The first book in the spine-tingling Dark Matter trilogy about the frightening effects of a biological experiment gone wrong.
An epidemic is sweeping the country. It spreads fast, mercilessly. Everyone will be infected. . . . It is only a matter of time. You are now under quarantine.
Young teen Callie might have been one of the first to survive the disease, but unfortunately she didn't survive the so-called treatment. She was kidnapped and experimented upon at a secret lab, one that works with antimatter. When she breaks free of her prison, she unleashes a wave of destruction. Meanwhile her older brother Kai is looking for her, along with his smart new friend Shay, who was the last to see Callie alive.
Amid the chaos of the spreading epidemic, the teens must find the source of disease. Could Callie have been part of an experiment in biological warfare? Who is behind the research? And more importantly, is there a cure?
About the Author
Teri Terry is the award-winning author of several books, including the Slated trilogy, and has been published in the US, Germany, Australia, Canada, and France. She lives in England.
Read an Excerpt
SUBJECT 369X SHETLAND INSTITUTE, SCOTLAND Time Zero: 32 hours
THEY SAY I'M SICK, and I need to be cured. But I don't feel sick. Not anymore.
They wear shiny jumpsuits that cover everything, from their shoes to the paper hats that hide their hair, making them look strange and alien — more Doctor-Who villains than anything human. They reach hands to me through heavy gloves in the transparent wall, push me into the wheelchair, and do up the straps that hold me in it tight.
They wear masks, as do I, but theirs stop air getting to them from outside, in case whatever it is they are afraid of makes it through the wall, the gloves, and the suit. They can still talk in murmurs behind an internal breathing thing, and they think can choose for me to hear what they say, or not, by flicking a switch. They shouldn't bother; I can hear enough. More than I want to.
My mask is different. It stills my tongue. It lets me breathe, but stops me from speaking — as if any words I might say are dangerous.
I don't remember coming to this place, or where I came from. There are things I know, like my name is Callie, I'm twelve years old, and they are scientists searching for answers that I may be able to give. When things have been very bad, I've held on to my name, saying Callie, Callie over and over again inside my head. As if as long as I can remember my name, all the forgotten things don't matter; at least, not so much. As long as I have a name, I am here; I am me. Even if they don't use it.
And the other thing I know is that today I'm going to be cured.
My wheelchair is covered in a giant bubble, sealed all around with me inside, and a door is opened. Dr. 6 comes in and pushes my enclosed chair out through the door while Nurse 11 and Dr. 1 walk alongside.
The others seem awed that Dr. 1 is here. Whenever he speaks — his voice like velvet, like chocolate and cream and Christmas morning all together — they rush to do as he says. He is like me — known only by a number. The others all have names, but in my mind I number them. They call me Subject 369X, so it only seems fair.
I can walk; I'd tell them, if I could speak, but I'm wheeled along a corridor. Nurse 11 seems upset, and turns. She walks back the way we came.
Then we stop. Dr. 1 pushes a button in the wall, and metal doors open. Dr. 6 pushes me in. They follow and the doors close behind us, and then another opens, and another, until finally they push me into a dark room. They turn and go back through the last door. It shuts with a whoosh behind them, leaving me alone in darkness.
Moments later, one wall starts to glow. A little at first, then more, and I can see. I'm in a small square room. No windows. Apart from the glowing wall, it is empty. There is no medicine. There are no doctors, needles, or knives, and I'm glad.
But then the cure starts.
I'd scream if I could make a sound.
Callie, Callie, Callie, Callie ...CHAPTER 2
SHAY KILLIN, SCOTLAND Time Zero: 31 hours
I SHRINK DOWN behind the shelves, but it's too late — they saw me.
I bolt to the left, then stop abruptly. Duncan stands at the end of the aisle. I spin around the other way — again, too late. His two sidekicks, the ones I'd seen over the shelves, are there now. Not good: no one else is in sight.
