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The Andromeda Evolution

Michael Crichton


  For M. C.

  Andromeda Evolution


  Examination by unauthorized persons is a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment up to 20 years and $250,000.


  The courier is required by law to demand your card 7592. They are not permitted to relinquish this file without such proof of identity.



  Title Page


  Andromeda Evolution

  Day 0: Contact

  Event Classification

  Fairchild AFB


  Day 1: Terra Indigena

  Emergency Debris Avoidance Maneuver

  Heavenly Palace

  Code Name Andromeda

  Boots on the Ground

  Noon Field Briefing


  Day 2: Wildfire

  Dawn Discovery

  Twenty-Mile Perimeter

  A Higher Analysis

  Incomplete Information

  Second Camp

  Day 3: Anomaly

  Night Ambush

  Alpha and Omega

  In the Morning Light


  Indios Bravos

  First Contact

  Plan B

  The Anomaly


  Day 4: Breach

  Operation Scorched Earth

  Dawn Strike


  Primary Descent



  Fight or Flight

  State of Emergency

  The Tunnel

  Best-Laid Plans



  Day 5: Ascent

  A New Paradigm

  Finger of God



  Mission Preparation

  Destination ISS

  Docking Procedure

  Stone’s Theory



  Intercepted Transmission

  Super-Terminal Velocity


  Out of Eden




  About the Authors

  Also by Michael Crichton


  About the Publisher

  Day 0


  The future is coming faster than most people realize.


  Event Classification

  WHEN IT ALL BEGAN AGAIN, PAULO ARAÑA WOULD have been bored. Bored and sleepy. He was only a year from retirement from the National Indian Foundation of Brazil, known under its Portuguese acronym FUNAI. Stationed on the outskirts of government-protected land stretching across the Amazon basin, the sertanista was in his mid-fifties and had spent his career protecting the undeveloped interior of Brazil. He was sitting under a flickering, generator-run lightbulb, lulled to drowsiness by the rising morning heat and the familiar sounds of the untamed jungle outside the open windows of his monitoring station.

  Paulo was at least thirty pounds overweight, sweating in his official olive FUNAI uniform, and seated before an old metal desk loaded with an eclectic array of electronic equipment. As was his habit, he was squinting down at his lap, his concentration focused intently on hand-rolling a tobacco cigarette with his blunt yet surprisingly agile fingers.

  His movements were sure and quick, with no hesitation or trembling, despite the gray whiskers jutting from his cheeks and his steadily failing eyesight.

  As he lit and puffed contentedly on his cigarro, Paulo did not notice the red warning light flashing on his computer monitor.

  It was a small oversight, normally harmless, and yet on this morning it carried consequences that had already begun to snowball exponentially. The unseen light was hidden behind the curl of a yellow sticky note (directions to a local fishing hole). It had been blinking unheeded since late afternoon the day before.

  The flashing pixels were signaling the beginning of a global emergency.

  A THOUSAND FEET overhead, an Israeli-made unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) the size of a school bus was thrumming steadily over the vast Amazonian jungle. Dubbed the Abutre-rei—“King Vulture” in Portuguese—its wheels were caked in reddish jungle mud from a rough landing strip and its white hull streaked with the corpses of insects. Nevertheless, the drone was sleek and predatory—like an artifact from the distant future that had slipped backward in time to hover over this prehistoric land.

  The Abutre-rei was on an endless mission, sweeping back and forth over a green sea of jungle canopy that stretched to all horizons. The unblinking black eye of its gyro-stabilized, self-cleaning camera lens was trained on the ground below, and a Seeker ultra-wideband synthetic-aperture radar unit invisibly illuminated the complex terrain with timed pulses of radio waves that could penetrate rain, dust, and mist. Back and forth, back and forth. The drone was specialized for environmental monitoring and photogrammetry—relentlessly constructing and reconstructing an ultra-high-resolution map of the Amazon basin.

  Inside his monitoring station, Paulo only half watched as the constantly updating image knitted itself together on his monitor. An occasional haze of stale bluish smoke rose from the spit-soaked cigarro parked in its usual spot at the corner of his mouth.

  Everything changed at precisely 14:08:24 UTC.

  At that moment, a new vertical strip of mapped terrain was added to the composite image. The unseen warning light was displaced fifty pixels to the left, just peeking out from under the sticky note.

  Stunned, Paulo Araña stared at the pulsing red spot.

  In recovered webcam footage, he could be seen blinking frantically, trying to clear his eyes. Then he snatched away the sticky note and crumpled it in his fingers. The dot was located beside a small thumbnail image of something the Abutre-rei had found in the jungle. Something Paulo could not even begin to explain.

  Paulo Araña’s job at FUNAI was to monitor and protect an exclusion zone established around the easternmost region of the Upper Amazon—over thirty-two thousand square miles of unbroken jungle. It was a priceless treasure, site of both the largest concentration of biodiversity on earth and a terra indigena that was home to approximately forty uncontacted Amazonian tribes—pockets of indigenous human civilization with little or no exposure to the technology and disease of the outside world.

