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ANTIHELIDRITE

 

It’s a question of time as to whether any of this gets to print.  Will I survive long enough to recount on paper the events that led to my current fears?

 

I walked the short distance from the bus stop to the office, aware only of a problem!  Should I have awoken here?

 

My discomfort began to manifest earlier in the morning, but I can’t pinpoint precisely the moment it commenced.  At the earliest I can trace this perplexity back I was aware only of a vague emotional discomfort.  Earlier than this I had observed someone almost reluctantly awaken.  The feeling of lingering fatigue, after what should have been a restful and reviving night were familiar to me.  Even the face and dishevelled hair of the woman, still sleeping, close to me were no surprise.  But something seemed different!

 

I think, now, that maybe the first suspicion stirred, or was it merely some sort of resentment, when I realised she had no intention of rousing herself.  She made no attempt to do any more than roll over and clutch automatically at the disturbed bedclothes, as I swung to the floor and dressed myself.

 

The house was more quiet than I expected.  The kitchen table was set for one and I padded about the cold vinyl flooring in my thin cotton socks, observing myself retrieve bread, butter and ‘marmite’ from the pantry.

 

I remember loading the toaster and filling the kettle, at a distance I must have assumed was the grogginess of lingering sleep.

 

The instant I grabbed the half empty ‘marmite” jar and began smearing some on the melting butter, I had another faint surprise for, in fact, the label said ‘vegemite’.  I didn’t know we ever used that brand of yeast extract!

 

Outside the day was grey and miserable.  A cold breeze pulled at my coat and brief case as I pushed past the hydrangea bushes and down the short concrete path to the front gate.

 

On the bus somewhere between home and work, I gradually encountered the feeling of being less of an observer of myself.  I felt less as if I were half asleep.  Had I given it consideration I might have concluded that this feeling of groggy remoteness, from which I strove to emerge, was a natural repercussion of habitually complying with a dull daily routine.  What was occurring, the more wakeful I became, was mounting rejection of this man and his life and weekday destination.  I was not simply distanced from this office-bound worker I was not this man at all! 

 

From his eyes I watched the path his leather shoes doggedly dragged my rejecting gaze .

 

The door we passed through was a large, old wooden one, stripped of its paint back to its naked origins.  And the carpeted stairs led me to a plush but somewhat stifling series of offices.  My phone was already ringing, but my voice, when I answered it was not what I expected.

 

“What the hell do you want?” my voice demanded.  The other participant in the conversation responded, initially with only stunned silence and then gathered herself. 

 

“Mr Philips, Mr Clark would like to see you right away!”

 

The secretary’s face was flushed, as I strode past her and thrust open the bosses door, without knock or hesitation.  He, too, was taken aback. 

 

“Well”, he said, regaining both his composure and his leather-upholstered seat.  He beckoned me to deposit my rear-end on the one before his vast desk.  “Perhaps, Terrance, you can help me understand what’s happening.  You never showed up for work at any time during last week and you appear, I must say, to be in a rotten mood today!  What’s going on Man?  I telephoned your home several times last week and each time your wife informed me that you had departed for work as usual.  Your change in mood the previous weeks, was, in retrospect, an indication that something was amiss!” 

 

Suddenly I could identify with this man who, from the outside, must appear to be myself.  I knew the words he was about to speak would be my own.  But was I wise in issuing them, or would it be something I would regret?  I hadn’t thought I had come to a conclusion about how to address this problem.

 

“It’s about this antihelidrite.  I’ve been considering going public!”  Damn this was no way to tackle the situation!  What the hell do I think I’m doing?

 

Does Clark possess a poker-face?  Nothing seems to register.  “I don’t understand what you mean.”  He says slowly, with a benign, almost patronising expression.  “What has helidrite got to do with all this?”

 

“Orh!  Don’t give me that shit!  You know bloody well what I’m on about!”

 

“Terrance, I’m not competent to act as a psychological councillor but it’s obvious that something is very wrong.  Please try to be calm.  I honestly don’t understand how helidrite has any bearing on this situation.  What has helidrite got to do with any of this?”

 

Is this man a professional actor?  “Ever since I learned about that conversion process I was suspicious.  That end use is as demented and disgusting as Hitler’s ideas.  Are you prepared to tell me you’re happy with the notion of having your children and grandchildren made genetically redundant, superseded by a bunch of modified Belestanis?”

