Human Shield

Recent entry to the Sci-Fi-London 48Hr Flash Fiction Competition


The room was functional and yet stark in comparison with the gentleman’s peers at the Royal Institute. There were no shelves of jars replete with mysterious chunks of flesh or bone. Nor were there any bizarre arrays of glass tubes and bronzed metal contraptions, heated at numerous points, through which bubbling liquids beat a merry journey to drip drip drip into a solitary jar.

Not that the room was devoid of any scientific implements. Far from it. Just that those that were there seemed to have a purpose beyond impressing gullible investors or scaring those lacking imagination. This led to a level of derision amongst the gentleman’s peers that went beyond their usual professional disdain of any works beyond their own.

It was unto this room that I was led that fateful night upon the eve of the day where I’d be joining up with those already fighting in the trenches. Even with my novice eyes I could see various minor experiments at work. Tests for theories already well established and reported in various learned journals across the globe.

However, there in the corner of the room lay a set of equipment that I could not fathom. They surrounded a red leather reading chair, the sort that you would usually find before a roaring fire in any of London’s finer gentleman clubs. My gaze wandered around the apparatus, following wires back to delicate bronze devices affixed to cherry wood, polished to shine with an inner glow and adorned here and there with creamy aged ivory.

Beside the chair, hands deep within the intimate bowels of part of the device, stood my host for the evening. For a moment nervous butterflies ran riot within my stomach. I’d been in the audience at many of his lectures and read all of his published works more times than I could count. My fascination with his work brought ridicule upon myself from my own peers in the student body. I cared not for their judgements. They lacked foresight and imagination. They could not, did not, would not want to see the potential.

My many pleas this past year for a personal meeting with my host had been not been answered. Yet I had persevered, the letters I’d sent remaining professional at all times and not begging or idolising. I passed on copies of my own research, meagre offerings when compared to his work but attempts to show my own devotion to the cause of science.

All remained unanswered until yesterday.

The invite had come in his own meticulous script. A date, a time, a location, an invitation to share in an experiment.

My host’s manservant, who had welcomed me into his home, coughed once and announced, “Master Alfred Spencer, Sir.” He didn’t wait for a reply, nodding once to me and retreating from the room.

With a soft click, my host shut the door on the box he’d been working on and straightened up. Quite non-descript in many ways, if it were not for his eyes he would have been indistinguishable from any other gentleman you could pass on the street. Yet his eyes shone with a fervour, an inner heat, the strength of which had spread out onto his face is a series of fine lines.

“Ah, the persistent Master Spencer,” he said. “Kind of you to attend.”

“Thank you, Professor Hulme. I am keen admirer of your lectures and papers. Your propositions on accelerating evolution are particularly intriguing.” The words came out in a rush, like I was some fool of a fresher.

A brief smile touched the corner of his mouth.

“I apologise, Sir.” He looked confused. “For the babbling, I mean.”

“There is nothing to apologise for, Master Spencer. Indeed, I should be apologising to you. I have read all your works that you have sent. Quite spectacular and far above the bunkum of your fellow student body. I should have replied sooner, except,” he waved his hand over the chair and the apparatus, “I’ve been somewhat preoccupied.”

“There is no need, Professor.”

He raised a hand. “And, thanking you for attending this evening. For I feel that your keen mind will be a boon to what I plan to undertake. That is if you wish to partake?”

“Partake?” I could not believe what he had said. Was he truly asking me to join in his work?

“Yes, though there are risks I must admit. The pursuit of advancement is not always safe, the path to enlightenment is strewn with traps and pitfalls.”

“Anything, Professor, I’ll do anything to help in any small way with your work.”

For a moment his eyes lost their heat, a cold sorrow settling in place. Then he smiled and the passion returned. “Excellent. Come, come. Take a seat.” He indicated the chair that sat within the apparatus.

“You want me to sit there, Professor?”

“Please, I must ask that I require you to take part in my experiment, to test my theory. As I said it is not without risks and if I could I would do it myself but my age is against me.”

“Age?” I asked.

“Yes, I am too old, my mind is already established. You though, your intellect is still growing, expanding at this point your potential is without bounds.”

I must have looked bewildered for he patted me kindly on the shoulder.

“You are thinking why me are you not? Well, it is true I could have employed anyone outside of the University or any of your peers. However, your work has shown me that you are already beyond them. You have the strength of intellect on your side and, Master Alfred Spencer, you are my muse, if I may speak so bold.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Pride swelled within my chest. “I’d be honoured.” I sat on the chair, eyeing up the various parts of the apparatus to either side and noticing for the first time think leather restraints that could be pulled across legs, arms, chest and forehead.

The Professor noticed my gaze. “Those? They are just a precaution, nothing more. Have no fear.”

He began to pull the restraints tight around me. “As you are aware I’ve been working on ways to that could accelerate the evolutionary process. As Darwin so beautifully explained, nature does not stand still. All life is in a continual state of progression. Yet, the Great War, this World War that now blights humanity, proves to me that we have a long road to walk and one of which I fear we will never reach the end. We need to quicken our pace, evolve out of this dull-witted barbarism and into a brighter future based on intellect alone.” He pulled the last across my brow. “My device here sends signals to the synapses within your brain opening new cellular pathways within the chemical makeup.”

I swallowed hard, my heart beating quicker despite my own logic having no argument against his proposal. “I thought the Church had forbade you to continue with this work?”

“They had but they are fools. Yet, we are not fools. Science is the truth, yes?”

“I agree,” I said, simply.

He patted my hand before picking up what looked to be some sort of copper colander from which ran a host of wires.

“Close your eyes, let me put this on your head… gently does it… now?” He stood back. The question sounded to be more to himself than me. His hand hovered over a small inconspicuous switch. “Close your eyes.”

I did.

The switch clicked and my universe exploded.

“Master Spencer?”

“Professor,” I managed.

“How do you feel?”

I explored the question. The answer was immaterial. Knowledge ran riot within my mind. “It’s too much.”

“Concentrate, allow your mind to adjust, to grow.”

I opened my eyes and the world came flooding in. Everything in stark detail, precise and perfect. The Professor stood before me, concern plain on his face. I could smell his sweat masked beneath the layer of coal tar soap he’d used to wash that morning.

“It is too much,” I said, “there is too much.”

He clasped his hands either side of my face. “Persevere. Become the next step. Become what humanity needs, a shield to protect itself from destruction.”

I started to convulse, my body jerking at the straps, each nerve ending afire with change.

“Believe in what you can become,” his words became slurred as time slowed.

Eternity beckoned and I accepted its invitation.

~

I did not know how long I was out but I awoke free of the restraints. The Professor looked on, the concern in his eyes gone to be replaced by fervour once more. Behind him, his manservant, finished pouring tea from a china teapot into two delicate cups, the steam twisting up in gentle trails.

“You said I am the Shield to protect humanity from itself, Professor. I see that now. I must, I will show them the way. This War must end. If God will not stop it. I will.”

The Professor’s face lit up, then his chest shattered as the bullet ripped through it at close
range, the shot deafening. As the Professor fell the manservant aimed the pistol at my chest, is other hand holding forth a silver cross.

“Wait, I am the Shield, humanities only hope,” I cried.

“You are mistaken, Sir. God is the only shield that humanity needs. May you find peace.”

The shot rang true.

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