The Judas Strain (Sigma Force Series)

The Judas Strain (Sigma Force Series)

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 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 the 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061792755
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Series: Sigma Force Series , #4
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 704
Sales rank: 25,283
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

James Rollins is the author of international thrillers that have been translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the "hottest summer reads" (People magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets—and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight. He lives in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


Sacramento, California

Date of Birth:

August 20, 1961

Place of Birth:

Chicago, Illinois

Read an Excerpt

The Judas Strain

Chapter One


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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Judas Strain 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 243 reviews.
TheKarenJones More than 1 year ago
How is it this is the only title by author James Rollins I've read? And why did I read the one right in the middle of the series? Luckily, it was so good, I can enjoy reading this one again as I go through the entire series. The Judas Strain is as an odd book. The plot is simple, but complex. The characters are over-the-top, but believable. The text is intelligent, but easy-reading. Full on entertainment in its most pleasant form. I can't wait to read it again. But to you, I recommend reading them in order. That's always best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of the Sigma Force series and they are all fast paced and can't put down books. Once you start to read you just can't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been reading James Rollins since Excavation came out and he is one of my favorite authors. But ever since The DaVinci code came out he has tried to write to that style of popularity. I would love for him to go back to writing original stories with new characters and leave Sigma behind. They are enjoyable reads but I can only read about church conspiracies and such for so long. I never really got into a groove with this book and it took me a while to read. With that said I gave the book 4 stars partially because of the content and also because I love the author and have been with him since the beginning.
caver More than 1 year ago
The author has done an excellent job researching and weaving together science and history, as he repeatedly does in his thrillers. It got me to get online and do some of my own research. I love how Rollins can intrigue the reader in this way. However, the over-arching plot of each of his novels is the same, this book not excluded. Even worse, in a series like this, no matter if every chapter ends with a main character's life threatened, you know they really aren't going to die. That wasn't such a problem with his individual tales. And how many times can one man use the word, "scintillating"?
Becca_Pendragon More than 1 year ago
I am a little more than halfway through but I find this book hard to put down once I pick it up. It is fast-paced and full of action, but it also makes you think about weighty issues. I love this kind of mix in the stories I read.
catalystTC More than 1 year ago
Rollins just continues to role them out. Another delightful read blending "it could happen" with life's realities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
thoroughly enjoyed this page turner. I was sad to get to the end and am ready to read more by this author
avid-readerJG More than 1 year ago
Rollins characters are bigger than life - both bad and good ones. This story about a worldwide threat of mutant, nearly inextinguishable germs puts life on earth in a new perspective. I can't wait to read the sequel...but I won't spoil it by revealing why.
Sweeting More than 1 year ago
I love pretty much all of the Sigma series books and this one is no exception. I enjoy how the author puts it all together and how the details unfold.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was my first James Rollins read and it was just fantastic!! I did not want to put it down and that is a great thing. I'm definately going to read his other books now.
mellisjr23 More than 1 year ago
Rollins' mix of science and fiction make the page turning plot and dynamic characters even more fun to follow. Once you start reading, you'll be on he edge of your seat and hard pressed to set this book down.
Sue_Con More than 1 year ago
I listened to the audio book twice and would love to know what others think happened to Susan at the end. Obviously she was transformed but I didnt really get what was actually happening to her or the others around her. I'd love to hear anyone's theories. Feel free to email me. Otherwise I loved the idea that Monk may have survived. A great read!
GTTexas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James Rollins seems never to disappoint, and I'm a definite fan of his Sigma Force series.
Richardson76 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For sear fun and adventure a great read. Will keep you interested for days. Perfect summer read.
Talbin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Judas Strain, by James Rollins, is an action-packed international thriller. Gray Pierce, commander of the Sigma Force (an elite, science-based governmental agency), finds himself retracing the footsteps of Marco Polo to discover the source - and cure - for a deadly bacteria that threatens to afflict humankind. While Pierce follows the historical trail (accompanied by Seichan, an elite terrorist who once tried to kill him), his colleagues Lisa Cummings and Monk Kokkalis are at the ground zero for the release of the mysterious plague that turns humans into crazed cannibals.As I type this, the story sounds so far-fetched as to be ridiculous, but Rollins weaves an engrossing tale. Rollins is one of the better writers of thrillers, and he does a great job of using both science and history to tell how a plague could incubate for hundreds of years before being released once again into the world. This certainly isn't high literature, but is well-written and tightly plotted, making it an excellent book for it's type. Plus, the ending left me a little misty-eyed, which is pretty unusual for a thriller.
dbree007 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Marco Polo, the vatican, elite force and mysterious evil force surrounding the mystery of deadly plagues that seem to erupt every couple of centuries. What causes them? Can they be contained, used, abused for evil or for good? A good read.... makes me want to read Marco Polo's travels. Loved the neon predatory squid.
