Primordial Soup

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Chapter 15

Sergeant Gallagher relaxed his foot off the accelerator as they approached a high fenced barrier that stretched across the carriageway and on into the fields. Rolls of razor wire ran everywhere. Soldiers sitting in gun emplacements surrounded by sand bags were supported by tanks parked either side of a pair of gates.

As the lorry approached the barricade a soldier came over to them. ‘Drive on through,’ he ordered.

He waved to the soldiers behind the barrier and the gates opened.

Tents and porta-cabins stretched along both sides of the bypass.

‘Looks like a small town,’ Mike said.

‘When the army mobilizes, it does it in style,’ Gallagher replied, bringing the lorry to a halt.

A group of four men dressed in protective suits and visors approached them. ‘Get out of the truck, please,’ said one of the suited men.

They all got out and stood at the roadside. The lorry was driven into a large poly-tunnel that had been set up further along the carriageway.

‘If you could all come with me.’ A soldier led them across to a porta-cabin. ‘Wait here please.’ He knocked on the door and walked in.

Sergeant, would you come in first,’ the soldier called out.

The others milled about outside the cabin until Sergeant Gallagher came back out with the soldier.

‘You two wait here,’ he said to the soldiers. ‘You three civilians come in, please.’

Mike, Jenny and Bill walked up the three stairs and into the cabin.

Sitting at a desk was a man in a suit. Slight in build and almost bald, his pince-nez glasses rested almost on the tip of his nose. He rose from the chair and introduced himself. ‘I’m Professor Stanton. I work for the Ministry of Defence. You’ll understand if I don’t shake your hand just yet, but I would like to thank you for capturing the creature. I understand from Sergeant Gallagher that there was an unfortunate incident whereby a young soldier came into contact with some of the creature’s bio matter and died.’

‘He didn’t just die,’ Mike said, ‘he was melted by the bloody thing.’

Stanton resumed his seat. ‘Yes, quite. I’m sure Sergeant Gallagher will give a full account of the incident in his report. Now, before we can release you back into the general public we need to check you over, just as a safety precaution you understand. If you would go behind the screen our personnel will take care of you.’

‘You think were infected or something?’ Mike said.

‘Mr Taylor. I can assure you it’s for your own safety and ours. We can’t release you into the general population without first making sure you don’t pose a threat, especially after what happened to the soldier. You were in close proximity to the… creature. ’

‘You can’t blame them Mike,’ Bill said. ‘We have all been near that thing. And you saw what happened to that squaddie.’

‘Yeah, I suppose you’re right.’

Stanton pointed to the plastic sheeting taped across the cabin. ‘If you could pass through the screen.’

‘Come on mate. Let’s get it over with. I’m bloody starving.’

They went through the barrier into the room beyond. A bed had been set up surrounded by medical equipment. Chairs lined one side of the room and two men in bio suits stood by the bed.

‘If two of you could have a seat,’ said the tall one.

Mike and Jenny quickly sat down, leaving Bill standing.

‘Oh thanks. I’ll go first shall I?’

Mike and Jenny looked at each other and laughed. Bill climbed on the bed and lay down.

‘We just need to take some swabs, blood and check you for radiation, then you can go.’

The taller of the two came over to Mike. ‘There’s a shower through that door. You might want to get cleaned up while you’re waiting. There are clean uniforms on the rack. Please dispose of your clothes in the bins provided.’

‘Thanks. Will you be all right for a while Jen?’

‘I’ll keep an eye on her. You go and get cleaned up.’

‘Thanks Bill. I won’t be long, Jen, I promise.’ Mike disappeared through the door, looking forward to a very hot shower.

They all met up outside, dressed in army uniforms, though Bills were a bit tight fitting and Jenny’s swamped her.

Professor Stanton came out. ‘Now that’s over with there’s someone that would like to meet you. Follow me please.’ He turned and walked over to a large black trailer.

As they followed Stanton across the compound, Bill imitated his quick little pigeon steps. Jenny got the giggles and Mike covered his mouth to stop himself from laughing out loud.

They followed Stanton up the stairs into a trailer that was like a very well appointed office. Leather chairs and occasional tables of glass and chrome filled the floor space. Sitting at a large ornate desk was an official looking woman. Her hair was short, cut like a man’s, and she was dressed in the usual Ministerial uniform of crisp white shirt and an expensive looking pinstriped suit. She looked up from a folder she had been reading as they entered the room.

Stanton introduced her. ‘This is Ms. Cauldwell, head of operations. Ma’am these are the only survivors from the original infection site. Mike...’

Cauldwell interrupted him. ‘I take it they’re clean?’

‘Yes Ma’am. No residues at all.’

‘Please, sit down,’ she ordered, rather than offered.

They sat on the sumptuous leather seats.

How the other half live, thought Mike.

‘As you know,’ Cauldwell began, ‘we have had to take extreme action today, to safeguard the nation. This has resulted in the loss of Stourbridge, the surrounding countryside and villages, and approximately...’ She scanned a paper on her desk. ‘...18,600 people.’

‘Are you saying that we’re the only survivors of Stourbridge?’ Bill asked.

‘Yes. Not one other soul made it out, not human or animal. The creatures have killed everything in their path, including the livestock and indigenous wild life.’

‘But there must have been people in the surrounding hamlets and farms that were...’

‘No. Mr Taylor. No people were killed by the action we took.’ She looked down at the file on her desk. ‘We checked all the village’s and farms in the area from the air using heat seeking equipment before we took action. Nothing had survived the infection.’

