Fowl Play – Part 2: Breathe

The four students piled into the room hastily and found themselves in a small laboratory. The room was a long rectangular shape. 12 desks, arranged 3 by 4, stood near them, facing towards a large white board that was fixed to the wall. Surrounding the arrangement of chairs was a long singular white work table that was fixated to, and followed, the wall around the room. Upon this work surface stood an arrangement of expensive scientific equipment. The uses of which were completely unknown to the 4 students that had just stumbled in. The glossy work surfaces, and indeed the desks, all reflected a harsh white light, as some of the warm golden rays seeped through the blinds that hung over the windows.

Further down the room stood a long computer desk, similar to the ones used in the I.T Suite, with computers sat upon it back to back. Sat down at one of these computers was a young man that they had not encountered before, who stood up as they entered the room.

He was of average height and had long black hair, it was a mess which had clearly not been brushed or styled. He was completely silent, staring at them, two black bags sagged heavily under both his dark brown eyes.

Standing next to him was the girl that they had met previously in the I.T suite on the upper floor. Both wore long bright white lab coats.

“So this is the group that you ran into upstairs?” The scruffy man asked, turning his head to his fellow student.

“That’s correct. However we haven’t had a chance to be formally introduced.” She stepped forward, “My name’s Teah, Teah Nicole, and this is Roland Johnston.”

Kayla stepped forward and replied, “My name is Kayla and this is Vauhn, Logan and Lizelle.” She walked next to each person as she introduced them, they all one by one accompanied her introduction with a slight raise of the hand.

“I heard that one of you needs medical treatment.” Roland said in a dull monotone voice, cutting the pleasantries short.

“Two of us.” Vauhn replied, “Kayla has a gash on the back of her neck and I’ve…” He didn’t have to finish his sentence, instead he brought up his blood soaked hands and smiled wearily.

“I see. No problem, I’ve got some supplies that can help patch you up.” Roland said back, “First go and wash the blood from your hands. Kayla come with me.”

He ushered her over to a supply cupboard, which he began searching through. Pulling out odd bottles of chemicals and scrap pieces of equipment, things that were completely unknown to Kayla.

“Here we go.” Roland said, pulling out two small bottles and a roll of bandages. The scruffy student sat Kayla down and began to inspect her wounds.

On the other side of the room, Liz was leaning against the work surface, looking down aimlessly at the floor . “So, What do you know about these birds?” she asked as she brought her cold stare up and set it firmly upon Teah’s anxious face.

She said nothing.

“You’re the zoologist aren’t you?”

Teah threw her dark brown eyes across to Roland, who met her glance for a slight second, before pouring more iodine onto a rag and dabbing it gently onto Kayla’s wound.

Teah remained silent.

“Tell me! Our friend Carole is gone because of those god damn things!” Liz shouted, pushing herself off of the work surface. “I’ve lost my Jason! I- We deserve answers!”

She slammed her fist onto a desk, the tears that were welling up in her eyes began to stream down her pale white cheeks. She sank back onto the work surface and planted her head in her hands. “Tell me , please.” She begged quietly.

Logan stared down at the floor, both arms firmly crossed, and sat helplessly listening to Lizelle’s heart breaking cry. Vauhn and Kayla looked to one another, able to see the sorrow in each others eyes. They reached for each others hands, locking their fingers tightly together.

“Just tell her Teah.” Roland said dully, sparing no thoughts of sympathy for the heartfelt moment.

Teah gulped and drew in a breath. “Roland and I are responsible for the birds.”

Lizelle brought her head upwards from out of her hands and stared at Teah with a set of unruly eyes. The small kindling of sorrow within her began to bellow and flamed up into a full rage. The fire of which spread throughout her body.

Teah simply stood, shakily, with her arms hanging awkwardly limp by her sides.

Liz grabbed a microscope that sat on the work surface beside her, and catapulted forward. Bringing the microscope above her head, with the sole intent of driving it into Teah’s skull.

Teah froze solid in terror. Just as Lizelle was about to bring the microscope down upon her, Vauhn intervened.

