Paul Froomes graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from Monash University in 1989 and completed a post doctorate degree in liver research from Melbourne University in 2001. He has published research papers in peer reviewed medical journals and 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. The Milan Paradox is his second novel.
Italian Genetic Research Facility
The Desert, Algeria, North Africa
Captain Brad ‘Scorpion’ Talbot reached forward and
placed the thumbtack-sized lock destroying explosive firmly on the panel of the
digital combination lock. A few seconds later, the Lock-Blaster exploded with a
blinding yellow flash that sent the heavy metal lock pad tumbling to the ground.
With a hiss, the vacuum-sealed door of the underground compound unlocked. The
marine Captain shoved the heavy metal door open. A rush of hot carbon-tainted
air rushed into the chamber, followed by a cascade of dusty sand.
‘Move it!’ the marine yelled, as he pushed the boy
up the ladder towards the surface.
Toby squinted through raw eyelids at the harsh light of
the desert. It surrounded him like a vast dry sea. Having never been outside the
confines of the underground compound, in which he had spent his entire sixteen
years of life, he had never imagined something so infinite and so desolate.
Undulating tan colored dunes stretched away along the horizon in every
direction, further than he could see. The air was dry and had a strange metallic
smell, a chemical smell. He found it very unpleasant.
‘Come on, kid, punch it!’ The marine urged him on.
Toby’s breath came in ragged gasps as he ran wildly,
desperately trying to keep up with the huge soldier in front of him. He felt
exhilarated at finally escaping the compound, but highly conspicuous in his
white all-in-one ‘clean-suit.’ He looked like a beacon next to the tall
muscular frame of the marine in his desert fatigues. The anti-flash glasses,
which the soldier had given him as they escaped the facility, had miraculously
transformed the blinding sunlight, allowing him to open his eyes again. He
noticed the name badge on the marine’s chest said Talbot.
They kept running hard across the barren desert.
The marine spoke into the throat microphone of his
secure Motorola MX300 radio. ‘Oasis, this is Scorpion, come in.’
‘Scorpion, this is Oasis. Do you have the package?
‘Affirmative. I’ll be at the checkpoint in five
minutes. Request immediate evacuation, over.’
As the marine finished his last sentence, a
high-pitched whistling sound rocketed overhead. Toby turned towards the noise
and was hurled onto his back by the force of a deafening explosion.
Twenty feet to his right, a fountain of super-heated
sand blasted out from the ground. It rose high into the air, showering him with
clumps of burning molten sand.
‘Shit, mortar fire!’ Scorpion dropped to the ground
and covered Toby with his body, shielding him from the lethal fallout.
Coughing sand from his lungs, Toby felt himself dragged
upright again and forced into a run, behind him the sound of automatic gunfire.
Suddenly, a hail of bullets slapped into the desert
floor kicking up a spray of sand that stung Toby’s face.
‘Move it. Over to that dune, now!’ Scorpion shouted
Barely able to see through the smoke haze from the
mortar, Toby staggered towards the ridge of the dune. His head reeled from the
percussion shock of another mortar explosion. Scorpion picked him up off the
sand again and pushed him forward.
Toby had longed to experience the outside world, but
had no idea it could assault his senses so savagely. He had expected that direct
sunlight would blind him, but even the air he breathed on the outside seemed
thick and strange. His lungs heaved with the effort of breathing and he coughed
Scorpion turned to face his assailants. Three armored
desert buggies, with top mounted M16 machine-guns and barrel-mounted grenade
launchers, were bearing down on them fast. A puff of smoke extended from the
grenade launcher of the lead vehicle, a telltale sign that a grenade had been
Moments later, another ear-splitting explosion. The
grenade slammed into the face of the sand dune Toby was heading for.
‘Overshot the mark with that one, you prick,’
Scorpion muttered to himself. Crouching into a tight firing position, Scorpion
picked out the lead buggy through the telescopic sight of his MP-5K submachine
gun. With a squeeze of the trigger, he sent a volley of shots into the open
canopy of the oncoming vehicle. A hail of bullets hammered into it.
