MI6 have her in their sights.
will they pull the trigger?

A new discovery. A threat to the nation. A decision to kill.

Mary is desperate and on the run.

Her new skill set is in great demand but by all the wrong people. Whatever she tries to do upsets one powerful group or another, leading them to make drastic decisions which threaten the lives of millions.

Injured, frightened, and suffering a catastrophic loss, Mary is trapped with few chances to flee.

Will she use her gifts to save those who have wronged her…

or let them die an agonising and pitiful death?

If you like fast action, twisting plots and heart wrenching hero journeys, you’ll love this second book in The Aurora Conspiracies series. Dive into your copy now.

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Summoned to explain herself to the Prime Minister, Mary uncovers a plot to suppress the masses...
One that threatens the lives of millions...
Can she evade capture or worse, to save the British population?

Excerpt

St. Mary’s Hospital, London.

 

The Prime Minister batted the microphone boom away from her forehead and charged through the jostling crowd. Stark flashing lights reduced her pupils to pinpricks as her security team forced the reporters and photographers back. Huge black suits forged a pathway for their employer to tread unmolested across the pavement to a bulletproof vehicle at the kerb. “Can you give us a comment, ma’am?” The reporter thrust a mic towards her face. It bore a red plastic sheath inscribed with the letters BBC.

Mary sat in the Intensive Care Room, watching the journalists mob the politician on the television mounted above her husband’s bed. She could barely hear the response above the mechanical push of gases into his lungs. The repetitive snick-clunk of the respirator providing a subconscious rhythm for her own inhalations. Another machine emitted an erratic beep, prompting a bustle of nurses to perform their scheduled checks.

“It’s a plausible hoax.” The Prime Minister responded, pulling her shoulders back and lengthening her spine. “We should have more compassion for her. Mary Arora needs our sympathy, understanding and more importantly, psychological help. Our proposed Mental Health Bill should ensure that she is supported in her troubles.” As the pack clamoured and howled for further attention, the politician escaped their clutches behind a shroud of tinted windows.

The suave newsreader reiterated the poignant words that echoed in scrolling print beneath his image. A plausible hoax. Her fifteen minutes of fame reduced to something pitiable - something which required medication. Blue pills to dull the fantasy. Her growing reputation within the scientific community snuffed out, along with any hope of advancement. She had no more tears to shed. They had fallen fast in the early hours of the morning, washing out the mixture of emotions over a once loved husband and his tenuous grasp on life.

A screengrab from an Internet video of Mary lingered on the TV. She was wearing a man’s lab coat with her dark curls pulled back into a ponytail. The caption below it, Mary Arora, a plausible hoax. She let her eyelids slowly fall, wishing that she could disappear into the darkness inside. Shifting in the cushioned visitors’ chair, she rotated her foot, clicking the tendons in her ankle that had petrified during the long uncomfortable night. She tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear and reached for the water jug from the nightstand. Pouring a couple of inches into a cup, she swilled the cool liquid around her parched mouth and swallowed.

Mary picked up the TV remote and hit mute. One nurse remained by Parth’s side, recording information on his chart and grappling with a slippery bag of saline near the end of the bed. Her experienced hands began the routine manoeuvres, isolating the flow of liquids in the tubes and disconnecting the empty bag, while her icy stare assessed Mary’s hunched figure. Her gaze flitted to the television. A slow news day gave Mary top billing; her picture appearing with each bulletin.

The nurse switched the intravenous bags and released the valve supplying Parth’s veins. As she leaned over his body, checking the responsiveness of his pupils, a gold cross swung from beneath the neck of her uniform suspended on its chain. Mary stared as the nurse grasped the crucifix as though it retained the power to dispel all the evil from the world. She held it like a talisman of belief; as if it imbued the wearer with a veil of protection. A fortress of faith that could repel any querulous opposition. The nurse focused on Mary, sneering and goading her into conflict. Mary recognised her intent and closed her mind to the challenge. Now was not the time to explain or defend herself.

A tall man carrying a black holdall loped down the corridor and stopped at the nurse’s station outside the critical care rooms. Mary could see him begin a conversation with the man behind the counter before looking up and catching sight of her. His face wilted. They locked eyes and shared the depth of anguish bubbling inside her. He waited for the automatic door to sense his approach and bounded in, dumping his bag and gathering her up in his arms.