“Stop!” He cried, as he jumped between the two. “This isn’t going to bring him back Liz.”

Slowly, she brought her arm down and dropped the microscope, it struck the floor with a loud thud. Teah flinched.

Vauhn put his arm round Liz, and walked her over to a desk, withdrawing a chair that was tucked under it.

“Everything’s going to be alright Liz. But we need to stay focused if we hope on getting out of here.” He whispered to her, “Do it for Jason, And Carole. Once we’re out of here we can bring these two to justice. Alright?”

“Okay.” She replied weakly.

Vauhn got up off of his knees and turned to face Teah and Roland with an iron stare.

“Get talking.”

Teah looked nervously over at Roland. Who nodded and also waved to Vauhn, ushering him over to have his shredded hands looked at.

“Okay… Well… You see… I’m a zoologist and Roland is a biologist. We worked together on our thesis project.”

“The project being… designing killer birds?” Logan asked.

An uneasy look came across Teah’s face, she glanced over at Liz and caught a glimpse of her blue, sorrow filled eyes. Then darted her stare back at the clear white floor. “Are any of you familiar with a term called ‘breeding back?'”

Her question was met with silence.

“They’re not Zoologists Teah.” Roland said in dry voice, tenderly working on disinfecting Vauhn’s hands. Sterilising them before tightly wrapping each finger, then palm, in cotton bandages.

She threw a glare at her partner, unappreciative of his bluntness.

“Breeding back is a form of artificial selection by the deliberate selective breeding of domestic animals. In an attempt to regain traits of a wild type ancestor.” Teah explained, turning to use the white board that was fixed upon the wall behind her.

She began by crudely drawing two cows, one with a small set of horns, labelled domestic cow, and another with a large set of horns, labelled Auroch cow.

“The Auroch cow was a breed of large wild cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa. However, they’re now extinct. It does have a living ancestor though, the tamer and smaller domestic cow.” Teah turned back to the board and drew an arrow, pointing from the domestic cow, towards the the Auroch cattle. “However, scientists thought that the code that once made up the Auroch cattle, must still exist, in part, within its ancestor. So they began breeding domestic cows that had similar characteristics to their extinct predecessors. Then they repeated the process, drawing out more of those hidden traits with every offspring produced. The result?”

“Bringing Auroch cattle back again?” Logan asked.

“No.” Teah turned round once again and drew another arrow pointing towards a new cow. “The result was they created an all new sub-species of cow. One that was very similar to the Auroch Cattle but was not the real deal. For you can’t 100% bring a creature back from the dead in this way, you just end up breeding a new species with similar traits.”

Kayla asked, “So I take it you decided to do the same with chickens…? But what ancestry does a chicken have that you would possibly want to breed back to?”

Teah turned back round to face the group that sat before her in the laboratory, sitting herself down on a stool that was present near the whiteboard.

“For starters we didn’t use chickens, per say.” Roland said unexpectedly, whilst putting some of the medical supplies back into a cupboard. “We used both Red and Grey Jungle-fowls. They’re believed to be the ancestor of the common chicken. We figured if we wanted to breed back, we might as well start with an animal further back on the evolutionary scale. Secondly, Jungle-fowls, and indeed chickens, belong to an evolutionary group known as Coelurosauria. Any guesses what that is?”

He gently shut the cupboard doors and turned back round to face the silent group.

“Like you said, we’re not Zoologists.” Logan scoffed, both arms folded tightly against his chest.

“Neither am I.”

Logan sneered.

“Coelurosaurs are a group of Theropods, creatures that stand on their hind legs and have hinge like ankles. Birds are part of this group, included as well are: Ornithomimidae, Manirapatora, Dromaeosaurs, Troodontids, Oviraptors and… Tyrannosaurids.”

“Dinosaurs? You were trying to recreate the dinosaurs?” Vauhn exclaimed loudly.

“A bit above and beyond for a uni dissertation.” Logan muttered, “Bloody over achievers.”

“We weren’t trying to re-create them. Merely breed out traits that have been locked away in their ancestors genetics.”

Kayla got up and began to pace the room, “At no point did you think that this might have been a bad idea!?”

