Generation by William Knight
Journalist Hendrix ‘Aitch’ Harrison links bodies stolen from a renowned forensic research enclosure to an influential drug company specialising in genetic modification.
Assisted by Sarah Wallace, a determined and beguiling forensic entomologist, he delves into a grisly world of clinical trials and a viral treatment beyond imagination.
But Aitch must battle more than his fear of technology to expose the macabre fate of the drugged bodies donated to scientific research.
Blog Tour Schedule: March 12 to April 7, 2012
|Monday||12-Mar||Book Bags & Cat Naps|
|Tuesday||13-Mar||A Day in Doha|
|Wednesday||14-Mar||Write Panic Live|
|Thursday||15-Mar||Wakela’s World; A.B. Shepherd’s Reinvented Reader|
|Friday||16-Mar||The World According to Dave|
|Saturday||17-Mar||Nick’s Book Blog|
|Sunday||18-Mar||The Write Path|
|Monday||19-Mar||RA Evans Writes|
|Tuesday||20-Mar||White Sky Project|
|Wednesday||21-Mar||A.B. Shepherd’s Reinvented Reader|
|Thursday||22-Mar||JV Radio Pictures Blog & eZine|
|Friday||23-Mar||The Great Perhapsless|
|Saturday||24-Mar||Ritesh Kala’s Book Reviews|
|Sunday||25-Mar||Me and Reading|
|Tuesday||27-Mar||Nyx Book Reviews|
|Thursday||29-Mar||The Trust Blog|
|Friday||30-Mar||Never Too Fond of Books|
|Saturday||31-Mar||Books are Magic|
|Monday||2-Apr||Words in Sync|
|Tuesday||3-Apr||My Writer’s Cramp, Paranormal Romantic Suspense|
|Wednesday||4-Apr||Joseph T.J. Eastwood’s Blog|
|Thursday||5-Apr||Lisette E. Manning’s Blog|
|Friday||6-Apr||Culture Shock, Cabin Goddess|
|Saturday||7-Apr||Curling up by the Fire|
Learn More about the Author, William Knight
William Knight is a British born journalist and technologist currently living and working in Wellington, New Zealand. He’s chased a varying career starting in acting, progressing to music, enjoyed a brief flirtation with handbag manufacturing and was eventually wired into technology where he’s been since 1989. In 2003 he published his first feature in Computing magazine and has since written about the many successes and failings of high-tech for the Guardian, Financial Times and the BBC among many others publications. He continues to maintain a lively IT consultancy. Connect with William on his website, blog, Facebook, Twitter or GoodReads.
Read an Excerpt
In 2001 the New Scientist reported that researchers had isolated a gene for regenerating damaged organs from the DNA of a South American flatworm. Within five years it had been spliced into the chromosomes of mice, pigs and rhesus monkeys, transported through the cell walls by a retro-virus denuded of its own genetic material.
Results remain secret, but success could yield extreme rewards. If ageing could be stopped or even reversed, and diseased or damaged organs regrown, life could be extended well beyond a natural span. No longer would you expect to retire and wait for death. You might remain fulfilled and active for ever, your worn out parts simply regrown and replaced.
Attempting to regrow impaired or elderly tissues, a scientist will one day modify the DNA of a human being by injecting the gene-carrying virus. It is just a matter of time.
Before consenting to treatment, you may want to ask a simple question: could there be a situation in which you would want to die but were unable to do so?
Case Number SW0112
He could not die. He remained, even as they ate into his half-buried torso. Dropping into the surrounding sea of leaves, burrowing and pulsing, tunnelling through his flesh and gnawing his bones; they made a home. He’d been aware of them throughout the long winter, but now the air was warmer and his senses were awakening. Perhaps he could hide from the plump overfed bodies. He wanted to go home.
