ALSO BY SCOTT SIGLER
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Scott Sigler
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Crown and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of
Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pandemic : a novel / Scott Sigler.
1. Biological warfare—Fiction. 2. Parasites—Fiction. 3. Death—Fiction.
eBook ISBN 978-0-7704-3677-3
Jacket design and illustration by Will Staehle
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.
Other Books by This Author
How it Began …
Book I: The Big Water
Day One: The Blue Triangle
Wicked Charlie Petrovsky
Day Two: The End
Girls, Girls, Girls
Highway to Hell
Influence of the Sonofabitch
The Situation Room
Day Three: Night Flight
Mutually Assured Destruction
Little Green Men
Casa de Feely
Killer Math for $200
The Full Ride
Red Hot Momma
It’s About Cantrell
Breakfast of Champions
Clear Your Mind
The Los Angeles
Day Four: Foreign Powers
A New Hope
Heading for Port
The Selection Process
Day Five: A Little Prick
Pay The Man
Knockin’ at the Door
The Ever-Pleasant Dr. Cheng
That Toddlin’ Town
Book II: Chicago
Day Six: Men With Guns
A Prayer for the Dying
The Hangover, Part II
The Cool Kids
A Husband’s Role
Day Seven: Actualization
Day Eight: #Takethemeds
The West Coast
Day Nine: The Front Desk
The Boiler Room
Day Ten: #Apocalypse
The City of Lights
Sermon on the Mount
The Trump Tower
A Game of Tag
The Streets of Chicago
Book III: Defcon 1
Day Eleven: It Gets Worse
The Responsible Party
There’s Bad News, and Bad News
Day Twelve: Youtube
All the Marbles
A Good Day for a Swim
Information Is a Weapon
Know Your Enemy
The Park Tower
Under the Bed
Dr. Feely’s Bedside Manner
Feel the Heat
Streets of Fire
Front Toward Enemy
I Am the Law
A Man’s Word …
Everyone Loves a Parade
Husband and Wife
A Way Out
Hit the Lights
Reach Out and Touch Someone
Into the Breach
Day Thirteen: Stylish Outerwear
The Democratic Process
A Last Kiss
The Enemy of My Enemy
Book IV: Road Trip
Meet the Public
Big and Dangerous
The Motivational Speech
Make Every Bullet Count
The Calm Before the Storm
Time to Fly
On the Road
End of the Line
The Grim Reaper
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 steady 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.