The Blood Artistsby Chuck Hogan, Gordan Thomson
The story begins with an urgent phone call from the remote rain forests of the Congo. Drs. Stephen Pearse and Peter Maryk are summoned to a mining camp where a deadly virus has killed everyone within its reach. Desperate to stop it, they bomb the area, resealing a uranium cave that had housed and nurtured the virus for centuries. Two years later, the disease reemerges… See more details below
The story begins with an urgent phone call from the remote rain forests of the Congo. Drs. Stephen Pearse and Peter Maryk are summoned to a mining camp where a deadly virus has killed everyone within its reach. Desperate to stop it, they bomb the area, resealing a uranium cave that had housed and nurtured the virus for centuries. Two years later, the disease reemerges in America, devastating the small New England town of Plainville. Stephen Pearse is now head of the FBI-like Bureau of Disease Control; Peter Maryk, a man gifted with a highly advanced immune system, now runs the bureau's clandestine special pathogens section of disease detectives. Since their return from Africa, the two men have become bitter enemies divided by opposing scientific philosophies. But together they must track down the virus as it continues to spring up in isolated incidents, each time becoming increasingly calculating, cunning and human-like as it drops its plague across the landscape. The battle intensifies as it becomes clear that the Plainville virus is being spread by one particular human host - giving the virus a name and a face. Their search involves the last survivor of the Plainville outbreak, a young woman, who is now immune to the virus. Her blood is the serum of life in the face of viral death, making her a critical target. Pearse and Maryk must keep her safe, while formulating a plan to get to the killer before he gets to the woman.
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Peter left to investigate and later returned to lead me out across the grass bridge, along a macheted path to a high spot outside the camp. It was a ridge overlooking the jungle terrain rolling out to the west. The largest of a thick grove of ancient black trees there had been ravaged, the bottom meter of trunk bark was rent to the bare wood and scored with blood and bits of greenish-gray fur. A green monkey lay dead atop a bed of shavings at its roots. Its fur was burst with pustules, and black, blood-sodden eyes stared out of its small, drawn, side-turned face. One long arm lay across its belly, the leathery black fingers of both forepaws broken and bloodied. A few paces away, a baboon lay ripped to shreds. The infected monkey had savaged the larger animal before turning its attack upon the tree trunk, and then bled to death from its subsequent injuries.
"My God," I said.
Peter opened up the disinfectant pack he had brought along and uncapped a gallon bottle of industrial bleach. He began sloshing it on the monkey carcass.
"A quarter mile outside camp," he said, dousing the tree wound. "The virus is making its move.
Peter often spoke of viruses as though they had motives, as though they were forward-thinking, free-will life forms with plans and hopes for a deviant future.
"Flies are already visiting the kill," he continued. "Whether arthropods can vector this is anybody's guess, but we have to assume for the purposes of containment that they can. It's starting to break."
I looked out over the ridge into the virgin land below. The camp river continued there, a sparkling blue stripe, eventually pooling into a soft clearing that floated hazily, like a mirage, in the emeralddistance. Birds arced in slow, careless circles over pink Flamingos high-stepping in the shallows.
"We can't quarantine the entire jungle," I said.
Peter nodded his agreement. "That is exactly what I told Krebs."
I turned back and took a step toward him, before stopping. Dr. Martin Krebs was the director of the CDC. "When did you "
"Earlier today. Reached him in Washington. I told him what we had. It's over, Stephen. We're out of here in four hours."
The caustic smell of the bleach just then began drifting into my suit hood. "What do you mean?" I said. "These people."
"Are dying." His voice was flat, yet urgent as always. "The relief effort has failed. Fifteen minutes after we're airborne, air force jets will fly in and take out everything within five square kilometers."
"Jets?" I moved closer toward him in my suit, as though running underwater. "The Congo government would never allow"
"The prime minister and the president have already been briefed on the outbreak. They signed off on anything that would avoid the panic of an Ebola-like winter."
"But that kind of disruption would whack out the cave's ecology. We'd only be escalating it."
Peter calmly shook his head. "A few strategic strikes on the top of the rise to reseal the cave for good. The rest, a surface exfoliation. Plants, bugs, animals: every living thing."
