The Judas Strain (Sigma Force Series)

The Judas Strain (Sigma Force Series)

4.3 231
by James Rollins
     
 

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From the depths of the Indian Ocean, a horrific plague has arisen to devastate humankind—unknown, unstoppable . . . and merely a harbinger of the doom that is to follow.

Operatives of the shadowy covert organization SIGMA Force, Dr. Lisa Cummings and Monk Kokkalis search for answers to the bizarre affliction aboard a cruise liner transformed into a

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Overview

From the depths of the Indian Ocean, a horrific plague has arisen to devastate humankind—unknown, unstoppable . . . and merely a harbinger of the doom that is to follow.

Operatives of the shadowy covert organization SIGMA Force, Dr. Lisa Cummings and Monk Kokkalis search for answers to the bizarre affliction aboard a cruise liner transformed into a makeshift hospital. But a sudden and savage attack by terrorist hijackers turns the mercy ship into a floating bio-weapons lab.

Time is an enemy as a worldwide pandemic grows rapidly out of control. As the seconds tick closer to doomsday, SIGMA's commander, Gray Pierce, must join forces with a beautiful assassin who tried to kill him—following the trail of the most fabled explorer in history into the terrifying heart of an astonishing mystery buried deep in antiquity and in humanity's genetic code.

Humankind's ultimate betrayal will come from within . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The special-ops trained scientists of Sigma Force battle the criminals of the shadowy Guild in bestseller Rollins's lively third Sigma Force thriller (after Black Order). An ancient and deadly plague, the Judas Strain (which afflicted Marco Polo), has suddenly re-emerged. Gray Pierce, a Sigma operative, and Seichan, a Guild defector, pursue clues to the nature of the plague to the Vatican, Istanbul (with a fine shootout in the Hagia Sophia mosque), Marco Polo's tomb and, finally, Cambodia's Angkor Wat. Meanwhile, Guild members hijack a cruise ship full of plague victims (to provide experimental subjects for the weaponizing of the plague), and Gray's parents are taken hostage (though the senior Grays prove feistier than their kidnappers reckon). Sophisticated the plot isn't, but Rollins includes more than enough action and suspense to keep readers turning pages. 8-city author tour. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This exciting but complex and overlong sequel to Rollins's Black Orderrevolves around the government's super-secret Sigma Group, which consists of scientists and military types determined to prevent terrorists from devastating the country and the planet. This time, life on Earth is threatened by the recurrence of an ancient and incredibly vicious and lethal virus, the Judas Strain, which may have been responsible for eco-disasters in millennia past. Sigma is out to halt the virus, but Sigma has an enemy, an equally shadowy group of terrorists called the Guild. Ironically, both want to prevent a catastrophe, but Sigma wants to save humanity, while the Guild wants to control it. Action abounds on almost every page, as the characters from the previous novel range over the globe. There are murders, disfiguring diseases, pirates, cannibals, and, oh yes, people who glow in the dark. As with all Rollins books, this book is great good fun, if readers suspend their disbelief and sense of logic. Recommended for larger thriller collections.
—Joy Humphrey

Kirkus Reviews
Long dormant organisms, roused from their slumber by insidious international villains, threaten civilization with the unstoppable plague that spoiled Marco Polo's trip home. Yes, that Marco Polo, with whose travels Rollins (Black Order, 2006, etc.) begins a thriller that rockets from Christmas Island to the Washington suburbs to Rome, Constantinople and Cambodia. There's no time to catch your breath when the fate of mankind may fall into the hands of The Guild, a gang of rascals reminiscent of Ian Fleming's sadistic syndicates. They'll stop at nothing! Whether it's terrorizing a spunky old couple or unleashing bacteria with the power to turn happy South Sea islanders into maddened cannibals, The Guild will go anywhere and torture anybody in their quest to control the terrestrial balance of power and make tons of money while they do it. And what does the Venetian explorer have to do with modern mayhem? It seems that the glaring omissions in his travel diaries had to do with a little side trip into the East Indies, where his fleet encountered victims of a plague with no known cure other than a few bites of . . . And it is that very plague that the Guild has its fiendish grasp on. As soon as they figure out the antidote, the ruthless criminals can bio-terrorize the entire planet. Thank goodness for the resourcefulness and bottomless purse of Sigma Force, America's semi-secret collection of sharp-shooting scientists and commando types who are thrown into the fight one nanosecond after Seichan, a sexy, vaguely Asian, possibly turn-coat Guild operative, careens on her motorcycle into the driveway of Sigma stalwart Commander Gray Pierce while he's helping his mother clean up after a Fourth ofJuly celebration. Seichan's got a bullet in her gut and pursuers in her wake. Sigma Force will not sleep for weeks. Relentless action in spectacular places and plenty of spurious science provide more than enough distraction from some fairly breathtaking coincidences and leaps of logic.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060765385
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/27/2008
Series:
Sigma Force Series, #4
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
560
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.30(d)

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Read an Excerpt

The Judas Strain

Chapter One

1293

Midnight
Island of Sumatra
Southeast Asia

The screams had finally ceased.