Through the telescopic lens, he saw a jet of blood
spurt from the skull of the buggy driver. The two men on the guns in the rear
were thrown out as the buggy rolled in high-speed cartwheels. The crunch of
grinding metal echoed across the sand.
‘One down, two to go!’ Scorpion took aim at the two
remaining buggies and fired two fragmentation grenades at them from the M-203
grenade launcher slung underneath his MP-5.
A cloud of smoke and sand billowed into the air in
front of each buggy as the grenades exploded. Then, red-hot shrapnel showered
them like petals of fire. Through the haze, the two vehicles ploughed on, their
bodies riddled with holes.
‘Damn!’ Scorpion spat into the sand.
The buggies opened fire again.
Scorpion shouldered his weapon and broke for the dune
at a flat sprint. A hail of bullets chased him. He caught Toby half way up,
struggling in the heat.
‘Come on!’ Scorpion yelled. ‘Move it or lose
Toby scrambled up the shifting sand with renewed vigor,
but he slipped back down almost as fast as he climbed up. His feet seemed like
Scorpion climbed past Toby easily and began hauling him
up. He shouted into his throat mike. ‘Oasis, this is Scorpion. We’re taking
fire. We’re comin’ in hot.’ Bullets kept raining down around them.
With the crest of the dune only a stride away, Scorpion
grabbed Toby firmly by the seat and shoulder of his clean-suit. He stood to
throw him over the top of the dune. As Scorpion launched him through the air,
two bullets slammed into his exposed back.
Yelling with fright, Toby flew several feet through the
air, up and over the crest and down the steep slope of the other side.
Scorpion let out a loud groan, his body thrown over the
crest of the dune by the impact of the bullets. The pair toppled down the face
of the dune coming to rest at the huge feet of two more marines.
The taller of the two, a black sergeant named
Jefferson, stared at Toby with his hands on his hips, while his companion,
sergeant major Eddy ‘Bull’ Bullstock, a heavily built man with a shaved
head, trained an M-16 on the ridge of the dune.
Scorpion rolled back onto his feet and began walking,
hunched slightly due to the pain. ‘Take care of the kid, Alabama?’
Alabama Jefferson laughed when he saw Scorpion’s
back. Two holes were visible in the back of his desert fatigues. ‘Hey Capt’n,
looks like you been shot.’
‘No shit, Einstein!’ Scorpion said through gritted
‘Damn, I never thought I’d see Capt’n Talbot all
shot up and ordinary like that.’ Jefferson almost felt sorry for the bastards
who’d shot at his commander. Through his commando training Jefferson had met
some hard-nosed combat soldiers, but no-one came close to Talbot. He was easily
the most ferocious and explosive shock troop Jefferson had ever seen. He had to
be, for he commanded a band of ruthless combat specialists whose respect was
earned only by acts of extreme courage. To his men, Talbot was a leader and a
warrior worth following to the death. For Scorp to have been shot at meant only
one thing, he had left behind a trial of bodies.
Jefferson used his boot to roll Toby onto his back. He
peered at the pale, exhausted boy.
Toby lay there his faced caked in sand. His chest was
so tight, it was almost as though his lungs were trying to stop the foul air
from getting in.
The giant soldier next to Jefferson began to back away
from the dune. ‘All of you, back into the chopper, on the double!’ Bull
‘You alive, boy?’ the black sergeant enquired.
‘Yes, I think so.’ Toby replied.
‘Well, you heard the sergeant major, we best be movin’
along.’ With that, Alabama hoisted Toby over his shoulders and ferried him
into the waiting S-70A Black
Bull walked backwards toward the helicopter, his rifle
aim never once leaving the crest of the dune. ‘Fire up the bird, Hawk,’ he
ordered the pilot through his throat microphone.
‘Roger that, Bull,’ replied Lieutenant Hawkins.