He struggled to raise his mud-caked arm. Silver-dewed cobwebs strained and snapped, releasing sparks of water. Sodden earth clung to his elbow forming a gnarly branch. Trailing ivy, fed by leaching nutrients, tied the limb to the ground. He fought the binding weed until he collapsed, exhausted. Once more his arm settled back into the leaf mould as if it had never moved.
But on this day his thoughts came quickly and fluidly. Weeping joints and dead muscles warmed by sunshine filtering through the canopy oiled his movements. Finally he was free of the binding roots. He emerged like a fly from its chrysalis, unfolded his body, crease-by-crease, joint-by-joint, and willed each sinew to do his bidding. At last he stood.
His limbs resembled felled branches of trees: waterlogged, mould-spattered and swollen, with open splits in the skin. He rubbed his forearm and scraped off a layer of fat, releasing an odour of soap and damp, and exposing raw muscle. The smell awakened his dull senses, and at first he thought it was the soft fragrance of his wife’s perfume. He tried to find her. But as the sun warmed his sagging flesh and stirred his turgid blood, bacteria swarmed and divided, excreting the stench of decay. He realised her perfume was thick odour made sweet by fond memory. She was lost.
By nightfall his day had become just a series of snapshot memories. He recalled little of his journey through the wood – only the dark loam that oozed beneath his naked feet and the water that squeezed between his toes. Trees. Water. Hunger: wrenching hunger. Between snapshots, only loneliness and hunger remained.
But a feast now lay before him; raw meat from a carcass squashed against a tarmac tablecloth. The last meal he remembered was a spoon-fed purée of vegetables administered by a nurse.
He forced a mouthful and bit into the cream cheese consistency of the meat. It was food; it filled the gaps between his teeth. No taste, and his indefinite bite was like biting beyond the point his teeth should have stopped his jaw from moving. Like biting into his own skull.
He bent down to tear off some more flesh and felt a noise. Felt it through his body, a thumping beat and roaring engine. Music and oncoming lights. He remembered home when his daughter danced to CDs and flashed the lounge lights in her pretend disco. But this was loud and threatening, much more insistent, and arrived with a flood of white light that threw speeding black shadows against the trees.
He turned, slowly, mantis-like towards the throb. He stared into the twin rushing lights that promised to dash his mind to oblivion.
Four hours after crawling from a fern-covered hide on Dartmoor, and driving along the M4 through one of the heaviest March downpours since records began, Hendrix Harrison stood at his desk sorting through a collection of prints featuring the so-called Ashburton Wolf. He took each in turn, held it to the light, then placed them in order of preference, working silently and quickly. He liked to spread them out on a table rather than peer at a screen, which limited his ability to compare subtle differences. Others called him a Luddite.
The editorial offices of Strange Phenomena included a large open-plan floor space and half a dozen rooms in a red brick office block conspicuously dumped between gleaming façades on Broadwick Street in Soho. An expensive location afforded through the magazine’s publishing group, RET, and the fact that the space was shared with three other publications, all owned by the group. Strange Phenomena’s set of desks occupied a four by seven metre island in the centre of the main room and seated a staff of five dedicated to the monthly issue and the website.
Joan O’Connell was the latest addition to the team, taken on as editor for online content. She coordinated work for Kirsty and William who, as junior reporters, bashed out much of the routine copy which she and Hendrix later rendered readable.
Sometimes he wondered if he should just to write it all himself, but with so few staff, a regularly updated website and a monthly issue, roles were somewhat fluid. The magazine relied on half a dozen key freelancers to write features for the print copy.
At one end of the island-of-desks Tom Giles, the managing editor, had arranged a two-seater leather sofa which had followed him around since university. These days it was rarely visited except during crises when he and Hendrix shared a shot of Tequila and resolved the world’s problems over a lick of salt and a slice of lemon. Hendrix had to admit crises were getting more common as readers abandoned print subscriptions for the internet, and retailers concentrated on more commercial lifestyle titles.
