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Paul Fischer had always pictured the end of the world being a bit more . . . industrial. Loud machines, cars crashing, people screaming, guns a-blazing. Perhaps a world- breaking bomb shattering the earth into bits. But here in Greenland? Nothing but packed snow, endless rocks, and the towering white vistas of glaciers sitting high on the horizon. No cities burning, no abandoned cars, none of that nonsense. Just a tiny virus, and some pigs.
Paul hopped out of the UH- 60 Black Hawk he li cop ter and onto a snowcovered field lit up by the breaking dawn. A woman in an air force jacket waited for him, fur- lined hood tight around her head to ward off the cold and the stinging wind.
She snapped a salute. “Col o nel Fischer?”
Paul nodded and casually returned the salute.
“Second Lieutenant Laura Burns, Col o nel. General Curry is waiting for you. This way, sir.”
She turned and walked toward three white Quonset huts, their curved roofs blending into the landscape. Two tunnels connected the huts, completing the little human hamster town that had gone up less than twenty four hours earlier. He heard the hum of a diesel generator, saw the curve of two satellite dishes mounted on top of the huts.
Paul followed the girl, their shadows blending together as a long, broken gray shape moving across churned- up white snow. He wanted to get inside, hoped it was heated — these cold temps raised hell with his left knee. Paul absently wondered if the young lieutenant was married, if she was the kind of girl his son would find interesting. He was starting to wonder if the boy would ever settle down and get to the business of making some grandchildren that Paul could spoil rotten.
Overhead, a pair of F-16s shot by, their jet roar echoing off the valley floor. Probably a squadron out of Reykjavík, in to enforce a no- bullshit no- fly zone that had gone up shortly after Novozyme sounded the biohazard alarm.
As he walked, Paul looked out into the shallow valley. Two miles away, he could make out the Novozyme facility: a main building that contained research labs and housing for the staff, a landing strip, light poles, metal guard tower, two small, unblemished sheet- metal barns for the pigs and a head- high electric fence that surrounded the entire compound.
The girl — Second Lieutenant Burns, Paul mentally corrected himself — led him to the middle hut. No airlock. There hadn’t been time to set up a full temporary biohazard center, so the guys at Thule Air Force Base had shipped out the communications and command part of a portable Harvest Falcon setup. Not that it mattered much. Intel was almost positive that the viruses hadn’t escaped the Novozyme facility.
The key word being almost.
Paul opened the door and stepped into the heated interior. General Evan Curry looked up, waved Fischer over to the bank of monitors that covered the rear wall. Several American soldiers sat at consoles in the cramped space. A few ranking Danes stood and watched.
Curry had the permanent scowl and gray- peppered buzz cut of the typical Hollywood general, but he strayed from the script with his five- footfive stature and deep- black skin. The only image that mattered, however, was the shine from his four stars.
“Hello, Paul.” Curry extended his hand for a firm shake. “I’d love to say it’s good to see you again, but this is just as bad as last time. That was . . .what, three years ago?”
“Three years to the day,” Paul said.
“Really? You’ve got a good memory.”
“Kind of a hard thing to forget, sir.”
Curry nodded gravely. People had died under his commands as well. He understood.
The general turned to the Danish brass. “Gentlemen, this is Colonel Paul Fischer of the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID.” Curry pronounced the acronym you-sam-rid. “He’s from the special threats division, and where we go from here is his decision. Any questions?”
The way Curry said the words special threats and any questions made it clear he really didn’t want to hear any questions at all. The Danes just nodded.
Curry turned back to Paul. “I got a call from Murray Longworth. He said you’ve got the ball. I’m here to implement your orders, what ever they may be.”
“Thank you, General,” Paul said, although he wasn’t very thankful at all. If someone else could have been trusted to make these choices, he would have gladly passed the buck. “What are we dealing with?”
Curry simply pointed to the Quonset’s large main monitor.
Paul had somehow expected the images to be fuzzy. In those apocalypse movies, scenes of carnage came with ample amounts of static, flickering lights and sliding doors that randomly open and shut. For some reason, every doomsday vision seemed to be marked by substandard electrical work.
But this wasn’t Hollywood. The lighting was fine, the pictures perfectly clear.
The screen showed the high- angle view from a security camera. A lone man slowly crawled across a laboratory floor. He coughed over and over again, deep and wet, the kind that ties up your diaphragm for far too long, makes you wonder if you might not actually draw in another breath. Each ripping cough kicked out chunks of yellow-pink froth to join the wet bits that coated his chin and stained his white lab coat.
With each crawl, one arm weakly over the next, he let out a little noise, eeaungh. The bottom of the screen read DR. PONS MATAL.
