Road to Ruin

"So, what have you brought me all this way to see, Samantha?" asked Bernard Hogarth.

"Sorry to be such a tease, Bernard," responded Samantha Yarland, PhD, "but this’ll blow your mind. You know, of course, about the self-repairing roads research we’ve been undertaking, well, after we laid this road, we dug it up a bit to create potholes. As you can see in these photos."

"You certainly did a good job messing up a perfectly good piece of road. And your point is?"

"Well, the area we destroyed is over here."

Hogarth looked at the road and then the photos. 

"And you made an equally good job of relaying it."

"Actually, we didn't repair the road, the road repaired itself."

"You wrecked the road, and it repaired itself?"

Dr Yarland nodded emphatically.

Hogarth stared at the road surface.

"But it's perfect, as if it had never been damaged."


"Well, I'll be damned. You’ve done it! That's bloody amazing. Congratulations, Samantha."

"Thank you. But there’s something else I need to show you."


"I'll explain when we get there."

They left the road and walked along a path, up a slope. At the top of the hill they met a man.

"Professor, may I introduce Bernard Hogarth, Chief Engineer at Highways England. Bernard, Professor Richard Marais, from the Patterson Institute in Manchester."

"Isn't that a medical research Institute?"

"Yes, it is."

"You're not an engineer, then?"

"No, I'm a geneticist. I specialise in ..."

"We'll come to that in a moment, Professor," Yarland interrupted. "First, Bernard I want you to see something down in the valley."

They turned to look in the direction indicated by Yarland.

"Hmm, what’s all that black material covering the fields and trees?” asked Hogarth. “It looks like bitumen."

"Actually, it's tarmacadam."

"Really? Has it been dumped?"

But even as he asked, he knew that it had not. It was not arranged in piles. It looked more like the aa lava he had seen in Hawaii, and it covered the trees like Christmas decorations.

"No, it spread by itself."

Hogarth looked at her nonplussed.

"Professor Marais has a theory."

"Biological systems self-heal, or self-repair, to keep us alive. Millions of our cells die every day, but we make new ones, and we also repair wounds, of course. Your engineers have developed roads that do the same. It’s quite astonishing. However, in biological systems, if the repair system is disrupted it can malfunction. I believe something like this has happened here. Something, lightening maybe, has disrupted the repair mechanism and it’s malfunctioning. In biological systems one of the symptoms is for cells to become over-active, in some cases creating tumours."

"Tumours? Just what is your area of expertise, Professor?"


Hogarth stared at Yarland.

"You're kidding, right?"

"No Bernard, we're not"

Hogarth stared into the Valley.

"Is there a cure?"

"No," Yarland murmured, scanning the cancerous landscape. “At the moment, there’s no stopping it."

copyright Martin Marais 2019
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