He stared at the pictures and tapped a pencil against the edge of the desk. That the Ashburton Wolf turned out to be – on all available evidence – a farm dog named Sam had been spread round the office before Hendrix had arrived. He could sense his colleague’s merriment as they discussed The Doggie Piece. Yet the smell of that beast’s breath drifting into his nostrils while he explained why he was creeping around a kitchen garden at six-thirty in the morning was going to keep him awake for days. The farmer had finally been convinced that Hendrix was a bona-fide journalist after ten minutes of stumbling justification. Yet he had refused to admit that Sam could be the Ashburton Wolf.
“Always tied up, that dog. Never on the moor without me.”
After three nights lying in a sodden hole without seeing so much as a curious weasel, Hendrix had been tiring of the outdoor life. He longed for a regenerating cup of coffee and a heated discussion with his editor about faked Apollo landings. Such was the way of things. He didn’t mind the odd night roughing it, as it reminded him of the better times in the services, but this went beyond the call of duty.
The so-called Ashburton Wolf began devouring sheep a couple of years back, but this was the first time anyone from the editorial team at Strange Phenomena had investigated it.
Sam was a monster. A cross between a rottweiler and a German shepherd, it looked like a squat, black cow with shark-teeth and a full-moon attitude. It might have been called Sam, but the innocence of its name was an absurd contrast to its spittle-soaked canines and ink-pot eyes. The chain around its neck could have held an ocean liner at full steam ahead.
“Practically a vegetarian, that dog,” said the farmer, “and unless he keeps a key jammed up his arse, he ain’t been out the garden this morning.” Sam was tucking into a hollowed-out thigh bone stuffed with a mix of roasted vegetables and beef stock, not a newborn lamb.
“And how do you explain the blood trail?” Hendrix asked.
The farmer pointed to a brace of rabbits hanging from his belt. Blood oozed from their noses.
“Always blood somewhere in these paddocks. No surprise to me.”
Studying the photographs, Hendrix realised the mystery would keep for another editorial season. The beast he’d seen rip the bait apart – a lamb’s carcass – in the deep shadow of a stone wall that morning was undoubtedly Sam. But there was no proof since he’d fumbled his camera while praying it would stay where it was. As he brought the camera to his eye, not daring to make a sudden move, the animal leapt into the air with the dismembered lamb hanging from its mouth like a rag. With one leap it flew over the stone wall and out of sight.
Hendrix jumped to his feet and charged. He scaled the dry stones and stood at the top. He hesitated, the wood beyond swallowed the dim light like a tin of black paint, but without pictures the story was lost. He jumped down and ran into the woods peering through his lo-light camera like an AK-47 with night sights. Stumbling over roots and dodging fallen trunks, he followed a path of crushed undergrowth that twisted between trunks and headed downhill.
When he emerged from the copse a few hundred yards below his hiding spot, the animal was far ahead in the middle of the track Hendrix had climbed the night before. A black shape with an unmistakeable white fleece in its mouth trotted slowly downhill. It looked like it owned the road.
The journalist fired off a dozen long-distance shots just as the animal slunk over the brow of a hill and out of sight, and those were the only pictures he now possessed. Following the blood trail into the farm had simply earned him a shot-gun barrel in his nostrils and an argument with the farmer about window-peeking perverts.
No matter, there was always time for a revisit. Exploring an angle of big-beast mistaken identity, suggesting the real wolf had doubled-back into the forest, would give his conspiracy-keen readers a whiff of cover-up they could explore on the web forum.
“Take a near-miss line on this one, Aitch,” confirmed a familiar voice behind him, and Hendrix turned to see
Tom Giles peering at the photos.
“We could go with a direct accusation,” said Hendrix. “I think there’s enough material and the farmer might break. But I’m inclined to agree with you. The last thing we want is to solve some of these things. What will we write about next year?”
Tom laughed and pushed a few of the pictures around on the desk.
“You seemed to like it down there. Memories of camo-cream and cosy nights with the squaddies? I might send you back in the summer.”