“We had no idea of the potential locked away within these animals! At first the only thing that we noticed was the jungle-fowls feet which grew thick grey scales. They also began to have a firmer, upright posture.”

“Yeah well, you both did something that unlocked a hell of a lot worse than scaly chicken feet!”

“More radical changes occurred when we started introducing chemicals into the embryos. Growth stimulants and steroids, to help them cope with the rapid ageing process that we subjected them too.” Roland replied, a darkness set in his eyes. “That’s when we noticed the diet change, the jungle-fowls moved from seeds and oats to meat and bone. It was quite frankly…. incredible.”

Kayla looked over worryingly at Vauhn. His own face was stern, his deep set features were rigid like stone, and slowly he lifted one eyebrow.

“Where were you storing these jungle-fowls?” He asked, “We’ve been in this building many times before and saw no sign of these creatures.”

Teah responded quietly, “We rented out one of the rooms on the top floor. We kept them stored away safely in there.”

“Not safely enough it would seem.” Logan added.

Teah scowled at the young man and was met with an equally fierce set of eyes.

Roland got up from the chair he was perched upon and rested a hand on Teah’s shoulder. “We didn’t predict that the rate of growth in the birds intelligence would be so… Dramatic.”

“This is why you shouldn’t play god.” Kayla said to them.

“Playing god is a fundamental characteristic of human nature.” Roland snapped, “It’s the drive that urges us to improve ourselves and the environment around us. Without the urge to ‘play God’, the world we know wouldn’t exist today.”

A heavy silence set in the room and the students were still.

“If these Jungle-fowls are as intelligent as you say. Then its only a matter of time before they make their way in here, no matter how secure you claim this room is.” said Vauhn turning his focus to Roland.

“We should inform the authorities.” Liz said quietly.

“They’ve already been notified, we’ve told them to stay out of the building and keep a secure perimeter.” Teah replied. “If they were to make their way in to help us, they risk releasing one of these birds out into the wild. Which is a thought… I dare not think about.”

“You think they’d breed if released?”

“Without a doubt. If they’re intelligent enough to hunt down humans, they’re intelligent enough to know how to continue their species.” Roland chuckled, however his humour was not shared by the rest of the group.

“Regardless. We need to get moving, like Vauhn said, It’s only a matter of time before those birds find their way in here.” said Kayla, “And as you have said, Teah, those birds were kept on the top floor. So we need to make sure we get to the ground floor before they do. If we hope on getting out of here alive. Are you two going to come with us?”

The four students all turned their attention to Teah and Roland.

“You’ll probably fare better with our help. With all things considered.” Teah replied.

Roland walked over to one of the computers that was perched upon a desk and withdrew a small USB stick, after tapping a few of the keys. He placed the small item within his black jeans pocket. Vauhn eyed up Roland inquisitively as he walked past him. Who looked back with a smirk across his face.

He leaned towards Kayla and whispered in her ear, “I don’t trust that guy.”

“Nor me. But he’s our best chance to get out of here.”

Vauhn nodded sombrely, fixated on Roland as he walked across the room to Teah. “I suggest we use the door opposite to the one you came through.” He said dully. “The fowls will probably be waiting for us outside there. Plus if we head out the other door, we can follow the corridor down and use one of the lifts to get us down to the ground floor just a bit quicker.” Roland smiled weakly at the group.

Teah and Roland walked over to the other exit, which lay at the bottom of the mini I.T suite which sat in one half of the room. Logan, Lizelle, Kayla and Vauhn all made their way over as well, preparing themselves for the ordeal and danger that lay ahead of them.

Roland was poised at the door, he looked at each of the worried faces that stood before him. “Is everybody ready?”

One by one, each of the students gave an anxious nod. Logan swallowed, in attempt to lessen the lump that nervously knotted within his throat.

“We can do this.” Vauhn said firmly, clenching his bandage bound hands tightly. “Open it.”

Roland flung the door open and Vauhn leaped out into the brightly lit corridor. Only to have a set of talons burrowed deep into his face.

End of Part 2

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