Pandemic i-3Scott Sigler
( Infected - 3 )
Scott Sigler’s Infected shocked readers with a visceral, up-close account of physical metamorphosis and one man’s desperate fight for sanity and survival, as “Scary” Perry Dawsey suffered the impact of an alien pathogen’s early attempts at mass extinction. In the sequel Contagious, Sigler pulled back the camera and let the reader experience the frantic national response to this growing cataclysm.
And now in Pandemic, the entire human race balances on the razor’s edge of annihilation, beset by an enemy that turns our own bodies against us, that changes normal people into psychopaths or transforms them into nightmares.
To some, Doctor Margaret Montoya is a hero—a brilliant scientist who saved the human race from an alien intelligence determined to exterminate all of humanity. To others, she’s a monster—a mass murderer single-handedly responsible for the worst atrocity ever to take place on American soil.
All Margaret knows is that she’s broken. The blood of a million deaths is on her hands. Guilt and nightmares have turned her into a shut-in, too mired in self-hatred even to salvage her marriage, let alone be the warrior she once was.
But she is about to be called into action again. Because before the murderous intelligence was destroyed, it launched one last payload — a soda can–sized container filled with deadly microorganisms that make humans feed upon their own kind.
That harmless-looking container has languished a thousand feet below the surface of Lake Michigan, undisturbed and impotent… until now.
Part Cthulhu epic, part zombie apocalypse and part blockbuster alien-invasion tale, Pandemic completes the Infectedtrilogy and sets a new high-water mark in the world of horror fiction.
This novel is dedicated to my brothers of the Arm Chair Lodge: high school classmates, teammates and lifelong friends. The countless weekends of role-playing taught me how to tell a great story.
HOW IT BEGAN…
For a hundred thousand years, the machine traveled in a straight line.
The Creators had launched it into space along with many others, countless others. The others also traveled in a straight line, but each one in a different direction. It wasn’t long, relatively speaking, before the machine could no longer detect the others, before it could no longer detect the place from which it had come, before it could no longer detect the Creators themselves.
Alone, the machine traveled through the void.
It would have flown in that same straight line for all eternity were it not for a faint trace of electromagnetic radiation known as a radio wave.
Analysis was instant and definitive: the radio wave was not naturally occurring. It was artificial, proof of existence of a sentient race other than the Creators.
For the first time, the machine changed direction.
It moved toward the source of this signal so it could fulfill its sole purpose: find the species that generated the signal, then assist the Creators in wiping that species from the face of existence.
As it traveled, the machine detected more and more transmissions. It studied the signals, learned the languages, assigned meaning to the images. In doing so, the machine defined its target: a race of small, hairless bipeds that lived on a blue planet orbiting a yellow star.
Some twenty-five years ago, the machine reached Earth. Stored inside the machine were eighteen small probes. Each probe was about the size of a soda can, and each probe could cast over a billion tiny seeds adrift on the winds. If these seeds landed on a sentient individual, a host, they could analyze the individual’s composition and send that information back to the machine. The machine could also send information to these seeds: in particular, how to make the seeds hijack the host’s biological processes.
At least, that was the theory.
The first six attempts failed altogether. The seventh successfully produced minor changes in the hosts, but did not reach the level of modification necessary for the machine to complete its mission.
With each successive attempt, the probe gained more and more knowledge about the hosts’ biology. By the twelfth attempt, the machine could reprogram the hosts’ bodies to produce new organisms. The goal of those organisms: build a massive structure — a gate — that would allow the Creators to bend the laws of physics, to instantly deliver an army directly to the blue planet.
But the hosts fought back. They found the organisms and destroyed them.
The machine kept trying. Each attempt, however, cost another irreplaceable probe. Fourteen… fifteen… sixteen. Every attempt involved a new strategy, and yet the hosts always found a way to win.
On the seventeenth attempt, the hosts discovered the machine. They gave it a name: the Orbital. And once again, the hosts defeated the Orbital’s efforts.
The Orbital had no backup. No help, no resupply. Seventeen attempts, seventeen failures. The eighteenth attempt was the machine’s final chance to stop the hosts. Failure meant the hosts would have hundreds of years, perhaps thousands, to improve their technology. They had already made feeble-yet-successful attempts at escaping their planet.
If the hosts developed far enough, they might reach the stars. And if they did, someday, they might encounter the Creators, and — possibly — destroy the Creators. That was the very reason for which the Orbital had been built: to find burgeoning races and help the Creators eliminate them before they could become a threat.
During the first seventeen tries, the Orbital had come very close to success. That meant some of the earlier strategies were worth replicating. And yet in the end, each of those strategies had failed, which meant the Orbital also had to try something new, had to feed all its collected data into this last-ditch attempt.
No more gates.
No more efforts to conquer.
For the eighteenth and final probe, the Orbital’s goal became singular, simple and succinct:
But before the Orbital could launch that probe, the hosts attacked. Over a hundred centuries of existence came to a brutal end as dozens of high-velocity depleted-uranium ball bearings tore the machine to pieces.
