Pandora: Contagion

Pandora: Contagion

by Eric L. Harry

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781635730180
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 01/22/2019
Pages: 282
Sales rank: 394,757
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.64(d)

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CHAPTER 1

NORTHERN VIRGINIA

Infection Date 39, 1700 GMT (1:00 p.m. Local)

The sound of the zipper was Emma Miller's cue. She leaned over the trucker's lap and reached into her boot for the rusty screwdriver she had found on the side of the highway. "That's a good girl," said the man — fat, ugly, and missing a front tooth — who had given Emma a ride in exchange for a promise. She looked up and attempted a smile. He sensed something was amiss. She drove the rusty screwdriver through his neck up to its handle. It sank into the voids of his mouth and sinuses with surprising ease.

She extracted her crude weapon before his hands found the spurting wound. He gurgled more than screamed, bug-eyed in shock. She dried the screwdriver and her hand on his tattered cloth upholstery. The driver made animal sounds and thrashed from side to side. His gaze never left Emma, but his hands remained clutched on his neck.

Emma's stomach rumbled. It was time for lunch. When the trucker finally slumped onto the steering wheel inert, she searched the filthy cab. The only thing of value was the man's wallet. "Bert Walker," his driver's license read. Age forty-seven. From the lone photo, with its shopping-mall quality backdrop of lazy palm trees and thatched huts, she gleaned he was married to a similarly unattractive woman and had two overweight children. She took only the roughly one hundred dollars he had in cash.

Emma considered trying to drive his truck, but grinding through gears would raise too many questions. She was a petite, five-foot-four epidemiologist trying not to attract attention, spark calls to 9-1-1, or trigger a manhunt. She climbed down and headed back to the state highway from the secluded parking spot. Bert had made a mistake, she noted and committed to memory. He shouldn't have performed his side of the bargain before her turn came. Contracts are tricky, Emma thought. She needed to discuss them with her brother Noah, who was a lawyer.

After leaving the NIH lab hours earlier, Emma had abandoned her blue mask and gloves in the woods, but she still carried her hospital-provided white plastic bag and its toiletries by the loops of its drawstring. She knew she would have trouble passing for uninfected. Several times, the trucker had cast sidelong glances her way after replies that he found odd. And Emma also wasn't sure just how contagious she remained. If she left a trail of infected people along the way, someone might plot her route and zero in on her location. Plus, she would have at most two hours until first symptoms appeared in her wake. She had to stay ahead of any outbreak she caused and the violence that inevitably ensued.

On reaching the highway, she walked down its shoulder but didn't hold out her thumb. The traffic was heavy, but not bumper-to-bumper like on the Interstate out of D.C. Cars and trucks flew by without stopping. Did Emma appear strange and out-of-place? It wouldn't take much of an incongruity for someone to phone the police. Everyone would be paranoid now that the disease had broken out in Vermont.

A large, older car, windows rolled down, passed slowly. A woman and her three kids scrutinized Emma before pulling off onto the roadside ahead. When Emma reached them, the African-American woman asked, "Did your car break down, hon?" Emma dared only a nod, not a verbal reply. "Well, hop in, then," the woman said.

The kids were young. She needed to worry mainly about killing their mother.

Emma climbed into the front passenger seat, displacing a long-legged girl of about ten who could probably run fast. "Where you headed?" the girl's mother asked as they drove off.

"South," Emma dared to reply.

"I understand. Tryin' to get ... away?" She glanced at her children through the rearview mirror, then at Emma, who thought better of trying to smile and nodded again.

Wind rushed through the open windows. They probably wouldn't catch the virus, diluted as the air was in the sedan. Maybe Emma could avoid the hassles and slight risk of killing them all. Four was a large number to do all at the same time. It highlighted her need for a better weapon to make these things go more smoothly.

"What's your name?" the woman asked.

