12
$\begingroup$

I did read several great thrillers where main hero is injected with unknown fluid and told, that such fluid is deadly poison unknown to normal medicine and our hero has 48 hours to live. If he wants to live longer, he has to do X to get antidote from villain...

But, is actually such poison plausible?

Help me find (or design) such poison

  • It has to kill person in about 48 hours, assuming that such person will be very physically active for most of such time.
  • Classical action thriller hero is going to be injected with such poison. So you can assume healthy person who is well above average in psychical and physical abilities
  • Such poison should be treatable by antidote
  • After getting antidote, it should leave body as much unharmed as possible. My Action Joe wants to do another action.

Should I care about such detail of story? Or should I go the usual way saying the poison is Handvawium and antidote Unobtainium if ever asked as author of yet-another action story?

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Looks like I have to impart my art of poisoning to you, the beauty of poisoning someone is not allowing him/her sufficient time to find an antidote and yet not permit him/her to die without suffering for specific duration while conscious. The ugly part is the poison must be introduced into the victim without his/her knowledge and it must be odorless, tasteless and colorless then you must make it a point to tell him/her the truth, afterwards convince him/her with syndromes. Last but not least a simple lie would utterly destroy his/her mind without using poison. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Apr 10 '15 at 9:37
  • $\begingroup$ I totally agree with you. But as I said: I have story in mind and I would like to repeat one good plot device which I saw in several other stories. Other stories even hand vawe if such fluid actually was a poison. But Action Joe does inject another fluid to his veins in order to live... $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Apr 10 '15 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ Have you heard of pseudo medicine? the patient followed doctor's prescription to keep his illness under control, one day the patient mistook a candy for medicine due to striking resemblances and when the doctor screened his health there is no sign of the illness relapsing. It is not the mind that is fooled but the body... this when used with my art of poisoning mu-ah ha ha ha ha... damn this supposed to be a secret heirloom. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Apr 10 '15 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ <listverse.com/2012/12/02/10-poisons-used-to-kill-people> some suggestions no worry legit content. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Apr 10 '15 at 10:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you may want an extra cavieat here. Presumably the hero needs to be functional for the 48 hours? a posion that has him two week to move or in such severe pain he can't think would sort of prevent him from doing anything interesting in his 48 hours. Unfortunately that also makes things much harder, your hero will be rendered incapable of heroics long before he is dead in most cases. For that mater harm will be done even after antibody is injected most likely. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Apr 10 '15 at 18:20

18 Answers 18

15
$\begingroup$

It would be very difficult to obtain a poison that would act as described. The damage to the liver would begin almost immediately, and the antidote would take time to work, also, the action is mostly linear, no "harmless for 48h, then suddenly lethal".

There would be ways to delay the action by 48h. There are capsules that dissolve in human digestive tract at specific pace, allowing a pretty precise moment of release of the contents. Still, the antidote would be nearly impossible to implement.

The best you can go with is an electronic device. The capsule, once swallowed, inflates inside your stomach to a size that makes it impossible to eject. It contains a circuit with a clock counting down 48h, with a capsule of a strong poison or even a small explosive charge. It also contains a radio that can receive a signal telling it to disable the timer and deflate the retaining balloon. Following that, the device will leave the digestive tract through normal route, harmlessly.

Some technical solutions:

  • balloon with a bit of low-boiling-point liquid; buthane-n boiling point is around -0.5oC - keeping it in a freezer will keep it collapsed; swallowed it will expand. In these amounts it would be quite harmless too.
  • Bluetooth will allow the device to be controlled from a cell phone and withstand 48h powered just fine with a "pill battery".
  • Tiny electric ignitor for explosives will be more than enough to break a small capsule with the poison. Attempt to disable it with EMP will detonate it. Of course it would break the balloon, allowing access of the poison to the tissue.
  • Potassium Cyanide, while not the strongest, is one of the fastest-acting poisons and the volume of a typical "medicine capsule" would suffice easily.
  • A trivial moisture sensor would detect the balloon was broken and trigger release of the poison (if not disabled through the remote control), so trying to put a needle through your belly to get rid of it would be counter-productive.
  • Deflating the balloon after "disarm" would be a little tricky. An electromagnetic actuator with a needle could break the balloon.
  • Disarming would result in a mighty burp. Possibly flaming, if there's an ignition source.

