A motor started up, accompanied by mechanical clunking. This continued for a minute or so before I placed a tablet down next to some jars whose contents I'd been examining, and walked over to the source of the noise.
"Danny! Where the hell are you, man?"
"He's wired in, he can't hear you."
"Get him in here, now. I need him." My expression as I continued to scan through the printout in my hand was one of terror mixed with success. Sam, who had been watching me as intently as I had been watching the printer, shot his chair backwards to a workstation on a nearby table. My free hand extracted a Treo from the top pocket of my lab coat, and I turned to Sam as I began dialing. "When did Christina leave?"
"About an hour ago. Why?"
"What's up, pal?" She picked up before I had a chance to answer Sam.
"Chrissy? There's a bug, we'll lose comms in a few hours. I'm in the lab, get in here." Beep. I slipped the phone back into my pocket, and glanced at the door as it banged open.
"Lose comms with what?" By his lack of breath, it looked like Danny had sprinted half a k not half a story.
I ground the palm of my hand into my forehead and began pacing the floor.
"Does that mean...?" Sam's jaw dropped as he realised the answer. I nodded silently, and handed Danny the wad of paper.
He flicked through it without a word for a few pages. "Oh man, I thought the project was canned last year. You've got a working prototype, haven't you?"
"It's not the sample I have that's the problem right now, Christina's been walking around carrying it for the past week."
"A week!?" Danny lunged at my tablet. His fingers tapped out something, and he whispered, "Good God!"
"The cells rely on communicating with their neighbours to determine whether or not to reproduce. If they can't find enough of themselves, they decide more need to be made. Epaphroditus is incredibly resilient, and very hard to destroy. There's a flaw in the genetic algorithm that causes the receptors to break down after a week of exposure to iron in hemoglobin if the levels are high enough ...as high as they are in Chrissy's blood." Sam explained as I continued pacing the floor.
Of the in-wall four monitor array, two were displaying what looked like Life, one in real-time, the other accelerated to where some form of cancerous virus had destroyed over half the native cells. The simulated life-cycle was that of a highly experimental nano-organism that was half living matter and half electromechanical control systems. A highly experimental nano-organism that represented two years of work by three university post-grads, and that was coursing the bloodstream of its development team leader. It was hoped that the NO, codenamed Epaphroditus, or a derivative thereof, could eventually replace normal antibodies.
"Any progress?" A distressed looking Christina charged into the lab where Sam, Danny and I were fiddling with various items on the benches.
"Maybe," I corrected Sam, handing her the tablet. "The fault's here," I pointed to a line of the genetic algorithm. "You know Danny?"
She nodded to Danny. "Christina. You know what we've been working on here?"
"Yes, and I think you're insane for testing it on yourself."
Christina smacked the computer against the palm of her hand. "Ok guys, Epaphroditus is going to start eating every cell in my body in approximately six hours, a process that will take another six hours to complete. So in reality..." She picked up a syringe, and began drawing blood from her arm, "We've got eight hours to reprogram Epaphroditus to destroy itself and itself only. By morning I will have erased all traces that my work was ever here, or it will have erased all traces that I was ever here."
This is for SciFiQuest 2011, based on a freak lab accident a friend was in.