"Well, well. Look, guys: if it isn't my Sharona." Duncan swaggers towards me, while the other two start to sing the song, complete with pelvic thrusts. Nice touch. I'd hoped when I moved to Scotland last year that they wouldn't find out my real name. I'd hoped that if they did, they wouldn't know the song. I mean, how old is "My Sharona," anyway? About a million years? But as if I wasn't weird enough already, someone found out, and someone else played it on the school bus. And that was it for me.
"How about it, baby?" Duncan says and guffaws.
"Just as soon as you grow one, loser." I scowl and try to push past him, but it was never going to be that easy, was it?
He grabs my arm and pushes me against a shelf. I face him, make myself smile. Duncan smiles back, surprised, and it makes me angry, so angry that I'm letting him get to me — letting myself be scared of this idiot. I use the fear and the anger to draw my knee up and slam it between his legs, hard.
He drops to the floor in the fetal position and groans.
"Well, my mistake. I guess you have one, after all."
I run for the door, but an old lady with a walker is coming through it just as I get there. I cut to the side to avoid knocking into her and slam into the wall.
The guy behind the cash register by the door glares, and I turn, rubbing my shoulder, and realize I've knocked the community noticeboard to the floor. I glance back, but there's no sign of them; Duncan's friends must still be helping him up off the floor.
"Sorry, I'm sorry," I say, and bend to pick it up and lean it against the wall. As I do, a few notices that have come loose flutter to the floor, but I've got to get out of here.
That's when I see her.
That girl. She's staring up at me from a paper on the floor.
Long, dark, almost black hair. Blue eyes, unforgettable both from the striking color that doesn't seem to go with her dark hair and the haunted look that stares at me right from the page — the same way she did that day. Not a trace of a smile.
I hear movement behind me, shove the paper in my pocket, and run for the door. I sprint across the road to where I locked my bike and fiddle frantically with the lock; it clicks off. I get on my bike just as they're nearing and pump the pedals as hard as I can. They're getting close, a hand is reaching out; they're going to catch me.
Fear makes me pick up speed, just enough. I pull away.
I glance back over my shoulder. His sidekicks have stopped running; they're wheezing. Duncan follows more slowly behind.
In case they have a car and cut me off, I don't go straight home. I veer off-road to the bike path and then take an unmarked branch for the long, twisty hill through the woods: up, up, and more up.
The familiar effort of biking miles settles my nerves, makes what happened begin to fade, but honestly: what was my mother thinking, naming me Sharona? Not a thought I am having for the first time. As if I didn't stand out enough with my London accent and knowing the kind of stuff I should hide at school but too often forget to: like the crazy way quantum particles, the teeniest tiniest things in existence, can act like both waves and particles at the same time; and — my current favorite — how the structure of DNA, our genetic code, is what makes my hair dark and curly and Duncan such a jerk. And as if calling me Sharona wasn't bad enough, Mom will tell anyone who'll listen why I got the name from the song. How I was conceived in a field at the back of a Knack concert.
No matter how I try to get everyone to call me Shay, even my friends sometimes can't resist Sharona. As soon as I'm eighteen — in a year, four months, and six days — I'm legally changing my name.
I stop near the top of the hill. The late-afternoon sun is starting to wane, to cool, and I need to go soon, but I always stop here.
That's when I remember: the girl. The paper I'd shoved in my pocket.
It had been here, almost a year ago, that I saw her. I was leaning against this same curved tree that is just the right angle to be a good backrest. My bike was next to me, like it is now.
Then something caught my eye: a moving spot, seen below me now and then through gaps in the trees. I probably only saw her as soon as I did because of the bright red of something she was wearing. Whoever she was, she was walking up the hill, and I frowned. This is my spot, picked precisely because of the crazy hill that no one wants to walk or bike up. Who was invading my space?