 

“For heaven’s sake Terrance, do you want me to humour you, or what?  I don’t want to treat you as demented but I can’t follow this process of reason at all.  Please go through your thoughts carefully and try to put them into some sort of order.”

 

“Do you want me to believe you haven’t read that article in ‘Science Horizons’, Ralph.  I thought you’d be a subscriber to that.  I found a copy in the lobby, here, a week and a half ago.  It said enough.  I could piece the rest together easily enough, after a little further research!”

 

“What did the article say, Terrance?”

 

“The article described how helidrite, which is already a rare element, can be converted into antihelidrite!”

 

“I thought when you used the name antihelidrite, earlier, that this was part of your dementia … I’m sorry, my misconstruction due to your present state of mind, which is agitated!  I’ve never come across the concept of antihelidrite.  Why did this process disturb you, Terrance?”

 

Is this person who is meant to be handling my words, playing right into his hands?  Is Clark merely leading me on to discover how much I know?  Could it really be that he doesn’t know!

 

“I’m trying hard to believe that you are as ignorant of this topic as what you’re claiming Ralph.  We’ve been exporting helidrite ever since you discovered it and got exclusive mining rights, two years ago.  … Damn it, you must have heard of antihelidrite before!  You’re the mineralogist!

 

The ‘Science Horizons’ states that it bears the same relationship to helidrite as what inverted sugar bears to ordinary sugar.  In other words, it is a crystal with a mirror-image structure of helidrite.  If polarised light were to be passed through it, it would be bent to the left instead of the right (or vice versa).  Of course, helidrite is opaque but rays, something like polarised X-rays (if there is such a thing) have shown that exact effect!  Very small amounts of antihelidrite have been discovered amongst helidrite.

 

Some private company has been having manufacturer and conversion of helidrite to antihelidrite done under zero-gravity conditions aboard the Space Shuttle.”

 

Ralph Clarke sat, stroking his bottom lip with his forefinger, elbow on desk.  His expression was thoughtful.  He coaxed me on with a nod.

 

“The company involved is a front-organisation for Belestani, the article concluded by saying!  Which country just happens to be buying all our helidrite?  Belestani!”

 

“What does that matter, Terrance?  Would it matter if all the helidrite, or any other element for that matter, was being bought by America or Britain?  What’s the fuss?”

 

“The article made reference to something that appeared in a sister publication, ‘Biology Highlights’.  I found the relevant issue in the library.  The writer asserts that a scientist experimenting with antihelidrite’s effects on DNA has disappeared, believed abducted or lured to Belestani.  This occurred nearly 18 months ago.”  I can see a certain worry on Clark’s face.  Is it because I know more than he had hoped or because he has been ignorant and is now beginning to sense the importance of what I’m disclosing?

 

“DNA has a spiral structure, right?”

 

Ralph Clark nods.

 

“The DNA of all organisms spirals clockwise.  But apparently if cells are cloned under the influence of antihelidrite they adopt a mirror-image spiral.  They then reform, when duplicating, in a counter-clockwise direction! 

 

Viruses invade the cells of organisms and pirate their host’s DNA for their own replication.  Viruses cannot do the same with cells with this restructured DNA!.  Wagner, the missing scientist, believes that not only plants but humans could be so engineered!

 

I looked up another publication, ‘Disarmament Review’, to see what they had to say about Belestani.  They declare that Belestani has probably the most heavily funded biological warfare research programme of any nation.”

 

“And you’ve concluded that antihelidrite is somehow assisting their germ warfare development programme.”

 

“No! … Well, only indirectly.”

 

“What then?”  Clark shrugged.

 

“They’re engineering a new generation of Belestani’s, immune to viruses.  They’ll be immune to all viral attack and can wipe out the rest of us with their new weaponry!”

 

Talking had brought me and this man called Terrance together but I wasn’t sure the way in which the subject had been handled was the best way it could have been.  This man, who stared back at me from the thick leather chair opposite, what was he really thinking in response to my disclosures?  Were the things I said as new to him as what his reaction was meant to convey?  Even if he was genuinely unaware of antihelidrite, and its diabolical application by the Belestanis, would he be prepared to sabotage future sales of helidrite to Belestani?  Would he go public on the subject?  Or … worse still, as I look into that face more intently does he consider that I’ve flipped?!

 

It’s true that this discovery has upset me, especially as I uncovered more of the story after initially reading the ‘Science Horizon’ contents.

 

“Terrance, I think that I’d like some verification of what you’ve been discussing.  What happened to the magazine.  I’d like to have a look at that.”

