Miracle in a Dry Season    Dangerous Passage

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Germ
by Robert Liparulo


The list of 10,000 names was created for maximum devastation. Business leaders, housewives, politicians, celebrities, janitors, children. None of them is aware of what is about to happen--but all will be part of the most frightening brand of warfare the world has ever known.

The germ--an advanced form of the Ebola virus--has been genetically engineered to infect only those people whose DNA matches the codes embedded within it. Those whose DNA is not a match simply catch a cold. But those who are a match experience a far worse fate. Within days, their internal organs liquify.

Death is the only escape.

The release of the virus will usher in a new era of power where countries are left without defense. Where a single person--or millions--could be killed with perfect accuracy and zero collateral damage. Where your own DNA works against you.

The time isn't coming. It is now. Pray the assassins get you first.

 

Chapter One

Hardly resembling a man anymore, the thing on the bed jerked and thrashed like a nocturnal creature dragged into the light of day. His eyes had filled with blood and rolled back into his head, so only crimson orbs glared out from between swollen, bleeding lids. Black flecks stained his lips, curled back from canted teeth and blistered gums. Blood poured from nostrils, ears, fingernails. Flung from the convulsing body, it streaked up curtains and walls and streamed into dark pools on the tile floor.

Despesorio Vero, clad in a white lab coat, leaned over the body, pushing an intratrachael tube down the patient’s throat, his fingers slick on the instrument. He snapped his head away from the crimson mist that marked each gasp and cough. His nostrils burned from the acidic tang of the sludge. He caught sight of greasy black mucus streaking the blood and tightened his lips. Having immersed his hands in innumerable body cavities—of the living and the dead—few things the human body could do or produce repulsed him. But this . . . He found himself at once steeling his stomach against the urge to expel his lunch and narrowing his attention to the mechanics of saving this man’s life.

Around him, patients writhed on their beds. They howled in horror and strained against their bonds. Vero ached for them, feeling more sorrow for them than he felt for the dying man; at least his anguish would end soon. For the others, this scene would play over and over in their minds—every time an organ cramped in pain; when the fever pushed beads of perspiration, then blood, through their pores; and later, during brief moments of lucidity.

The body under him abruptly leaped into an explosive arch. Then it landed heavily and was still. One hand on the intratrachael tube, the other gripping the man’s shoulder, Vero thought mercy had finally come—until he noticed the patient’s skin quivering from head to toe. The man’s head rotated slowly on its neck to rest those pupil-less eyes on the doctor. With stuttering movements, as if a battle of fierce wills raged inside, the eyes rolled into their normal position. The cocoa irises were difficult to distinguish from the crimson sclera.

For one nightmarish moment, Vero looked into those eyes. Gone were the insanity of a diseased brain and the madness that accompanies great pain. Deep in those bottomless eyes, he saw something much worse.

He saw the man within. A man who fully realized his circumstances, who understood with torturous clarity that his organs were liquefying and pouring out of his body. In those eyes, Vero saw a man who was pleading, pleading. . . .

The skin on the patient’s face began to split open. As a gurgling scream filled the ward, Vero turned, an order on his lips. But the nurses and assistants had fled. He saw a figure in the doorway at the far end of the room.

“Help me!” he called. “Morphine! On that cart . . . ”

The man in the doorway would not help.

Karl Litt. He had caused this virus, this pain, this death. Of course he would not help.

Still, it shocked Vero to see the expression on Litt’s face. He had heard that warriors derived no pleasure from taking life; their task was necessary, but tragic. Litt was no warrior. Only a monster could look as Litt did upon the suffering of the man writhing under Vero. Only a monster could smile so broadly at the sight of all this blood.


Chapter Two

Thirteen months later

For one intense moment sunlight blazed against the windshield, making it impossible to see the traffic streaming ahead on I-75. Special Agent Goodwin Donnelley kept the accelerator floored; he could only hope he didn’t plow into another vehicle. At the top of the on-ramp, the sedan took flight. Donnelley and his passenger smacked their heads against the roof, then the car crashed down in an explosion of sparks. Its front bumper crumpled the rear quarter panel of a Honda before Donnelley’s frantic overcorrection slammed the car against the right-hand guardrail.

He saw a clear path in the breakdown lane and straightened the wheel to accelerate past Atlanta’s lunchtime congestion. In the rearview mirror, the black Nissan Maxima pursuing them bounded onto the highway, disappeared behind a semitrailer, then reappeared in the breakdown lane. The man beside him—Despesorio Vero, he had called himself—turned to look, blocking Donnelley’s view.