But as she got closer I could see she was just a kid, much younger than me. Maybe ten or eleven years old. Wearing jeans and a red hoodie, with thick, dark hair down her back. And there was something about her that drew the eye. She walked up the hill at a good pace, determinedly, without fuss or extra movement. Without looking around her. Without smiling.
When she got close, I called out. "Hello. Are you lost?"
She jumped violently, a wild look on her face as her eyes hunted for the source of the voice.
I stood up, waved. "It's just me; don't be scared. Are you lost?"
"No," she said, composed again, and kept walking.
I shrugged and let her go. At first. But then I started to worry. This path leads to a quiet road, miles and miles from anywhere, and it's a long walk back the way she came. Even if she turned around now, it'd probably be dark before she got there.
I got my bike, wheeled it, and followed behind her on foot. Ahead of me she stopped when she reached the road and looked both ways. Right led back to Killin — this was the way I generally went from here, flying down the hill on the tarmac. Left was miles to nowhere. She turned left. I remember thinking, She must be lost. If she won't talk to me, I should call the police or something.
I tried again. "Hello? There's nothing that way. Where are you going?"
No answer. I stopped, leaned my bike against a tree, took off my pack, and bent down to rummage around in it for my phone. My fingers closed around it just as a dark car came from the direction of Killin. It passed me, slowed, and stopped.
A man got out.
"There you are," he said to the girl. "Come."
She stopped in her tracks. He held out a hand; she walked towards him but didn't take it. He opened the back door and she got in. The man got into the driver's seat, and the car pulled away seconds later.
I remember I'd felt relieved. I didn't want to call the police and have to talk to them and get involved. Mom and I were heading out the next morning for our summer away, backpacking in Europe, and I still had to pack. But I was uneasy, too. It was weird, wasn't it? That was a long walk for a kid that age, all on her own. The way he'd said, There you are, it was like she'd been misplaced. Or had run away. And if she'd really been lost, wouldn't she have smiled or seemed happy when she'd been found?
But how many times would I have liked to run away from home at that age? Or even now. It wasn't my business.
I biked home and forgot about it.
I take the scrunched paper out of my pocket. It's dusty, like it's been hanging on that board forever. I smooth it out, and draw in a sharp breath. It's definitely her, but it is the words above her image that are making my stomach twist.
Calista, age 11. Missing.
She's missing? I feel sick, and lower myself down to sit on the ground and read the rest of it. She's been missing since last June 29th: almost a year ago. She was wearing — I swallow, hard — a red hoodie and jeans when last seen, just miles from here.
Oh my God.
When exactly did I see her? Was it before or after she went missing? I think, really hard, but can't come up with a date. I know it was around then — we get out early for summer in Scotland. Mom and I had left the week after school finished, but I can't remember what day.
She couldn't have been missing yet, could she? Because we'd have heard about it if we'd still been at home. It would have been all over the news.
Underneath her photo are these words: If you think you've seen Calista, or have any information about her disappearance at all, no matter how minor it may seem, please call this number. We love her and want her back.CHAPTER 3
SUBJECT 369X SHETLAND INSTITUTE, SCOTLAND Time Zero: 30 hours
THERE IS PAIN, like no other pain before. It sears not just flesh but every thought and feeling from my mind, leaving only one word behind: Callie, Callie, Callie. Naming myself to try to hold on to who I am, but all I am is pain. Flames eat my skin, my lungs, every soft part of me.
And then, abruptly, the pain stops. The flames carry on, and I'm above myself now. I see my body and the chair. The fire must be so hot; even my bones burn. Soon they are rendered to ash along with the rest of me.
Am I dead?
I must be. Right?
I stand in fire and feel no pain. Living things can't do that. I hold out a hand, and I can see it — it soothes my eyes, cool darkness in the midst of an inferno. I look down: my legs are there, dark and whole.
After a time, the flames stop. Shimmers of heat fade away, and the brightness of the walls fades.
