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Authors: Scott Sigler

Pandemic (9 page)

BOOK: Pandemic
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Murray had watched, stunned, as a man who told the truth was washed out of office by a nation that didn’t want to believe humanity was not alone in the universe. Blackmon hadn’t rallied just the Bible thumpers. No, you couldn’t win in America anymore if you only paid attention to the religious Right. You also needed the Koran thumpers, the Talmud thumpers, and the thumpers of all moldy old books suitable for thumping. She found a way to gather all of those people into her fold without alienating her Christian base.
Countering her strategy, practically every scientist in the country stood firmly behind Gutierrez. They trotted out papers and studies and formulas that proved he was telling the truth, yet that didn’t matter.

When it comes to politics and tragedy, in the end people need someone to blame.

A nation aching with loss and reeling with disbelief had chosen Blackmon. Piousness and ultraconservative views felt like the perfect counter to the science-minded liberal who ran the show when a mushroom cloud blossomed over Detroit.

When the landslide election results came in, Murray had hoped Blackmon’s religious rhetoric was just a way to get her into power. It was politics, after all — say whatever you have to say to get elected. But Murray had come to realize that her brilliant election strategy wasn’t a show.

Sandra Blackmon
believed
.

In closed-door meetings like this, President Blackmon accepted that America had nearly been invaded by some kind of strange force. She also acknowledged that Gutierrez had played the only card available to stop a disaster that could have taken out the entire Midwest, possibly the nation, maybe the entire world. The problem was, she didn’t believe that force came from somewhere other than Earth. Most of the time, she acted like the attack had to have come from another country: Russia, China, maybe even India (for which she had an inexplicable hatred).

Sometimes, however, the president of the United States of America said things that made it sound like she thought the attack was
Satanic
in nature. The fact that she might believe that, and she had her finger on the button? The thought made Murray’s balls — what were left of them, anyway — shrivel up into little fear-peanuts that tried to crawl up into his belly and hide.

Blackmon turned to André Vogel, a man who — in Murray’s humble opinion — should have walked around with a coating of slime all over him and his fancy clothes.

“Director Vogel,” she said. “What about spies? Any more information on Lieutenant Walker’s background? Could she have been turned?”

“It’s possible,” Vogel said. “So far, however, we have nothing.”

Murray knew that people sometimes said his department, the Department of Special Threats, was the second-most-important government organization you’d probably never heard of. The first? The Special Collections
Service. Part NSA, part CIA and all black-budget, Special Collections existed well outside the framework of official government business. André Vogel was exactly the kind of shifty motherfucker needed to run it.

“Walker seems to be as red, white and blue as they come,” Vogel said. “Naval Intelligence and the FBI are looking into the entire crew of the
Los Angeles
, Madam President. That’s a big job. But if a foreign power is at the root of this, we
will
find out.”

Typical Vogel-speak: casually mention the difficulty of the task, but also promise results.

Blackmon leaned back in her chair. “What about the Chinese? The NSA reported there was chatter shortly after the attack. Can we be
sure
the Chinese weren’t involved?”

Vogel shook his head. “No, Madam President, we can’t be sure. We’re listening. They know something crashed into Lake Michigan five years ago. President Gutierrez informed the whole world that we had visitors, so it’s easy for the Chinese to put two and two together. Regardless, though, they can’t
do anything
with that knowledge. Even if they had a sub within a hundred miles of our coast, they couldn’t get it through the Saint Lawrence Seaway and into the Great Lakes.”

“They’ve got
money
,” Murray said. Heads turned to look at him, eyebrows raised because he’d spoken out of turn. He ignored them all, just stared at Vogel.

“The Chinese have more money than they know what to do with,” Murray said. “Do we really know for sure they couldn’t just quietly hire locals to go down and get the thing?”

Vogel smiled, looking smug. “The probable crash site is seven hundred to nine hundred feet deep. You need specialized gear for that. The intelligence community has been consistently monitoring all domestic companies that have the right kind of equipment, with a special eye on Lake Michigan outfits, of course. Canadian and Mexican companies as well. The navy task force made short work of discouraging filmmakers, reporters, documentarians, even conspiracy theorists from venturing into a maritime exclusion zone.”