...or you could go with an explosive collar. Molding lots of hair-thickness wires into epoxy would make a layer to detect broken circuit if you try to access the control circuitry inside.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Now there is just the problem that an explosive filled capsule with an attached balloon of liquid gas is hardly something we'd consider odorless, tasteless and colorless. ;) $\endgroup$ – fgysin Dec 10 '15 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ @fgysin: definitely applied to a sedated individual, or forced. The capsule would be odorless, tasteless and colorless; it would also be the size of a large grape, and not something you could swallow without noticing. $\endgroup$ – SF. Dec 10 '15 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Liver damage? Not all poisons damage the liver. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Feb 2 '16 at 2:01
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild: These that don't damage liver damage other organs. There are very few from which you can recover with no lasting damage (e.g. relaxants that may lead to arresting the heart or lung action) and these can be rendered non-lethal pretty rapidly through antidotes, but they are most definitely not neutral to physical performance over first 48h. $\endgroup$ – SF. Jan 4 '17 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see why the time release capsule would not allow for an antidote. So long as the antidote is spread immediately and takes longer the 48 hours to be flushed from the system. The poison still activates, but the antidote neutralizes it before it can take effect. $\endgroup$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Feb 5 '17 at 19:14
11
$\begingroup$

In truth all you need to do is convince your action hero that the poison works as you described while giving him a non-lethal drug with predictable side effects, which you can say are the first signs that the poison is working. Then you inject another person with a real poison that kills in a way that seems similar to the side effects of the "fake poison" and show the protagonist your dummy guy dying a horrible death. An example of this would be to give your hero an injection of LABAs which will increase his heart rate for a prolong time, then give your sacrifice a high dose of Potassium, and he will die a horrible death complaining of palpitations and chest pain among other things.

Really depends on how much the villain can convince the hero the poison is real after all, the more pomp and theatricality the villain brings to the table the more believable it will be to the reader and the hero.

Then again you may counter this idea by saying that the hero won't be in actual danger. In that case fair enough, but remember neither the reader nor the hero need know that they were fooled for the story to make perfect sense.

EDIT: Or you can use a beta blocker, with high enough doses your hero's heart will slow down to an extent that he will feel like he will die, this will have a secondary effect of making him less athletic however. I am assuming that you need this explanation for other authors not readers.

EDIT 2: Thinking about it some more, if you really want your Hero to be convinced that he is poisoned, and you don't mind prolonged torture of your hero, you can play with the idea of drug withdrawal. Basically certain drugs, when taken for a prolonged period, will cause dependence. If they are removed from the system the victim will start feeling very sick. If you give your Hero Repeated injection of Heroine/Morphine for example you can make him dependent on it. Then when you want to make the hero do the thing you want him to do, just give him the antidote (Naloxone) and he will be pushed into an opioid withdrawal state. If the dose of Naloxone is low enough you can make it so that the really problematic symptoms start around 48 hrs later. Of course the problem with this method is that any doctor will be able to spot opioid withdrawal a mile away, and all they need is to give your Hero opiates to relieve his symptoms. This is just another way of doing things.

I think the biggest problem for this question is the time frame, 48 hours is a long time, and most poisons will have done a lot of damage by then, remember the drugs that we really know about, are the drugs doctors know about. So most doctors will be able to reverse the effects of any well known drug. What you need is something that either isn't there or nobody knows about.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

You could use Some weak painkiller together with Some nightshade (belladonna), use A pot to cook IT together. Use ca. 10 painkillers and 100 grams of nightshade petals, start with melting the painkillers into A paste, Then Cool it to 40 Degrees Celsius. Add the petals one by one on top of the paste. Cut some of the stem (ça. 10 g) and set it to 50 degrees for 5 mins. Then cool. The paste tastes Weird, but ONLY A little dose is deadly. Use thick gloves in contact with Both the paste and the belladonna. A website with more info: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa_belladonna Msg me on this page if you need more info, like which painkiller to use.