  With such natural riches, the land was under constant attack. Like an army of termites, destitute locals were motivated to sneak into protected territory to fish virgin rivers or poach valuable endangered species; loggers were tempted to bring down the huge kurana, cedar trees that could fetch thousands of dollars on the black market; and of course, the hordes of narcotraficantes stopping over on their way from southern Brazil to Central America were a constant and brutal menace.

  Preserving the wilderness required unwavering attention.

  With a nicotine-stained finger, Paulo pecked a key to activate Marvin, a computer program housed in a beige plastic box wedged under his desk. Acquired years ago from a joint research effort with an American graduate program, the battered box was unremarkable save for a faded printout of an old Simpsons cartoon character taped to the outside.

  On the inside, however, Marvin housed a sophisticated neural network—an expert system that had been trained on thousands of square miles of real jungle imagery, and over a hundred million more simulated.

  Marvin could reliably identify a quarter-mile airstrip hacked out of the remote jungle b
y drug couriers; or the logging roads that threaded like slug trails into the deep woods, with larger trees intentionally left unmolested as cover; or even the occasional maloca huts built by the uncontacted tribes—rare and intimate glimpses of another world.

  Most importantly, the program could scan ten square miles of super-high-resolution terrain in seconds—a feat impossible for even the most dedicated human being.

  Paulo knew that Marvin was muito inteligente, but it had outright rejected this new data as not classifiable. This was something the algorithm had never seen, not in all its petabytes of training data.

  In fact, it was something nobody had ever seen.

  The output simply read: CLASSIFICATION RESULTS: UNKNOWN.

  Marvin hadn’t even offered a probability distribution.

  Paulo didn’t like it. He made a kind of surprised grunt, the cigarette trembling on his lower lip. Tapping keys rapidly, he enlarged the thumbnail image and examined it from every available angle, trying to dismiss it as a glitch. But it was no use—the strange sight defied explanation.

  Something black was rising from the deepest jungle. Something very big.

  Paulo waved smoke away with one hand, his gut pressing against the cool metal desk. He squinted at the dim screen, pushing his face closer. His balding head was coated in a cold sweat, gleaming under the stark light of the bulb overhead.

  “No,” Paulo was recorded as saying to himself. “Isto é impossível.”

  Thumbing a switch on a battered 3-D printer, Paulo waited impatiently as the raw image data was transferred to the boxy machine. The shack soon filled with the warm wax smell of melting plastic as an array of pulsing lasers set to work. Inch by inch, a hardened layer of plastic rose from the flat bed of the printer. As the seconds ticked by, the formless sludge resolved into a three-dimensional topographic map.

  The pale white plastic was rising up in the detailed shape of the jungle canopy, looking for all the world like a bed of cauliflower.

  Rolling and lighting yet another cigarette by instinct, Paulo tried not to watch as a new world slowly emerged from the unformed ooze. Each layer hardened in seconds, quickly firming into a scale model of the jungle. Wheezing slightly, Paulo cracked his knuckles one by one, staring blankly and smoking in silence.

  In the rare instance that Marvin returned less than an 80 percent classification probability, it was up to Paulo to make the final determination. He did so by employing a carefully honed method that was strictly unavailable to the machine: his sense of touch.

  Touch is the most ancient sensory faculty of any living organism. The human body is almost entirely covered with tactile sensors. The neural circuits related to the somatosensory system overlap with multiple other areas of sensing, in ways both unknown and unstudied. Of particular sensitivity are the countless mechanoreceptors in our lips, tongue, feet, and, most especially, our fingertips.

  This was Paulo’s talent—one area where man rose above machine.

  Eyes half closed, he began with static contact, lightly placing all eight of his finger pads on the model surface. Gently, Paulo added steady pressure to establish a touch baseline. And finally he scanned his fingers laterally over the meticulously rendered folds of jungle canopy.

  Properly honed, the discriminatory power of skin receptors can exceed visual acuity. Every inch of the model’s texture corresponded to roughly one hundred yards of real-world terrain, resulting in contours only detectable through a cutaneous spatial resolution far superior to any computer’s image analysis, no matter how clever the machine.

  Paulo could run his fingertips over the roof of the jungle and feel whether an unclassified data sample was the ragged, chainsawed destruction of an airstrip or the smooth banks of an innocent new river tributary.

  Eyes closed, limp cigarette in the corner of his mouth, Paulo slouched, his face to the ceiling. His outstretched hands traced the surface of the jungle as if he were a blind god touching the face of the planet.

  When his questing fingers found the hard, unnatural lines of the . . . thing, Paulo Araña swallowed a low moan in the back of his throat. Whatever it was, it really did exist. But there were no roads nearby. No sign of construction. It could not be possible—out there alone and colossal among the primordial trees—and yet it was as real as touching the stubble on his own face.

  The thing in the jungle rose at least a hundred feet above a skirt of raw wilderness, long and slightly curved, like a barricade. It spoiled the sanctity of a rain forest otherwise unbroken for thousands of square miles. And it seemed to have appeared from nowhere.

