This science-based thriller from Wil Mara will chill you to your core
Bob Easton thinks he has a cold. Before he dies in agony, four days later, he infects dozens of people. Local health agencies become quickly overwhelmed by the sick and dying and beg the CDC for help. Dr. Michael Beck and Cara Porter, a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, race to identify the deadly bug. They can't cure it until they know what it is.
Dennis and Andi Jensen and their children are terrified. Schools and offices close. Fresh food disappears from store shelves. Three of their children's friends die. Their neighbors are dying or running away, fleeing the unstoppable infection. Desperate, the Jensens join the exodus, making a nightmarish journey to their isolated mountain cabin along empty roads, through abandoned towns, past looted shopping malls.
The superbug—and the panic—quickly spreads beyond America's borders. On a packed plane, someone coughs—and at their destination, the pilots are told, "you can't land here." US military bases are quarantined. Yet the virus continues to spread. Some believe the plague is man-made. Others see it as a sign of the end times.
In the lab, Cara Porter makes a potentially fatal mistake. In the mountains, Andi Jensen tells her husband that she doesn't feel well.
The world is running out of time.
"Irwin Allen's disaster films meet Stephen King's The Stand. A scary notion."—Booklist
"A chilling and horrific outbreak story. If you're a fan of Outbreak, The Hot Zone, and Contagion (the movie), you'll love Gemini Virus."—No More Grumpy Bookseller
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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About the Author
Wil Mara is the award-winning novelist of the 2005 disaster thriller Wave, as well as many other titles for variety of audiences. The Gemini Virus is the second book in the disaster series, with several more stories currently in development.
Wil Mara is the author of more than seventy books for adults and young readers, including Wave, which won the New Jersey National Book Award. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Read an Excerpt
By Wil Mara
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2012 Wil Mara
All rights reserved.
"Okay, this is one I'm sure you'll like," Beck said confidently, advancing through the songs via the button on the steering wheel. "This was one of my favorites when I was a kid."
"Back in the late Pliocene?" his passenger asked.
"I was born in the early Holocene. Now, listen."
As Beck cruised north on Connecticut's I-91 with the rented convertible's top down, his ID badge flipped and bounced against his chest. It read MICHAEL BECK, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, and right under that, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL, ATLANTA GA.
The song began quietly, a simple drumbeat accompanied by silvery high notes in a playful intro. Then a call-and-answer segment featuring bass, sitar, and piano. Finally, Robbie Dupree's eternally soulful voice delivering the first line.
"It's called 'Steal Away.' It was a huge hit when I was a kid; the DJs loved it. It gets airplay even now and is included in movie soundtracks once in awhile. Not so bad, right?"
He glanced over in time to see her roll her eyes, which made him smile. She's heard me prattle on about this before — "The Lost Age of Melody," I call it, back when songwriters ruled the music business and hits had hooks you couldn't get out of your head.
"Yeah, it's great. I'm totally blown out of my seat."
"Oh, come on. It's not that bad." He sang along with the chorus in a voice that was good enough for private use but would surely earn the wrath of the American Idol judges. "And this guy's new album is terrific. I've played it a few times for you."
"Well, it's certainly better than that other stuff you like ... what do you call it? Exotica?"
"Like lying on the beach in Hawaii with a mai tai in your hand. Pure bliss. Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman ..."
"Lyman was the best."
"But it's all so lightweight," she said.
"That's what's great about it. The music you listen to ... my God, it makes you want to grab a machine gun and start thinning out the neighborhood."
She turned to him with a smirk. "That's what's great about it."
She went back to her trademark I'm-so-damn-bored posture — chin in hand, lips tight, and the tiniest trace of resentment in the eyes. He smiled again and decided to let her be. Maybe the song would seep through her defenses, act as a kind of antidote. Music had the power to bring warmth and joy and relief to a troubled soul, he knew, and Cara Porter was certainly burdened with a troubled soul. One look at her gave that away — the goth makeup and jewelry, the perpetual scowl, the hunched shoulders. Beck had taken a huge chance on her. When she ended up on his doorstep with a freshly minted master's degree in one hand and a résumé in the other, he thought someone down the line had made a mistake. Then he caught a sense of the real person behind the armor and thought he detected much more. In time, he came to realize he had been correct. When she was working, an alternative persona — the one, Beck thought, represented the true individual — emerged. The professional Cara Porter was inspired, intuitive, and boundlessly compassionate. Their exchanges were more substantial and mature. And her sensitivity, usually kept so carefully guarded, was remarkable. From human patients to laboratory animals, she treated all living things with uncommon kindness and respect. This one, Beck often thought, has the seeds of greatness. Now, if we can just get them growing.... He came to think of her as a surrogate daughter, although he never told her this for reasons of his own.
"I'm not saying everything you listen to is bad," he said. "For example, that Guns N' Roses album, Chinese Democracy, is pretty good."
"I agree. I do play it when you're not around, you know. I'm not a total dork."
He nodded. "Yes, just mos —"
An iPhone trilled.