With a loud whining sound the massive rotors sprang to
life, spinning increasingly faster until they became nothing but a deafening
Captain Brad Talbot slid over onto the armored panel of
the chopper nursing his aching ribs. He felt behind him awkwardly and fingered
the two dents in the rear panels of his body armor. He looked hard at his
fingers, relieved to find no blood. Saved
again by the Kevlar, he thought.
‘Go, go, go!’ The co-pilot of the Black Hawk yelled
hurriedly through his headset at the two marines still on the ground. They leapt
With a loud roar, the pilot engaged the blades and the
chopper took off, its missile pods trained directly at the dune ridge in front
of it. The pilot held the S-70A in a slow controlled ascent, warming up the
engines. At 50 feet above the ground, he reached the crest of the dune, and was
suddenly confronted by the second armored vehicle. The buggy crested the dune
and careered, engine screeching, into the air. The third buggy followed at a
Hawk swung the helicopter around, bringing the
side-mounted .50 caliber machine-gun to bear on the vehicles. The gunner, Sergeant Tex Judkins, opened fire on the
It sneaked under his aim and careered down the face of
the sand dune under a hail of streaming bullets. The soldier inside held tight
for the landing, then jumped back up with his machine-gun and took aim at the
helicopter. He opened fire with a sickening blast. The rounds pelted the S-70A
and bounced off the heavily armored forward ends of the fuselage.
With the target no longer free-falling, Judkins took
better aim. Orange tongues of flame leapt from the spinning barrel of his .50
caliber gun. The stream of tracer bullets cut through the second buggy like a
circular saw, sending the now separate front and rear ends of the vehicle
crashing to the ground, all the occupants dead.
‘Nice shootin,’ Tex!’ Alabama cheered into his
Sergeant Tex Judkins let out a whooping cheer.
Lieutenant Hawkins didn’t wait for the third armored
vehicle to crest the dune. He hit the engine throttle on the control stick and
applied maximum torque to the main rotor. The force generated by the rotating
blades thrust them rapidly skyward, away from the line of fire of the one
remaining buggy. He banked the chopper steeply to the south and onto a bearing
that would take them back towards the USS Conquest helicopter carrier-ship,
situated 100 nautical miles off the Algerian coast.
Suddenly, the missile warning light flashed on the
instrument control panel and a loud alarm sounded inside the cockpit. The gunner
from the third armored buggy had fired a surface-to-air missile (SAM) at the
chopper as it raced for home.
‘Man, these guys just don’t know when to quit. Hang
on, we’ve got a SAM incoming!’ Hawkins warned the crew.
‘Holy shit!’ exclaimed Alabama.
Captain Talbot clung onto his seat grimly, taking
shallow breaths through the pain of his two broken ribs.
‘Initiating countermeasures!’ Hawkins shouted, as
he reached for the control panel in front him and engaged the electronic
supports. A powerful radio generator inside the chopper began emitting a signal
that jammed the SAM’s guidance system. Looking back behind him, he noticed the
flight of the missile begin to waver. He ordered his co-pilot, ‘Fox one, ECM
With the flick of a switch the co-pilot fired a barrage
of spinning metal decoys at the approaching SAM. At that moment, Hawk thrust the
Black Hawk into a nosedive to avoid the oncoming missile.
The marines scrambled around the crew compartment as
the chopper lurched downward. The SAM moved awkwardly through the air towards
the ECM devices, its guidance system thrown into confusion. Like a wounded
falcon, it crashed into the ECMs and exploded in fire. No phoenix would rise
from its ashes.
The fallout from the impact rocked the Black Hawk on
its downward dive, kicking it off its course. Lurching sideways in the cockpit,
Hawkins wrestled with the cyclic controls of the chopper. Sweat beaded his brow.
The aircraft was now locked in a deadly spiral fall towards the desert sands.
Hawkins pushed the foot controls to steady the pitch adjustment of the tail
rotor. With the cyclic stick he tilted the swashplate rotating ring and shifted
the pitch of the chopper away from the ground. The stick shuddered as the
centrifugal forces created by the fall threatened to drag the chopper to the
‘Come on you mule!’ Hawkins snarled at the
instrument panel. In seconds it would be too late.
