Earth Angel by Valmore Daniels by Valmore Daniels - Read Online

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Earth Angel - Valmore Daniels

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Table of Contents

Earth Angel

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Epilogue

Newsletter

About The Author

Chapter One

Eritque repente confestim. A Domino exercituum visitabitur in tonitru et commotione terrae et voce magna turbinis et tempestatis, et flammæ ignis devorantis.

(And it shall be at an instant suddenly. A visitation shall come from the Lord of hosts in thunder, and with earthquake, and with a great noise of whirlwind and tempest; and with the flame of devouring fire.) – Isaiah 29:6

The screams of the dying man woke me.

For a moment after consciousness returned, I believed those cries were really happening right there and then, but I quickly realized I’d had a nightmare—the nightmare; the only one I’d had for the past year.

It didn’t come as a relief that it had been a bad dream. What had happened wasn’t something my imagination had created. I was doomed to relive that horror every time I went to sleep.

I couldn’t take it back. Ever.

Rubbing my eyes, as if I could wipe the memories away with that simple action, I sat up from my office desk. Outside the window, snow was falling. It had come early this year, even for Chicago.

My forehead hurt; I’d fallen asleep with my head on a pencil. Idly, I rubbed at the spot, hoping there wouldn’t be a bruise later.

I hadn’t meant to pass out, but it was very late at night, and I’d been working on the chemical composites for hours. It was complex enough to make most people’s eyes go crossed. There were only so many variations I could look at before needing a break.

Leaning back in the desk chair, I stretched and yawned, trying to forget about the ghosts haunting my memory.

The computer monitor cast a kaleidoscope of illuminated images across the wall and ceiling behind and above me. The office was small and cramped. There were no bookshelves or hanging plaques. The only furniture in the room was the plain desk and chair. I hadn’t gotten around to unpacking the boxes piled on the floor. To do so would be an admission of my new role, and an admission of my own failures.

Still, I had a job to do.

Taking a deep breath, I leaned forward to the computer again, grabbed the mouse, and clicked the cursor to start the composite slides from the beginning.

It makes no sense, I said aloud, and clicked the mouse button a few more times. How can this be right?

Every sequence I examined failed my test, and yet, somehow, the project was moving forward.

Dr. Chase?

The voice surprised me, and I jumped back from the screen, whipping my head around to see a young student standing in the doorway.

It was Tim Bellows, who couldn’t have been old enough to buy a drink legally, though I remember him mentioning he’d just turned twenty-three. With sandy blond hair and a square jaw, he looked like a frat boy, but I recalled him saying he was following his father’s footsteps. I didn’t think the world needed more plastic surgeons, but who was I to judge?

I’m not a doctor, I said. Then, in a lower voice, mostly to myself, I added, not anymore.

"Uh… Mr. Chase?"

I told you, call me Kyle. Despite the fact that I was only ten years older than him, his boyish manner made me feel old.

All right.

I cocked my head in question at him when he didn’t state his business. He just stood there with a sheepish grin.

Clearing my throat, I asked, Tim, was there something I can help you with?

Yeah, he said, taking a step into the room. The professor told me to come and get you. He’s waiting for you to start the trial.

I frowned. It’s not ready, damn it. I told him this.

It didn’t matter, though. I’d argued until I was blue in the face. Even though I couldn’t replicate the results independently, we were going ahead with the project.

Tim shrugged. Don’t look at me. I’m just here for the extra credit.

Right, I said, and let out a deep sigh.

And he wanted to make sure we didn’t forget the video camera.

I pointed toward the corner of the room. It’s over there.

While he went across to get the equipment, I printed off four of the sequences I was most concerned with, and then logged off my computer.

Letting Tim go first, I closed and locked my office door and then followed him down the hall to the lab. All the other doors were closed as well, and the lights were out. Our footsteps against the tile floor echoed in that eerie way that only happens in long, dimly lit halls.

Don’t get me wrong, Tim said, shifting the video camera and the tripod to his other arm, the credit is great and all, but a recommendation from him will guarantee me an internship in the hospital of my choice.

I had to admit the truth of it. The professor’s reputation was widespread throughout the medical community. Though he had only been a general surgeon for a short period of his career before returning to the university to teach, several of his research projects had led to advancements and patents that had not only furthered medical practices, but had filled the coffers of the university through their licensing office.

You must’ve impressed him, I said. He rarely takes on any assistants.

Tim had the grace to look humble. I’d like to think that my application spoke for itself, but it’s possible my father might have put in a good word. He and the professor have known each other since university, way back.

When I’d first been introduced to Tim, I recognized his last name. Not only was Dr. Phil Bellows one of Chicago’s leading plastic surgeons, he was on the university’s board of trustees, and had a seat on the state medical board. I didn’t have to imagine the kind of pressure Tim felt; I knew what it was like to live under the shadow of a prestigious parent.