  Around the perimeter of the structure, Paulo could feel a crumbling sensation. It was the texture of death—thousands of virgin trees collapsed and sick. This thing was a kind of pestilence, polluting everything nearby.

  For a long moment, Paulo sat and contemplated raising an alert on the antiquated FUNAI-issued shortwave radio sitting on his desk. His eyes lingered on its silver dials as the generator puttered outside, providing the trickle of electricity necessary to connect this isolated shack to the rest of the world.

  Pushing away from the desk, Paulo felt blindly under the drawers until his fingers brushed against a business card taped beneath. It contained the phone number of a young American who had recently contacted Paulo.

  Claiming to be a businessman, the man had explained that a Chinese aircraft had recently been lost over this territory. His company was willing to pay a hefty price for information about it. Paulo had assumed (and continued to assume) that the American was looking for pieces of airplane wreckage, although he hadn’t said that. Not exactly. Instead, the man had said specifically to report “anything strange.”

  And this was definitely that.

  Using his palms to wipe away the sheen of sweat that soaked his face like tears, Paulo stared at the business card and punched a number on his desk phone.

  A man with an American accent answered on the first ring.

  “I’m glad you called, Mr. Araña,” said the voice. “I was right to trust you.”

  “You already know?” Paulo asked, glancing at the computer screen.

  “Marvin rang me just now, when you registered the anomalous classification,” said the voice. “He’s smarter than he looks.”

  The Americans and their trickery. It never ceased to amaze Paulo. A people who seemed so trusting and forthright—all smiles . . . and yet.

  “What now?” asked Paulo.

  “You can relax, Mr. Araña. We’ve got people taking care of it. You’ll be well compensated for your assistance. But I am curious,” asked the voice. “What do you think it is?”

  “I know it is not an error, senhor. It’s really out there. I have touched it.”

  “Well, then?”

  Paulo thought for a moment before answering. “It is a plague. Killing everything it touches. But I can never know what it is.”

  “And why is that?”

  “Because that thing out there . . . it was not built by any human hands.”

  Fairchild AFB

  NEARLY FIVE THOUSAND MILES AWAY, NEAR TACOMA, Washington, Colonel Stacy Hopper was arriving to a quiet morning shift at Fairchild Air Force Base. A skeleton crew of intelligence analysts who had worked overnight were just clocking out, leaving behind dimmed monitors on neat desks and a meager work log indicating that, as usual, nothing much had happened.

  Crisply uniformed in her air force blues, complete with a service cap, tie tab fastened neatly around her neck, and sensible black hosiery, Hopper eyed the windowless control room. A thermos of coffee rested in the crook of her arm. Her morning crew of eight uniformed intelligence analysts were settling into their consoles, saying their good mornings, and slipping on headsets. Many of them had damp shoulders, having just arrived to work on another rainy morning in the Pacific Northwest.

  Hopper sat down at her own console at the back of the room, enjoying the soft murmuring of her analysts’ voices. Glancing up at the telemetry monitors lining the front wall, sh
e saw nothing out of the ordinary—just the way she liked it.

  It was said by her colleagues (in private) that Hopper, a calm, gray-eyed woman, had the patience of a land mine. In fact, she was perfectly satisfied with the slow pace of this job. She was the third acting commander of the project. Both of her predecessors had devoted the entirety of their careers to this post. As far as Hopper was concerned, it would be perfectly fine if Project Eternal Vigilance lived up to its name.

  By the account of her longest-serving analysts, Hopper was fond of the rather pedantic saying “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

  It was a sentiment that had begun to go stale among her staff.

  This low morale was ironic, considering that at its inception, Project Eternal Vigilance had been considered the prime posting within all armed forces, and every roster spot vigorously competed for (by those with the security clearance to even know of it).

  The project had been spawned in the aftermath of the Andromeda incident—a weapons research program gone horribly wrong, detailed in the publication popularly known as The Andromeda Strain.

  In the late 1960s, the US Air Force deployed a series of high-altitude unmanned craft to search for weaponizable microparticles in the upper atmosphere. In February 1967, the Scoop VII platform proceeded to find exactly what the military men were looking for, except that the original Andromeda Strain was far more virulent than anyone could have guessed.

  Before it could be retrieved by military personnel, the recovery capsule was compromised by overly curious civilians. The microparticle proceeded to infect and gruesomely wipe out the entire forty-eight-person population of the town of Piedmont, Arizona—save for an old man and a newborn baby. These surviving subjects were discovered and rescued by the acclaimed bacteriologist Dr. Jeremy Stone and the pathologist Dr. Charles Burton. The two survivors were isolated for study in an underground cleanroom laboratory, code-named Wildfire. Their fates were eventually classified to protect their privacy.

  It was in Wildfire that a team of eminent scientists, hand selected for this situation, raced to study the exotic microparticle later dubbed AS-1; they found that it was one micron in size, transmitted by inhalation in the air, and caused death by near-instantaneous coagulation of the blood. And although its microscopic six-sided structure and lack of amino acids indicated it was nonbiological, AS-1 proved capable of self-replicating—and mutating.