“Oh, Pons,” Paul said. “Goddamit.”
“You knew the guy?”
“A little. I’ve read his research, was on panels with him at a few virology conferences. We had beers once. Brilliant man.”
“He’s going out hard,” Curry said, his jaw rigid and grinding a little as he watched the man. “What’s happening to him?”
Paul knew that answer all too well. He’d seen people die just this way, exactly three years ago. “Doctor Matal’s lungs are filling with mucus and pus, making them stiff. It’s hard for him to draw air. He’s drowning in his own fluids.”
“That’s how he’ll die? Drowning?”
“Could be. If the tissue erosion is bad enough, it can cut into the pulmonary artery. He’ll bleed out.”
“How do we know if that happens?”
“Believe me, you’ll know,” Paul said. “How many survivors?”
“There are none. Doctor Matal there is the last to go. Twenty-seven other staff members at the Novozyme facility. All bodies accounted for.”
Curry nodded to one of the soldiers manning the small consoles. The main monitor stayed on Matal’s futile crawl, while smaller screens flashed a series of still images. It took Paul a second to realize the images weren’t pictures — they were live video, but no one was moving.
Each image showed a prone body. Some had pinkish- yellow stains on their shirts, just like Matal. Others had blood on their mouths and clothes.
A few showed a more apparent cause of death — bullet wounds. Someone, probably Matal, had decided the flu strain was too deadly. That someone had stopped people from leaving the facility whether they showed symptoms or not.
The images made Paul’s stomach pinch — especially images of women. Pink froth covering their mouths, dead eyes staring out. They reminded him of the incident three years ago. Like Pons, Paul had been forced to make a call . . . and Clarissa Colding had died.
Paul took a breath and tried to force the thoughts away. He had a job to do. “General, when was the first confirmed infection?”
“Less than thirty-six hours ago,” Curry said, then checked his watch.“Based on Matal’s notes, he shot seven. Twenty died due to infection.
What ever this bug is, it moves fast.”
An understatement. Paul had never seen an infection move that quickly, kill that quickly. No one had.
“The facility’s contamination control readings are in the green,” Curry said. “Only two ways in, negatively pressurized airlocks and both fully functional. Air purification systems online and A-OK.”
Paul nodded. Negative pressure was key. If there were any breaks in the facility’s walls, doors or windows, fresh air would push in as opposed to contaminated air escaping out. “And you’re sure the entire staff is accounted for?”
Curry nodded. “Novozyme ran a tight ship. The administration helped us locate anyone who wasn’t in the building at the time of lockdown.
They’ve all been quarantined, and none show symptoms thus far. It’s contained.”
On the screen, Matal’s crawling slowed. His breaths came more rapidly, each accompanied by the ragged sound of flapping phlegm. Paul swallowed hard. “Did Doctor Matal make any disease- specific notes for us?”
Curry picked up a clipboard and passed it over. “Matal said it was a new Flu- A variant. Something from the pigs. Zeno zoo nose, I think it was.”
“Xenozoonosis,” Paul said, pronouncing the word slowly as zee- o-zoono-sis.
“That’s it,” Curry said. “Matal said it was worse than the Spanish flu of 1918.”
Paul quickly flipped through the notes. Matal hadn’t had time to properly type the virus, but he’d theorized it was an H5N1 variant or a mutation of H3N1. Paul scanned the lines, dreading what he’d see and wincing when he finally did — Matal’s staff had tried oseltamivir and zananivir, the two antivirals known to weaken swine flu. Neither had done a thing.
“I’m not a scientist, Fischer,” General Curry said. “But I know enough to realize a virus isn’t going to kill everyone. I’m surprised a civilian like Matal would shoot his own people.”
“He saw how fast it spread, had no way to stop it. Matal decided the death of him and his staff was preferable to the potential death of millions.”
“Oh, come on,” Curry said. “I’m not about to go licking that pinkish goo off Matal’s chin or anything, but how bad can it be?”
“The 1918 epidemic killed fifty million people. World population was just two billion people back then. Now it’s almost seven billion. Same killrate today, you’re looking at seventy million dead. No planes back then, General. There weren’t even highways yet. Now you can fly anywhere in the world in less than a day, and people do, all the time.”
“But we just had a swine flu,” Curry said. “That H1N1 thing. That killed, what, a few thousand people? Regular old, standard- issue flu kills a quarter million people a year. So pardon my layman’s approach, Fischer, but I’m not buying into the H1N1 pandemic crap.”
Paul nodded. “H1N1 wouldn’t have killed anyone in the Novozyme facility.