“I came as soon as I could. Connie sends her love. She’s out on another story. How is he?” Dan bent low to kiss his sister’s cheek. Mary opened her mouth but choked on her words.  He squeezed her shoulder. “That bad. I’m so sorry.”

The nurse flagged down a specialist as he walked past the glass door of the room. They retreated together on the far side of Parth’s bed and examined the pink tinge to the fluid collecting in a pouch attached to the bedframe. She whispered a suggestion to the doctor who in turn, shook his head. Mary knew the prognosis. She needed no words of explanation. The beautiful, flawed man she had known, loved and separated from, was nearing his terminal hours.

Dan sat by her side and whispered. “Tell me everything, Mary. Right from the beginning.”

Chapter One

 

The old man stomped his feet on the doormat and stooped to brush the damp grass clippings from his chinos. Leaning backwards on the handle, he trod on the heel of his left shoe and prized it from his enlarged foot. Shucking off the right shoe was easier. He padded across the kitchen floor and turned on the tap. The cold water trickled over his skin, dissolving the muddy smears and soothing the blister that resulted from pinching his finger on the Qualcast.

“You didn’t need to do that. I could have done it later when I got home.” Mary slipped over the tiles in her bed-socks and flicked the kettle on. She yawned and reached across the worktop to the bread crock. “Have you had breakfast already?” She looked up to see the old man nodding. “You must have been up at the crack of dawn.” Inserting two slices of granary into the toaster, Mary pushed down the lever.

“Old people don’t need much sleep, sweetie pie.” He tightened the tap and looked around for a towel.

“You’re not old, Grampy.” She tiptoed up to him and kissed his temple. “Urgh, but you are sweaty.”

He chuckled. She wiped her lips with the sleeve of her pyjamas and said, “do you want to come into uni with me today? I can show you what I have been working on for my PhD.” The dark of her eyes glistened like polished wood, doleful and hypnotic.

“Maybe tomorrow. I thought I’d do a few chores while the weather holds.” He reached down to the fridge for the milk and rested it on the worktop next to the boiling kettle. “Shall I take the rest of Parth’s stuff round to his flat later? I reckon I could do it in one trip with the Volvo.” He leaned on Mary’s shoulder, analysing her response.

Mary paused, contemplating the finality of her marriage. The penultimate tie of cohabitation severed. The years of shared nights, meals, finances, secrets, all reaching an embittered end. Not all secrets were shared. One secret in particular had eluded her; one that could never be forgiven. Her hands were trembling. She sloshed the milk into her tea and squeezed the bag against the side of the cup. “Yes please.”

“And the keys?” He saw the slick of saline gathering at the corner of her eyes.

Her voice grew thick and shaky. “I’ll ask him for them today.”

He cradled her shoulders with a strong arm and vigorously rubbed her biceps. “Good girl. It’ll get easier with time.” Depositing a dry kiss on the top of her head, he inhaled the malty steam from the cooking bread. “I’ll drive you to the campus if you want. Save you catching the bus. I need to get a few bits in town anyway.” Pip Lawrence left his granddaughter to her breakfast and disappeared into the garage in search of a screwdriver.

Mary bit down on the folded marmalade slice as she climbed the stairs and sauntered into the bedroom. Every morning since the split, she had awoken in hot panic, in a cold bed and felt the nausea take hold. She stopped chewing, waiting for a signal. If she swallowed the sweet starch, would it stay down or erupt in spectacular fashion before she reached the bathroom? Mary took the chance and swallowed. So far so good. She switched on the shower and unbuttoned her top. Her mobile phone chimed. A message from Parth. One of many, attempting to rekindle an attachment.

 

I know you are busy, but can we meet in Neurosciences at 10am? Have an idea for an experiment that could expand your abilities. Xx

 

Mary picked up the phone and read the message through twice. The perennial kiss, kiss, at the end of the message stabbed her in the chest. Her finger hovered over the reply button for a moment. No. Make him wait. He has no right to my time. Her inward thoughts so strident, they echoed inside her head. She chucked the phone on the bed and made her way to the shower. The halogen spots and the motor inside the extractor fan wavered simultaneously.