Don’t sell yourself short, I said. He doesn’t play favorites when it comes to his assistants, and he doesn’t bow to politics. Never has.

Thanks, Tim said, beaming at the implied praise.

I asked, So, why are we doing this so late at night?

You’re seriously asking that?

I gave him a surprised look. What?

He laughed. Has it been that long since you’ve been on campus?

It had been almost ten years.

My pre-med days are something of a blur, I said. I remember lots of coffee and late nights, but that was for cramming for tests.

Shaking his head, he said, It’s a mad house here during the day.

Of course. I nodded, finally understanding.

There were hundreds of students attending the medical school, and the labs were always filled. Professors and students who wanted dedicated lab time, or wanted to experiment in private, often had to adjust their schedule.

Tim said, If you’re looking for a little uninterrupted time, after midnight is the best.

Ah.

With a grin, he said, Working long, odd hours comes with the job description.

I tried to remember the years of medical school, and then internship and residency. Twelve, sometimes twenty-hour shifts were normal fare. I don’t know how I did it.

The professor is brilliant, Tim said a moment later.

There was a note in his voice that was more than the typical youthful awe of a student to a teacher. I stopped walking and faced him. What do you mean?

You should see some of the things he’s done. It’s unbelievable.

Looking down at the printouts in my hand, I asked, Has he explained to you how he managed to do it?

Tim shook his head. He told me it’s privileged information. I understand he needs a certain amount of secrecy, especially if he’s going to apply for a patent. I’m just glad my name will be on the research paper. That kind of thing follows you around for the rest of your life.

I lifted the printouts. You’ve obviously been involved in the research. Do you have any thoughts on how this can possibly work?

Glancing at the papers, Tim shook his head. No, but it’s revolutionary, don’t you agree?

I frowned. The compound, if it were legitimate, would indeed be a massive step forward, but I couldn’t reconcile the data the professor had given me with my own computer simulations.

Tim let out a hollow laugh. Like I said, I’m just the assistant. Mostly, I do a lot of research legwork. I’m a glorified gofer.

We continued down the hall in silence, but it seemed Tim had spent the time trying to phrase a question.

When the professor told me he was adding another assistant to the project, I got curious. I looked you up on the internet.

My stomach tightened. Oh?

Sometimes it pays to know who you’re working with, you know?

Sometimes, I agreed.

Reluctantly, he said, I read about what happened.

It wasn’t a subject I was comfortable talking about under the best of circumstances, and I’d only just met Tim yesterday.

As if sensing my reluctance, he asked, Or am I crossing the line?

I sighed. The internet was a wonderful creation when it came to sharing information; the problem came when there was information you didn’t want shared. Whether or not I confirmed or denied those events, the details were out there for anyone with an internet connection to read.

Trying to sound understanding, Tim said, The news feeds and bloggers can skew anything.

They can, I said tersely.

Telling my side of the story didn’t make a difference. People would form their own opinions, and I’d have to live with that for the rest of my life. I knew I’d have to endure these questions wherever I went, but it didn’t make it any easier.

I get it, he said. It’s none of my business. I won’t bring it up again.

I started walking down the hall toward the lab. Thanks.

I was trying hard not to be annoyed with him, since he seemed friendly enough, but he obviously wasn’t going to take his own advice and let the subject drop.

For what it’s worth, he said, the professor was very upset at the verdict. He thought you were given a raw deal. He really went to bat with the board of trustees to bring you here.

Well, I said as we reached the main doors of the lab, fathers are like that.

Chapter Two

I held the door open for Tim, letting him go inside first.

The lab was set up in the last room at the end of the building. Two relatively small windows were on the wall opposite the door; between them was a larger window extending almost from the floor to the ceiling, and at least as wide. Though it was late at night, the blinds were pulled down.

My father, Professor Franklin Chase, sat at a worktable filled with flasks, vials, Bunsen burners and an insulated medical cooler. On the side of the container were the words: ‘Human Organ – For Transplant – Handle With Care’.

At first, my father didn’t notice us entering. He hunched over a beaker, carefully mixing a translucent fluid with a pasty yellow gel. As he agitated it with a glass mixer, the resulting formula turned a rich brown color.

Sitting back, a smile appearing through his bushy salt-and-pepper beard, he turned to me.

Kyle, come here. The solution is almost ready.

But I wasn’t paying attention to him. My focus was on the examination table behind him. Lying on his back, the patient had a white sheet draped over him up to his bare chest, leaving his arms, neck and head exposed.

He did not have any hair, not because he was bald, but because of the scar tissue that covered one side of his head and face, running all the way down his shoulder and arm. The man had obviously survived a horrible fire.

Though he was lying supine, it was apparent he was a very tall, very large man. His feet hung well past the end of the table, and his shoulders extended over the sides.

