasp from Jill, who had also risen to her feet.
   The figure of a man stood before them, silently surveying their presence.    
   A strangled exclamation issued from Mark  “What the…?” 
   A soft unfaltering voice filled the room. “Please, be not afraid.”
   The words echoed softly, soothing and consoling. Their tense bodies, frozen with fear, began to relax. It was all so unnatural! 
    How, with such an encounter, was the human body able to react so quickly to such a calming influence? Anxiety ebbed away, their bodies, still in standing position, relaxed to the soft voice of the intruder.
“My name is Zarik and I come in peace. I am truly an alien visitor and mean you no harm.  From whence I came will mean nothing to you, but will be informative to you that other planets, like Earth, do exist. I am from the third planet of the Zion which is situated in the Athenian Globular Cluster.” My visit to you was unplanned and brought about by accident.” He pointed towards the now silent television set. “This apparatus aided my teleportation specifically to this abode.”
   “My transport orbits one thousand miles above the surface of your planet and I am here to request your assistance, Mark Hanson.”
Jill’s eyes widened with the knowledge that the alien knew Mark’s name, and turned to face him; ”From where did you acquire my husbands name”? She glanced in Marks direction. She was aware that her husband, in the past, had been part of a hoax and wondered if this was another attempt to fool her, Had she dreamed the television encounter or not?  She glared in Marks direction, “Am I dreaming or is this some sort of joke?”
Mark s face showed disbelief, How could she possibly assume this to be a joke, his mouth opened as if to respond but no words came out. He stared questioningly at the intruder and the unspoken words spun dizzily in his head.
“I need your assistance Mark Hanson, you must convince your wife that this is not a hoax or joke in any way. How, on this planet, can you explain the theory, matter into energy; energy into matter. This is not a freak of imagination as you will see shortly.” 
Mark gasped, Teleportation… Matter into energy, energy into matter.
  He stared unflinchingly at the alien but waited patiently as Zarik continued.    
   It was Jill who responded, her soft tones and questioning voice showing no evidence of fear. It was as if what had happened was the most natural thing in the world;
    “How can we assist one of a race who most obviously is far superior in intelligence.” 
   Zarik faced Jill, what was supposed to be a smile, momentarily, spread across his not too handsome face. He looked at Jill and then back to Mark, who had, remarkably, recovered from the initial shock.
   