Pieces that splashed into Lake Michigan.
The eighteenth probe, however, remained intact. Nine hundred feet below Lake Michigan’s surface, this soda-can-sized object hit the lake bed and kicked up a puffing cloud of loose sediment. As the object sank into the muck, the sediment settled around and on top of it, making it invisible to the naked eye.
The U.S. government searched for the Orbital’s wreckage. Many pieces were found. The soda-can-sized object, however — a tiny speck of alien material resting somewhere among 22,400 square miles of lake bottom — remained undiscovered, undetected.
The Big Water
THE BLUE TRIANGLE
Candice Walker stared at the tiny cone of hissing blue flame.
She couldn’t do it.
She had to do it.
Her chest trembled with the held-back sobs. No more… no more pain… please God no more…
Pain couldn’t stop her, not now. She couldn’t let that happen. She had to get out, had to make it to the surface.
She had to see Amy again.
Candice looked at her right arm, still not quite able to believe what was there, or, rather, what wasn’t there. No hand, no forearm… just a khaki, nylon mesh belt knotted tight around the ragged stump that ended a few inches below her elbow.
The knot’s pressure made the arm feel almost numb. Almost. The belt’s end stuck up like the rigor-stiff, stubby tongue of a dead animal, flopping each time she moved.
She again looked at the acetylene torch’s stea
dy flame, a translucent, blue triangle filled with a beautiful light that promised pure agony.
I can’t let them get me again… do it, now, Candy… do it or die…
When the pain came, she couldn’t let herself scream; if she did, they’d find her.
Candice lowered the flame to her flesh.
The blue jewel flared and splashed, blackening the dangling scraps of skin and arm-meat, shriveling them away to cindered crisps of nothing. Her head tilted back, her eyes squeezed shut — her world shrank to a searing supernova point of suffering.
Before she knew what she was doing, she’d pulled the flame away.
Candice blinked madly, trying to come back to the now, trying to clear the tears. The bubbling stump continued to scream.
Do it so you can see your wife again…
Her mouth filled with blood — she’d bitten through her cheek. Candice looked at her shredded arm, gathered the last grains of strength that remained in her soul. She had to keep her eyes open, had to watch her arm or she’d bleed out right here.
See your job and do it, Lieutenant. DO IT!
Candice lifted her severed arm, opened her mouth and bit down hard on the belt’s flopping end. She tasted nylon and blood. She pulled the belt tight, then brought the blue jewel forward. Flame skittered, seemed to bounce away at strange, hard angles. The sound of sizzling meat rang in her ears, partnering with a hideous scent of seared pork that made her gag, twisted her stomach like a wrung-out towel.
This time, she didn’t look away. Blood boiled and popped. Skin bubbled and blackened. Bone charred. And the smell, oh Jesus that smell… she could taste the smoke.
She heard grunts. She heard a steady, low growl, the sound of an animal fighting to chew its foot free of the iron-toothed trap.
The torch slid from her hand, clattered against the metal deck. The blue jewel continued to breathe out its hateful hiss.
She pulled the scorched stump close to her chest. Her head rolled back in a silent cry — How much more? How much more do I have to take?
Candice forced herself to look at the charred mess that had once been connected to a hand. A hand that could draw and paint. A hand that had almost sent her to Arizona State to study art before she made the choice to serve her country. A hand that had touched her wife so many times.
Blisters swelled. Her flesh steamed like a freshly served steak, but the bleeding had stopped. Drops of red oozed up through the blackened stump’s many cracks and crisp edges.
Her right hand was gone… so why did her missing fingers still feel the fire?
With her remaining hand, she reached inside her uniform’s shirt, felt her belly where she’d hidden her drawings — still there.
Candice reached for the door that would take her out of the submarine’s tiny, steel-walled trash disposal unit. She couldn’t hide here forever. She held her breath, knowing that just lifting the TDU door’s lever would make noise, might bring her shipmates.
She closed her eyes again, searching for the strength to go on. Amy, I will never quit. They won’t get me they’re all out to get me they’re all trying to murder me…
Candice slowly lifted the lever.
The door opened to a dark passageway, empty save for the few wisps of smoke that filtered in from the fire she’d set in the engine room. The gray bulkheads, piping and electrical conduit looked no different than they had for all the months she’d served here.
Everything was the same; everything was different.
To her right, the wardroom where she had eaten countless meals.
To her left, the crew’s mess: pitch-black, all the lights smashed and broken.
Candice reached to the small of her back, drew her pistol. She’d shot two men dead; how many additional crew had she killed with her act of sabotage? She wished the answer was all of them.
She had to reach the dry deck shelter. The surface… she had to get to the surface.
Sweating, shivering and bleeding, Candice stepped out of the TDU.
She almost slipped when a cracking voice sounded over the intercom.
“This is the… the captain.”
Candice froze as if he was actually in the passageway with her, as if he could see her. It was his voice, familiar from so many months, yet not his at the same time. He fought to get the words out.
