‘A new wave of terror has hit Europe in the past twenty-four hours,’ the Welsh newsreader was saying as Gwen continued knitting the beanie for her son. ‘So far, injuries have been reported in thirty countries, including the UK. While many of the surviving victims have suffered life changing injuries; most have lost their lives. These new attacks are unprecedented, implemented by targeting technology. A new mobile phone has infiltrated the online market, encouraging unsuspecting buyers by offering a year of unlimited “pay-as-you-go” usage for free . . .’
Now watching the newsreader, Gwen’s mouth had already gone dry before she heard him mention the name of the new brand: RADE. The knitting needles clicked against each other in her shaking hands. A few moments after realisation settled over her, she threw the knitting to one side and picked up her tablet.
‘. . . The phone is believed to be fitted with an explosive device that, when activated, emits a toxic gas. Although not much else is known at this time, early indications are that the explosion alone is enough to cause grievous injuries to the victim.’
‘Come on,’ Gwen warbled through gritted teeth as the blue bar stuck again, now halfway along the top of the screen. Only the header of the eBay site was showing. ‘You stupid bloody thing.’
‘Toxicologists who have had an opportunity to examine victims believe that the gas contained in the phones is sarin, perhaps the deadliest of nerve gases.
‘The phones have been sold through the online site eBay, who have now blocked sales of the deadly mobile phones, and are working with the relevant authorities, including the Ministry of Defence, to find those responsible for the attacks. So far, all they have been able to tell us is that the sales originated from somewhere in the Far East. They also tell us that more than four hundred thousand of the phones have been sold on the site, across the globe. The profits of which, it has been speculated, will be used to fund terrorist organisations . . .’
As the page showing her orders slowly revealed itself, Gwen was barely listening to the grave tones of the newsreader.
‘We move now to Gillian to tell us more about the affects of sarin. Gillian . . .’
‘Sarin. Invented in nineteen thirty-eight, sarin was discovered by German scientists as they experimented to create stronger pesticides than were currently available. Estimated to be more than twenty-five times more deadly than cyanide, sarin is extremely lethal, whether inhaled or if it comes into contact with the skin. Due to its deadly toxic affects, sarin was outlawed as a warfare agent in nineteen ninety-seven . . .’
There it was at the top of the page:
1 item sold by dealstomakeyoudie
RADE Mobile Phone – Grey *ONE YEAR FREE PAY-AS-YOU-GO* (for use with any SIM)
More than the confirmation that she had purchased one of the lethal devices, the thing on the screen that almost made Gwen’s heart stop was the day of estimated delivery: 28th July 2017. Today. She clicked on More actions on the right, and a dropdown box appeared. She clicked on Order details. And there it was, Toby Blissett, and the address of the student house that he shared in York.
‘I’ve got Terry with me.’ Gwen looked up at the reporter on the telly, standing next to a worried- looking fat man. ‘Now, Terry, you actually ordered one of these phones. Tell me what happened.’
‘Yeah,’ Terry said, now a touch guilty-looking. Sweat on his brow, a fleck of what looked like pie crust wedged in the corner of his lips. ‘Ordered it off the internet. Seemed like a good deal, it did. Fank goodness I ‘erd the news before the postman come.’
‘Thank goodness indeed. So what did you do when you received the phone?’
‘Er,’ Terry looked into the camera, then at the ground. ‘Left it in the garden.’
‘A decision that might have saved Terry’s life. Back to the studio.’
‘Thank you, Gillian. If you know anyone who has purchased one of these phones, do not, I repeat do not call them. It is the receiving signal of incoming calls that initiates the fusion of the compounds that combine to create the explosion. Even though, in a few cases, the compounds have failed to fuse together, it is not a risk worth taking. It is advised that, if you do know someone affected by these suspected terrorist activities, to call the number on the screen below and supply the address of the person who you think might be at risk. They will then be able to contact the relevant local authorities, who will go and collect any suspect packages . . .’
When the helpline number rang without answer for more than ten minutes, phone in hand, Gwen rushed out to her car. Instead she tried the police. When she explained the situation, they said that there was nothing that they could do, but advised Gwen to call the helpline number.
‘I’ve tried the bloody helpline number!’ Gwen screamed. ‘They’re no bloody help at all if there’s no one there to pick up the phone.’
‘I understand your dilemma, Mrs . . . ?’
‘Blissett. Gwen Blissett.’
‘Mrs Blissett. But there’s just nothing that I can do from here. You say that your son is in York, is that right?’
‘Yes!’ Gwen breathed deeply. ‘Yes yes, that’s right. He’s a student there. His phone broke so I said that I’d order him a new one. He wanted an iPhone, but there’s no way that I could afford one. So instead . . . Oh! What have I done? What have I done?’
‘Mrs Blissett,’ the operator said, ‘are you driving?’
‘Yes!’ she replied. ‘I am. I’m trying to save my son’s life!’
‘Gwen. I sense that you are in a state of high anxiety at the current time. I would suggest that you get off the road at the soonest available opportunity and see if you can phone the police in York. If you explain the situation –’
‘Fat lot of good you are,’ Gwen said after she’d cut off the call. She screamed, the harsh ring echoing around the interior of the car. It usually took nearly four hours to drive from Surrey to York. If the roads were clear, she’d make it sooner. With the hotline number still ringing without answer, it was all that she could do. Onward, Gwen left the phone ringing. Trying to keep her senses about her and her eyes on the road, she headed north. The news was on the radio as she drove, listening for updates, hoping that they’d admit that they were wrong.
She knew how late Toby could sleep when he was home from university. Hopefully he’d still be in bed when she arrived at about two o’clock that afternoon. That thought reassured Gwen a touch. That and the thought that Toby might have actually decided to break with habit and attend a lecture. ‘Why didn’t I just buy him a bloody iPhone?’ she yelled at the windshield. ‘Why did I have to buy the cheapest bit of tat that I could find?’
She thought of him opening the parcel. The disappointment when he saw that he hadn’t received the phone of his dreams. Instead one that would blow off his hands and then poison him, living out his last moments in excruciating agony and wondering why his old mum was always so tight. He’d asked for a grey phone; at least she’d succeeded in getting that right. Gwen turned up the radio. An update on the phone terror saga.
‘There has been another victim of the mobile phone terror attacks,’ the newscaster said, ‘this time in York.’ Gwen’s heart stopped. The car coasted forwards, a quick squiggle across lanes. ‘. . . Bringing the total number of confirmed UK casualties to two hundred and forty-seven. The latest victim was a thirty-four year old postman, found dead in his shared flat just after ten o’clock this morning . . .’
Gwen breathed again. Even though she didn’t know the man, had never met him and now never would, it could just as easily have been her son. And it could yet. After dictating a warning email into her phone, sending it to Toby, she put her foot down on the accelerator. Except for fretting and picking up a few speeding tickets, there was nothing more that she could do, no other way that she could get through to her son. She had none of his friends’ phone numbers; nor those of the friends’ parents. Toby’s fate now lay only in the arms of chance, and the Royal Mail.
Gwen had developed a slight dislike of postmen, irrational really, ever since Tobes’ birthday money had been stolen en route to York for two years running. It must have been the postman who took it; there was no other explanation. She didn’t believe that Toby’s housemates would have taken it: the discarded card and envelope, it just wasn’t the sort of thing that a friend would do. She wondered, in a vague kind of way, about the man who had just been killed by the exploding phone. She wondered if he might have been the one who stole the birthday money.