Authors: Mira Grant
Tags: #Fiction / Horror, #Fiction / Science Fiction / Action & Adventure, #Fiction / Science Fiction / Hard Science Fiction
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This book is dedicated to Theodora Hope Buchanan.
You saved me in Montreal. Someday I’ll return the favor.
But probably not in Montreal.
If you ask the questions, best be sure you want to know.
DON’T GO OUT ALONE
This isn’t what I wanted. Please believe me. This isn’t what I wanted at all.
—COLONEL ALFRED MITCHELL, USAMRIID
December 18, 2027: Time stamp 08:04.
[The recording quality is low, filled with static and choppy artifacts left over from the transcription process. Portions of the file have either not been uploaded or have been overwritten by some error in the codec. The lab in the picture is clearly mobile, clearly in a state of constant flux: Every piece of equipment is on a rolling stand of some sort. Some machines are supported by hospital gurneys. People rush by in the background, making no effort to turn away or conceal their faces. By this point in the outbreak, there is no longer any reason for them to fear having their identities revealed.]
[A woman in a wheelchair rolls into the center of the shot. She is blonde and abnormally pale, as if she has not seen the sun in some time. Dark circles surround her blue eyes, speaking of sleepless nights and long hours spent poring over data. She wears no makeup. Her hair has not been styled. A small whiteboard rests in her lap, covered in a string of apparently random letters and numbers. She holds it carefully, keeping the whole thing visible to the camera.]
My name is Dr. Shanti Cale. If you are seeing this, you know who I am. I am either your creator or I am the cause of your empire’s final dissolution. Either way, I am sorry. I did what I did because I thought I was making the world better. Maybe, in the long run, history will decide that I was in the right. But right here, right now, it’s difficult to see that as anything other than a pretty dream in a world that isn’t very forgiving of such things.
[Dr. Cale looks down at the whiteboard, and then back up at the camera. She smiles. It’s a sad expression, tangled with old ghosts and unforgiving realities.]
At the end of this introduction, the video feed will switch to a compressed data format. The data encryption code that I am currently showing you will allow you to extract and analyze this week’s findings. Unencrypted, I will say this: The specimens recovered from the San Francisco, Sacramento, and Oakland reservoirs have all shown genetic similarities to the worm originally encoded for chimera Subject nine-A, code name “Persephone.” Because of Persephone’s unique ability to bond with her host without causing severe neurological damage, I recommend you stick to bottled water for the foreseeable future. All of you, I mean. I haven’t been able to fully analyze these new worms. They may pose a danger to preexisting chimera whose integration was accomplished through less natural methods.
[Her smile twists, turning almost vicious.]
Hear that, Sherman? You may have just fucked yourself. Putting her into the water supply probably seemed like a brilliant idea. It may have paid the wanted dividends initially, but you may well have created a bigger
problem for us all down the line. You may have doomed the very people you were trying to protect. I know how that feels. Like mother, like son.
[Her smile fades entirely.]
My next message is for Colonel Alfred Mitchell, of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or whoever may have taken his place. I know you are attempting to track and monitor my people. We are taking precautions to remain off your radar. You will not find us. You will not recover us. But you have someone of mine. You know who I am referring to. We are prepared to offer you a trade. Proof of life, and proof that she has not been harmed, and I will provide encrypted copies of my research on the modified
organism. Return her to us, intact, and I will provide unencrypted copies of my research.
[Dr. Cale is calm, almost serene, despite her obvious physical exhaustion.]
I have been accused of being a traitor to the human race because I refused to take sides when my children began turning against their creators. Me, who made them, not Dr. Steven Banks, who altered them recklessly and without concern for what his changes might mean. Not Dr. Richard Jablonsky, who died knowing what he had unleashed, without contacting the authorities or sharing his knowledge with the world. Me. Just me, alone. Well, fine. If you want me to be a traitor to the human race, then I will be. I will gather my children close, and I will see them through this storm. Return my daughter to me, and I will help you fight the chimera who think more of themselves than they do of humanity. Keep her, and I’ll let you burn.
[Her smile returns, terrible and thin as the blade of a razor.]
My name is Dr. Shanti Cale. I am the traitor you have ordered me to be, and I am a better monster than you deserve. The broken doors are open. You will never make it home.
[The picture goes briefly to a negative image, static chewing at the edges of the screen. Then it is completely gone, replaced by a several-megabyte flood of data. This onslaught of encoded information continues for ninety seconds before the visual feed abruptly terminates. The audio continues for a few seconds more, then ends.]
December 3, 2027: Time stamp 23:57.
This is not the point of no return.