 
   “It is to the male of the species to whom I address my problem.”
   His piercing eyes locked onto Mark as he continued.
   “A disease has stricken some members of my crew. We have diagnosed this as a disease that has been extinct in our galaxy for many thousands of years. Already several of the crew have died and unless we can obtain a serum, it will destroy us all. 
   We know this plague will shortly exist on planet Earth. 
   We have instruments which measure and record brain patterns over a vast area. 
   With this information we have identified the source, which originates from you Mark Hanson. We know of your work! Though we despise the intensions of you and your fellow inhabitants of this planet, we accept them as a stage of evolution. Our laws forbid us to interfere in any planetary evolution ”
   Mark felt his heart increase in pace!  He now realised that he must be closer to the solution that he had thought. He had been at this stage for several months, always confident that he would eventually be successful.
   His excitement was intense as the alien continued.
   “At this present stage of evolution, on your planet, I am aware that transportation is confined to the simple methods of travel. My request is that you accompany me to your research laboratory.”
   Jill’s sharp intake of breath betrayed her anxiety and Zarik turned his attention towards her. 
   He had already detected the clash of personalities, between her and her partner, and decided to include the female in his plans.
   He gestured towards the television screen, which was once again bursting back into life. 
   A series of bright lights moved towards the centre of the screen.    
   “Please do not be afraid! Teleportation is a standard method of transportation in most parts of our galaxy, you will come to no harm.”
   Jill, ill at ease, sensed the alien’s intension that she also would accompany them the laboratory. 
   What other powers did he have? It would be pointless to resist! 
   From nowhere three protective suits, made from an unknown fabric, magically appeared, complete with domed helmets. 
   He quickly slipped into a suit and gestured for the two to do the same; then checked that they had been fitted correctly. 
   He noticed the anxiety on Jill’s face, almost as if he could read her mind. 
   His voice sounded clear in the helmets; “These suits a solely a protection against contamination.”   
   He motioned for them to come closer and three stood quietly before the screen; Zarik activated a remote instrument in his hand and in that instant, all three found themselves standing in Mark’s lab.
   Everything was just as Mark had left it a short time before.  
   Zarik, instantly aware of his mission, advanced to face the rectangular glass container and it’s contents. 
   Mark followed obediently but Jill remained where she stood, still astounded at the unique journey she had just experienced. 
   It was most uncanny how the alien knew exactly where to go as he moved from one place to another in the laboratory. He surveyed the experiments thoughtfully as he pointed another instrument, similar to a pen, at all three containers in turn.  
   In silence, deep in thought, Zarik’s eyes scanned the shelves and containers, under the watchful eyes of Mark. 
   He was aware that the alien was searching for the final ingredients to complete the experiment. 
   That was something he had been seeking for the past months. 
Casually, the alien selected two of phials from a selection of finalised experiments, from another section in the laboratory and Mark recognised these as part of an experiment from the previous year. 
   The alien carried these to a table, close to the sealed container unit. 
   He then, under the ever-watchful eyes of Mark, activated one with the other in a new phial, carefully measuring the quantities. 
   Throughout this activity, Mark’s brain absorbed the process completely. 
   His excitement was intense as he realised his long search had come to an end. Outwardly he remained calm but his intensions were obvious. 
   He could hardly wait to complete his research.
   A sigh came from Zarik and he turned to Mark.
    “It is done,” his voice had taken on a much harder tone. 
   He indicated towards the phial resting in a rack, now a mixture of the contents of two other phials. 
   “This tube now contains almost the final stage of your experiments. 
   “Greater evils than this are few but, as a scientist, I will give you the satisfaction of completing the experiment. The contents are to be added to your previous and most current work and sealed.
   Mark casually took the tube, trying desperately to conceal the excitement that had built up in him; the elation that most scientists experience at the successful completion of an experiment. 
   He immediately transferred the phial to the access compartment of the sealed unit and inserted his arms into the sleeves.  He tried hard to mask his pleasure but Jill cried out in anguish. 
   The realisation that the dreaded experiment was now complete sent shivers down her spine. 
   Zarik turned at her cry, and quickly moved towards her, believing a fault in her protective clothing to be causing her distress. 
   This distraction gave Mark the opportunity to mix in the components. He would accidentally spill a small portion of the experiment on the base of the stand. This he could analyse later and retrieve the whole experiment. 
    With the containers securely sealed, he retrieved both phials from the cabinet. He offered the completed experiment to the to the now attentive alien., 
   Cautiously Zarik removed a small metallic container from a pouched pocket in his suit. and bade Mark to place the sealed container inside, then under the alien’s watchful gaze, Mark disposed of the empty original container in the atomiser.
   Zarik now faced them both. “I think it would be of most interest to you, a doctor and a scientist, if you were to learn the consequences of such a disease.” 
   He indicated to the container in his hand, 
   Return with me to my ship, you need have no fear and may return to your domain at your request.
   Mark looked thoughtfully from Zarik to Jill, his eyes finally coming to rest on Jill. “Darling, are you afraid?” 
   Her face seemed pale but she shook her head slowly. “No Mark I am not afraid, we have already experienced teleportation, with no ill affects. I am more afraid of this dreaded disease, 
   I feel it is my duty as a doctor to make this observation.”   
   Zarik moved closer, “then it is agreed.”
   Hanson had barely time to acknowledge when Zarik activated the control on the teleportation unit. 
   For a split second the cold blackness engulfed them again. 
   They were standing amid numerous lights in the control room of a space ship. A twinge of fear, almost panic, gripped her as she realised she was now out in space. 
   She turned to Mark for comfort but the scientist was already studying the interior of the room with interest. 
   Almost absentmindedly, he took her hand and squeezed it encouragingly.
   A new voice broke the silence.
    “Welcome to our ship. I note that the female species has anxiety and I would bid her to have no fear while she is in our care. 
   Jill felt like she was under a microscope, but the softness of the voice soothed her. 
   