"Dorothy," Emma lied in case she spared their lives. The assumed name had popped into her head out of nowhere, along with the image of a yellow brick road leading south. The origin of these mysterious thoughts, which hinted at some deeper mental processes pondering questions not yet even posed, was increasingly curious. Where did they come from, and to whom did they occur? Were they, as proposed at the NIH lab by her neuroscientist twin sister Isabel, the product of unconscious reasoning? And if so, to whom were those solutions given if not some mystical, conscious self?

"I'm Francine. And that's Wanda, Marcus, and Brandon."

The woman glanced over as if it were Emma's turn to say something. "My sister's ex-boyfriend is named Brandon," came the thought out of nowhere. To Emma's ear, it sounded like suitable small talk. A semblance of a conversation.

"Hear that, Brandon? I tol' you it was a good name."

"It's not Marcus," said the youngest of the three children, glaring for reasons that eluded Emma at his older brother of that name, who sat next to him, arms crossed, smirking.

"Where ya from?" Francine asked.

"Connecticut," Emma said, not lying where she didn't have to. That would help minimize later slipups and give her greater flexibility in choosing the time and place of their end.

"That's close," Francine replied. "To Vermont, I mean. How long do you guess it'll take for the P. to get down to Connecticut?"

"Six days," Emma replied. When Francine shot her a look, Emma appended, "More or less. I would guess." At least she hadn't said, per my calculations.

"Whatta you do up there in Connecticut?"

"I'm ... in between jobs," Emma replied, which was true. But something seemed off about the conversation. Emma would have to get Francine to pull over before aiming one jab at Francine's face, then taking down the girl, then grabbing whichever boy was closest. She would probably have to chase the last one, hopefully into the woods and not down the public roadway. Or maybe she should attempt to salvage the conversation by asking a question, but what? Emma wasn't interested in anything Francine had to say. "What, uhm ... Where are you headed?" Emma asked. That sounded good, came the silent pat on the back from the enigmatic hidden voice.

Francine shot Emma another look. Something in what Emma had said, or how she had said it, sounded off. "To Atlanta," Francine replied. "I got a cousin there with a big house. Takin' us all in."

"You shouldn't go to a city," Emma commented, but shouldn't have. When Francine asked why not, Emma said, "When SED arrives, cities will turn quickly." Again, not a lie.

"He's all stocked up and everything," Francine said, but her brow was now furrowed and she gripped and re-gripped the steering wheel. Emma's hand edged closer to her boot. "It's gettin' kinda chilly," Francine said. "Let's close these windows up."

"No," Isabel said, too sharply. Too abruptly. "I mean, can we keep them cracked?"

"Sure." They all adjusted their respective windows, alternately raising them above a howl from rushing airflow and lowering them below a squeal until the noise was tolerable. Isabel was now somewhat less certain whether the pathogen she exhaled with every breath would build in the car to levels dangerous for the susceptible family. If they got sick, the authorities would do contact tracing, inquiring about anyone they had met in the last few hours. The strange white girl, Dorothy, would sit at the top of their suspect list. But the relevant quotation — dead men tell no tales — arose from somewhere deep in her mind.

"What's in that plastic bag?" Francine asked Emma.

They're toiletries I was given upon my release from the National Institutes of Health after being studied for a month in their Bethesda laboratory. That was a bad answer. "It's my toothbrush and stuff," Emma said instead. There. That was better. Francine seemed calmer and smiled at her.

But the woman kept stealing looks at Emma. "I'm sorry, but you just look so familiar." Francine must have seen the Homeland Security video explaining the effects of Pandoravirus horribilis by reference to its first American victim.

"I'm fairly common looking," Emma replied, trying to avoid having to begin the killing right here and right now.

"Oh, no. You're very pretty! Don't ever sell yourself short, Dorothy. A girl has to have confidence, I always say. And don't worry about losing your job. Ever'body's gettin' laid off these days."

Emma surveyed Francine, then looked over her shoulder at the children. No one seemed particularly suspicious of her. "Are any of you sick?" Emma asked Francine.

"We ain't been anywhere near Vermont!"

"No, I mean regular sick," Emma explained.

"Oh. No. We all got good health."

