Dr Rachel Jenkins was panicking, there was no way out of this. She thought of Ben, still an hour away, she heard the men running down the corridor. Her hands trembled as she drew the sample into the syringe. As the men burst through the door she plunged the syringe into her arm. Then she ran. She ran through the lab, down corridor after corridor, and into the cryogenic chamber. She sealed the door shut. Breathing heavily she turned to face the man watching her through the small glass window. The valves on the chamber let out their familiar hiss, the man at the window smirked at Rachel as he disappeared from view. She began to tremble as the cold set in around her, she took a pen from her pocket and began to write.
It had all began early Tuesday morning, just a week ago, when the Northumbrian Police Force had raided a drugs den. That’s where they found her; Lana, and her mother Sarah. Sarah had been missing from her family for some time, not more than twenty-one years old, abuse had driven her far from home. Now, she was here, barely clinging on; her body drug addled, in a building wrecked with disease and damp. While her baby daughter, Lana, thrived.
Social workers tried their best to find a fault with Sarah, with Lana, but despite Sarah’s poor health they could find no reason to separate them. They were placed in a home, that’s when Lana fell ill. Blood tests were carried out, and scenarios thought through. It was Sarah who worked out that whatever had been in the barely usable baby milk bottles at the den, had kept Lana strong and healthy. At a loss of what to do, the police agreed to test what bottles they could find.
The police labs found within the bottles a peculiar and hitherto unknown strain of bacteria. These samples were sent on to Newcastle University and their Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology. But a fire destroyed the facility only a few days later, killing two of the staff and destroying all the samples. The police found one remaining baby bottle in their evidence store and, a day later, it turned up on the desk of Dr Rachel Jenkins at the Infectious Diseases Research Centre at the University Of Cambridge.
This wasn’t strictly in Rachel’s remit but Lana’s case had been baffling the science community, to have a chance to discover more was exhilarating. So much so that long after her work hours had ended Rachel was still organising samples of the mysterious bacteria. The theory went that the bacteria must be some kind of antibiotic and had been protecting Lana against a range of childhood ailments, but then it must have been more than that. Lana was ten months old, she had never seen a doctor, had a vaccination, and she was the picture of health. Or she had been. Only the day before, Lana and Sarah had disappeared.
Whatever this bacteria was it was important enough for some powerful people to halt it in its tracks. Rachel knew time was of the essence. It was past midnight when she decided to take a break. She strode down the corridor, the building empty except for a security guard at the outer gate. The chocolate in the vending machine looked so tempting right now; she heard Ben’s voice in her head warning her against it. She checked her watch, he’d be on his way now. Rachel stumbled back down the corridor, sipping the oddly metallic drinking chocolate, and gripping three Wispas in one hand. She backed in through the doors and turned to face the lab, what was left of it.
The samples had disappeared, was the first thing that struck her mind. But as her eyes took in the carnage, she saw lab benches thrown over, computers smashed, glass equipment scattered across the floor. She couldn’t have been more than twenty metres away, she hadn’t heard a thing. She looked around, suddenly darting into another room, her hot chocolate spilling over her hand. She gasped in pain and put the cup and chocolate down. She burst into the next lab. Not a thing had been touched. She walked through room after room, all dark, all quiet.
She heard movement in another part of the building. She followed the footsteps from below, three sets, heavy. They stopped at the south-west corner of the building, outside her office. She breathed deeply, staring up as a flurry of movement broke out. She backed down the corridor, running back to the lab. Visions of the carnage at Newcastle whipped through Rachel’s mind, she’d run out of time.
Rachel backed into the lab. As she crunched through the glass she looked down at the broken samples. She frowned and then remembered. On another lab bench, on the floor beside it were the sealed samples, ones she meant to send on. She breathed a sigh of relief, and then looked around. Noise broke out on the upper floor, the footsteps running this time. She took a deep breath, she had an idea.
A few hours later the Cambridge Fire Service were called to a blaze at the centre. The site’s security guard had been found, half-conscious, outside. As the fire was brought under control the research centre’s staff began to arrive for work. One man in particular, the centre’s chief officer, Dr Leonard Canning, made his way to the police tape and drew the attention of an officer. He showed them his mobile phone and the voicemail he had woken to.
“Leonard! It’s Ben. Rachel was right. Whatever this bacteria is it’s something new, something someone doesn’t want out there… She wrote me a message. She has hypothermia… I’m taking her somewhere where she’ll be safe. If we don’t make it, if they find Rachel’s body, let them know this is what she wanted. Tell them to take samples, let them know, it’s in her blood.”
I originally wrote this for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. The story had to be 1000 words long, written in 48 hours and be a thriller which included a research facility and a baby bottle. I didn’t score anything for this story. Which means I didn’t get into the heat’s top fifteen writers and, combined with my other score (for The Smackdown), didn’t make it through to the second heat. For that reason I should probably be a bit more upset about this story. But, to be honest, I found it hugely enjoyable to write and read. Prior to posting it here I only made a few adjustments, which must show that months later I still get a lot of fun out of it.