"Is that yours or mine?" she asked.
Beck waited until it called out again. The ringtone was the first few bars of "On and On" by Stephen Bishop. "It's a good melody — must be mine."
She shot him a look as he grinned and drew the slender device from his front pocket. He also thumbed down the volume via the button on the steering wheel, and his beloved "lightweight"'70s music disappeared.
"It's the boss," he said, looking at the caller ID. Then he put it on speaker. "Hello, there."
"I can barely hear you."
"We're in the rental car right now with the top down. Hang on a second."
He pulled to the shoulder and engaged the roof. It came up like a giant hand in a monster movie. Once it was in place, he set the phone on the dashboard.
"Yes. Listen, where are the two of you?"
"On I-91, heading back from the conference."
He could sense she was stressed even beyond what was customary for her. After working together for eleven years — the first nine when she was drifting up through the CDC's ranks, and the last two after she was elevated to the top role — there wasn't much he didn't know about her. Sheila Abbott was the type who lived for stress, ate it in handfuls. The kind, it seemed to Beck, who followed the motto, 'There's something wrong if there's nothing wrong.'
"I need you in northern New Jersey as quickly as possible."
Beck checked his rearview mirror, then eased onto the road again to search for the first available U-turn.
"Something's happening, I assume?"
"Seven deaths, all in the town of Ramsey. Two of the dead are police officers, so the news media already has it and is running with it."
Beck shivered. Could a problem exist that wasn't made forty times worse because of the media's love for scaring the hell out of everyone?
"Well, that should help keep things under control."
"Tell me about it."
"What do we know so far?"
"The victims were covered with large pustules from head to toe and exhibited symptoms of extreme delirium. It also appears they had extensive subcutaneous bleeding."
"Pustules and subcutaneous bleeding?"
"That's right. The first autopsy report says there was dissolution of everything from the mucous membranes to the GI tract, with heavy bleeding into the lungs, out the mouth, everywhere. It was as if the organs melted like ice cream."
Beck found an exit ramp and changed sides, heading south now.
Abbott said, "It almost sounds ... smallpox-esque, doesn't it?"
Beck nodded. "That's what I first thought when you mentioned the pustules, but ... do we even know if the agent is viral and not bacterial?"
"It's viral. That's been confirmed from samples."
"Aren't the pustules and the subcutaneous bleeding symptoms of two different forms of smallpox?" Porter asked.
"Yes. The pustules are symptomatic of the common form, and the internal bleeding is an indicator of ... what?"
"The hemorrhagic form. The nasty one."
"Correct. Very good."
Hemorrhagic smallpox was one of the most horrific diseases imaginable. Unlike the more common form of smallpox, the hemorrhagic variety featured minimal manifestations on the outside of the body, such as dark papules. Instead, most of the damage is subcutaneous. Internal bleeding will occur first in the mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract, but can also affect the spleen, kidneys, liver, bladder, and reproductive organs. Sometimes the whites of the eyes also turn a deep red. Hemorrhagic smallpox mostly affects adults and is nearly always fatal.
"I don't know of any cases where both symptoms occurred together," Beck said, "so my gut tells me this is something different. Sheila, are any other CDC people on the ground?"
"No, but Ben Gillette is waiting for you at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood. They've moved all the bodies there."
Gillette was one of New Jersey's county epidemiologists, and Beck knew him from the University of North Carolina. He was a quality guy, in Beck's estimation, serious and focused and thoroughly professional. One of his favorite memories of their college days was the time he had to pick up Ben from the Chapel Hill police station after he was arrested for stealing street signs. Gillette's girlfriend had dumped him for one of the university's wrestling studs, and he responded with a night of binge drinking and driving around in his '74 Corvette with a pair of Vise-Grips.
"I know you're a long way from your home in Seattle, but I need you to do this. Along with everything else, you need to be my eyes and ears on the ground."
"Not a problem. What about autopsies?"
"They've done some and are doing more now. I'll send the information as I get it."
"Okay. We'll be there shortly."
"Please call and let me know what's happening. New Jersey's governor is crawling out of his skin."
"I would imagine. What's the latest —?"
During the ensuing silence, Beck said softly to Porter, "Use the GPS on your iPhone to figure out the route." She nodded and dug the unit out of her black leather bag, which had a small plastic skull dangling from one of the metal loops.
"That was Ben. Three more deaths have just been reported, same symptoms, and it looks as though six other people are in various stages of the infection."
"This looks like it could be something, so get moving."
"We're moving," Beck said, pressing the gas as he weaved through the early afternoon traffic.
"And keep me updated."
"I will."CHAPTER 2
Epidemiology concerns itself with the finding and study of factors that negatively affect the health of a human population. That means epidemiologists are, first and foremost, detectives. They are concerned with the overall effects of an illness on large populations (macro) rather than specific symptoms or individual patients (micro). The results of their investigations then form the basis of a response strategy both in the short and long term — they aid not only the treatment of afflicted persons but also play a critical role in the containment and, hopefully, eradication of the illnesses. An epidemiologist's casework can also lead to the establishment of improved guidelines and protocols in health-care facilities around the world.
