Choc looked up from searching through the lab cupboard for the second time. “Where the heck …?” she muttered to herself.
“Excuse me, Miss Harvey.”
“Steve, what can you tell me?”
“I have some good news, Miss Harvey.” Steve glided into view with TAMaxwell perched on top.
“Let’s hear it,” said Choc.
“I have located TAMaxwell,” Steve announced.
Choc rolled her eyes. “That much I can see,” she said. “And the others?”
“I have good news there as well,” said Steve. “I have also located the other Smibbles.”
“Great. Where are they?” asked Choc, brushing herself down.
Steve hummed. “That is the bad news, Miss Harvey,” he said.
They moved over to the screen where Steve switched over to the 24 hour rolling news channel.
“…standing just outside Congleton where traffic has been brought to a complete halt this morning.” A windswept reporter stood on a bridge overlooking a grid-locked motorway. He continued,
“Police are reporting that after several unexpected breakdowns during the early hours of the morning that were dealt with without incident, rush hour traffic seems to have broken down en masse. They tell me that they have no idea when the road will be cleared and that they are advising drivers to find alternative routes. Now over to Dave Beige in Brentford.”
A second wind-swept reporter appeared, the sound of a helicopter could be heard overhead.
“Here in Brentford, police have now declared a major incident, sealing off several streets around the brewery.” Dave illustrated his point by holding up a piece of police tape, earning himself a withering look from an officer nearby. Dave continued,
“Local people have told us that the police arrived early this morning and sealed off the surrounding streets. Usual deliveries destined for pubs and bars across London have not gone out.” From behind Dave several men stepped out from behind the police line. Dave held up a hand and one of them stopped.
“Excuse me sir, can you tell anything about what’s been happening at the brewery this morning?”
“Been laid off mate,” the man waved his papers in Dave’s face.
“Have the management told you why?” Dave slipped into fake interrogation mode.
“They can’t get it going,” the man explained. “We’re all out straight away like.”
“When you say that they can’t get it going…?”
The man shrugged. “They reckon the whole place is blocked up. Can’t get the boilers going, fermenters are all blocked and there’s no beer coming out.”
“What are you going to do now?” asked Dave.
“We’re off down the pub before all the beer runs out mate.” The man walked off, a worried look on his face.
“There you have it, complete and unexpected closure of the Guinness Brewery at Brentford this morning.”
The view switched back to a woman in the studio. “We are hearing similar reports from across the country now,” the woman said. “Factory closures and personal transport failures are rife from Northern Scotland to Devon and Cornwall. Bakeries and breweries seem to be particularly badly affected. Trams and trains appear to be running normally, and in areas where there are few cars on the road, buses are operating. Airports are experiencing some problems as well.”
Steve switched off the monitor. Choc sat at the bench, her head in her hands.
“The Smibbles have escaped, Miss Harvey,” he announced.
“Do you realise what this means?” asked Choc.
“The Smibbles are cooperating efficiently,” said Steve. “Congratulations, Miss Harvey.”
Choc gave him a flat look. “It means that chaos is about nine meals away,” she said.
“I do not understand,” said Steve.
“Look, it’s the ‘just in time’ thing shops have now,” Choc explained. “The average citizen has enough food in their house for about nine meals. They don’t need to keep any more than that in their cupboards, because they can just get it down the shops when they run out.”
“I see,” said Steve.
“Except,” Choc continued, “that there will be no deliveries because of the Smibbles. People will start running out of milk, bread and fresh veg, and within a couple of days the SPG will be clearing the streets of hungry mobs, looters, and rioters. People who commute long distances to town will just starve in their houses.”
“That’s terrible. What do you intend to do Miss Harvey?” asked Steve.
“Do?” said Choc, gesticulating wildly. “What can I do? They are out of control. What can I possibly do?”
“But Miss Harvey, you engineered them, you have a responsibility,” said Steve.
Choc shook her head. “I can’t manage that many at once.”
“But surely you included a fail-safe switch?” Steve asked.
“Yes, but at the rate they’re breeding they would have out evolved it by now,” said Choc. “Even if I hit the fail-safe, I would only shut down the first few generations. I didn’t design them to breed this fast, it would be futile.”
Just then Steve’s internal phone rang. “Professor Sky is calling,” said Steve. Choc switched the call to speakerphone.
“Hello Vince,” said Choc. “Are you calling to gloat?”
“Choc-o-late,” he rolled the name around. “I thought I’d better call. Have you seen the news?”
“Yes,” Choc answered curtly.
“I thought it would be best to warn you,” said Vince.
“Are you threatening me?” asked Choc, glaring.
Vince laughed. “You stupid girl.” Choc growled. “I’m helping you,” he continued. “I’ve just had a call from the Ministry at Greenham. They’ve starting finding bits of fur at various sites around the country. They’re analysing on site as they can’t get stuff back to the central lab, but they seem to think that you’re involved. You might want to start working on a solution if you don’t want to be arrested, although they might do that anyway just to ensure your safety. Gotta go, the Nobel Prize people are on the other line.” The line went dead.
The colour drained from Choc’s face.
“I’ll prepare the equipment, Miss Harvey,” said Steve. “Should I make some tea?”
Choc shook her head.
“Very well,” said Steve. He moved down the the bench, with TAMaxwell still perched on top, collecting items as he went.
“Transporter,” mumbled Choc.
“I’m sorry, Miss Harvey. I didn’t catch that,” said Steve.
“Prepare the transporter,” said Choc. “We’re leaving.”
“No! Miss Harvey, we can’t do that. You have a responsibility,” Steve protested.
“The only responsibility I have is to myself,” said Choc. “All these years I have jumped to other peoples demands and deadlines. Every project I give something of myself, they demand and I give, they demand even more and I give. No longer. I have gone far enough. No further!” She slammed her hand down on the bench. Steve buzzed.
“Yes, Miss Harvey.” Steve put TAMaxwell into its cage, then began packing the lab equipment away.