 

“Which one?  Science Horizon?”

 

“Yes, particularly that one, but that other one you mentioned.  The one referring to the antihelidrite and its influence on DNA!  I’d be keen to read that, too!”

 

I walked to the door.

 

“Oh, and Terrance, once you’ve located that literature, take a few days off …  You know Terrance that business is a different scene from what it used to be.  We see ourselves as members of a team.  It’s much more in tune with current ‘new age’ trends, I guess you could say.  The concept of corporate health is a corollary of these changing attitudes.

 

Now, this is meant to cast no slur on your esteem and I’ve thought of it only to overcome the obvious trauma these apparent discoveries have precipitated, but I think, as a valued member of RCIC, you should avail yourself of some psychological assistance from an acquaintance of mine.  I’ll make an appointment for this afternoon!”

 

I feel kicked to the far end of this hall called Terrance Philips.  The wind has dropped from my sails, the steam has escaped from my boiler, the detonator has been swiped from my cartridge.  A wave of impotence seems to have engulfed me.

 

Terrance Philips compliantly closed the door behind him.  Inside, part of me is a red hot wire, glowing in the dark!

 

I borrowed the company car and drove towards home to retrieve the copy of ‘Science Horizon’, which I had placed in a folder, along with photocopies of the report in ‘Biology Highlights’.  Maybe something constructive would come out of this.

 

Some of the heat from that inner element was directed at myself, I presume because of my disappointment at Philips for the way the morning’s procedures had transpired.  The inception of the confrontation with Clark had drop-forged a sudden sense of identity with this me, called Philips.  It would have been possible to have looked backwards from that moment to the start of my day (and the character of those days preceding) and witness the dissolution of me and Philips, to realise through the contrast the enormity of my earlier sense of dislocation.  Right now, though, the sensation of this morning, that emotional discomfort of the morning’s bus ride, was welling up again.

 

The car swung suddenly in towards the kerb, without indicating, and I had barely had the chance to register that Philip’s eyes had, once again, caught sight of that grey Ford Falcon in the rear view mirror!

 

Philip’s feet carried me into the nearest shop, the florists, and we left clutching a bunch of carnations.  The eyes I’m using scanned back, feigning non-chalance, along the line of parked cars.  The Falcon was double-parked, eight cars back!

 

We rejoined the traffic.  Philips took two small detours, eyeing the mirror at each manoeuvre and on each occasion somewhere behind followed the Falcon!

 

I remember I hadn’t told Clark which library I had found the ‘Biology Highlights’ in.  We swing into the carpark of our local suburban library and strode purposefully into the building.  On leaving the warmth of the library we glanced, casually along the line of parked cars.  No Falcon.  “Paranoia”, laughed Philips and, inside, I joined his relief.

 

The company car pulled up outside a front gate that I knew very well.  My own!

 

Kathy was out weeding the garden.  I caught sight of her as I reached the hydrangeas that invasively hugged the path.  She rose from her knees in surprise and I could see that her eyes were red, from crying.

 

“Clark has arranged an appointment for me with some psychiatrist friend of his, this afternoon.”  Philips stammered.  Self-consciously he held out the carnations.

 

My heart had gone out to Kathy when her surprised face had turned at the noise of my/our approach.  But now in the midst of their sobbing embrace, the carnations crushed hard against Kathy’s heaving shoulders the words he had spoken rung in my ears as words of betrayal!

 

Now a life of words and experiences seeped back out of a mist, memories that I was eager to disown.

 

“I’ll come with you, Terrance”, I heard her say.

 

“I’ve come home to take the folder of evidence back to Clark.  I confronted him about the antihelidrite this morning.  He claims he knows nothing about it and wants my story corroborated with the literature I’ve collected!”  I managed to prod Philips into purposefulness.

 

“Oh Terrance, don’t revert to that!”  Pleaded Kathy, hugging my body desperately.  “These last few days have been terrible.  You know that evidence just doesn’t exist!”

 

Philips crumpled again and his chin rocked on Kathy’s shoulder, as he nodded his assent.

 

Dr Barry Fletcher’s clinic was situated in a long-established tree-lined avenue, on the wealthy side of town.  Kathy and Terrance’s feet swished through the deep drift of fallen leaves as they took a short-cut across the corner of the lawn and up the cobblestone path to the foyer.  Neither noticed the grey Ford Falcon glide slowly past and around the corner.