They have medical facilities, doctors, antivirals . . . they knew what they were doing. This isn’t a third- world shit hole, this is a world- class biotech facility. And pandemic is just a term to describe infection over a wide area. The first H1N1 case was reported in Mexico. Just six weeks after that report, it was confirmed in twenty- three countries. It was global. Had that been Matal’s virus, you’d be looking at a seventy- five percent lethality rate across the whole damn world. You know how many people that would kill?”
“Five billion,” Curry said. “Yeah, I can count. Can you believe they actually make you pass math to be a general?”
“Sorry, sir,” Paul said.
Curry watched Matal. The general seemed to chew on imaginary gum for a few seconds before he spoke. “Fischer, you paint a fucking scary picture.”
“Yes sir. That I do.”
Two more chews of imaginary gum, then a pause. “I know what I’d do if I was in your shoes. I’d go all- in. Balls- deep.”
“And if I want to go all- in, General,” Paul said, opting out of the phrase balls-deep. “What are the choices?”
“We’ve got the full cooperation of the Danish government and Greenland’s prime minister. They want this thing wiped out, so they’ll back up what ever story we provide. Thule’s got a Bone online with eight BLU- 96s.”
Paul nodded. A Bone, meaning a B1 bomber. BLU- 96s were twothousand-pound fuel- air explosive bombs. At a predetermined height, the bombs opened and spread atomized fuel that mixed with surrounding air, creating a cloud of highly volatile fuel- air mixture. Once ignited, the temperatures reached around two thousand degrees Fahrenheit, incinerating everything in a one- mile radius — including the viruses and anything they were in, or on.
“General, do we have any other options?”
“Sure,” Curry said. “Two more. We can deploy teams in biohazard gear to examine the place, take the risk of some minor, careless act letting the virus get out, or we can cut our losses and go Detroit on it.”
Paul looked at the general. “A nuke? You’ve got a nuke?”
“Less than a megaton,” Curry said. “But you can kiss everything within a three- mile radius adios. I’ve got evac choppers standing by. We get our people to a safe distance, leave everything here, then light the Christmas tree.”
Curry was serious. A damn nuke. Fischer looked at a monitor that displayed a view just outside the Novozyme facility. It showed the pigs mucking about outside one of the barns. Matal and Novozyme had hoped to turn these pigs into a herd of human organ donors. They had been studying xenotransplantation, the science of taking parts of one animal and putting them into another. Hundreds of biotech companies were pursuing similar lines of research, and each line carried a remote danger. Remote,
but real, as the scene before them so aptly demonstrated.
Ironically, the pigs didn’t look sick at all. They looked as happy as pigs can — eating, digging at the half- frozen, muddy ground, sleeping. Paul felt oddly sad that the animals had to die.
“How long for the B1 to drop the fuel bombs?”
“Two minutes from my order,” Curry said. “The Bone is on station now.”
Paul nodded. “Do it.” He hoped the bombs would land soon enough to end Matal’s pain before the lungs fully gave out.
Curry picked up a phone and made a simple order: “It’s a go.”
On the monitor, a new coughing fit clenched Matal’s body into a fetal position. He thrashed weakly, then rolled onto his back. His arms reached straight up, his fingers curled like talons. He managed one more ragged breath, then another cough shook his body. Blood shot out of his mouth like a spurt from a fire hose, so powerful it splashed against the fluorescent lights above. His body went limp, wet red still burbling up on his lips and dripping down on him from the ceiling.
“Man,” Curry said. “That is truly fucked up.”
Paul had seen enough. “I need a secure line out.”
Curry pointed to another phone, this one built into the equipment thick control panel. “That’s a straight line to Langley. Longworth is waiting for your call.”
Murray Longworth. Assistant director of the CIA and dotted-line boss of Paul’s special threats division of USAMRIID. Longworth oversaw an unnamed group combining elements of CIA, FBI, USAMRIID, Homeland and other departments, a force tasked with combating biologically related threats. The legality? Questionable, at best. The secrecy? Absolute.
The authority? There was never really any question about that, not when Murray Longworth spoke with the voice of the president himself.
Paul picked up the phone. His boss answered on the first ring.
“This is Longworth. What’s your call, Colonel?”
“I’ve ordered General Curry to use the fuel bombs.”
There was a slight pause. “I still can’t believe this,” Longworth said.
“From a goddamn pig? How can a pig virus infect people?”
Paul sighed. Longworth ran the show, but he didn’t get it. Probably never would. One of the main monitors switched from the steady procession of the dead to a shaking, blurry, bird’s-eye view of the Novozyme facility. Bomber-cam.
“The pig genome was modified to include human proteins,” Paul said.