$\endgroup$
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! Good answer, although slightly disturbing that you know it so well. :-) $\endgroup$ – SRM Feb 5 '17 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ (Luckily) you cannot private message here. You could expand the answer a bit and explain how this works and what antidote would be effective. $\endgroup$ – SilverCookies Jun 26 '18 at 7:49
3
$\begingroup$

In "What good is a glass dagger?" by Larry Niven, a wizard magically inserts a glass dagger next to the heart of someone who was sent to kill him. Only magic keeps the dagger in place. The area around the cave has been depleted of magic. If the assassin leaves the cave, the spell will fail and the dagger will pierce his heart.

The sneaky thing is that the wizard's spell did not insert the dagger, merely the feeling of a dagger. The man could simply leave without harm, but he doesn't know that.

All you need is something which causes progressively more unpleasant symptoms controllable by the villain (radio-controlled or time-release capsules), but does not cause death. Then if the person who does the bidding of the villain is captured, having no trace of a real deadly agent, the "hero" can be framed for the actions.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Nocebo effect is your friend. $\endgroup$ – fgysin Dec 10 '15 at 14:03
3
$\begingroup$

This is probably too late but still a good poison. Monkshood is a plant also called wolfsbane but the technical name for it is aconite. I was actually accidentally poisoned by this. Eating just one of these petals will cause you to have fever and chills, extreme headache, huge stomach cramps and confusion and delirium. It works by slowing down the heart, paralyzes the nerves, and can cause intestinal problems. If you eat much more than a bit of petal it will slow your heart to the point of death. It will also cause chest pain and shortness of breath. As for a cure there are a few things that will work occasionally depending on the dosage. And for the 48 hour thing symptoms may occur immediately but for me they started 12 hours after lasted for 12 hours stopped and reoccurred 24 hours later. Even if you don't take enough to kill someone they will wish they are dead from the pain. Hope that maybe helped.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1, but maybe add some links to sources about this poison? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Feb 2 '16 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ Also +1. Although I do not plan injecting this to my Action Joe, because you know, I want him jumping around killing evil henchmen during next 40ish hours $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Feb 2 '16 at 18:48
3
$\begingroup$

I am going in a completely different direction than the other answers here so bare with me here.

I believe that a genetically engineered bacteria could do what you need. The bacteria is designed to simply do what bacteria does: grow and reproduce. Instead of poisoning him with waste products (like most bacterial infections do) they simply feed on plasma (resulting in low blood pressure) and grow in the blood vessels (eventually resulting in blockages). It would be a bit hard to time it out to exactly 48 hours (no dramatic count down moment).

The way it would be stopped is with a bacteriophage (a kind of virus that targets bacteria). It would take some time to shut down the infection but it should work because the virus will spread faster with more bacteria to infect.

The way you make this untreatable at a local hospital would be to make the virus and bacteria keyed to each other (i.e. The virus can only infect the bacteria and the bacteria is resistant to most other methods of curing it). It would be possible to slow the process down though with blood transfusions and eventually having to clean out major arteries from the blockages that will inevitably form. Such treatments would only prolong the inevitable.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

I know no substance that has such effect, but... what about things which while not killing instantly, bring unavoidable death after 48 hours?

  • Dimethylmercury.

    • It will kill you in several months.

    • The victim does not feel any symptoms for several months.

    • There is a treatment but it should be administetered in short time after poisoning

    • If treatment is not administered in time the person dies whatever you do.

  • Desease-based poisioning. Rabies, HIV need quick treatment. HIV needs treatment to start in 72 hours (preferably, 48 hours). An animal-based strain of HIV may be more lethal.