I explore the walls, every inch, the floor and ceiling, too, but there is no way out of this place. I lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling; then, bored, I lie on the ceiling and stare at the floor. Gravity doesn't seem to apply to whatever I am now. But if I was a ghost, I could sail through the walls, couldn't I? And get out of here. But no matter how I push, I can't get through. The walls taste of metal, many feet thick.CHAPTER 4
SHAY KILLIN, SCOTLAND Time Zero: 29 hours
"I'M HOME." I YELL, kick off my shoes, and start for the stairs, breathing hard. No phone on me today, I'd pedaled home as fast as I could.
Mom comes into the hall. "So I see. Have you been forgetting the milk again?"
"Uh, not exactly," I say, not wanting to get into a long explanation when something else can't wait.
"Honestly, Sharona, for someone who is supposed to be so smart, I don't know what is in that head of yours sometimes."
"Shay. Please, call me Shay."
She rolls her eyes, laughs, then looks at me more closely. "Is something wrong?"
For all that she drives me crazy, Mom is good at that kind of stuff. Like the hippy throwback that she is, she's standing there in some sort of long skirt; her dark hair is curly like mine, but where mine is cropped at my shoulders hers hangs down to her waist, and there are long strings of beads around her neck. She's one to talk about forgetting things; half the time she'd forget to eat if I didn't remind her. But she notices the important stuff.
"Yes. Something's very wrong."
"Is it those boys bothering you again?"
"No. Well, not really. It's this." I pull the crumpled paper out of my pocket. She smooths it out, reads it. Looks back at me with a question in her eyes.
"I saw her; I saw this girl. I have to call them."
"Tell me." So I tell her the whole story, everything, while she draws me into the kitchen and makes a special herbal tea that is supposed to be good for nerves. It tastes pretty strong.
"Are you sure it was this girl? That was a long time ago: were you paying attention? Are you really sure?"
"This isn't one of those crazy stories your friend Iona reports on her blog, is it, Shay?" she says, hesitantly. "You're not getting confused between one of them and this, are you?"
"Of course not!"
"I just had to make sure. I believe you."
"What day did we go away last year?"
She frowns, thinking. Then she rummages in a bottom drawer and holds up last year's calendar. She opens it, and ... her face falls. "It was the thirtieth of June."
"So the day I saw her was the twenty-ninth — the day it says she went missing."
"Do you want me to call them?"
I shake my head. "No. I'll do it."
She gets the phone and holds it out.
I dial the number, hands shaking a little. If only I had called the police that day; if that car had been a minute later, I would have. But was it even after she went missing that I saw her? Maybe that man I saw was her dad. Maybe she went missing later that day, and nothing I could have done would have changed anything.
It rings — once, twice, three times, four times. I look at Mom, shake my head. Finally it picks up.
"Hello. Sorry we can't answer just now, please leave a message at the beep." A warm male voice and a posh English accent, with a touch of something foreign.
"It's a machine," I hiss to Mom, wondering what to say.
"Uh, hi. I saw this flier in a shop. About a girl named Calista. And —"
"Hello, hello? This is Kai Tanzer. I'm Calista's brother. Do you know where she is?" His voice is the one from the machine; his words come out in a rush, full of hope. Without even knowing who he is or anything about him, I hate to crush that hope.
"No, I'm sorry. I don't know where she is. But I saw her."
"It wasn't recently. I just found your flier today, but it was on the twenty-ninth of June last year that I saw her, the day it says she went missing." A flier that was pinned to a shop board I must have walked past a hundred times since then and not noticed. "It was late afternoon. She was walking and got into a car with a man. I thought it was her father." Did I? Did I really, or am I just covering for the fear that if I had questioned what was going on, I could have stopped something happening to her?
"Oh. I see." There is pain in his voice. "She was missing in the morning, so this was after. Do you remember what he looked like?"
"I think so."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Contagion"
Copyright © 2019 Terry Teri.
Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc..
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