Copyright
Diversion Books A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp. 443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004 New York, NY 10016 www.DiversionBooks.com Copyright © 2002 by Earl Merkel All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For more information, email info@diversionbooks.com. First Diversion Books edition May 2013 ISBN: 978-1-626810-12-9

 

   

SAN DIEGO—AP— The United States is not prepared for an attack by terrorists using viruses as biological weapons, which is likely to happen within the next decade, experts say. “This is not the stuff of science fiction,” said Margaret Hamburg, a bioterrorism expert with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a very real threat and there is a real urgency that we address it.” Hamburg spoke Friday at a two-day conference here, where more than 300 physicians, scientists, public officials and law enforcement agents have gathered to discuss strategies for dealing with a potential biological attack. According to D.A. Henderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies, the question is not if an attack will occur, but when. “We’re likely to see an attack within the next five to 10 years,” Henderson warned the group. — Associated Press, February 5, 2000

“I know how not to get AIDS. I don’t know how not to get the flu.” — Alfred W. Crosby, Historian, author of America’s Forgotten Pandemic: A History of the 1918 Flu

 

   

Prologue
Selitova Island, Siberia January 10 Another blast of frigid air swirled across the tundra, chilling their flesh even through the layers of insulated garments they wore under their heavy Arctic parkas. Occasionally, it was strong enough to rock anything merely human that stood in its path, particularly when weariness had brought on the mind-dulling blankness so common to cold-weather exertion. In this environment, a diet carefully planned to provide a minimum of nine thousand calories daily scarcely provided sufficient energy to fuel both the arduous work of excavation and the equally important task of maintaining a core temperature capable of sustaining life. Anji Suzuki shivered involuntarily. He was born on Kyushu, one of the Home Islands far to the south. Before the eleven days he had been here, on this god-forsaken outcropping of frozen tundra and rock a few degrees above the Arctic Circle, he had never imagined anywhere so cold and desolate. I will be glad to be gone from this terrible place, he thought, pressing his body weight hard against the pneumatic drill. He much preferred operating the ground-penetrating radar equipment. With the air drill, the vibrations shook him so harshly that his vision blurred each time the auger bit into the permafrost. After a few seconds, he released his grip on the trigger lever and leaned against the heavy tool. On the barren tundra, near the mogul-like dome tents and stretched tarpaulins that served as housing and equipment shelters, almost two dozen parka-clad figures labored. A few worked with surveying transits, others strained against the weight of equipment-laden sledges; but most were engaged in the back-breaking work of driving hollow steel core sampling rods into the ever-frozen earth along a geometric grid marked by a yellow plastic cord. The heavy hammers rose and fell, but not even that tumult reached Anji’s ears. The only sound not drowned out by the banshee howl of the bone-numbing gale was his own labored breathing. He was middle-aged, and the years he had spent in biogenetic research laboratories were proper preparation for neither the manual labor nor the environment. Nor was the more recent confinement he had endured, even if it had been in a facility the medical staff had insisted on calling a “rest haven.” There had been no rest there, not even during the sessions when he had been sedated. In dreams, he could still recall the worst of it: the smooth, slick feel of unyielding nylon restraints; the cold electrodes taped to his temples; the taste of the rubber block they would force between his teeth; the acid sting of the sedative injection. Then the voltage would hit him, a vibrating fire that alternately paralyzed and convulsed his body. The sedative modulated the seizure, of course. Externally, it appeared little more than a ripple across his face. But inside, a terrifying electrical demon raged, slashing and ripping and throwing Anji against the walls of his very skull. Anji’s skin still prickled with the remembered horror, even if it had been the price of his Enlightenment. “Hai!” a deep voice boomed, not far from his ears. As Anji turned, a heavy hand clapped him on the shoulder. Fusaka Torji grinned at him, his stained and crooked teeth a pedigree of childhood privation. Under the heavy quilting of his cold-weather gear, Anji knew, Fusaka’s legs were short and bowed. But the man’s upper body was barrel-chested and thick with muscle. Among the group of Aum faithful who had come to labor at this dismal site, he alone seemed tireless and unaffected by the climate. Which made sense, Anji thought: the man was an Inuit, what the less enlightened still called an Eskimo—at least, his mother had been, and her genes had evidently dominated

   