“Man Battle Stations Torpedo. I say again, man… man Battle Stations Torpedo. That… that is all.”
She flinched at the harsh click of the PA shutting off. Torpedo launch? Against who? There wasn’t an enemy out there, wasn’t anyone at all except for…
“No,” she said. “No.”
She’d disabled the sub’s ability to escape; she hadn’t disabled its ability to fight.
Escape. They were coming for her… she had to escape.
Candice held her severed arm close to her chest, her right shoulder shrugged up almost to her ear. She moved down the passageway, waiting for each step to bring one of her tormentors running.
If she could get to the forward escape trunk hatch that led to the dry deck shelter, if she could get into one of the SEIE suits, then she could make it to the surface. The dry deck shelter was amidships, just aft of the control room and attack center. To reach it, she would have to walk through the crew’s mess, past all the dead bodies.
And some of them, she knew, weren’t all the way dead.
Candice felt a vibration under her feet: the torpedo tubes flooding, the final step before launch. Only seconds until Mark 48 ADCAPs shot out at fifty-five knots, heading for ships that had no idea what was coming.
She walked into the darkness of the crew’s mess. An aisle ran down the center. Small, four-person booths lined either side. In those booths, she could make out lumpy shadows, the still forms of corpses, the crimson shade of dried blood.
This was where they had tried to bring her.
A dim light filtered in from up ahead, shone down from the open, overhead escape trunk hatch.
Her eyes adjusted enough to make out something on the ground just in front of her.
A severed head.
And she recognized it: Bobby Biltmore, an ensign from Kansas.
Congrats, Bobby — at least you’re actually dead.
She stepped over the head and kept moving through the aisle, waiting for one of the corpses to rise up and grab her, pull her under a table, do to her what they’d done to the others.
The smell of rot, fighting for dominance against the scent of her own cooked flesh.
Only a few more feet to go. The shadows seemed to move, to take shape and reach out for her. Her hand tightened on the pistol’s grip, squeezed hard enough to somehow force back the scream building in her chest and throat.
Candice Walker felt another vibration.
Fish in the water… torpedo launch. The targets wouldn’t just sit there, they would fire back. That meant the Los Angeles only had minutes to live.
She focused on the light ahead. A ladder led up to the escape trunk hatch. The ladder usually hung from brackets on an adjacent bulkhead — someone had connected it.
Candice reached the ladder and started up, her only hand holding the gun, using her elbow and smoldering stump to keep her balance as exhausted legs pushed her higher.
She climbed up into the cylindrical escape trunk: empty, thank God. At five feet in diameter, there wasn’t much space, but she didn’t care — salvation lay one more ladder up, one more hatch up into the dry deck shelter.
That hatch, too, was already open.
She stayed very still. She saw someone walk by the hatch. She saw a face, a flash of color. Wicked Charlie Petrovsky. He was wearing a bright-red SEIE suit: submarine escape immersion equipment.
Candice Walker’s pain didn’t vanish, but it took a backseat to the rage that engulfed her. Was Charlie like her? Or was he like them? Either way, it didn’t matter — she needed that suit.
The sub vibrated again. Another torpedo had just launched.
It wasn’t fair. It wa
sn’t fair! She’d done more than anyone could ask. She wanted to live.
Candice sniffed once, tightened her grip on the pistol, then quietly started up the ladder.
WICKED CHARLIE PETROVSKY
Wicked Charlie Petrovsky came to.
He lay on the floor of the dry deck shelter, bleeding from a bullet lodged in his neck. He kept his eyes closed, didn’t make any noise — he could hear her moving around nearby.
Candice Walker: the woman who had shot him.
Charlie was a guitar player. That was why he started calling himself “Wicked Charlie,” because he was wicked-awesome on the six-string. He’d known it was kind of douchey to give himself a nickname, but everyone liked him and he could flat-out shred on his vintage Kramer, so the moniker stuck.
None of that mattered anymore, though, because he knew he’d never play another note.
So cold. His eyes fluttered open to a view of Bennie Addison. Bennie’s eyes were also open, but they weren’t seeing anything because Bennie Addison had an exit wound above his left eye.
Charlie heard footsteps, heard the zwip-zwip sound of someone walking while wearing thick, synthetic fabric. She was somewhere behind him. The DDS was a squashed, metal tube some thirty-five feet long but only five feet wide — she’d have to step over him to reach the rounded door that led into the small decon chamber. The divers used it to clean themselves up after returning from a search, to make sure they didn’t bring any of the outside in.
The sound came closer, then feet stepped down in front of his face; right, then left, both encased in the SEIE suit’s bright red, watertight boots. He heard muffled crying coming from inside the sealed hood.
Charlie stayed very still. If he moved, she would shoot him again. Couldn’t risk that; he was on a mission from God. He couldn’t complete God’s work if he was dead.
He didn’t dare to look up, but he knew what she was doing — opening the door so she could step through, close it behind her, then flood the decon chamber. Once that chamber flooded, she could exit it and enter the water.