A plague has been unleashed that could lead to the end of the world.
Dr. Maggie Taylor is in the midst of a vast conspiracy–a key player in the fight against a demonic plot to bring on Armageddon.
After her father dies suddenly, Dr. Maggie Taylor, a prominent and respected genetics researcher and professor, receives a mysterious package with a message of universal doom. H5N1 influenza is ravaging swine herds throughout the Midwest, when a new deadly human version suddenly appears.
As Taylor fights internal demons, she unmasks true evil hiding in the deserts of New Mexico. In the midst of chaos, Maggie must learn how her father’s untimely death is linked to the deaths of nearly two dozen other scientists and the truth behind a doomsday weapon known only as the BioStrain chip–a nanotechnology wonder that is supposed to render the influenza virus harmless. But is that all the chip does?
Whom can she trust?
• Barney Ison, a former basketball star turned conspiracy theorist?
• Hank Meier, a mystery man who shadows her every move?
• Major Don Yarber, the DARPA agent who claims he’s fighting to keep government honest?
• Andy Ryder, her high school friend and former lover, who harbors dark secrets?
• Or her own husband, soon to be ex, who kept his own secrets during their stormy marriage.
Can Maggie Taylor solve the puzzle and uncover the horrifying truth in time?
* Paperback: 304 pages
* Publisher: Whitaker House (February 1, 2005)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 0883688107
* ISBN-13: 978-0883688106
* Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
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The final plague began on April 1st, a fitting and ironic beginning to an end, a day of fools and folly, a day when all but a handful of humans across the global village smiled into mirrors, baked apple pies, sang lullabies to sleepy-eyed children, gazed with glassy eyes into flickering television sets, or wished upon a distant star.
Little did they know that the glory days of bread and circuses would soon be at an end, and that their glittering boxes of light and shadow would soon spit out lies to bury the terrible truth seeds that six men now sowed in a New Mexico desert.
“Can you hear me?” called the shorter of two men as the pair joined four others. The sextet emerged from two shiny black cars, each man wearing a ghostly white Hazmat suit and filtered mask.
“Isn’t that the farm over there?” called the taller to the first man.
Short man nodded. “Albertson! See that first shed – the one with the open door? I think that’s where we need to start. Can you hear me?”
Albertson nodded. He looked like a fat, white worm in the hot jumpsuit. Sweat already swam down his cheeks, and he wiped at his brow, his gloved hand clicking against the heavy plastic of the face shield. “Damn it all! Why couldn’t we get the techs to do this?”
Short man slapped his taller, heavier colleague on the shoulder sympathetically. “It’s ok, Rick. You, me, and the others, we might not be field ops, but we understand this stuff better than the techs ever could. Half an hour, and we’ll be back in our cars and looking forward to a round o’ beers. How’s that sound?”
“Like it’s half an hour too long to wait,” the white worm replied, his gray marble eyes searching the dusty farm for signs of life. “Ok, let’s do this. Three teams, right? Two each. Who do you want me to work with, Arnie?”
Dr. Arnold Smith pointed to the other four men, indicating a thin blob of white with a small tank attached to a sling on his back. “Why don’t you go with Pete over there. Hey, Pete! You and Rick take that first shed. Look for signs of life first, then start spraying. Charlie, you and Tom take that second shed. Sam and I will take the house for now. We’ll all meet up in the barn. Comprende?”
“I don’t like this wind, Arnie,” came a mellow voice in Smith’s ear.
“I hear that, Tommy boy, but we don’t have much choice in the matter. The orders are to disperse the solution – period. Look, this is just a test farm. The folks in weather approved this morning’s run, so let’s get it over with. Everyone set? Ok, let’s rock and roll.”
The six men fanned out in pairs, two to a battered chicken shed on the northwest end of the test farm; two to the second chicken shed, slightly longer in length but equally weathered and rotting; two to a spindly building known as the house, an empty shell filled with magazines, ancient furniture, and a rusting sink.
A dry wind etched fine lines into their facemasks, and the mid-morning sun threatened to melt their flesh. A recent rash of solar flares had kicked up the temperatures in the New Mexican desert, and today’s afternoon high would easily hit 115 degrees. Ridiculous for early April.
Dr. Tom Foil followed his team leader, a molecular biologist and longtime friend named Charles Hilliard, to the second shed. The pair looked like aliens in the strange landscape, and Hilliard laughed as they stepped into the abandoned building.
“Bet we look like a couple o’ moon men, Tommy. Say, is that a chicken? I thought this place was supposed to be empty.”
Inside, in the far right corner sat a scrawny white bird, stubbornly squatting upon a nest of six eggs.
“Ah, hell! This isn’t supposed to happen! Goble said he checked this place out. Arnie, you there? We got a brooding chicken in here!”