 

There was no waiting.  Just as the note on Terrance’s desk asserted.  Dr Fletcher would await him at 2.15 pm.  Fletcher was a big amicable man.  The back and sides of his otherwise balding head were thickly forested with greying, wavy hair.

 

“Ralph has told me of his reasons for his concerns, Terrance.  Perhaps you could tell me a little about the things you’ve been experiencing over say, the last two or three weeks.  And Kathy don’t feel you need to remain silent, if you feel at any time during our discussion there is something you would like to add, from your perspective.”

 

After a pause Terrance began to speak.  “One day, the week before last (a Tuesday it was) as I was leaving my office and was walking through the lobby I happened to notice a magazine on the table that’s there.  I think there was something about the cover that caught my attention.  It wasn’t the words but the brilliant imagery.  I hadn’t come across this publication before.  It was called ‘Science Horizons’.  I thought I’d take it home and look through it.” 

 

Fletcher looked across at Kathy for confirmation.

 

“He did read through a magazine one evening, sometime back then.  I really don’t remember any details, merely that it wasn’t one we subscribe to and I concluded that Terrance must have bought it on the way home.”

 

“It was an article about our company’s most significant export that really led to this appointment with you.  It was because of what I read on the subject that I finally confronted Ralph and in response he suggested ‘I would perhaps benefit from talking to you.”

 

“Tell me about the company that Ralph created, Terrance.  What is its major product and what did the magazine say about that product?”

 

“RCIC (that stands for Ralph Clark Industrial Chemicals) exports a range of chemicals, mainly rarer minerals used for specific manufacturing processes, such as in catalytic sequences, purification purposes and metal alloying.

 

Helidrite, a very rare element, first discovered by Ralph himself, is the firm’s most lucrative export.  It all goes to Belestani.  And until reading that article, I was under the impression that they were using it in some patented metal-hardening process that they had developed.  However, the writer shed a slightly different light on the subject and I began to suspect that it’s use was probably more sophisticated than simply improving the durability of steel!

 

Amongst the helidrite we’ve been mining and exporting, someone discerned an even rarer substance they’ve called antihelidrite.  The crystals of antihelidrite are a complete mirror-image of ordinary helidrite.  This means that although chemically they are identical they none-the-less, can be used to produce very different effects.

 

An illustration showed that helidrite in zero-gravity, if excited to plasma state and ‘blown’ past a super-cooled crystal of antihelidrite will recombine to antihelidrite, on cooling.  The Belestanis are paying for the process to take place during commercial projects, aboard the US Space Shuttle.  The ‘Science Horizon’ alluded to a related topic in a publication called ‘Biology Highlights’.  I found the relevant issue in the library and the author of one of its features claimed that a Professor Ronald Wagner, who has been working with the newly discovered substance (antihelidrite), has found that plant and animal cells replicating under its influence produce DNA helices which spiral in a direction opposite to normal!

 

Because of this new configuration these cells (and any organism they could constitute) is immune to attack from all existing viruses.  Only similarly constructed viruses would be able to utilise their genetic material for their own reproduction.

 

But this Professor Wagner disappeared about 18 months ago and the only leads suggest he has either been abducted or lured to Belestani!  You know that the free-world has been suspicious of Belestani, for various reasons, for years.  It’s a well documented fact too, that they have put heaps of effort into biological weaponry and were rumoured to be testing it on insurgent guerillas with devastating results.

 

It’s my contention that antihelidrite is being used with Wagner’s willing or unwilling expert assistance to create a new generation of virus resistant Belestanis.  They would be immune to any current contagen and also unendangered by widespread use of Belestani’s biological weapons!”

 

Momentarily Fletcher’s eyes were glazed and introspective.  He nodded sagely.

 

“What did these assertions do to your attitude to your work at RCIC?”

 

“I felt that I’d been working to help establish something as disgusting as Nazism!”

 

“Have you made any attempt to preserve the evidence you’ve discovered?”  Fletcher cast a glance at Kathy, anxiously but subtly shaking her head.

 

“I …”  Part of me is insisting yes.  I still have the magazine and I’ve photocopied the article from ‘Biological Highlights’, but the voice, it won’t comply.  A force is pushing me to the far end of this hall called Terrance Philips.  “I thought I had.  I have a memory of having done it.”  The body around me is shaking, short irratic breaths and my vision is blurring with moisture.  “Kathy insists that I’ve somehow imagined it all.”

 

“Kathy”, enquiried Dr Fletcher, “have you ever seen anything that would substantiate Terrance’s beliefs, regarding his purported evidence?”