That militated in favor of not killing them. Their immune systems might successfully fight off a low-level exposure to Pandoravirus. Their odds of survival rose even higher when Marcus passed gas, Wanda berated and punched him, Brandon and Marcus shared a laugh, and Francine had everyone lower their windows before apologizing to Emma. The now doubly tainted miasma was quickly swept out by the gale.

When they reached the junction with the Interstate, which looked like a parking lot, Francine pulled over. "We gotta head west from here," she told Emma.

It was now or never. If they were infected, how far away could Emma get before the dots connected back to her and every cop and sheriff for a hundred miles was given her description? She would have to try to do Francine with one jab, probably in through the eye socket. But if Francine flinched, it may take multiple stabs during which the kids would probably throw open their doors and scatter. There was a crowded gas station and convenience store a hundred yards away. Killing them here was not a good plan. Emma would just have to hope they hadn't contracted the virus.

"Thank you," Emma said, climbing out.

"Good luck!" said Francine.

"Good luck to all of you," replied Emma.

"You see," Emma heard Francine say to her kids as she headed off, "she was nice."

Emma was thirsty and hungry, so she went to the convenience store, which was busy despite its nearly empty shelves. Emma got in line with a large bottle of sports drink — the only consumable liquid she could find — and a package of miniature donuts dusted with confectionary sugar. On the small TV beside the cash register, a news helicopter filmed a large, angry crowd at a Vermont blockade formed by army Humvees. The people were loud, their gestures animated. They were clearly uninfected, presumably protesting their quarantine.

"Those poor people," said the woman in line ahead of Emma, who nodded in reply. The woman kept eyeing her warily. Could she, too, possibly have recognized Emma from the DHS video? On impulse, Emma took a knit cap from a rack and put it on. She needed to avoid interacting with people she couldn't kill.

When the woman in front of Emma finished paying, she turned to Emma, made a face, reached up to Emma's hat, and broke the plastic tie that attached to it a dangling price tag.

Emma left the store and resumed her march down the highway, eating her donuts and passing car after car waiting to ascend the ramp onto the Interstate. The shelter of the overpass was occupied not by the old and weathered homeless, but by the new homeless: clean-cut families and couples whose cars had died, or run out of gas, or money to buy gas. One tall man about her age, skinny, unwashed, and unkempt, fell in alongside her and said he liked her cap.

"Thank you."

He then asked if she had any money.

"Yes," Emma replied.

"Can I have enough to put some gas in my van?"

"No," she answered.

He grabbed her arm to slow her up and exclaimed, "Hey!" When she looked down at his grasp, he released her. "Why so unfriendly?" he said. "A perty girl like you, I woulda thought you'd be lookin' for somebody to hook up with. Maybe we help each other out."

"A contract?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. You give me gas money, and I give you a ride."

The order was again wrong. Emma would be making the same mistake as Bert: paying her price of the bargain at the front end and relying on the counterparty to honor the trade they had made. But then again, he would probably expect sex from her at some point. And she could always kill him and take his van then. Good plan, came to her out of nowhere, just like the silent voices Isabel said Uninfecteds heard in their heads.

"Okay," she said. "Where's your van?"

CHAPTER 2

ROUSES POINT BRIDGE, NEW YORK/VERMONT BORDER

Infection Date 39, 2000 GMT (4:00 p.m. Local)

Prof. Isabel Miller had thought that the difficult part had been the long walk up the bridge under the weight of the equipment that she bore: body armor, pouches bulging with gear and with a lifetime supply of ammunition, and a small rucksack — her "combat load" — with its goggles, disposable masks, gloves, coveralls, and meals of beef teriyaki and meatloaf in packets called "MREs." Plus, she had a Kevlar helmet on her head and a loaded rifle strapped across her chest in "patrol carry." At least they'd left, back at their Black Hawk helicopter, their huge backpacks full of camping accoutrements, which Isabel was convinced she couldn't lift, much less carry any great distance.

