The Darkness Drops

Dr. Terry Ryder, special advisor to the President of the United States on bioterror preparedness, is bone weary. He has spent more than a decade attempting to anticipate which microbes might be weaponized and unleashed in the continental US, driving himself to stay twelve steps ahead of all who would try. For known bacteria or viruses, he and his team play Bad Guys, postulating how such microbes would be delivered to a targeted population, then figure out a containment policy. The plan is always simple–isolate the agent, quarantine the hot zone, and treat the survivors–but Terry and his experts know this is a “duck and cover” sham. In the brutal reality of a bioterror attack, even if all the medical personnel, vaccines and medication could be deployed without a hitch, which they won’t be, the narrow window in which most treatments are effective will be breached. Those confined to ground zero are toast.

Worse are the scenarios they compile in which genetically altered organisms cause entirely new diseases against which there is no immunity and for which no treatments exist. Yet even for these he prepares a plan, in talks so secret that nothing is recorded or committed to paper, lest ideas for such chimera be leaked to an enemy. Then, when he and all the members of his committee try to go home to their loved ones after such work, none can rest easy. He for one can’t shut down his thoughts, and these creations creep through his mind like marauding demons.

But when clusters of patients begin to present in emergency departments with slight tremors and numbness in their limbs, not even his heightened vigilance tweaks to the menace that such benign beginnings conceal. No one else takes the symptoms seriously either, and the medical residents jokingly call the condition Shakes. Only after an extraordinary event off the shores of Waikiki involving the nuclear-powered carrier USS Reagan do Terry’s instincts kick in. His Eureka circuits he calls them, the pathways where neurons bypass logic and leap straight to the truth. This night they are particularly blunt. Shakes is an attack, stupid!

As the lethality of Shakes and it’s rapacious spread worldwide becomes evident, Terry is overwhelmed by the Herculean task of tracking down the origin of the outbreak. He scrambles with other world health officials, joining them in their desperate attempts to mount a coordinated scientific response to the crisis, at the same time he looks to contacts in his other world, the subculture of arms merchants and peddlers of rogue science that feed the underground market for bioweapons. The answers he seeks continue to elude him, and dark episodes from his past appear ever more connected to the mystery he struggles to solve, leaving him to question even his own innocence.

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