Smith called back from his position inside the crumbling house. “Chicken? It must be dead. Check it. It’s got to be dead.”
“He says check it,” Foil said to Hilliard. “He doesn’t believe me.”
Hilliard shrugged and stooped next to the chicken, wincing as his seventy-one-year-old knees complained. “Hey there, Henrietta. You alive or not?”
The hen squawked, scratched at Charlie’s shield, and began racing around the dusty floorboards, feigning a wing injury to keep the intruders from her precious nest.
“That’s an affirmative,” Hilliard laughed. “She’s got four pretty whites and two browns. What say we take these home and introduce them to Irish potatoes and a rasher o’ bacon?”
“Negative,” Smith called back, not the least bit amused. “Take nothing, touch nothing. Leave the hen. She’s not going to last in this climate anyway. If you don’t see a rooster, the eggs aren’t fertilized, so it’s a moot point. Just spray the area, so we can say we did it. We’ll come back in two weeks to collect samples. We just need to see if 456 can survive in the arid conditions of the desert. Copy that?”
“Yeah, sure, I copy,” Hilliard replied, not bothering to conceal his own frustration. “Tommy, you ready? I wanna get this over with and get back to the lab. I’m too old for this field stuff, especially in this kind of weather. Man, it’s hot!”
Foil, ten years younger than Hilliard but feeling the heat, bit his lip. “The suits don’t help, C.D. Does Arnie want us to spray with this chicken in here? I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“I understand, Tommy, but Henrietta here isn’t going to spread 456 to anyone or anything, not with the safety features we built into it. We’ll lock the door behind us when we leave, and if 456 works at all, she’ll be dead within a couple of days. Come on. Let’s get it over with. My ticker’s gonna short-circuit if we don’t get back to air-conditioning soon.”
Foil nodded, switched on the canister marked Sln. 456, and lifted the trigger sprayer from its holster. “Here goes,” he said and his forefinger pulled on the plastic trigger.
A fine spray began to fill the air, and the chicken stopped her frenzied dance to stare for a moment. As if sensing the danger, the Rhode Island White scurried back to the meager nest, and covered the six smooth eggs with her emaciated body.
Noticing the mother hen’s brave actions, Tom Foil stopped the spray for a second, wishing he could snatch up the chicken and remove her and her eggs from harm’s way. Too late, he thought. She’s already exposed. Biting his lower lip again, so hard he drew a thin trickle of blood, Foil reactivated the spray head and dispensed the remainder of the container. He watched the fine mist hang in the air, illuminated by the yellow fingers of the morning sun, and he suddenly realized what he and the other scientists from BioStrain had unleashed. It’s no good letting it eat you up, he thought to himself. Can’t unstop the bottle now. May God forgive us.
The pair of scientists finished up their task, each emptying a canister of 456 into the shed, where mini-dust devils took up the aerosolized virus and carried it to freedom outside the rotting timbers. The Rhode Island White watched, too, from her dark corner. Within seconds, the lethal virus had infiltrated her lungs and eyes, where it swiftly began compromising cell walls and weakening blood vessels. After only five minutes, the hen began to twitch, and bright blood poured from her black eyes and pale beak. Red life dripped onto the brown and white eggs, and the mother hen spat and coughed, her body racked by convulsions.
As they watched in horror, the two men stared dumbfounded at each other, each one’s pale face a reflection of the shock in his heart.
“My God! It isn’t supposed to work this fast! Oh, my dear God! What have we done?” shouted Foil. In his ear, he could hear Smith’s reprimands, orders to act like a scientist not like a child. Foil didn’t care. “Damn it, Charlie! It isn’t supposed to react like this! What the hell is in this canister?”
Charles Daniel Hilliard couldn’t answer. His mouth had flown open, and his eyes glazed over with the sheer madness of the moment. As he regained his composure, he grabbed Tom Foil’s arm and shouted. “We’ve been had, Tommy boy! This is not what we’ve spent the last four years creating! Damn Grayson anyway!”
As the chicken bled out, neither man noticed the pale iguana that had slipped into the shed, mouth open, tail held high. The lizard’s cold eyes followed the men’s white shapes, waiting until they had disappeared through the doorway, left the shed, and barred the door and locked it with a steel padlock. Neither man saw the iguana steal toward the dead hen’s unguarded nest and take a brown egg into its jaws.
Once the lizard had gorged upon the entire half-dozen bloody eggs, it crept back into the blazing desert, carrying Solution 456 in its own resistant veins, ready to infect a hungry condor that had been watching the iguana’s movements since dawn.
As the three black company cars sped away toward the underground laboratories of BioStrain, the condor pounced, carrying the iguana back to its own clutch of hatchlings not far from the small village of Los Muertos, New Mexico.
The Armageddon Strain had been born.