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Authors: Scott Sigler

Pandemic (2 page)

BOOK: Pandemic
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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.

Until now.

BOOK I

THE BIG WATER

DAY ONE
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.

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
wasn’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.

She was heading for the surface.

That was wrong.
Charlie
was supposed to be the one heading to the surface. God said so. God told him where to go, and what to do when he got there.

Wicked Charlie Petrovsky would not fail God.

Candice stepped into the decon chamber. The heavy door clanged shut behind her.

Charlie waited until he heard the door wheel spin, sealing the chamber tight.

He pushed himself up on his hip. He felt his own blood coursing down his shoulder. He pressed a hand hard against his neck. He didn’t have long to live, he knew that. That he’d survived at all was a miracle, the hand of God obvious and undeniable.

Charlie tried to stand. He could not. One hand on the cold deck, the other pressed against his bleeding neck, one foot pushing him along, Charlie crawled toward a life vest hanging from a bulkhead. He awkwardly reached it, slid first one arm through, then his head. His shivering, blood-covered hands fumbled with the straps.

Would God be mad at him?

The answer came immediately.

He heard a
whump
that shook the air a split second before the DDS’s starboard bulkhead ripped inward. A hammer blow of jagged metal tore into him, as did a simultaneous blast of high-pressure water that slammed him against the far wall, shattering bones on impact.

Not that Charlie felt it. He would never feel anything ever again.

The Orbital had watched
. The Orbital had learned.

Its first infection vector had been rather simple in concept: spores that floated on the air, released by the Orbital from its position some forty miles above the earth. Those spores hijacked the host’s stem cells, reprogrammed them, turned them into microscopic factories. The factories punched out parts that self-assembled into
triangles
. Left unchecked, those triangles grew into
hatchlings
.

The shotgun approach of a high-altitude release meant that most spores were wasted. They blew into areas of low population, got stuck on the ground, or simply fell into wet areas where they crumbled into bits of nothing. When
spores
did
land on a host, they worked well, but a hatchling couldn’t make more hatchlings. Nor could a hatchling spread the contagion by infecting additional human hosts.

So the Orbital had changed strategy.

It created a new design: the microscopic
crawlers
. Crawlers didn’t hatch out of a host. Instead, they migrated into the host’s brain, reshaped it, modified the host’s instincts and behaviors. A crawler-infected host could make new crawlers to infect
other
hosts. Unlike the hatchlings, crawlers could reproduce. They could
spread
.

BOOK: Pandemic
11.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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