But when their Pentagon entourage reached the state police and National Guard barricade at the apex of the span, Isabel realized that the hard part was only beginning. She winced at the pleas shouted across the quarantine line established at the border. "For the love of God," a middle-aged man from the Vermont side yelled, "let us through! We're Americans!" He held what looked like a Boston Red Sox cap in both hands, straining as he begged from a hundred yards away, the picture of abject supplication. No, that was wrong. There was also undisguised indignation mixed with the man's visible anguish and fear. "How can you do this? They're right behind us! Please! We made it this far! We're almost safe! Just let us cross!"

Isabel looked up at Marine Capt. Rick Townsend, who shook his head in response.

"They're almost here!" The panicking refugee peered over his shoulder toward the bend in the still empty Vermont highway and the earthen causeway behind him that led up onto the bridge.

Isabel's nine-person "detail" had been sent by the Pentagon to observe and report on which containment policies worked and which did not. It consisted of Rick, Isabel's new wartime significant other, Dr. Brandon Plante, her peacetime ex whom she had recruited to study the Infecteds' crowd violence, and six army soldiers led by a Sgt. Vasquez.

Blue Dodge Chargers of the New York State Police and green Army Humvees were arranged across the top of the bridge to block passage into New York by potentially infected Vermonters. Opposite their blockade, hundreds of refugees beseeched the cops and troops to let them cross the Richelieu River before thousands of approaching Infecteds arrived.

Amid the spinning blue lights stood stoic but tense machine gunners gripping long black guns leveled at the increasingly despondent civilians. The refugees' representative ignored warnings against venturing past a flimsy line of orange traffic barrels connected by fluttering yellow police tape, which defined the beginning of the "killing fields." Isabel kept asking Rick for definitions of military terms, but killing fields was self-explanatory.

The chorus of voices confronting them hurled a mix of pleas, with hands clasped in prayer, and insults, with fists shaken in air. And these weren't all harmless women, children, and the elderly, Isabel realized. Rick scanned the crowd through binoculars and pointed out to a National Guard lieutenant a hunting rifle here, a coughing fit there.

Isabel's stomach churned as her sense of dread built. Brandon kept repeating, "This is bad. This is bad." Although Isabel had seen videos out of Asia of Infected mob rampages, Brandon was the expert. He had modeled dozens of mindless, primal clashes: clawing, stomping, gouging annihilations by Infecteds; grazing sheets of wanton machine gun fire unleashed by terrified troops. "Look," he said to Isabel, his eyes wide and his pointing frantic as he turned her away from the quarantine line. "They're setting up more fucking machine guns. At the base of the bridge! Behind us!" He was right. That was worrisome.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Pandora: Contagion"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Eric L. Harry.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Pandora: Contagion 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Can%27t+wait+for+the+third+book%21%0A
KelsieAL 5 months ago
Pandora: Contagion by Eric L. Harry is the second book in his Pandora series. Though this is second in the series and I haven’t read the first, Pandora: Outbreak, it works fairly well as a standalone. However, I do recommend reading the first book in the series to get the full background. This sci-fi novel follows the three Miller siblings during an apocalyptic disaster. Scientist, Emma Miller, the first American victim of SED—Severe Encephalopathic Disease caused by Pandoravirus horribilis, has recently been released from the National Institutes of Health after being studied in their Bethesda laboratory. Neuroscientist, Isabel Miller, Emma’s twin, has been sent by the Pentagon to observe and report on which containment policies worked and which did not. She, along with her nine-person “detail”, travels from town to town briefing troops, cops and relief workers and debriefing first responders, special forces and refugees. Noah Miller, the twins’ brother, has created a safe haven for his family in the mountains of Virginia. Noah has prepped for the apocalypse, but is not prepared for the chaos soon to be visited upon his Shenandoah Valley hideaway. I really loved the characterization in this novel. Noah and the twins are thoroughly realistic. The secondary characters give conflict and contrast that enhance the plot. In Pandora: Contagion Eric L. Harry approaches the “zombie” apocalypse from a unique viewpoint. Anyone who likes apocalyptic sci-fi will enjoy this novel. There is some violence, so if you’re squeamish this may not be the book for you. I rate it 4 out of 5 stars. My thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. However, the opinions expressed in this review are 100% mine and mine alone.