Following Parasite and Symbiont, this is the third and final book in the CONTAGIOUS series about a miracle cure . . . and a nightmare side-effect – from the New York Times bestselling author of Feed
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.]
MALE VOICE: We’re recording.
[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.]
DR. CALE: 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.]
DR. CALE: 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.]
DR. CALE: 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.]
DR. CALE: 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 D. symbogenesis 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.]
DR. CALE: 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.]
DR. CALE: 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.]