I noticed there were thick leather straps binding his wrist and upper arm to the side rail. I was taken aback by the odd scene before me.

It took me a few seconds to regain my composure.

As I stepped closer, the man’s one good eye followed my progress. He did not speak any words, but I could see a hint of concern in his expression.

I’d known that we were performing the test on a volunteer who’d been burned in a fire, but I hadn’t realized his condition would be so severe. I wondered how much nerve damage he’d suffered.

Tim, hovering close behind me, said, Hello, Lawrence. How’re you doing?

The burned man opened his mouth and made a croaking noise that sounded like, Fine.

This is Kyle Chase, Tim said. He’s the professor’s son.

Hello, Lawrence managed to say.

I nodded a greeting at the patient and then looked over the implements on the surgical cart. To my father, I said, I don’t see any anesthetic.

Ah, Kyle. Yes. This trial is to be conducted without any other agent, which might cloud the results. That includes painkillers. Don’t worry, he said, putting up a hand. It’s a simple procedure, and I don’t expect our patient will suffer any lasting discomfort.

I noticed Tim make a face, probably at the thought of operating without the benefit of even a topical anesthetic. I gave him a look of annoyance at his lack of professionalism, and Tim’s expression quickly turned neutral.

Why is he in restraints? I asked.

My father turned and smiled to Lawrence, though he kept speaking to me. The straps are for his own safety, as well as to prevent him from inadvertently flinching. Also, we will film the effects and we need him to remain still for the duration.

Putting a hand on my shoulder, my father said, Not to worry. He’s been fully advised of what to expect.

His last sentence reminded me of my concerns about the procedure itself. I beckoned my father to come with me to the other side of the room, out of Lawrence’s hearing range. He followed me, leaving Tim to set up the video camera.

I lifted the composite sheets up and kept my voice low. You should look at these simulations I’ve run. I think you’ve made a fundamental error in your calculations. I shook my head. "I have no idea how this worked for you before. It shouldn’t have worked."

He gave me that distant smile I remembered so well from my youth. Trust me; it worked.

It’s hard to believe.

I understand. He pointed in Tim’s direction. That’s why we’re using a video camera. We will capture the proof on film. There will be no doubt.

I still couldn’t accept it. I’ve run the simulations several different ways. It fails every time. Your data has to be wrong. There has to be another factor in the cultures that skewed the results.

My father didn’t seem offended that I didn’t believe him. The data is not wrong.

Without concrete proof or substantiation, I can’t believe the board of trustees approved moving the trials to human testing.

Of course they would, he said. Do you have any idea how much money they’ll make off the patent?

I narrowed my eyes. "You did get approval for this trial, didn’t you?"

Yes, yes. I put the paperwork through months ago. Phil Bellows put the stamp on the application himself. Now, will you stop worrying, my boy?

Isn’t that one of the reasons you brought me in? I asked. I really think we should delay this trial. Give it a few weeks, or at least until we can run some more proofs through the computer. I need to understand better how this works.

Kyle, he said with a congenial smile, you have wedding night jitters. That’s understandable, considering what you’ve been through in the past year. I have checked everything a hundred times. We are ready.

Without waiting for me to launch any more objections, he hurried back to the workbench. Taking a sample of the compound he’d created, he put a drop of it on a slide and inserted it under a microscope. Then he leaned over to examine the results.

Tim finished mounting the camera on the tripod and plugged the power cable into a nearby outlet. He moved closer to Lawrence.

How’re you doing, big guy? Are you cold or anything?

When Lawrence didn’t reply, my father turned around. Tim, our patient has difficulty speaking. His larynx was partially burned from the fumes when he had his accident. Now, please attend to the camera.

Nodding, Tim moved behind the camera and played with the settings for a minute until my father cleared his throat and shot his assistant an impatient look.

It’s on, Tim said, bending over to look through the viewfinder.

My father gathered several medical instruments and containers together and put them on a wheeled cart, which he pushed to the operation table next to Lawrence’s head. The surface already had scalpels, scissors, and gauze laid out on a green cloth, and my father put the organ transplant cooler on the tray beside them. An articulating arm with a high-powered magnifying camera mounted on the end was attached to the edge of the cart. The feed led to a computer on the worktable. Currently, the image was blurry and out of focus, since the camera wasn’t pointed at anything.

My father turned toward Tim and spoke to the camera in a practiced voice.

My name is Professor Franklin Chase. I am joined by my assistants, Kyle Chase and Tim Bellows. I’d like to introduce you to my special guest, Lawrence, who suffered second-degree chemical burns to one side of his head, shoulders and one arm in an accident at his home. He came to our attention a few weeks ago when his health insurance would not cover the costs of his treatment.

He gestured to Lawrence. "While our volunteer is a prime candidate for an autograft, since his burns only cover the right side of his upper body and head, there are many cases