About the author
Paul Froomes graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery Monash University in 1989 and completed a post-graduate degree in liver research from Melbourne University in 2001.
He has published research papers in peer-reviewed medical journals and has presented research at national and international conferences.
He lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two children where he is currently working as a physician in both public and private practice.
Himalaya Gene is his third novel.
GAT 5 Genetic Aging Team Research Facility
Swat Valley, Himalaya, Pakistan
Professor Donald Sable cut a lonely figure as he meandered on a mule along the snow-covered pass. Dressed in the heavy cotton pantaloons, overshirt and embroidered waistcoat of a Pakistani herdsman, he looked almost commonplace. The day had been clear and sunny. Now, what fading light remained threw shadows that accentuated the jagged contours of the peaks. Dusk turned the Himalaya steely-grey, almost crystalline. Magnificent and unforgiving, the mountains soared all around him like pillars of the evening sky.
Biting cold stung his body. Sable grimaced against it as he dug his heels into the mule’s flanks, urging it forward. It whinnied and stumbled on some loose stones. Righting itself, it continued down the narrow pass. Sable checked the two bulging saddlebags and was relieved to find them intact.
Matted with icicles, Sable’s long grey hair stuck to his face. He pulled his coarse, woollen throw, up over his head to protect against the bitter wind. Ahead of him, the concealed entrance to the GAT 5 research facility was a welcome sight. Its myriad solar panels were configured along the natural contour of the land, and were ringed by artificial ice berms obscuring them. Just looking at the mound concealing GAT 5 gave no clue to the existence of the multi-level genetic research facility carved into the earth beneath. The natural lie of the land looked completely undisturbed.
It was Sunday.
While the other scientists of the Genetic Aging Team were still working hard, Sable and half the security detail were supposed to be enjoying a weekend layover in the nearby city of Gilgit. Just three marine security guards were left watching the facility on a video surveillance monitor from an underground bunker opposite.
Sable climbed off the mule and unloaded his saddlebags, making sure to avoid the security cameras on this clandestine visit. He accessed the compound via a disused fire escape located at the rear of the facility, well out of view of the marine bunker. It was supposed to have been filled on completion of the facility. But like so many other jobs, it had been left unfinished by the Pakistani workers. It took him straight to the facility’s solar-hydrogen power plant.
The Umass technology used in the power plant was state-of-the-art. Up until now, solar-hydrogen generators had only used the electrical portion of the sun’s light particles to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. These Umass generators now also harnessed the thermal energy produced by the infrared portion of the sun’s light spectrum.
Using the thermal energy from the infrared light, the generators were capable of heating water to 600 degrees Celsius. The superheated water vapour was then injected into an alkaline solution and forced to split into hydrogen and oxygen, using sunlight’s electrical energy. The process doubled the efficiency of conventional hydrogen generators and produced twice as much hydrogen-energy per photon of light used to make it. However, the quantity of hydrogen – highly flammable hydrogen – generated every minute, posed its own risks.
It was this risk that Sable hoped to exploit.
Sable hobbled his mule and carefully unloaded the contents of the saddlebags. Each bag contained a detonator and twenty pounds of plastic explosive. He struggled for longer than expected carrying the forty pounds of Semtex plastic explosive inside the facility. He was not as strong as he’d been in his youth. And he was tired and chilled. Panting, he dragged the explosives down the corridor and carefully placed the two bundles under the volatile hydrogen fuel cells of the facility’s solar- hydrogen generators. Next, he set the radio-controlled detonators. A devastating chain reaction would be triggered once the initial explosions had ignited the volatile hydrogen.
The detonators had a range of one mile.
Climbing back on the mule, Sable urged it back along the track away from the facility. Now, forty pounds lighter, the mule moved faster.
When he had crossed the first narrow mountain pass about a mile away, Sable knew he was out of danger. Reaching inside his coat he pulled out the remote detonator. He was sorry for the deaths that he was about to cause. Of the twenty scientists inside the facility, any one of them had the ability to rediscover what he had, and that must not be allowed to happen. They all had to be sacrificed.
Sable clenched his jaw and hit the ignition button.
Seconds later the ground shook. The mule shied. An ear-shattering blast ripped through GAT 5. Three years of research into the genetics of senescence went up in flames and with it, the only people capable of salvaging the secrets it contained.
Sable closed his eyes. It was done.
A glowing jet of yellow hydrogen flame speared out into the night sky. The once state-of-the-art genetic facility imploded, gutted by forty pounds of plastic explosive that had ignited the hydrogen forming a superheated fireball.
‘What the!’ the three marines in the bunker screamed together. Their cries cut short as the blast threw them backwards into the concrete wall of their bunker.
They fell to the floor unconscious.
Sable dug his heels into his mule. He had to make Gilgit within the hour or he would miss his plane. A mile down the road he reached the narrow pass 6,000 ft above sea level. He dismounted, put on his neat Quasar II skydiving parachute, slapped the mule on the rump and watched it disappear down the track.
Taking one last look in the direction of the carnage, Sable turned and ran hard at the edge of the mountain pass. He launched himself over the edge. His body sprawled out into the thin air, plummeting towards the valley one thousand metres below.
Then he pulled the cord.
The chute cracked open, at once checking Sable’s freefall with its bright canopy. Suddenly, he was sailing with the icy wind towards Gilgit – the chill piercing to his bones. He wrestled with the handles, and guided the parachute towards the airstrip just outside the city.
Descent was rapid.
A few yards off the ground, Sable yanked on the handles to flare the chute and slow his fall. He hit the ground, slid to a halt, dumped the chute and ran towards the nearest hangar.
Inside, a local Pakistani pilot sat at the controls of an old single-engine Cessna. He waved a hand nonchalantly when Sable appeared in the hangar entrance. It was time to start the engine. The single propeller whirled into life as the engine coughed and spewed black smoke. In minutes it was purring evenly.
Sable climbed into the co-pilot’s seat and buckled up. ‘Punch it, Yusuf. I’m anxious to get out of here!’ he puffed.
‘Sure thing.’ The pilot put out his cigarette and taxied out of the hangar.
hour they would be in Peshawar where Sable would board a commercial flight,
hopefully before anyone discovered he was missing.
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