 

“No.  It became more and more obvious that something was upsetting Terrance.  He became withdrawn and uncommunicative.  I thought, at first, he was perhaps frustrated and dissatisfied with our love-life.  But any attempt I made to encourage him sexually were reacted to with aversion, not eagerness.  And this had been building up over a longer period than the couple of weeks that Terrance is aware of!

 

Terrance began to allude to evidence of something big, something bad he had inadvertently helped occur.  When I asked to see the evidence Terrance claimed that he couldn’t find it and that it must have been stolen.  I think that Terrance also felt he was under observation by someone, presumably connected with this story.”

 

“I was convinced today, when coming home to … well, I thought I was going to pick up the evidence I’d put into a folder in my writing desk.  There was a grey Ford Falcon that seemed to be making an effort to stay just a certain distance behind me as I drove.  It made various detours, duplicating my own.”

 

“Thinking back to Kathy’s remarks about your love-life, have you always had an aversion to sexual contact?”

 

“No.  I imagine I was as interested as most other men, but lately … lately, even though we wouldn’t have been making love procreatively my certainty about the Belestani’s genetic program made the act seem redundant and futile!’

 

“When it comes to the possibility of admitting to yourself that this series of discoveries that led to your conclusions about the Belestanis is in some way a product of your imagination what sort of metal reactions ensue?”

 

“I can’t understand why such a series of ideas or experiences should or could seem real.  It still seems real, even as I talk.  At the moment I can entertain the notion that I’m sick, that these are delusions.  But this is an exercise in logic, it doesn’t dispel the memories I have.

 

When you asked earlier whether I had preserved the evidence I was aware of a struggle within me.  It was as if two people were attempting to answer the question.  The present me can, as I’ve said, entertain the idea that I’m deluded, but the other me is disgusted at what its see as weak compliance.”

 

“Our profession has names for these multiple selves and names to describe various psychological conditions.  But of course naming things does not dispel them, it categorises.”

 

“What would you call the condition you consider I’m subject to?”

 

“Similar conditions, I have seen in others I term Paranoid Schizophrenia, but as I said, this does not abate the condition and no two people suffering Paranoid Schizophrenia display entirely the same symptoms.  Psychoanalysis can help explore the underlying causes and exposure to and acceptance of these precipitating conditions can lead to marked improvement.  The condition is characterised by altered brain chemistry and medication is usually resorted to.  Medication is tailored, as much as it can be, to suit the severity and characteristics of the case.  How have you been sleeping lately?”

 

“Well, my sleep has been disturbed and some of my dreams seem abnormally vivid.  When you ask me to accept that the things I mentioned may not have actually occurred I come close to believing that I must have dreamt them.”

 

“I’ll prescribe something that will help you sleep, Terrance, and this particular medication will also calm your imagination a little too!  Ralph has suggested that you take some time off.  Take the pills for, say, three days and, Kathy, if Terrance seems more stable, less obsessed, then I recommend you go away to some place novel, together.  Some place you’ve both shown interest in but have never been to.  Not too far away!  I’d like to start seeing you on a regular basis, Terrance, so that we can perhaps get to the root of the situation.

 

Get back into contact with me if you feel any need before then, but we’ll put you down for the 16th May shall we?”

 

Both Kathy and Terrance agreed and took their leave passing an ornately rouged and mascaraed old lady, a veritable time capsule, languishing in the waiting room.

 

Talking about things, things he had for some reason shut off from Kathy had left him feeling tired but pleasantly sedated.  Kathy held his hand affectionately as they walked back to the car, and on his knee as he drove.

 

This was me that had felt kicked to the far end of the hall called Terrance Philips, felt dismissed and crept forward in a conciliatory fashion.  I would watch the world through his eyes, without imposing.  I needed love too!

 

Neither Terrance nor Kathy had been outside New Zealand.  Sydney was decided on as a destination.

 

The medication seemed well chosen.  Each awoke knowing that sleep had accomplished the nightly miracle it is meant to accomplish.

 

The plane carried them across the Tasman, from Christchurch to Sydney.

 

Four days later as Kathy and Terrance sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for their taxi to take them back to the airport, Terrance noticed a magazine on the lobby table.  It had a distinctive cover.  He leafed through it with familiarity and ominous expectation.  It was the latest issue of ‘Science Horizons’, printed the week previous and in it was the article about antihelidrite.

 

 

 

 

 

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