Twelve bonfires blazed out in the midnight harbor.

"Il dio, li perdona..." his father whispered at his side, but Marco knew the Lord would not forgive them this sin.

A handful of men waited beside the two beached longboats, the only witnesses to the funeral pyres out upon the dark lagoon. As the moon had risen, all twelve ships, mighty wooden galleys, had been set to torch with all hands still aboard, both the dead and those cursed few who still lived. The ships' masts pointed fiery fingers of accusation toward the heavens. Flakes of burning ash rained down upon the beach and those few who bore witness. The night reeked of burned flesh.

"Twelve ships," his uncle Masseo mumbled, clutching the silver crucifix in one fist, "the same number as the Lord's Apostles."

At least the screams of the tortured had ended. Only the crackle and low roar of the flames reached the sandy shore now. Marco wanted to turn from the sight. Others were not as stout of heart and knelt on the sand, backs to the water, faces as pale as bone.

All were stripped naked. Each had searched his neighbor for any sign of the mark. Even the great Khan's princess, who stood behind a screen of sailcloth for modesty, wore only her jeweled headpiece. Marco noted her lithe form through the cloth, lit from behind by the fires. Her maids, naked themselves, had searched their mistress. Her name was Kokejin, the Blue Princess, a maiden of seventeen, the same age as Marco had been when he started thejourney from Venice. The Polos had been assigned by the Great Khan to safely deliver her to her betrothed, the Khan of Persia, the grandson of Kublai Khan's brother.

That had been in another lifetime.

Had it been only four months since the first of the galley crew had become sick, showing welts on groin and beneath the arm? The illness spread like burning oil, unmanning the galleys of able men and stranding them here on this island of cannibals and strange beasts.

Even now drums sounded in the dark jungle. But the savages knew better than to approach the encampment, like the wolf shunning diseased sheep, smelling the rot and corruption. The only signs of their encroachment were the skulls, twined through the eye sockets with vines and hung from tree branches, warding against deeper trespass or foraging.

The sickness had kept the savages at bay.

But no longer.

With the cruel fire the disease was at last vanquished, leaving only this small handful of survivors.

Those clear of the red welts.

Seven nights ago the remaining sick had been taken in chains to the moored boats, left with water and food. The others remained on shore, wary of any sign among them of fresh affliction. All the while, those banished to the ships called out across the waters, pleading, crying, praying, cursing, and screaming. But the worst was the occasional laughter, bright with madness.

Better to have slit their throats with a kind and swift blade, but all feared touching the blood of the sick. So they had been sent to the boats, imprisoned with the dead already there.

Then as the sun sank this night, a strange glow appeared in the water, pooled around the keels of two of the boats, spreading like spilled milk upon the still black waters. They had seen the glow before, in the pools and canals beneath the stone towers of the cursed city they had fled.

The disease sought to escape its wooden prison.

It had left them no choice.

The boats—all the galleys, except for the one preserved for their departure—had been torched.

Marco's uncle Masseo moved among the remaining men. He waved for them to again cloak their nakedness, but simple cloth and woven wool could not mask their deeper shame.

"What we did..." Marco said.

"We must not speak of it," his father said, and held forth a robe toward Marco. "Breathe a word of pestilence and all lands will shun us. No port will let us enter their waters. But now we've burned away the last of the disease with a cleansing fire, from our fleet, from the waters. We have only to return home."

As Marco slipped the robe over his head, his father noted what the son had drawn earlier in the sand with a stick. With a tightening of his lips, his father quickly ground it away under a heel and stared up at his son. A beseeching look fixed upon his visage. "Never, Marco... never..."

But the memory could not be so easily ground away. He had served the Great Khan, as scholar, emissary, even cartographer, mapping his many conquered kingdoms.

His father spoke again. "None must ever know what we found... it is cursed."

Marco nodded and did not comment on what he had drawn. He only whispered. "Città dei Morti."

His father's countenance, already pale, blanched further. But Marco knew it wasn't just plague that frightened his father.

"Swear to me, Marco," he insisted.

Marco glanced up into the lined face of his father. He had aged as much during these past four months as he had during the decades spent with the Khan in Shangdu.

"Swear to me on your mother's blessed spirit that you'll never speak again of what we found, what we did."