over those of his Yokahama-born father—and his earliest years had been spent on a cold and windswept island not wholly unlike the one where they now labored. The two men leaned together so that the snorkel hoods of their parkas almost touched. “Bring the drill,” Fusaka shouted above the wind. He gestured to a figure behind him that knelt beside a shallow excavation in the frozen ground. “One of the Initiates has found one, he believes.” Together, the two men wrestled the drill to the new location, its cold-stiffened pressure line dragging sullenly behind them. The young man on the ground stood up, his face a beatific smile. “Here,” he said, pointing his leather mitten to indicate the spot. “Quickly!” This one is a True Believer. Anji smiled to himself. As are we all now, those of us who remain. I, most of all. When the Sensi had chosen him for this assignment, Anji had bowed with the proper dignity—as had they all, Anji thought; even Fusaka had, for once, not committed some oafish breach of manners. But alone of all the Select, only Anji’s mask of impassive devotion had almost slipped. His face had glowed when, with a touch on his forehead, the Sensi had selected him. Since the expedition had arrived here, he had been the most driven of the team, constantly urging them to rise earlier, to skip rest periods, to work harder. Some of his comrades had grumbled aloud, though most had contented themselves by staring at Anji behind an impassive mask that itself spoke volumes. Like me, they are also Aum Truthseekers, Anji chided himself—he hoped, sincerely. That makes each of these men forever my brother, my cohort in the Sensi’s consciousness. But, oh—I have given much to ensure that this hour will come to pass. I have sacrificed even the man I once was. Together, Anji and Fusaka positioned the drill where the younger man indicated. For several minutes, they worked without speaking, the chatter of the tool and the wind rasping past their hooded heads competing in volume. Suddenly, Fusaka grabbed Anji’s arm and shouted something unintelligible. Anji cut the air flow to the drill and dropped to his knees, pawing with mittened hands at the loosened chunks of permafrost. Fusaka knelt close beside as the bio-geneticist gradually exposed a mounded outline. Frozen hard to the ground was a rough-woven canvas form, bound with hemp ropes. “I told you,” Fusaka said, poking Anji with an elbow. “This is where they placed the bodies. My mother’s mother would tell her how they were sewn into sailcloth, when there were no longer sufficient sealskin robes.” He looked around the flat tundra. “There will be several dozen more nearby. They were buried in a single trench. A meter or so below the surface, perhaps a little more.” Anji only grunted, watching closely as Fusaka pulled off his leather mittens and opened a pocketknife. Carefully, he worked the blade against the stiff cloth, cutting a semicircle that he peeled back with difficulty. Underneath was the face of a young woman. Her features were the mixture of Oriental and Indian that distinguishes the Komaji from other Inuit peoples. Hers was an unmarked visage, almost childlike, peaceful in a way that belied the manner of her death. Anji looked at her, filled with a reverence that came from far more than a cultural respect for the dead. His awe was not for the individual woman before him—how could it be? She was insignificant, merely one of the tens of millions who had died with her. No, Anji’s awe was reserved for the instrument of her death, which the bio-geneticist fervently prayed still lived on inside her, waiting to be awakened from a slumber of almost a century. Waiting, he remembered the Sensi saying, for a man of Anji’s unique skill set to help it do so.

   

Now it begins, Anji thought, as the other members of the party began to prepare this first corpse for the journey it would take. He stood for a moment longer, his eyes locked on the long-dead face swathed in its sailcloth cocoon. Unbidden, a phrase came to his mind. I am Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. He shivered again, this time in a way that had nothing to do with the cold. ••• Six months after the team’s return from the expedition, Anji Suzuki left for the United States. He worked hard to keep his face stoic—as stoic as any of the other Japanese on the plane. It was difficult, because his entire being was aflame with the joy of having been selected—by the Sensi himself! Anji remembered in awe—for this final, divine mission. Since the expedition to the frigid Arctic almost half a year before, Anji had made this trip several times to meet with the ganjini, the godless barbarian crazies that the Sensi had ordered the group to find and cultivate in America. They had performed this duty well, finally selecting two of the ganjini private armies—they called themselves “militias,” he reminded himself—one near the East Coast, and one in the American West. They had supplied these groups with the unique weaponry from the Aum arsenal and provided instruction in its use. In the coming days, the Sensi had said, it would be a useful diversion. It will be as if angry wraiths, swarming from every crevice, seek to overwhelm them, the Sensi had told Anji. Then shall come the final darkness, from which there will be no escape. Anji savored the image with the zeal of a true believer. They had prepared and waited. Among the Aum, some still held hope that the unbelievers—the subhumans who had mocked their Truths, the mindless beasts who had harried the Divine Aum Asahara mercilessly before finally removing him to their corrupt courtrooms—would somehow find their own Enlightenment. They had steadfastly held to that hope for several years—preparing for the worst, but betraying to the world nothing save a sense of their own harmlessness. So the Sensi had counseled them, with a wisdom that had sustained them since the Divine One had been seized. All the while, the rituals of a sham justice painted their leader as a murderous madman rather than a Savior. And then their judges had condemned Aum Asahara—condemned the Divine One to what they, in an unenlightened ignorance, considered the ultimate punishment. And in so doing, unwittingly condemned themselves as well. They will now learn, Anji pledged. If the Truth of Aum is to pass from existence, so too will the unworthy who rejected it. And so too will we all. Hidden in the erstwhile bio-geneticist’s waistband was an American passport that had once belonged to an Aum recruit; the photo likeness was close enough to pass scrutiny, as it had on the previous trips. Again, for safety Anji took the soft route, flying first under his own name to Mexico City. There he would change his plane and his identity for the flight to Denver, while the original flight continued on to Miami. His mission was not dissimilar to those of his countrymen, now filing aboard this aircraft: sent by their corporate masters to do battle with the outside world, to best their competitors on their own turf. They wage a war of economics, Anji mused, and carry as their weapons briefcases stuffed with contracts, business plans, proposals. So petty, so parochial in their limited aims. His own war was much more direct: the weapon he carried was not in his briefcase, but inside his body—even now, multiplying and girding for the final battle, the Great Apocalypse. He had, Anji knew, done his work well. There were no symptoms to betray him, not yet; he had, in accordance with the incubation tables he had carefully calculated, waited until just before boarding to use the