He sat back, gave his bald head a quick, damp rub. “The only way anyone could steal our alien technology, which we haven’t even secured yet, would be to invade the United States of America and occupy Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.”

The man knew his business, no doubt, but after all this time he
still
didn’t get the big picture.

“I’m not talking about stealing it,” Murray said. “I’m talking about
touching
it. We just lost a nuclear sub, a destroyer, a cutter and over four hundred brave men and women. That didn’t happen by accident. If the wreckage was somehow contaminated with any of the contagious shit that forced us to nuke Detroit, then the Chinese don’t have to
get
the thing out of the country, they just have to be dumb enough to go down and
try
. That alone could be enough to goat-fuck us right in the ass.”

“That’s
enough
,” President Blackmon said.

Murray didn’t know if she’d had that voice of unquestionable authority before she took over as commander in chief, but she sure as shit had it now.

“This briefing is over,” she said. “I think Director Vogel has clearly illustrated that the site is protected against espionage. He’s doing his job. Murray, you do yours. Find out what turned the crew of the
Los Angeles
into traitors, and find out fast.”

DAY THREE
NIGHT FLIGHT

Margaret’s belly wanted to be sick, but Margaret was in charge of such things and she was
not
going to let this helicopter ride make her throw up.

She’d spent most of the last three years sequestered in her house. Now here she was, at 4:00
A.M.
, in a loud-as-hell helicopter streaking across the black surface of Lake Michigan, strapped tightly into an uncomfortable seat and wearing an ill-fitting helmet. Her soon-to-be-ex husband sat next to her, a constant reminder of her failures as a wife.

How had Murray talked her into this?

Maybe it hadn’t been Murray at all. Maybe it was because the infection had returned, and she couldn’t stand aside while others fought that evil for her.

Before “Project Tangram,” before she and Amos stumbled onto something that would turn out to be one of humankind’s biggest and worst discoveries, she had been an epidemiologist with the CDC. She hadn’t been a “nobody,” by any stretch, but no one had really known who she was.

The infection changed all that.

She moved from a back room to the front line. She had become
the one
, the person who figured it out, who stopped it. Doing so had cost so many lives; it had destroyed hers as well.

She should have been a celebrity, a hero. She should have been an icon of the scientific world. Instead, she had suffered so much in the past five years.
Lost
so much. She wasn’t going to let that be for nothing.

You will not win. I
WILL
beat you
.

The pilot’s voice came over the headphones built into her helmet.

“We’re coming up on the task force,” he said. “We’re on high alert, so this will be a slow approach as they make sure everything is okay. If you look out the port side, you can see the task force coming up pretty quick.”

Margaret readjusted her loose helmet as she looked. Rain pounded against the helicopter’s windshield. She could see no stars, nothing but black above and below. Then, in the distance, she saw the glow of lights.

Warships, on the Great Lakes. And the concept of
lake
didn’t really register — she couldn’t see land in any direction, not even the distant sparkle of cities or towns.

As the helicopter closed in, the faint lights of the four gray ships became more clear. The ships were big … so big they seemed to ignore tall, black, undulating swells that could have dragged normal boats to the bottom. The longest of the gray ships looked boxy, like a cargo hauler. Two others were nearly as big but had the sleek lines of combat vessels. One rode tall in the water, pristine and impressive, while the other listed slightly to port, parts of its superstructure blackened and twisted. It took her a moment to realize the two ships were identical, a before-and-after image representing the effects of combat. The smallest of the four didn’t look like any ship she had ever seen.

Margaret pulled on Clarence’s sleeve and pointed at the identical pair’s undamaged ship. She tried to lean into him and cracked her helmet against his. He reached up, tapped the helmet’s microphone sitting directly in front of her mouth.

“Oh,” she said. “Sorry.” She didn’t need to yell over the helicopter’s engine to be heard. She pointed out again. “What is that?”

