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From the back cover

“A human specific bioweapon can kill most of the population of a city before it even knows it’s under attack, leaving the physical infrastructure virtually intact. In rural areas it can destroy human life while leaving crops and livestock untouched, uninfectious. Thrown into chaos, the remaining population can easily be overtaken by a small, lightly equipped military force. Relatively unskilled labour will take an additional few weeks to decontaminate an infected area of human casualties, leaving it ready for immediate habitation by an enemy’s population.” These are USAMRIID’s Colonel Susan Broadwaters’ words in an emergency briefing to government agents in Quantico, 1995.

So begins an investigation into a credible threat; that a bioweapon was about to be tested on an unsuspecting human population. The aim of this attack was not to kill large numbers of people, nor was it an act of terrorism or warfare. It was an outdoor experiment, a demonstration designed to alert authorities that their extraordinary apathy towards bioweapons had made the West highly vulnerable. It was meant as a warning.

But something went wrong.

Author’s notes

This novel, published by Double Dragon in 2004 and now out of print, came about while I was researching viruses and bioweapons while writing The Rhesus Factor. I had already spent several years exploring remote and volcanically active islands in the South Pacific, sometimes in the company of a vulcanologist and epidemiologist, and so I had seen first hand the effects of fatal epidemics on small under-resourced remote island communities. That tends to draw one’s imagination into some very dark places. It was also one of inspirations for me to move to a country where they could pull up the drawbridge if a pandemic happened in real life: New Zealand. To my surprise and everlasting gratitude, that’s exactly what New Zealand did when Covid-19 struck.

The following is a short extract from the novel.

From Dr. Nathaniel Sturgess’ Journal 0300hrs Monday 18th December

I’d forgotten that yesterday was Sunday. Christian religion played little if any part in the weekly gathering of the villagers; it was just an excuse to dress up and go singing.

The village is quiet. Not a peaceful quiet, but one of infinite loneliness, infinite emptiness. Taedium vitae, it is the hour of the wolf, come to take away the souls of the dead—and the damned—for am I not damned? A perpetual sickly orange haze shrouds everything; the light from Hell’s gateway is just a short distance away. Here at its portals, rivers of blood filled with a billion silent demons lie in wait for me. I need only remove my mask to let them in.

He turned to consider the obscene patterns of bloody rainwater and mud that covered the clinic’s floor. In the dim light, the liquid pulsated and glowed with an oily, even attractive luminescence.

See how they beckon, as the cleansing fire beckons? Inviting me, insisting I join the others in a macabre dance of death. ‘Let us in’ they call, as the warm blood runs along the floor and pools at my feet.

I am not a religious man and therefore I cannot take solace in a Greater Purpose. Nor can I blame an Old Testament God, or cry out, demanding why He spared me alone to bear witness to His judgment. How can I not believe in God when I have come face to face with Evil? Because this evil was spawned not from any fallen angel, nor any God of the underworld. This was spawned by mortal man. We do not need to create metaphysical evils when greater ones are born of flesh and blood.

Ninety nine point eight percent of all mammals that walked this planet are now extinct. In our hubris, humanity thinks itself the exception. Yet our monoculture, so ecologists say, virtually assures a fate preordained by evolution. We build ships hoping to reach other worlds, other life-forms, while secretly gorging on the darker fruits of knowledge, birthing Promethean monsters destined to destroy us long before our star consumes us in its inevitable conflagration.

I have reached for my mask a dozen times since my last patient died, knowing that the disease, having passed through human hosts, has only grown stronger. It may even have fed on the genes of other viruses, building itself into something so virulent that death might accept me in hours, not days. But to my shame I cling to life.

In my cowardice, I fear learning that this grotesque insanity has reached beyond my singular hell. Why did the helicopters and patrol boat not come? Is it because this outbreak, this attack was not an isolated event? Have nations retaliated and unleashed the final act of suicide; a nuclear war? I’m not sorry the earthquake severed my contact with the outside world. While I remain isolated, uncommunicative, I can cling to the delusion that the world I left just days ago remains intact, blissfully unaware that sentience is an evolutionary failure.