   

nasal inhaler. But soon, in a matter of days, he would become the first to take the path the Divine One had dictated for all the world to follow. By then, he would have cast the seed he carried so widely that none would be able to stay its destruction. On the flight to Mexico, Anji had flown tourist class, assigned to the aisle seat. Despite the close quarters, it was an uneventful trip. Anji slept most of the way, as did his seatmate. To any who might notice, the pair was a study in contrasts: one a middle-aged Japanese with thick dark hair and the studious appearance of a man who had become accustomed to careful, intricate work; the other, an eight-year-old American girl. Her name was Emily Sawyer and she had been visiting her father, an Air Force E-6 stationed at a base in Japan. Emily shifted as she slept, for a while leaning against the snoring man in the seat beside her. Her blond hair moved slightly in the fitful breeze of his breath. Under the watchful eye of the flight attendant—a scrutiny that, in the end, was unequal to a danger far too minute to be seen—Emily was returning to her mother’s home in Milton, a small town a few miles from Fort Walton Beach, Florida. ••• It was an easy landing at Denver International Airport, a smooth glide toward the geometric concrete ribbons and graceful white-tented canopies of the sprawling complex. The connecting flight from Mexico City had been uneventful. Around the cabin, a babel of English and Spanish rose in volume as the plane descended. Through the plastic window, blurred by the crosshatching of the inevitable fine scratches, the purple-and-brown majesty of the Rockies jutted into a pale blue summer sky. In comparison, Denver itself—thirty-odd miles in the distance—appeared a jumble of children’s blocks, carelessly strewn. Denver’s old Stapleton Airport is only a memory now, closed since the mountain metropolis greeted the new millennium with this five-billion-dollar, technology-laden facility. It is a much longer drive to the city now, and the traveler no longer gets a bird’s eye view of the city’s streets and buildings that Stapleton’s close-in location offered. But landing at Denver International Airport no longer requires visitors to the Mile-High City to endure sharp banking turns and steep descents on final approach, nor the often-jolting touchdowns that were the inevitable result. Neither are they required, as before, to look down upon the industrial expanse of the old airport’s closest neighbor, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal; like Stapleton, the Arsenal too is now closed, though space-suited workmen still swarm over its otherwise idle grounds. Here, the aggressive remediation program has not removed a stubborn plutonium contamination, the legacy of half a century of nuclear weapons assembly and storage. In its heyday, the radioactive mega-tonnage that passed through Rocky Mountain Arsenal could have exterminated humanity many times over. Had Anji considered all this—had he not been distracted, first by the bilingual tumult of his fellow passengers, and later by the lengthy delay while as he waited in queue at the car rental counter—he might have been struck by the irony. Finally, his suitbag over a shoulder, Anji struggled across the tarmac of the massive parking lot. He studied the numbers on the rental agreement he held, scrutinizing the rows of freshly washed autos through which he passed. He also wondered if his shortness of breath was the result of the thin mountain air, or a first symptom of the lethal destiny he carried. Thus distracted, the Japanese man did not notice the figure that followed him, moving quietly without appearing to do so. Anji stopped short and dropped his bag to the pavement. It was a Lexus, a pale gray mount for his final ride. As he fumbled with the key ring, Anji glanced over his shoulder in the direction from where he had come. There was no one to be seen.

   

He turned the key in the lock, and the trunk popped open. It was, he noted idly, surprisingly spacious. “Excuse, please,” a voice said from behind. Anji spun, startled as much by the trace of Slavic accent as by the interruption itself. For a split second, what might have been a smile of beatific delight flashed across his Asian features. My Sensi! his mind cried out, knowing at the same instant it could not be. And it was not. He did not know the man who stood, carefully outside Anji’s attack radius, with a genial smile on his clean-shaven face. Anji’s eyes dropped to an object the stranger held waist-high. It was oddly shaped—an awkward black-metal protuberance, vented on the sides and with what looked like a strip of masking tape affixed across the front of the tube. He had just recognized it as a weapon when the tape abruptly blew apart, leaving the edges frayed and tinged with black. There was no sound, but Anji felt the shock of impact against his sternum. He staggered, catching himself for an instant; then his knees gave way and he felt himself tumble backwards. He crashed onto metal, his head bouncing hard against what felt like thin carpet. There was still no pain, but when he willed his hand to touch his chest, it came away warm and dripping. The world swam redly for a moment; when his eyes cleared again, he was looking up at the pale blue sky, framed by the inside of the open trunk lid. A face moved into his vision, peered down at him without apparent interest. Then it disappeared, and he felt his legs being lifted and folded into the trunk where he lay. They seemed very far away, no longer a part of his body. Then the trunk lid slammed shut, plunging Anji into a semi-darkness that, a few seconds later, became final and complete.

   

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