Mary breathed deeply, stilling her thoughts and relaxing her muscles. She let the warm jets of water pummel the back of her head and neck, clearing her mind of chaos and agitation. A respite from the sorcery that plagued her dreams. Flashbacks of the ordeal that unlocked dormant abilities in her and culminated in the loss of many lives. The smell of scorching flesh as she charred the man’s skin and saw the spark extinguish from his vacant eyes. The intoxicating rush as the surge of power coursed through her body into his, stopping his heart before he could complete his attack.

His contorted face would forever haunt her, reminding her daily of the need for restraint. A self-imposed ban on using her gifts in such a way that would cause harm to others. She shook the memory from her mind and reached for the shampoo. Just get through one day at a time, she told herself, pinching her eyes shut against the streaming soap suds.

***

Pip secured the garage door and pressed the button on his key fob to unlock his car. Mary slammed the front door and edged down the narrow strip of drive next to the wet lawn and adjacent to the Volvo.

“Will you keep the house?” Pip lowered himself into the driver’s seat, throwing one arthritic limb into the foot well at a time. “I mean, do you think you will have to sell it?”

“Parth won’t fight me for it. He needs my cooperation for his research or the government will pull the plug on his funding.” She swung open the passenger door and climbed in. “Besides, it’s my home. I have space for all the things that matter to me. Trinkets and knick-knacks that belonged to mum and dad. You understand, don’t you?” 

Pip nodded. His faded grey eyes took in the entirety of the little woman in the large seat by his side. In that moment, she had never looked more vulnerable. “Have you made any decisions about whether you will keep Parth’s surname or revert to our family name? I mean, it must be a pain having to correct the spelling of Arora all the time and explaining the difference between that and the Northern Lights.”

“I’ve thought about it, but it’s such a nightmare changing all the documentation, bank details, passport and the likes. Right now, I have enough to deal with.”

The drive to the university campus was fraught with delays. Despite taking a devious shortcut between rows of Victorian terraces, they were caught in the mayhem of city traffic. “I’ll hop out here, Grampy, and walk the rest of the way. It’s not far if I cut back through the park.” She reached down for the nylon rucksack by her feet and opened the door. Waving as Pip drove away, she trudged towards the park, inwardly cursing the theft of her pushbike.

It was past ten o’clock when she reached the Neurosciences building. She knew that Parth would be pacing up and down his lab, waiting for her to arrive and itching to call her mobile to chivvy her along. Mary toyed with the idea of wandering around the union building for another ten minutes or so, just to push him over the edge, but thought better of it.  She queued in the lobby to sign in and receive a security pass, then sauntered down the endless corridors to find her estranged spouse.

He was staring at the wall clock when she walked into his laboratory and rested her rucksack on a bench. “I’m here. What did you want?”

“Ah, so you are.” Parth moved closer, his posture poised to deliver a kiss to her cheek. One glance at her fixed glare and he recoiled, adjusting his outstretched arm to smooth his hair. “I wasn’t sure that you’d come. You didn’t answer my text.”

“Tell me what you want, Parth, so we can get it over with quickly. I do have work of my own, you know.” She shifted her weight onto one leg, resting her hand on an outward thrusted hip.

“I’ve been reading up on different papers relating to electromagnetic discharge. There are some pretty exciting studies out there, particularly in the fields of electromagnetism and water. Did you know that there is a growing number of Australian farmers using magnetised water to improve crop yield? The evidence is remarkable.” He reached a hand behind her back and corralled her towards a desk chair positioned in the middle of cleared space at the rear end of the lab.

“What has that got to do with Neurology? You’re way off your remit here.” She peered down at a sheet of A4 paper on the floor marked with a single printed N. “I thought that you were going to concentrate on locating any anomalous genetic markers that could explain my unusual neural abilities?”

Parth gestured for her to sit in the chair, to which she automatically complied. “Yes, yes. I have a couple of my post-grads working on that. This is something I thought you and I could try out. Not part of any formal study. Just an attempt to understand your abilities better.”

“If this is some cock and bull attempt at getting back together, Parth, you are sadly mistaken.” Mary stood back up, catching the A4 sheet with her shoe, sending it skittering across the floor. Parth impeded its escape, stamping a foot down on the floating paper. He bent down to pick it up, walking back to the chair and aligning it with three other sheets, each bearing a letter of the alphabet. “I am not attempting any such thing. I freely admit that I miss your company, but I know that you will never forgive me.” He turned to face her. There were depressed semi circles beneath his eyes and his cheekbones seemed abnormally prominent. His lab coat sagged at the shoulders making the sleeves so long that the cuffs hung down almost to his thumbs. “I thought I could help you improve your abilities, that’s all.”