  • Death cap. Kills you in several weeks. No known antidote (but conceivable). Full recovery without a trace if survived.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Give your hero an amount of botulinumtoxin. It is one of the strongest poisons produced by a bacteria 'Clostridium Botulinum'. As the name implies, the bacteria grows only under strict absence of oxygen. You can either look for canned meat, where the upper part is not flat, but looks as if it contains a lot of gas as if something blew up the inside. These cans contain the above mentioned toxin. The spores of the bacteria can survive for years in soil and can be found almost everywhere. This is Option no. 2. Take half a kilogram of raw pork meat. (Important: it must be free from preservatives). Then cook it about an hour to kill all other bacteria. Then proceed as you would do when making jam. Fill a jar with the hot meat and a bit of the water. Let it cool down a bit and add soil from your garden. Then the jam making procedure goes on. Close the jar airtightly and let it cool down. Let it stand in your cellar for about a year and let the bacteria grow and produce the deadly toxin.

I leave it to you how to get the poison into the victims body. Depending on the ingested dose, the victim will feel very sick with quickly evolving paralysis even of the eyes. Untreated, it leads to certain death due to paralysis of the lung, which let the victim suffocate.

Fortunately there exists an antidote which leads to complete reminiscence. It is mainly available and every hospital has it. I hope I could help you. If you need more scientific information you are welcome to ask.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer, welcome to the site. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 14 '15 at 18:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I guess the problem is that this seems easily identifiable and treatable at any hospital. Also correct dosage is nigh impossible, after all mister-action-hero is supposed to still be jumping around for the first 48 hours. $\endgroup$ – fgysin Dec 10 '15 at 14:02
1
$\begingroup$

The origin of the concept is real enough. Many not instantly lethal poison cause cumulative damage that after a certain point exceeds the ability of the body to compensate and first makes you sick and then kills you. Presumably if you get an antidote fast enough, your body will recover and you will not die. Many diseases could work in a similar way with an onset time after which the load exceeds what the immune system can suppress and you get sick and possibly die, if the symptoms are lethal. And it is possible to have a specific cure for such a disease that will save you if you get it before symptoms hit.

But yeah, both poisons and diseases have many factors affecting the grace period and symptoms start getting serious some time before you die. The body will try to stay alive, so you will get sick. So having on exact time is not really realistic. I have a dim recollection that some poisons get pretty close, but I doubt we are talking about race against the clock close.

You could inject fast acting poison in nanocapsules with predictable release time. Human body has stable temperature and chemistry, so the timing would be reasonably accurate. The cure would be something that bonds with the capsule and stabilizes it so that it doesn't break before body naturally flushes the capsules, with the poison still inside, out of the blood stream. Obviously some capsules would still break within the body and fail to get flushed, but body can tolerate most poison in low doses spread over time. It is the fact that the capsules normally release within a relatively short time period while most of them are still within the bloodstream that kills.

This is AFAIK perfectly plausible, but I have not heard of anyone actually developing this type of nanocapsule, so you'd need villains with resources to develop it themselves. Usually thrillers downplay the difficulty of developing such technological toys, so if it is clearly in the genre this should not be a problem.

Still the fact that significant resources are needed opens the chance that some research and detective work can figure out what the capsules are made of and what is the correct "stabilizer" without doing what you are told.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ A belevable present-day story would be to use cancer drug delivery research. Even if a scam, you can show the mark real information on nanocages that release poison on cue. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Apr 11 '15 at 23:57
1
$\begingroup$

While I am not aware of any compound that meets your requirements I do not believe that something approximating it is impossible.

The issue here is exactly what constitutes "poison". Lets take a "poison" that does no harm to the victim--but rather the victim's body turns it into something deadly. (There are real-world examples: Methanol and acetaminophen. Both are converted into compounds for which both safe and dangerous further pathways exist.)

Your 48 hours of safety is obtained by not only administering the "poison" but administering an antagonist for the metabolite that does the dirty work. After 48 hours the antagonist is used up, the metabolite builds up and kills the victim.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

There are several mushrooms that cause death after a certain amount of time during which their symptoms are visible but they can still be stopped by an antidote. I recommend Lepiota brunneoincarnata. It has no symptoms until it is too late to be treated usually and causes liver failure and death. This might not be what you are looking for as deaths usually happen after a week, but it would be dramatic. There is no cure but the villain could give your hero a liver transplant. I hope that was helpful:D.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

You certainly need to explore the environment around the poison: its delivery mechanism and the body it is injected in. From there, I see two major directions, depending on whether you prefer Western or Eastern style thinking behind your movie plots.