Marco hesitated.

A hand gripped his shoulder, squeezing to the bone. "Swear to me, my son. For your own sake."

He recognized the terror reflected in his fire-lit eyes... and the pleading. Marco could not refuse.

"I will keep silent," he finally promised. "To my deathbed and beyond. I so swear, Father."

Marco's uncle finally joined them, overhearing the younger man's oath. "We should never have trespassed there, Niccolò," he scolded his brother, but his accusing words were truly intended for Marco.

Silence settled between the three, heavy with shared secrets.

His uncle was right.

Marco pictured the river delta from four months back. The black stream had emptied into the sea, fringed by heavy leaf and vine. They had only sought to renew their stores of fresh water while repairs were made to two ships. They should never have ventured farther, but Marco had heard stories of a great city beyond the low mountains. And as ten days were set for repairs, he had ventured with twoscore of the Khan's men to climb the low mountains and see what lay beyond. From a crest, Marco had spotted a stone tower deep within the forest, thrusting high, brilliant in the dawn's light. It drew him like a beacon, ever curious.

Still, the silence as they hiked through the forest toward the tower should have warned him. There had been no drums, like now. No birdcalls, no scream of monkeys. The city of the dead had simply waited for them.

It was a dreadful mistake to trespass.

And it cost them more than just blood.

The three stared out as the galleys smoldered down to the waterlines. One of the masts toppled like a felled tree. Two decades ago, father, son, and uncle had left Italian soil, under the seal of Pope Gregory X, to venture forth into the Mongol lands, all the way to the Khan's palaces and gardens in Shangdu, where they had roosted far too long, like caged partridges. As favorites of the court, the three Polos had found themselves trapped—not by chains, but by the Khan's immense and smothering friendship, unable to leave without insulting their benefactor. So at long last, they thought themselves lucky to be returning home to Venice, released from service to the great Kublai Khan to act as escorts for the lady Kokejin to her Persian betrothed.

Would that their fleet had never left Shangdu...

"The sun will rise soon," his father said. "Let us be gone. It is time we went home."

"And if we reach those blessed shores, what do we tell Teobaldo?" Masseo asked, using the original name of the man, once a friend and advocate of the Polo family, now styled as Pope Gregory X.

"We don't know he still lives," his father answered. "We've been gone so long."

"But if he does, Niccolò?" his uncle pressed.

"We will tell him all we know about the Mongols and their customs and their strengths. As we were directed under his edict so long ago. But of the plague here...there remains nothing to speak of. It is over."

Masseo sighed, but there was little relief in his exhalation. Marco read the words behind his deep glower.

Plague had not claimed all of those who were lost. His father repeated more firmly, as if saying would make it so. "It is over."

Marco glanced up at the two older men, his father and his uncle, framed in fiery ash and smoke against the night sky. It would never be over, not as long as they remembered.

Marco glanced to his toes. Though the mark was scuffled off the sand, it burned brightly still behind his eyes. He had stolen a map painted on beaten bark. Painted in blood. Temples and spires spread in the jungle.

All empty.

Except for the dead.

The ground had been littered with birds, fallen to the stone plazas as if struck out of the skies in flight. Nothing was spared. Men and women and children. Oxen and beasts of the field. Even great snakes had hung limp from tree limbs, their flesh boiling from beneath their scales.

The only living inhabitants were the ants.

Of every size and color.

Teeming across stones and bodies, slowly picking apart the dead.

But he was wrong... something still waited for the sun to fall.

Marco shunned those memories.

Upon discovering what Marco had stolen from one of the temples, his father had burned the map and spread the ashes into the sea. He did this even before the first man aboard their own ships had become sick.

"Let it be forgotten," his father had warned then. "It has nothing to do with us. Let it be swallowed away by history."

Marco would honor his word, his oath. This was one tale he would never speak. Still, he touched one of the marks in the sand. He who had chronicled so much...was it right to destroy such knowledge?

If there was another way to preserve it... As if reading Marco's thoughts, his uncle Masseo spoke aloud all their fears. "And if the horror should rise again, Niccolò, should someday reach our shores?"

"Then it will mean the end of man's tyranny of this world," his father answered bitterly. He tapped the crucifix resting on Masseo's bare chest. "The friar knew better than all. His sacrifice..."

The cross had once belonged to Friar Agreer. Back in the cursed city, the Dominican had given his life to save theirs. A dark pact had been struck. They had left him back there, abandoned him, at his own bidding.

The nephew of Pope Gregory X.

Marco whispered as the last of the flames died into the dark waters. "What God will save us next time?"

The Judas Strain. Copyright © by James Rollins. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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