"But the camp people. The asymptomatics. How do you propose evacuating them?"
Peter moved on to the baboon, bleach glugging out of the upturned bottle.
In the heat and sweat of my contact suit, I felt a bracing chill.
"This is the hottest thing we've ever seen, Stephen. You know that. It's only a matter of time before someone slips up and draws a contamination. This bug could burn through every living thing on this planet if it gets out. That cave is simply too hot to preserve. It is the tumor of the world, never meant to be found. So we bury it. We seal it back up, and work with the samples we have."
"And the asymptomatics?"
He looked at me over his half mask. "You'd bring them back into the U.S.?"
"Murder," I said. "Don't pretend this is humane. It's preemptive, and misguided, and premature. Murder."
"Our job is to protect humans as a species from an extinction event such as this."
"By slaughtering a few? Offering up the remaining healthy ones as sacrifices to the viral god?" I battled to control my breathing. "Going to Krebs without me. Without even consulting me." Peter's betrayal shocked me most off all.
"I knew what your position would be."
"And so you ignored it? Went around me? Never even considered that you might be wrong and I right?"
"If you have an alternate plan," he said, shaking out the last drops of bleach over the dead baboon, "now is the time."
"We can't wait."
"Let it run its course. Let it burn out. For God's sake, Peter."
He sounded strangely disappointed in me. "This is Andromeda, Stephen. The Holocaust paradigm: bombing the rail yards to cut the trans-port lines, martyring those already in the cattle cars to the millions who would die in the gas chambers. That's what disease control is all about: trading the dead for the living. This is no laboratory, Stephen. Categorical imperatives are fine; it's all right to be contemplative on the front porch some warm summer evenings. We're facing world genocide here. Krebs understands that. I am sorry these people are sick. But I am even sorrier they are contagious. De mortuis nil nisi bonum." Of the dead say nothing but good.
I watched him recapping his bottle of bleach. "What's happening to you?"
"You can't save everyone, Stephen. Not even you. Mercy was right enough for the girl."
It was all I could do to keep from ripping off my suit, as though only my self-destruction would change his mind. "She was dying."
He was kneeling before me now, repacking his disinfectant kit. "If we don't stop it here, cauterize it, now, it's going to slip out of this jungle and march across this continent and the planet."
I saw it all then, the bulletining of Special Pathogens black-baggers, his reluctance to issue an international alert. "You were going to bury this from the beginning."
"No," he said. "Not from the beginning. But early on."
"I'm calling Krebs."
"I told him to expect you. But the jets won't be called back. The uranium mine is in violation of international treaties and the Department of Defense will strike whether we remain here or not."
"Peter," I said. "Listen to me. Burning these people alive"
He snapped the kit shut and stood. "We don't have the supplies to euthanatize everyone. But if you have a favorite or two, be my guest."
He started away with his plastic kit like a salesman moving on to his next call, leaving me standing with the two animal carcasses. Vapor waves of bleach, formerly the essence of cleanliness, of household chores and gym socks in the wash, of pale grout and a gleaming bathroom floor now and forever the effluvium of disease containment, of ablution.
At once I started after him. The girl with the vitiligo was watching for me at the huts, but I brushed past her grabbing arms and searched the camp for Peter. I passed the trauma area and a patient cried out, and I stopped only long enough to treat him. But soon there were others calling for my attention, more than the nurses could handle. After a while I stopped looking over his shoulder. I began treating the doomed as fast as I could.
Copyright ) 1998 by Chuck Hogan
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This is a classic Sci-Fi biological outbreak story. Dr. Peter Maryk, who has a superhuman immune system, and Dr. Stephen Pearse are rivals as well as partners in developing a synthetic human blood. They are called to the Congo to help with what appears to be a smallpox outbreak. It turns out to be a new virus that is extremely lethal. This action packed thriller takes place in the near future (2010-2016) and is not beyond believability. Well worth the read! I happened to listen to the audio version - Gordon Thomson is excellent in his interpretation. I will be picking up the book to read it - I am sure I missed some nuances while driving on the PA Turnpike!