For western thought, you'll need to encapsulate the virulent poison in an innocuous covering which slowly decomposes. Create a layered covering where only the outside layer is "strong" and the inner ones are weak (one inner layer for every "antidote" the hero must drink). If the strong one decomposes, the weak ones fall shortly afterwards and release the poison. The "antidote" hardens the next layer to keep the poison in check. Eventually, the final antidote hardens a layer which does not decompose, and lets the poison be passed naturally.

For eastern thought, you want to focus on destabilizing the Chi of the individual with the poison. The antidote is a concoction which temporarily stabilizes the Chi, allowing the hero to continue acting.

The eastern version is a bit simpler because the eastern focus is on the interaction between the individual and the poison. The western view tends to focus on the poison, forcing more exotic solutions. The individual is complicated, so interactions with individuals can be complicated. The poison, on its own, is simple, so something outside of it needs to breathe the complexity into the western approach.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

depending on time period you could have him injected with any number of bacterial infections, and use a simple antibiotic as the antidote. This would work pretty well in lower tech or schizo-tech worlds where making and use of antibiotics aren't common knowledge, so the hero doesn't realize how easy it is to cure himself.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

It could work by giving the hero a poison, and then a weakened form of the antidote on a set schedule. Not strong enough to cure him, but enough to keep him from dying. This would cause tension since he would feel the poison start to work, and then subside after taking the antidote, and would give a sense of urgency to finish each task before the next dose is scheduled and the poison does to much damage.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

I'm sure it's possible. The trick would be to have a substance that is very hard for a human body to excrete, whicb will slowly be metabolised from latent poison to active and cumulative poison. The antidote accomplishes what your body can not: it converts the poison into something harmless.

Prozac has a half-life of several weeks in your body, but of course it slowly metabolises into harmless things. It's proof of concept though.

There is a non prescription painkiller which nearly fits the bill: Paracetamol. In normal doses it is metabolised by your liver into a toxin and then immediately re-metabolised into something harmless. In overdose your liver runs out of an amino acid needed for the second stage and then inflicts potentially fatal damage because the first stage doesn't stop. The antidote is acetylcysteine. Take enough of that before your liver destroys itself and you will survive, possibly even without noticeable toxic effects. Wait too long and you'll die many days later.

Personally I don't think the stuff should be non prescription. Every year people take an overdose, fall asleep, wake up, feel Ok, feel glad their suicide failed, tell nobody, get on with life, and die horrible deaths a couple of weeks later. It's perfectly safe in normal doses though.

Edit. I'll add that it's quite possible that the substance is known in the archives of a pharmaceutical company dating back to before predicting the metabolism of a novel compound in a body was a science. Something that worked in the short term and then made the lab rats die.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Maybe a virus that the antagonist made? It could lay dormant for a set amount of time then after the 48 hours it could do something like cause the lining of your throat to peel off so you choke yourself. The cure could just be some antibodies that only attack the virus. The virus could be very resistant to everything else but the "antidote".

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! Have you seen the tour? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 6 '17 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ BTW, your post needs some copyediting. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 6 '17 at 3:19
0
$\begingroup$

Don't use chemical warfare (poison), instead use germ warfare (disease causing agent). Will be easy to administer by various routes. Causes no symptoms while incubating in victim. Can have a rapid fatality rate once a sufficient load of organism is reached in body. And can be engineered with a protein "kill switch" that can be administered by injection as a rapid antidote.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

That's easy...check out how in 1996 a murder was reported in Washington ... Jeff Morrison used a paste of basic house hold items using equipment and tools commonly found in every home...the best thing it cannot be detected in the body after death.. and kills you within 15 hours.. without showing any symptoms or abnormalities during those first 14 hours of her death..the only thing she joked about before dying over the phone with a friend was about a running nose.. and dies immediately with the phone still clutched in her hands...

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Could you provide a citation or a link to a respectable source, where the case was reported, in your answer? $\endgroup$ – nzaman Apr 19 '18 at 15:25

protected by Community Jun 26 '18 at 7:46

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.