‘If these things get to a city they’ll wipe it out in a matter of days,’ Bill said.

They’re just numbers to her, Mike thought. It could have been a million and this bitch still couldn’t show emotion.

‘That’s why the creature you brought to us will be invaluable in understanding the nature of this life form. So far we’ve been unsuccessful in capturing a live specimen and have had only small amounts of bio matter to work with, so for that we are grateful.’

She closed the folder in front of her.

‘However, it is far from over. I won’t lie to you. You’ve all seen what we are up against. Large numbers of the creatures had already escaped the blast zone and their numbers are growing at an incredible rate. We are evacuating the surrounding area, including Middleton. The creatures have spread out in all directions of the compass. Towns in the north, west, and east have also come under attack.’

‘My God. How can they spread so fast?’ Mike asked.

Professor Stanton spoke up. ‘They’re mutating into bigger and more powerful creatures with each new set of human or animal DNA they absorb. They can cover great distances at speed, especially the winged variety, and from what we’ve learnt so far we know they breed through continuous asexual reproduction, so their numbers can increase exponentially.’

‘What does that mean?’ asked Bill.

‘It means they don’t require a partner to produce offspring. We don’t know how many each creature can produce yet, but we know the numbers are very high.’

‘But what about the diesel?’ Mike asked. ‘Why aren’t you using that? Didn’t the soldiers tell you?’

‘Diesel? I’m sorry I don’t understand,’ Stanton said. He turned to Cauldwell. ‘I haven’t received the report yet.’

‘The soldier that died. He touched the crate and became infected. He was glowing. Then his body collapsed and these slug things came crawling out. We poured diesel on them and set it alight, but the it even dissolved the ones that weren’t burning.’

Professor Stanton got up from his seat. ‘The carbon chains in diesel fuel could be the answer. A weapon we can use against the creatures on a molecular level, like sprinkling salt on a Gastropod.’ He quickly headed for the door. ‘I’ll keep you informed as soon as we test it.’

‘If you’re right about this Mr. Taylor,’ Cauldwell said, ‘we could possibly end this very quickly.’ She opened a drawer, brought out a folder and placed it on the desk. ‘Just sign these papers then you’re free to go.’

‘What are they?’ Mike asked.

‘Official secrets act. I’m afraid we cannot allow you to speak to the media about any of this. It could cause a nationwide, if not a worldwide panic.’

‘You mean a cover up.’

‘No, not a cover up Mr Taylor. Can you imagine the panic it would cause if this got out? This country would be finished in the eyes of the world.’

But people have a right to know,’ Mike demanded.

‘And if they know what will happen? I’ll tell you. Britain would most certainly be quarantined. No country would trade with us and the economy would collapse overnight. This country would cease to function as a nation. We need to clear this mess up, and quickly.’

‘Well let’s pray to God you can.’ He got up from his seat and picked up a pen off the desk. ‘Where do I sign?’

Cauldwell pointed to the paper. ‘There and there.’

Mike signed and sat down.

‘And your sister please.’

‘But she’s only nine years old,’ Mike protested.

‘She still needs to sign.’

Jenny got up and signed the paper. She sat back down and Mike put his arm around her.

‘And you Mr Calper.’

‘Already signed it love. Ex-army.’

Cauldwell winced at being called Love. ‘Yes I know. Sign it anyway, please.’

Bill got up and signed the paper. He straightened up in front of the desk. ‘Anything else?’

‘Just one more thing. I have to inform you that this prevents you from discussing any details of the situation with the media, or even your friends and family. Should you do so you will be liable to immediate arrest and incarceration without trial. Is that understood?’ Cauldwell closed the file and put the papers in a drawer.

Mike and Bill both gave a yes.

‘Miss Taylor, do you understand that you must not discuss this with your friends or anyone?’

‘I haven’t got any friends, they’re all dead.’ Jenny began crying.

‘I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me. Please accept my apologies.’

Mike cuddled Jenny into him. ‘Can we go?’

‘Yes. Of course. And thank you for all your help. Hopefully, the creature you captured will allow us to eradicate this threat to our nation. Transport will be provided to take you to Middleton, there you can join the evacuation program.’

They got up from their seats and left the trailer.

Sergeant Gallagher was waiting outside for them. ‘I’ve been assigned to see you get off camp okay.’

‘Not before I eat,’ Bill said. ‘Where’s the canteen son. I’m bloody starving.’

Gallagher laughed. ‘Come on mate. I’ll show you.’

He led them over to a group of tents. Inside were two lines of tables and benches filled with soldiers. A serving section was set against the back wall.’

‘Blimey, reminds me of when I was in the Falklands. Hope the foods better than then.’

‘I doubt it,’ Gallagher said, sitting down at the end of a table.

They helped themselves to food and drink and joined the Sergeant at the table. Bill had a plate filled with enough bacon, sausages, eggs and toast to feed three men.

You got enough there?’

‘An army marches on its stomach Mike, and when you don’t know when your next meal will be it’s a good idea to fill up when you can.’

Gallagher patted Bill on the back. ‘You tuck in Sargent, you’ve earned it.’

As Bill tucked into his food he looked over at Jenny and put his arm protectively around his plate.

‘It’s all mine,’ he said, mimicking a pirate, and forked a whole sausage into his mouth. This started Jenny giggling. Mike was getting to like Bill, a lot.

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