The point of no return is a philosophical construct, an idea that looks beautiful on paper or in a computer model, but which cannot hold up under the bearing strain of reality. The point of no return is reached in a thousand places at the same time, a thousand little fractal iterations all coming together and collapsing until the center cannot hold. It’s chaos theory given flesh, and it can’t be stopped.
I wasn’t there when the center failed to hold, but I understand why it meant as much as it did. This is not the point of no return. But it is the only point that matters.
laudia Anderson was dying.
The people who had custody of her body didn’t know her name, and wouldn’t have cared if they’d been told. They didn’t know that she’d been top of her class at Berkeley, that she’d been a competitive chess player since she was eleven years old, or that she had liked to attend comic book conventions wearing costumes that she had made herself in the privacy of her rent-controlled condo’s spare room. None of that mattered anymore. In a way, none of it had really mattered since she signed
her NDAs and employment forms in SymboGen’s HR office, starting her life down the path that would inevitably place her here, lying motionless, attached to as many machines as they could jam into her veins, slipping farther and farther away.
The people who worked to save her didn’t know her name, because it wasn’t hers anymore: Claudia Anderson was dying, but in a very real way Claudia Anderson was already dead. They worked tirelessly to save a girl named “Anna,” a girl who looked at the world with eyes that were both new and old, innocent and educated beyond her brief weeks in the body she had tried to claim as her own. Anna had shoved Claudia to the edges of her own mind, and then she had shoved more, until everything that had been Claudia had toppled off the cliff into nothingness. All that remained was her body, an empty shell that had become a haunted house in the hands of its new owner.
Claudia Anderson was dead and alive at the same time, falling ever farther, falling too far to make it home.
She had no hospital to sustain her, no gleaming modern facility where miracles could be performed and the course of nature could be reversed. Her bed was a narrow cot being wheeled through endless halls, with a medical team that worked to save her even as they worked to save themselves. She could never have been their first priority, and if she had still been capable of anything as complicated as gratitude, she would have been grateful. Death had been held in abeyance for too long. It was time to go.
Inside Claudia Anderson’s skull, a war was being waged.
Rather than recognizing the
tapeworm as an ally, the body was responding to it as what it actually was: an invader, an intruder designed to disrupt the natural course of things. Immune responses were mustered, and Claudia’s temperature had been spiking steadily for hours as her body sought to repel the invasion. Unable to understand what was happening, the implant—Anna—reacted by burrowing deeper
into the tissues around her, damaging them irreparably in the process. It was a chain reaction too far gone to be stopped, no matter how hard the attending medical professionals worked.
Maybe if they had been able to stop running. Maybe if they had had access to a better hospital. The world was built on a scaffold of “maybe,” and it was crumbling down around their ears, leaving them standing on ground that had never been capable of supporting their weight.
“Dr. Cale, we’re losing her.”
“I need an epi!”
“I’m not getting a response.”
“We can’t find a pulse.”
The time of death was shortly after midnight on December 4, 2027. Claudia Anderson would not be mourned.
Neither would Anna.
Destroy your files before you leave your office. Deletion is not sufficient. Destroy the computer. Shred and burn the paper records. Leave nothing behind. It’s over.
—FINAL SYMBOGEN INTERNAL MEMO
Is there a point when all this will start being fair?
We are receiving reports of infection in individuals who had been previously confirmed free of the SymboGen implants (see attached personnel screening report), and have already completed a full course of preventative antiparasitics. As our doctors have tested these drugs, and found them fully effective against
in both egg and cyst form, we must assume that the worms are finding their way into our people through some other mechanism. I do not know what this mechanism may be. My troops do not know what this mechanism may be.
We need help. We need support. We need more bodies on the ground. We are on the verge of losing the San Francisco Bay Area. If this is a location you are prepared to surrender to the enemy, pull us out. If it’s not, give us the support that we need and deserve, as representatives of both your armed forces and your medical community.
Don’t just leave us here to die.
—MESSAGE FROM COLONEL ALFRED MITCHELL, USAMRIID, TRANSMITTED TO THE WHITE HOUSE ON DECEMBER 3, 2027
I let her go.
On some level, I must have known what she was planning to do. She’s always been conflicted. Human or parasite; good
little girl or independent adult woman; Sal or Sally. I walked with her right into the physical representation of that conflict, and when it offered her the chance to save everyone by giving up herself, I expected her not to take it. I thought she’d be…
I don’t know whether I thought she’d be stronger, or whether I thought she’d be weaker. I don’t really know anything anymore, except that she’s gone, and I have no idea how we’re going to get her back.
God, Sal, I’m sorry.
—FROM THE NOTES OF DR. NATHAN KIM, NOVEMBER 2027