“That has to happen if you want to make the pig organs transplantable into humans. A new swine flu variant incorporated those proteins and it jumped species.”
“Put it in terms that I can understand.”
“Fast-moving, airborne, no known treatment, three out of four people die horribly. Goes global within eight weeks. On a scale of one to ten, this is an eight, and my ten is the complete extinction of mankind. We need to go scorched Earth here, sir.”
Paul heard Longworth’s heavy sigh.
“Finish up there as fast as you can, then get your ass back to D.C.,” Longworth said. “President Guttierez is calling a black meeting. All the European nations, India, China, everyone capable of this kind of work.
We’re shutting everyone down until the WHO can put monitors in place. I need you at that meeting.”
“I see,” Paul said. A black meeting. A disaster of biblical proportions was just a broken airlock away, and the world’s leaders would meet in secret to discuss the options. No one would ever know.
Not even Matal’s family.
On the bomber- cam monitor, Fischer recognized the field he’d just walked through, then the white Quonset- hut hamster town. A fraction of a second later, he heard the roar of the jet’s engine. Only seconds now.
“After the D.C. meeting, you go after Genada,” Murray said. “We’re shutting everyone down, but we get Genada’s facility at Baffin Island first.”
The monitor switched to a view from a camera that must have been mounted up with the radar dishes on the Quonset’s roof. The Novozyme facility was there for a brief second, then a giant orange flash filled the screen. The ground shook. A small mushrooming cloud lifted into the dawn sky.“
Sir,” Paul said, “I think I should be on hand for the Monsanto facility in South Africa, or Genzyme’s Brazilian installation.”
“Genada first,” Longworth said. “We already know those fucking Paglione brothers were conducting human experimentation. They’re a proven threat. Any progress finding the Russian girl?”
The Russian girl. Galina Poriskova, PhD. She’d threatened to blow the whistle on Genada’s human experimentation. She’d contacted Fischer, met with him and claimed to have evidence, but the Pagliones had paid her off before she delivered.
“Just tracking some financials,” Paul said. “Investments and the like. NSA is pretty sure she’s in Moscow, but we can’t get the Rus sians to cooperate.”
“I’m guessing they’ll cooperate now,” Longworth said. “I’ll escalate it to the State Department. P. J. Colding made the human experiments vanish the last time we were chasing Genada. He also took Poriskova right out from under your nose. So we start with Genada before he can do that shit again.”
Paul swallowed, closed his eyes. He should have known P. J. Colding’s name would come up.
“I understand, sir,” Paul said. “But I remind you that I have an asset on the inside at Baffin Island. I can send a message. If anything looks amiss, the asset can cripple transportation, stranding Colding and the entire project.”
“Still rubs my ass raw you won’t tell me who your asset is.”
“Until your people find out how Magnus and Danté Paglione get inside information from the CIA, it’s best I’m the only one to know.”
“I said it rubs my ass raw, I didn’t say it wasn’t the right strategy. But, Colonel, can your asset get a message back to you?”
Paul ground his teeth. He knew exactly where this was going. “No sir.”
“Which means you won’t know when the Paglione brothers find out about the bomb you just dropped. They’ll figure out what happened, and when they do, Colding will take the Genada project on the run. I’m not about to tell the president that there’s a rogue xenotransplantation element unaccounted for, not after what just went down. While you do the D.C. meeting, I’ll call up the special threats CBRN platoon. You’ll go in with them.”
The special threats CBRN team. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear. Paul didn’t know much about those men, he wasn’t cleared to know, but they would be much more than just enlisted soldiers in hazmat suits. They’d be special forces. Whip-smart killers.
“I’ll have a flight for you out of Thule,” Longworth said. “Tell your asset to take out all transportation so Colding and the Genada staff can’t get away.”
From bad to worse. That action would leave Paul’s asset with no support until the CBRN team touched down. Considering the caliber of Genada’s security forces, that could be very bad indeed.
“Sir, I suggest we just wait. They’ve got fifty animals in the facility . . . they can’t go far in ten hours.”
“Colonel Fischer, we’re done here. As soon as I get approval from the Canadians, you order your asset to destroy all transportation, take out any research data and kill the baboons.”
“Cows, sir,” Paul said. “Monsanto is using baboons. Genada is using cows.”
“Then kill all the cows. Stop arguing with me.”
Paul rubbed his face in frustration. His ex- wife, Claire, used to tell him that the movement made him look like a little kid who needed a nap. He’d never broken the habit, and now every time he did it he immediately thought of her nagging at him to stop.
“Colonel Fischer,” Longworth said. “Will you follow my instructions, or not?”
“Yes sir. I’ll send the order as soon as you give the green light.”
From the Hardcover edition.