Mary took pity and sat back down. “Fine.” She sighed. “What do you want me to do?”

Parth perked up. He reached behind to a desk and retrieved a travel mask. She frowned, leaning back into the office chair.

“I want to see how sensitive you are to magnetic fields. To see if you can tell which direction you are facing while blindfolded.” He waved the mask about by its elasticated strap.

“You know very well my sense of direction is shocking. It’s a pointless exercise.”

“Only because you never pay attention to where you are going. Please, can we try it?” He moved closer, biting his lip and rocking his head from side to side.

“To what end? What are you trying to achieve?” She crossed her legs and folded her arms across her chest. Everything about him reinforced her distrust. The feigned patience and contrived humility. He could not eradicate the seven years of intimate knowledge engraved in the hippocampus of her extraordinary mind.

“Please?”

Mary relented. Not through sympathy or compassion, but to prolong the novel experience of control over him. It was a power that induced a head rush. A dizzying mix of dopamine and adrenalin.

“I can only spare you twenty minutes.”

Parth nodded acceptance of her terms and handed her the blindfold. The contours of the shaped foam mask allowed her to blink within the darkness unhindered. Blotting out the gurgling of her stomach and the clinking of glassware in the prep room next to the lab, she relaxed into the jumble of sensations. A familiar smell prickled her sinuses, activating a ripple of desire through her inner core, shortly followed by an ounce of self-loathing. “Parth, can you stand further away, please, you are distracting me.” She heard him shuffled behind the chair back. He held onto the top of the head rest, making the seat wobble. “Parth!”

“Sorry, but I have to rotate you or it won’t be a fair assessment.” His soft foot falls captured her attention as he walked around in a circle, spinning the chair slowly as he moved. To confuse her further, he stopped and spun her in the opposite direction for a half turn. “Now. Can you tell which direction you are facing?”

Mary held herself as still as possible, breathing shallow breaths and concentrating on any difference in feelings surrounding her head. For a minute or two, all she could think was that the whole idea was a complete waste of her time. As she detached herself from the noises and smells of the laboratory, she could see a thin stream of light behind her eyelids that appeared to penetrate her skull in the centre of her forehead. Mary twisted until her nose lined up with her right shoulder. The beam of light now entered her left temple, spearing her brain and exiting behind her right ear. She faced front again. The line remained unmoved. Was this the direction of the earth’s magnetic field lines?

She shuffled forwards in the seat until her feet were in contact with the floor and used them to push herself around in the office chair. Using the line inside her head, she positioned herself at one hundred and eighty degrees from where Parth had stopped her. The beam now pierced the back of her head and exited through her forehead. “This is South. I can feel the difference.” Mary lifted the blindfold and looked down at the floor. An A4 sheet of white paper lay before her feet, marked with a capital S.

“Incredible. Let’s do it again, just to be sure.” Parth grasped the back of her chair. Mary pulled the blindfold from her head and hastily stood up.

“No. That’s more than enough nonsense for one day. I have a batch of fruit flies that need tending to.” She shoved the mask into his hands and strode towards her rucksack and the door.

“Mary, please wait. There is another, more important experiment I would like you to try.” He rushed after her and grabbed her wrist. She yanked it away from him with a warning look that shocked him. “Please. It will only take a couple of minutes. It’s important.”

Mary followed him into the adjacent laboratory. One of Parth’s trusted postgraduate students was lowering a sealed glass ampule into a cardboard box coated in aluminium foil. They watched him close the box lid and switch on a small electrical device. The screen on his computer showed a zig-zag line parallel to the x-axis of a graph. Simon, the student, blew out a noisy exhalation. “I’ve tried shielding the cables on the magnetic detector inside and outside the Faraday Cage, Dr Arora, but I cannot obtain a pure signal from the chemical inside the phial without background interference.”

“Hmm, perhaps the French team stuck to bacterial DNA signalling for this very reason. Maybe the signal strength of adrenalin is too weak. Have you tried other drugs? Perhaps a sedative?” Parth scraped the stubble on his chin with his index finger while he pondered. Mary looked at the clock.

