As he woke, he had the strongest memory of his girlfriend on his mind. Tara. He remembered the excitement when once they’d met in the cool of the concrete cages at the side of the laboratory, where the tall, torpedo-like gas cylinders were kept. In one sense, in the heat of summer, it was a good place to be, a bit like being round the back of the bike sheds at school, somehow illicit.

The cylinders stood about six feet tall and had to be chained to restrain their weight and prevent them from toppling with their high centre of gravity. They held gases of many different types, under enormous pressures, common ones like oxygen and nitrogen, but some toxic like carbon monoxide and chlorine, each used to calibrate environmental monitoring equipment.

The Institute was set on the side of a valley, among oak trees which were covered in  moss and lichen. The building was barely visible from the road, behind a low, dry stone wall, topped with thick slabs of sedum and slate. At the bottom of the valley, a stream.

As he walked into work, the steps down to the office were shiny, metal, with rough, grip treads. He’d notice how the sun through the trees, occasionally caught a glint of reflection.

It was cold in the shade of the concrete housing, with the chill metal cylinders beneath a light galvanised roof which would rupture and give way in the event of an explosion. Two mesh gates, one an emergency exit, so that you couldn’t be trapped.

Cold, even under the sun, cold in the concrete shade in contrast with the heat of her. He thought of her, close, so very close, clothes touching, the anticipation of skin on skin, heat rose within him.


One of the gases, carbon monoxide, is seductive, coaxing the life out of you whether awake, or already asleep. It is not irritant, like many other toxic gases, so goes unnoticed even if the mucous linings of the nose, mouth, windpipe and lungs are exposed to it.

After it’s breathed in, it enters your bloodstream and mixes with haemoglobin, to form carboxyhaemoglobin, and in the process changing the protein’s shape. When this happens, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen. Lack of oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissue to fail, and ultimately to die. The skin turns cherry-red.

Horizon 2040 – Chapter 13 – The Laboratory