Michael Beck was considered one of the best in his field. A brilliant student at UNC Chapel Hill's School of Public Health, he earned his doctorate at the age of twenty-seven and immediately took a field position in the AIDS- ravaged lands of Sub-Saharan Africa. Four years later he moved to the Ivory Coast to help quell the rampant spread of Lassa fever. In the summer of 1994, he wrote the first of two textbooks, Modern Epidemiology: Practices and Principles, which became a graduate-level standard in its first edition. The second book, Epidemiological Case Studies, dovetailed the first as a kind of expanded supplement. Affordably priced as a paperback and updated biannually, it cemented Beck's reputation as a leader in the discipline. Healthy sales also assured him a handsome secondary income. In 1998, he returned to the United States at the urging of Sheila Abbott, whom he had met while taking a summer course at Johns Hopkins. She had started with the CDC as a public liaison in '90 and was patiently climbing the administrative ladder.
Beck pulled into one of Valley Hospital's VISITING PHYSICIANS spots less than two hours after receiving Abbott's call. Valley was located in the town of Ridgewood, about eight miles south of Ramsey. It serviced roughly fifty thousand people per year in New Jersey's upscale northern suburbia. The hospital was a sprawling brick-and-glass structure that looked more like a corporate office in an industrial park. Categorized as a not-for-profit organization, it took in about $450 million annually and employed more than three thousand health-care professionals.
As the May sun sank away and twilight settled around them, Beck and Porter got out of the car and headed for the entrance. No sooner had they taken their first steps when they were descended upon by a herd of reporters and cameramen. What struck them as unusual was the fact that everyone in the crowd was wearing a surgical mask. A few had them tied over their nose and mouth, but most left them lying against their shirts.
With the bright lights glaring, the assault began —
"Excuse me, Dr. Beck?"
"Are you Michael Beck of the CDC?"
"Dr. Beck, are you here to investigate the epidemic?"
They ignored Porter, which was fine with her. She couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her boss, though. Beck had become something of a minor celebrity in recent years, crystallizing into the "media face of the CDC" after his involvement in several high-profile cases. With his good looks and easygoing manner, he was a natural for the cameras. He disliked it nevertheless, which Porter found admirable.
Beck shielded his eyes and said, "Yes, I'm Michael Beck. Please, let me through. Please ..."
They parted but maintained the attack.
"Dr. Beck, is this the result of a terrorist plot?"
"I don't know. I just got here."
"Do you know what the illness is?"
He kept walking; they followed. "I'm sorry, I don't." He was trying to be patient, Porter realized. I would've told them all to go screw off by now, she thought. Parasites ...
As he stepped onto the walkway in front of the emergency room, the double doors slid apart and an aging security guard came out. He also had a surgical mask, plus a pair of latex surgical gloves.
"How many have died so far?" One reporter shouted, holding out a small digital voice recorder.
"I don't know yet."
"How many are —?"
"Guys, I just got here." Beck gave a little smile, trying to defuse the tension. "I don't know anything yet. Let me go find out."
"Come on, get back," the guard ordered, pushing a few of them away with his forearm. They responded with a selection of profanity and one halfhearted claim of infringement against the First Amendment.
"Dr. Gillette is inside, waiting to see you," the guard said, his breathing heavy. His name tag read E. HORTON.
He's been dealing with them for a while now, Beck thought. "Thank you."
"Here, put these on before you go in," Horton handed each of them a surgical mask while the reporters continued firing away.
Once inside, they found a selection of people waiting in the emergency room — a pair of young women, one crying while the other held her; a little boy lying across his mother's lap with his right arm in a temporary splint; an elderly man with an oxygen mask over his face, the small metallic tank parked in its two-wheeled carrier by her feet; a few others. Aside from the man with the oxygen, they were all wearing the surgical masks. A sign taped to the wall, hastily made with black Magic Marker on ordinary white paper, said, IF YOU SUSPECT YOU HAVE CONTRACTED THE INFECTION, PLEASE REPORT TO THE RECEPTION NURSE AT ONCE.
A door by the vending machine opened and Gillette came out. Lush black hair with prominent streaks of silver, fashionable glasses, and warm green eyes that still held a faint twinkle of fun and mischief. He wore a long white lab coat with the hospital's logo above the left breast pocket. And even though he had one of the ubiquitous masks, Beck could tell he was smiling.
"Michael, good to see you." He offered his hand.
"You, too, Ben."
"And Cara, how are things?"
"Is this guy treating you okay?"
"More or less."
Beck realized Gillette was acting casual for the sake of the others in the room. He had known Gillette long enough, however, to spot the truth behind the lie — he was worried.
To maintain the façade, Beck said, "So, I understand you've got some kind of outbreak on your hands."
"Yeah, come on back and I'll go over what we know so far."
Excerpted from Gemini Virus by Wil Mara. Copyright © 2012 Wil Mara. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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