“This solution is a sedative. I have transposed the signal onto the distilled water sample twice this morning already.” He tapped a biro against the bench and removed his safety goggles. There were dark yellow stains on his lab coat and his left thumb wore a bloody plaster.

“And?” Parth’s forehead knotted.

“Both rats died when injected with the water sample.” Simon bowed his head. His tawny hair flopped over his eyes.

“Yes, that’s all very interesting – cruel, but interesting. Now what has it got to do with me?” Mary could only think about how her newly hatched fruit flies would be preparing to mate at any moment before she could separate the males from the females in her lab.

Parth smiled. “Do you remember the French scientist, Jacques Benveniste, who claimed that water had memory; that it could be used as a sort of magnetic tape?” He strolled to another bench and retrieved a bisected cage, each side containing a white rat gnawing on their prison walls. He placed it next to the homemade Faraday box.

“Wasn’t he discredited in the nineteen-eighties? Poor chap. No one seemed able to repeat his findings.” Mary recalled reading back copies of a scientific journal. In it the editor, a journalist and a magician reported their attempts to replicate the study without success.

“Indeed. Poor man. Anyway, a Nobel laureate has taken up the gauntlet. His team have recorded the electromagnetic traces from ultra-diluted DNA samples, sent the signal as a sound file attached to an email and then played it back to a distilled water sample. From it, they were able to detect DNA matter in the pure water.” Parth opened the foil covered box and removed the glass phial containing a sedative drug. He handed it to Mary. She tipped the ampule between her fingers, observing the air bubble as it slid from one end to the other through the colourless liquid.

“Can you sense anything from the chemical, Mary?” Parth bent both knees and held out his hands as though he were waiting to catch a ball. His excitement spilled over to his young protegee, who stood grinning expectantly by his side. Mary rolled the tube between thumb and fingers. It warmed to her touch. She placed it in the palm of her left hand and stared at it. What is it supposed to feel like?  She mused. Any signals from molecules in this liquid would be minute.

“Anything at all?” Parth urged.

Mary shrugged. As she offered up the contents of her hand to her disloyal husband, she felt a mild twinge. Just a tickle in the centre of her palm like a gentle stroke along the heart line. She flattened her hand and rolled the tube into the lowest part of the depression. There it was again. A continuous mild electrical caress.

“There is a barely detectable buzz, yes. But I don’t see how that helps you. It’s not as though you can measure what I am feeling.” She closed her hand around the phial noting that the tickle became more intense as she did so.

“That’s true, we can’t. But perhaps you can do what we have been unable to achieve. I know that patting your head while rubbing your tummy has always been tricky for you, darling…sorry, Mary. Do you think you would be able to project that buzz from your other hand at the same time?” Parth turned to a large glass bottle of distilled water. He filled a beaker half full and with a measuring pipette he drew out a small but precise amount of water, squirted it into a tiny test tube and then handed it to Mary. “Please. Just try. We have nothing to lose.”

The solution was still tingling her left hand. How on Earth am I to recreate the same signal in the other hand? It can’t be possible. It’s too faint. I don’t want to blow the thing up. Taking a deep calming breath and releasing it slowly, she tried to still the tumult of thoughts whirling inside her head. Her tummy churned. With both fists clenched around the tubes, Mary closed her eyes and imagined the tingling sensation crawling through her hand and up her arm. The faint pulse travelled across her chest and down her right arm into the test tube of water. The weak electrical oscillation now pulsed in both hands in tandem.

Mary opened her eyes and handed the test tube of water to Simon. Parth held his hand over his mouth as Simon prepared a hypodermic syringe with the water and removed a rat from the cage.

“Oh no, you mustn’t. What if it kills it?” Mary drew the back of her hand up to her mouth, suddenly aware of the repercussions. Simon looked to his mentor, who nodded his permission to continue. The needle dug into the folds of the rat’s scruff and the liquid squeezed in. Simon replaced the rodent in its cage. Parth crouched level and observed the rat twist its head around and scratch at its neck with a rear claw.

Mary sighed her relief, as the rat scrabbled around in the cage unaffected. Then, just as she was about to walk away, the rat slumped flat on its belly.  Its beady fuchsia eyes hidden behind white lids. “Oh God, is it dead? Have I killed it?” Mary pawed at the cage.

“No, you can see it breathing. It is just asleep.” Parth clapped his hands together in glee. “You understand what this means don’t you? You can turn pure water into drugs.”

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