Novichok-452

An essay by Dr Stanley Goodman, as provided by Judith Field
Art by Luke Spooner


When I was sure all the rats were dead, I showed them to Roger.

“Brilliant, Francesca! Brilliant! Takes chemical warfare to a new level. That’s working smarter, not harder.” He grinned. I’m sure he’s got more than thirty two teeth in there.

He poked through the cage of white corpses as though looking for a favourite chocolate. He pulled one rat out by its tail and dangled it like a furry yo–yo.

“What happened with the NATO chemical detector gear?”

“Doesn’t detect the Novichok series. Penetrated the protective kit as well.”

~

“I think I’ve got a winner here,” I said to Fred in the animal house. “I need primate tests next. Novichok-452.”

I pointed at two vials about the size of supermarket spice jars. I tossed one into the air. Fred caught it.

“Six male and two female bonobos? You can have these,” he said. The animals screeched and jumped, shaking the bars of their cage. He made a note of the numbers written on the tags in their ears.

“They’re all 40 kilos, so I’ll start them on 5 ml. Sign here. Should have the results in a week.”

This was the end of a long process of improvement on the Novichok series of nerve agents that the Soviets invented. The name meant newcomer, and twenty-plus years ago they were the most deadly nerve agents around. What I’d produced was even more potent. Perhaps it’d end up named after me, whatever the Russian was for Francesca. I put the second vial in the fridge in my lab and left for home.

I wished I could tell Desmond about it, all that clever chemistry, but even if I wasn’t sworn to secrecy, he wouldn’t have been interested. Not with his wishy-washy, sixth form political ideas about chemical warfare. Like how it was immoral when of course, really, it’d shorten a conflict. That meant it’d save lives and property. But some people won’t see sense. I couldn’t be bothered to argue.

We’d moved to a chocolate-box-pretty village when Desmond took early retirement. It was a half hour trek from the nearest station along a muddy lane, and the buses stopped running at five. The sort of place where newcomers might be spoken to, but only after about 20 years’ residence. Only another 18 to go.

Novichok-452

The sea of white-coated bodies parted to reveal the bonobos sitting in the middle of a table. The two females were holding hands, while the six males were doing a group hug. Roger’s boss, the Head of Department, prodded one of the hand-holders with a ruler. Instead of ripping it out of his grip and attempting to pull his head off, the animals moved farther down the table, out of reach.


To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2015 collection.


Dr Stanley Goodman, chemist at the research unit that lies shrouded in secrecy at Grimbledon Down, led the team responsible for the crowd-dispersal agent that replaced water cannon and turned police and rioters alike fluorescent green. This story goes back to the first of Dr Goodman’s research projects, based on development of Soviet nerve agents. At the time, Dr Goodman was known as Francesca and was married to Desmond: whereabouts unknown. When I asked Mrs Felicity Goodman if she could shed any light on that, her reply came in the form of a right hook.


Judith Field lives in London, UK. She is the daughter of writers, and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee. She’s a pharmacist working in emergency medicine, a medical writer, editor and indexer. She started writing in 2009. She mainly writes speculative fiction, a welcome antidote from the world she lives in. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications in the USA, UK and Australia. When she’s not working or writing, she studies English, knits, sings and swims, not always at the same time. She blogs at Luna Station Quarterly and www.millil.blogspot.com.


Luke Spooner a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.


This story originally appeared in 4 Star Stories, Winter 2013.

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