The angle of the nose cone started to lift. Painfully
slowly, Hawkins felt the cyclic control stick respond to his grip. The chopper
started to move upwards. When just enough angle had been gained on the
swashplate ring, he hit the throttle hard on the control stick again. The engine
screamed into life, hurling the craft skywards. Hawkins breathed a little
‘Nice one, Hawk!’ Talbot complimented.
Alabama stood hunched over the thin figure of Toby,
curled up on the floor of the chopper. ‘Hey, Capt’n, you better get a look
at this kid. He don’t look so good.’
Cringing on the floor of the crew compartment, Toby
groaned in pain. His sandy[.1] hair now plastered down on his face with sweat. The
salty substance was alien to him. He had never been exposed to more then a
five-degree change in atmospheric temperature inside the climate-controlled
compound where he had grown up. His face and hands now burned with blotchy red
welts and blisters that disfigured the skin of any areas on his body not
protected by his white clean-suit.
Despite the anti-flash glasses he had worn, Toby’s
severely blood-shot eyes oozed yellow pus that rendered him almost blind. His
breathing was wheezy. He was suffering his first ever asthma attack and his
chest heaved with the effort of expelling each breath through his choked
airways. He began convulsing on the floor.
‘Damn, it’s happening so soon. Hold on kid, I got
your back.’ Talbot held Toby’s convulsing body clear of any dangerous
objects inside the compartment and protected his airway. ‘Doc! Get off that
machine-gun and fix this kid?’
Sergeant Dwight ‘Doc’ Barnes turned to face his
commander. Doc was a lean muscular man with a finely chiseled face and the solid
square jaw of a boxer. He had completed three years of medical school before
joining the marines in search of a career that better suited his angry
temperament. Still, he was the only person on board who studiously maintained
his combat medical certificate. ‘Sorry Cap, my mind was still in combat
mode.’ He rushed to the boy.
‘Yeah, well you better switch it into Doc mode before
this kid pegs out.’
‘Yes sir! Here, hold out his arm, Capt’n.’
Doc reached inside his field medical kit and produced a
needle and syringe. It was preloaded with 5 mcg of clonazepam. He injected one
milligram of the clear liquid straight into a vein in the boy’s arm. Within 10
seconds his fitting had ceased.
‘Good work, Doc.’
Doc quickly examined the boy.
‘He’s going into anaphylactic shock, Capt’n.
Looks like some kind of generalized allergic reaction and a severe one at
that.’ He lifted Toby off the floor and placed him inside a transparent
Perspex chamber located at the rear of the crew compartment. Fitting a nebulizer
mask to Toby’s face, Doc switched on the Ventolin and a fine mist of drug
wafted into Toby’s lungs.
Toby looked at him uncertainly.
‘Don’t be afraid, kid. This will make your
breathing a lot easier.’
Toby gratefully breathed hard on the mask.
Doc put up a bag of saline fluid through an intravenous
line and administered a shot of dexamethasone and antihistamine to block
Toby’s allergic response. Satisfied, he sealed the chamber and switched on the
filtered air supply. ‘There, that ought to keep him going until we make
Alabama turned to Doc. ‘Sweet mother o’ Jesus, Doc. What the hell is
wrong with that kid?’
‘He is no ordinary kid, Alabama. He is a clean kid.’
‘A clean kid? What, you mean like he takes a bath all the time?’
Alabama laughed at his own stupidity.
‘No, I mean he’s genetically clean. That kid has the purest DNA in
the world, not a mutation anywhere. Been raised in a completely pure
environment. Not like the shit hole you came from.’
‘Hey, you’re just lucky we’re on the same team,
Doc, or I might take offence at that.’
‘The kid has never been exposed to sunlight, never
breathed unpurified air, never come in contact with a virus nor has anything
impure passed his lips. Scorp has just liberated him from a cocoon. There is one
other special thing about him too. He is a clone.’
‘A clone! Bullshit, Doc. A clone of what?’
‘Not what, Alabama, the relevant question is a clone
The sergeant lost interest and took a seat up front.
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