“That’s the
Pinckney
,” Clarence said. “Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer. It’s the flagship of the flotilla. The one that’s listing is the
Truxtun
. The one that looks like a tanker is the
Carl Brashear
. That’s where we’re headed. It’s about seven hundred feet long, so your motion sickness should settle down once we’re aboard.”

She hadn’t told him she felt ill. He just knew.

Margaret gestured to the final ship, the smallest of the four. Its long, thin, pointed nose widened near the base, flaring out into the superstructure, which itself led to a flat, square back deck. The ship’s steeply sloped sides reminded her, somewhat, of the old Civil War ironclads, and yet the vessel’s overall appearance was that of a spaceship from a science fiction movie. On the back deck, she saw two helicopters, ready and waiting.

“That’s the
Coronado
,” Clarence said. “It’s new. It’s called a littoral combat ship.”

“So it literally does combat?”

“Not
lit-ER-al, lit-OR-al
,” he said. “It means
close in to shore
. That’s where SEAL Team Two is.”

Guided missile destroyers. Littoral combat ships. SEALs. This was the
equivalent of putting a floating flag in the middle of Lake Michigan and telling the rest of the world
this is ours, and if you even look this way, you’re going to get a black eye
.

How typical. Five years after what could have been the extinction of the human race, and her government chose to rattle its saber instead of working with other countries to share the biggest scientific discovery in history.

And yet as impressive as three of the four ships looked, she realized that just a day ago there had been a total of seven: two more on the surface, one below. Somehow, the infection had taken them out.

I will beat you
.

The helicopter suddenly plummeted, an elevator with the cable cut. Just as quickly the drop ended with a hard rattle that bounced her in her seat and jostled her loose helmet.

“Sorry about that,” said the pilot’s voice in her earphones. “The wind is pretty tricky. Turbulence is going to be rough as we come in to land. Hold tight.”

Something seemed to slap the helicopter’s left side. Margaret’s stomach let out a brief-but-intense prepuke warning. She started to look for something to throw up in, but Clarence was already offering her an open barf bag.

Margaret held it to her mouth as she discovered that she was not, after all, in charge of such things. She kept throwing up as the helicopter descended toward the
Carl Brashear
.

MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION

Steve Stanton stood at the rail of the
Mary Ellen Moffett
, wondering if the phrase “freezing your nuts off” was less a figure of speech and more an accurate scientific possibility.

He stared out at an endless black surface, not that he could see all that far at 5:00
A.M.
on a starless morning. November wind tore at his raincoat. Five-foot swells slapped against the hull, splashing icy spray into his face. He’d been out on the lake dozens of times while testing the
Platypus
, but until this moment he had never, in his entire life, been in a place where he couldn’t see land. He felt like a shivering speck in the middle of nowhere, like a satellite surrounded by the expanse of space.

Bo Pan stood next to him. The old man had already thrown up over the rail once. He looked like he might soon do so again.

It was hard to believe that just twelve hours earlier, Steve had been sunning himself in a lawn chair. As soon as the
Mary Ellen Moffett
left the dock, the temperature had plummeted twenty degrees. The growing wind dragged it down at least another fifteen. The Gore-Tex foul-weather gear he’d bought (with some of Bo Pan’s wad of cash, thank you very much) was rated for temperatures well below this, and yet still Steve felt wet and cold. When he got back, he’d write a stern letter of complaint to the manufacturer’s customer service department.

Steve found himself caught between excitement and fear. Despite years of preparation, it seemed impossible to believe that he was here — to possibly acquire a piece of something created by an extraterrestrial race.

“Bo Pan,” Steve said in a whisper that was lost on the wind. He leaned in closer and spoke louder. “Bo Pan, do you really think the location is accurate?”

Bo Pan shrugged. He looked miserable, but resigned to the misery, like a wet sheep patiently waiting out a hailstorm. Bo Pan hawked a loogie, spit it over the side. The man had cornered the market on phlegm.

BOOK: Pandemic
11.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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