WhitmelB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terrible book. Too many coincidences for my taste, characters overdrawn, almost every chapter ends with someone or another about to die - and then you wait several chapters before those characters reappear. And what do you know, they are safe again. A real potboiler as they used to say.
Sentinel83 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up for a few dollars in passing and I have to say it was fantastic. Of course, all of the usual thriller books are far-fetched in terms of the main characters survival ability, but put that aside and the plot was wonderfully imaginative. The book focuses on an elite US force called Sigma and a large international cabal called The Guild who are always battling each other. Rollins does an awesome job of twisting both a historical plot and a scientific plot around Marco Polo's travels that took place throughout the 13th century. The historical arm of the book has a lot of research into the story of Marco Polo and a horrific disease they encounter during his travels returning from Asia. History repeats itself and causes both the Sigma and Guild scientific groups to cross paths working in the modern day to figure out the mystery disease before its too late. Great blend of both science and history. Great book.
MichaelDeavers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Full of Action and stunning characters I have read just about every book written by James Rollins and in my opinion "The Judas Strain" is right up there at the top. It's a stunning and education portrait of those nasty bugs in the world of biological science. In the "The Judas Strain", the fourth novel in the Sigma Force series I thought Mr. Collins writing style captured the true effects of a loose deadly bacteria that is killing all life in the waters of Christmas Island. The story is full of action and the author had a way of drawing me into the characters; it was as if I knew them. I like that about an author. Off the top of my head the mega author Clive Cussler also a knack for strong character development and Mr. Collins in his own style has proved he knows a thing or two about developing character traits. A great thriller.
hawkinsfamily on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Judas Strain by James Rollins is a SIGMA story. It is a very good adventure / mystery tale. The book is a fun read and well worth the purchase price.
January_F on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Non-stop action. This book just kept moving along and it was really hard to put down. Curse the need to sleep! With this being the fourth in a series, I'm already vested in the characters, but Rollins keeps developing them which is great. A realy good read!
goth_marionette on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I greatly enjoyed this book. The historical aspect of the mystery is very appealing and he blends historical fact, possibilities and unlikely history smoothly into an entertaining read. The characters are well developed and have great depth. James Rollins books are my guilty pleasure reading. Great for a nice light read or a summer vacation book. I would strongly recommend his books.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to admit that I'm a die-hard James Rollins fan. Cracking open his new book is one of the highlights of my summer. Sure his action can be a bit over-the-top and a few details slightly hyperbolic, LOL. I mean, what's a thriller without the thrills? But the books are consistently well-researched, deftly plotted, and very, very smart. Probably my favorite aspect of Rollins' thrillers is their integration of science into the story. After all, his team of protagonists, the Sigma Force, is part of a government agency that recruits former special forces operatives and educates them to the Ph.D. level in scientific disciplines. They've got both the military training and the scientific knowledge to investigate technological and scientific phenomenon around the world on behalf of the US government. Not a bad starting premise. The plots of Rollins' novels tend to be complex, multi-stranded affairs that are difficult to summarize. In Judas Strain, as has been noted by other readers, there is an urgency brought on by a possible pandemic outbreak of bacterial infections. That, in and of itself, is not the most original plot. But in a Rollins novel, it's never that simple. Did you know that only 10 percent of the cells that make up your body are human, and the other 90 percent are alien--bacteria, parasites, etc? It's true, absolutely true. Did you know that the difference between a commonplace, harmless bacteria and a potential killer disease is just the tiniest alteration to its genetic code? What would happen if something altered all the zillions of harmless bacteria we have contact with daily and suddenly they turned on us in the most horrific way imaginable? And I do mean the most horrific way imaginable, because James Rollins is a bit of a sicko, and nothing seems to be off limits for him. What he puts his poor "patient zero" through is--yuck--awful! But what does all this have to do with the travels of Marco Polo? The architecture of Angor Wat? The behavior of red crabs on Christmas Island? The development of "Angelic" text? The religious beliefs of cannibals? How the heck does Rollins COME UP WITH all this stuff? And most impressively, how the heck does he tie all the strands together! Because he does, most satisfyingly. Although, it must be warned that The Judas Strain leaves readers with a simply terrible cliff-hanger that will have us all on tenterhooks until next summer. Waiting for the next book in the series is going to be torture!
ATechwreck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved it. I've been very busy lately and haven't been able to really get into a book. Couldn't put this down. Three storylines interwoven well, fast moving, interesting science and history background.
MSWallack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Judas Strain suffered from several problems. First, too much of the action was simply too over the top. I love wild action as much as anybody, but for some reason I found myself shaking my head too often. Second, for me the story actually bogged down in the shifts of point of view from one group of characters back to the other; sometimes, I felt as if the author was primarly trying to extend the story but wasn't really saying anything new. Finally, I found the scientific/fantastic elements of the actual story a bit far-fetched. Maybe that's just me, but I felt that Rollins simply went "a bridge too far" in his ideas and the book seemed to leave the realm of the plausible thriller to speculative science fiction.