   The owner of the voice was rather taller than Zarik. 
   He had a pleasant weather-beaten face, and wore a more sophisticated uniform. This probably denoted rank. 
   Several other members of the crew were conscientiously going about their duties, stopping occasionally to cast an inquisitive look in their direction.
   “This is Commander Antho,” said Zarik, introducing Mark and Jill to the owner of the pleasant sounding voice.
   “I regret any alarm that we may have caused you, but as you will see, it was absolutely necessary.”
   A serious look crossed his face as he looked questioningly at Zarik and the metal container in his hand.
   “You were successful?” 
   Zarik held out the container. “The serum should be fully matured now.”
   A sense of urgency pervaded the atmosphere of the room.  
   The smile was absent from Antho’s face as he addressed them once more.       
   “You have been brought here because you should understand the dreaded consequences of this disease. In bringing you here I have broken a serious code of space law; a code which forbids us from making contact with the inhabitants of any planet. 
   However, it is in the cause of the preservation of your planet that I deem it necessary for you to witness the probable fate of earthlings stricken by this disease.” 
   He was already walking towards the exit.
   “You will come with me please.” 
   Mark and Jill obediently followed him with Zarik.
   They walked down a corridor and halted in front of a door at the far end of the ship. 
   A blue light, shining coldly above the door, extinguished as Antho pressed a small button on the wall. 
   He addressed them without looking. Please be calm at what you see
   The door was already sliding open. Jill felt a cold prickling sensation moving up her spine to her neck and involuntarily cringed away. Sensing her anxiety, he turned.
   “I am sorry. I should have informed you that you will be safe from this disease. We are protected by a force field. This isolates the epidemic to the confines of the room beyond. Similarly with this box. 
   When Zarik obtained the serum on earth he activated a force field within the box. Otherwise, by now, we would all be infected.” 
   Hanson now understood Zarik’s manipulation of the button on the box in the laboratory. Why hadn’t he questioned Zarik then?
   The door was now completely open and they could see into the room. 
   Even Hanson, with all his research in bacteriology, could not control a shudder at what he saw. 
   Several beings were in the room. One lay motionless on the floor. Two others were moving on all fours. A forth sat expressionless in the centre of the room, his mouth drooping open, his tongue flicking in and out rapidly. No sound could be heard due to the force field.
    White fungus covered everywhere, the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. All were completely obliterated. 
   Further terror struck them as they realised that the fungus type growth was alive. It’s spores, almost like puffballs on a summer’s day, floated about the room and multiplied on contact.
   Antho, who had been observing Mark and Jill, nodded gravely. “I think you now understand,” he said.
   Two buttons where situated on the jamb of the door and Antho pressed one.        
   A sharp hiss sounded directly in front and he motioned them to remain where they stood. 
   He stepped forward two paces and placed the black box on the floor. 
   Zarik explained that Antho had opened the lock and would then activate a delayed opening mechanism on the black box. 
   This done, Antho stepped quickly back and the familiar hiss told them that the force field had reclosed. 
   They watched in silence. 
   All were now staring at the box. It was eerie and uncanny. 
   Just beyond them in the room death hovered all around. 
   They could see it, yet because of the force field they were safe and Mark marvelled at the scientific advancement of this race. 
   Antho and Zarik were peering intently at the box. As they watched the lid slid slowly to one side. 
   The result was immediate. 
    A white foam erupted from the box growing larger every second until it was dancing before them ,scouring the inner room. 
   Millions of death spores were trapped just a few feet away within the force field. 
   With a sigh of relief Antho stabbed at the button, which opened the inner lock and released the spore into the room. 
   Before them a vicious war was raging in all corners of the room. 
   The white puffballs of spores were colliding with each other in groups and condensing in masses on the floor. The whole room appeared to be floating as they caught glimpses of the men inside. 
   They seemed oblivious of what was happening around them. 
   Zarik placed his hand on Antho’s shoulder. He turned to face them, the strain of the moment showing plainly on his face.
   He smiled faintly and they withdrew from the lock. 
   Antho touched the main button and the door slid shut. 
   He spoke to Hanson as they made their way back to the control room.
   “I am happy to say the serum is successful. In a short while, an atomiser will be used in the room to completely dispel the contents. The three men who were still arrive will recover.” 
   A feeling of horror was coming over Hanson.
   He remembered his action, the accidental spillage in the laboratory back on earth. 
   Antho had said that the disease could only be contained in a Force Field.   
   
   My God! He had to get back quickly. 
   If he could get back in time, maybe he could stop whatever he had started. 
   Antho’s voice seemed to echo from afar. 
   He was talking to Jill. “The disease attacks the memory cells of the brain. A man stricken with this disease gradually forgets how to talk, walk, eat and finally breathe.” 
   Standish almost screamed. “We must return!!”
   His eyes darted wildly from Zarik to Antho. 
   He tried to compose himself. “We must go now, quickly please!” 
   It was almost an appeal and Jill’s face turned in dismay.
   She was no longer afraid of these aliens; in fact she was beginning to like them. 
   Why did Mark want to return to earth so urgently? 
   Her dismay turned to sheer horror as a thought crossed her mind. 
   “No. My God!  NO. He must be mad. He surely can’t wish to go on with the experiment, not now.”
   Zarik cut in, “You may return immediately. 
   The television apparatus is still switched on in your home, but you must return separately as I will not be travelling with you. 
   As long as the apparatus is switched on you will be safe.” He gave a solemn look at Jill, his voice meaningful. “I think in the interest of earthlings, you should go first. 
   Your husband will follow in ten seconds. 
   Jill seemed so calm at Antho’s words but the dull realisation of the situation left her almost numb.
   Mark’s voice was hysterical. “For Christ’s sake, ANYONE first, but let us HURRY!”
   Jill entered a large glass dome indicated by Zarik. 
   Blackness engulfed her and she found herself back in the house, standing by the television set. 
   She spun round and faced the set. In seconds now Mark would arrive. She visualised him as she had last seen him. Antho’s words echoed in her ears.     “In the interests of earthlings!”
   Calmly, she stepped forward and switched off the set.
   The light of dawn was spreading across the sky.
   
   The telephone rang and numbly she answered it.
   A panic-stricken voice sobbed, Hanson, Hanson, Oh MY God! Hanson, something has happened at the lab. Can you come quickly? Oh God, Quickly ,please Hanson...

 

All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of James Woods.
Published on e-Stories.org on 11/01/2010.

 

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