“They’re gaining!”

“Sit down!” Donnelley shoved him, then scanned the roadway ahead. A glint of sunlight flashed off a car stopped in the breakdown lane a half mile ahead. At eighty miles an hour, the distance would evaporate in twenty seconds. Traffic was lighter here; he could swerve into the lane on his left anytime.

Another glance at the rearview: the Maxima was almost on top of them. A figure armed with a shotgun jutted up from the passenger-side window.

If Donnelley waited until the last moment to swerve, the Maxima would crash into the stalled car. The car’s hood was up, but Donnelley could not see anyone around it. If he tricked the Maxima into hitting it, he would impose a death sentence on anyone standing in front of the car.

He veered back into the traffic lane, granting the Maxima time to follow.

His pursuers crossed into the middle lane and in a burst of speed edged closer. Now the Maxima’s bumper was even with Donnelley’s door. Instinctively, he touched the outside of his pants pocket. It was still there—the tracking device. He had not been able to place it in Vero’s clothing, but it was turned on: his partner could track them. She was back there now, somewhere behind the Maxima.

He drew his pistol from the holster under his arm, bringing it across his body to shoot. Just then, the rear driver’s-side window shattered into thousands of tiny crystals that sailed across the car’s interior, along with the thunderous sound of a shotgun blast from the Maxima. Vero screamed, and both men ducked.

Another blast hit Donnelley’s door. He kept his head down, blind to the road ahead, letting minor collisions with the guardrail on his right and the Maxima on his left keep the vehicle relatively straight. Another blast took out the metal pillar between the front and rear side windows and most of Donnelley’s headrest. His gun flew across the car and skidded around on the passenger floor mat.

Boom! Vero’s window disintegrated.

“Enough of this!” Donnelley slammed his foot down on the brake for a mere instant. The car jolted and the Maxima pulled ahead. He cranked the wheel to the left. The sedan’s front corner rammed dead into the Maxima’s passenger door, directly below the startled face of the shooter hanging halfway out the window.

The man’s torso jerked down, as if for an enthusiastic Oriental greeting. From his position ducked behind the wheel, Donnelley didn’t witness the man’s face hitting the sedan’s hood, but that it did was indisputable: the shotgun pinwheeled across the windshield and over the roof. A split second later the man jerked back into view, blood spewing from both nostrils. He disappeared back into the Maxima.

Donnelley popped up and cranked the wheel again. This time, the sedan nailed the Maxima just forward of the front tire. The pursuer’s car shot across three lanes and fell back. Just as he was registering the decent distance he’d gained on the Maxima, the bloody-faced shooter reemerged, a new shotgun in hand. He appeared to be bellowing in rage, a warrior whose battle had become personal.

Donnelley slapped Vero in the chest and pointed to the floor. “Hand me that pistol. Now! ”

***

Back at the on-ramp that had admitted the dueling vehicles onto I-75, another car, this one a chocolate brown Ford Taurus, vaulted onto the highway. In a chorus of screeching rubber, it fishtailed across three lanes before choosing one and bulleting forward.

Inside, Julia Matheson straightened the wheel and pushed the accelerator. Her lips were pressed against her teeth. Dark bangs clung to her sweaty face despite the car’s air-conditioning. Her wide eyes darted around, looking for openings in the traffic and for her partner up ahead.

The pandemonium coming through the tiny speaker nestled in her ear was maddening. Through intermittent patches of static and dead air came explosions of gunfire, ferocious commotion that could have been crunching metal or more static, screams, and shouted expletives.

Goody wore a wireless microphone designed for monitoring conversations from no farther than a mile away, but she saw no signs of him.

Once again she tried reaching him on the police-band radio: “Goody! Pick up. This is Julia. Goody!”

She knew the problem: He had turned it off before going into the hotel to pick up the guy they’d said was causing trouble, because it tended to disrupt the body microphone’s signal.

Through the earpiece she heard Goody yell, “Hand me that pistol. Now! ” Static followed.

She thought again of contacting the Atlanta police, Georgia state patrol, her own agency . . . anyone ; but she trusted Goody’s instincts, and when it had all hit the fan, he had told her not to call for backup.

She slapped a palm down against the wheel.

It was not supposed to have gone down like this. Not like this .

Okay, no duh. But an hour ago the assignment had seemed more than boring. It had seemed beneath them.


Copright Robert Liparulo.
All rights reserved.
Germ published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Used with permission of the author.