“No thanks. Once in a while’s okay, but the cream brings out my eczema.”
Giles snorted a laugh while studying the prints from varying angles by tipping his head. “This one,” he said, picking up a long-distance shot of the dog as it ran down the farm track. “It’s suitably ambiguous, particularly if we add a bit of grain. And get Joan to shop a red ring round it. You know the sort of thing? ‘Is this Dartmoor’s killer canine?’”
Hendrix nodded. “Not a very satisfying end. Sometimes I’d like to get something serious out of a lead. Something that matters. Imagine breaking the Trafigura scandal and then fighting those bastard lawyers to get your words out.”
Tom scratched his temple. “We aren’t about to send you to the Ivory Coast if that’s what you’re driving at.”
“How much cryptozoology can a man take before he starts seeing big foot in the garden, aliens in Parliament and rampaging plesiosaurs in the town square?”
“If you want to get serious, how about a greater involvement with the readers. Joan tells me you’re still refusing to tweet. Is it those stubby digits of yours getting all confused and pushing two keys at once?”
Hendrix looked down at the nail-less fingers on his right hand. “Okay,” he said, “so I can’t pick up pennies off your poncy granite work surfaces, but I can still strangle an editor at fifty paces.”
They shared the joke, but Hendrix’s laugh was a fake. His hesitation with technology had more to do with his missing nails than he cared to let on.
Hendrix added, “I can’t do anything with my phone. It’s six years old and the charge only lasts an hour.”
“Let’s have a look.”
Hendrix passed his editor the dated phone, shrugging.
“It’s not even turned on. Why isn’t it on?”
“You know, I don’t get on with them. I can use the landline.”
“For fuck’s sake, you’ve got to get over this. Look across the road and you’ll see a retail outlet. It’s called a shop. Buy a new phone. I’ll pay for it. These web-fired meedja grads think it’s the only thing that matters, and we’ve made a commitment to the new owners to modernise. I’m only asking you to send a few texts, and only then when you’re out and about. We’ve got kids queuing up to follow you on Twitter, you’re our star writer, and you’re missing a trick if you don’t give them something on their terms.”
“Can’t the IT guys set something automatic up? I don’t go with all this community shit, Tom. It’s taking the soul out of journalism, turning it into a hobby. We’re competing with amateurs and our pay’s going down the toilet. What price good journalism?”
Hendrix stared towards the window across the dozen utility writing desks and glowing flat screens that had been his life for the past six years. “And what the fuck can you say in a hundred and forty characters that’s worth saying anyway?”
“Give us a job?”
“Ha! Come on – technology is not journalism. Let’s go after some real conspiracies. There are a million companies out there with old bones stuffed in cupboards waiting for somebody to open the door. How about we do some pushing?”
“I hear you, but we’ve got to get this sale out of the way before we think about changing editorial direction. The new owner’s coming in this afternoon to give us all a pep talk, and things could move very quickly.”
Tom was right. Hendrix could hardly expect his old friend to change the magazine’s strategy two hours before the new boss gave his welcoming speech. Yet Hendrix had seen the criticism of the current editorial policy. He knew that Greg Parnell, the seventy-something billionaire-entrepreneur and new owner of Strange Phenomena, was not going to suffer a declining readership for very long before swinging an axe, possibly to the title itself. So as Hendrix hid behind an amorphous concept of ‘real journalism’ his heart raced at the thought he’d be forced to use his mobile phone for anything but a minor part of his work – one that he could usually avoid. He could feel sweat beading on the back of his neck, and he pushed the insecurity deep into his subconscious.
“You must know what’s coming. What are they planning?” he asked. “Have we even got a future here?”
“I’m in the dark. But were I to put a few quid down, I’d say you should do some background reading on the social web. Technology isn’t going away. You either tweet, or hit the street.”
Tom smiled and walked off chuckling to himself, leaving Hendrix in a chill staring at his ancient phone and holding a monochrome print of a distant dog-shaped speck.