Authors: Paul Mceuen
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Action & Adventure
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Paul McEuen
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by The Dial Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Spiral / by Paul McEuen.
1. Biotechnology—Fiction. I. Title.
Jacket design and illustration: Will Staehle
To Susan (Willow)
PACIFIC OCEAN, MARCH 1946
LIAM CONNOR WAS SICK TO SEE IT, STANDING ON THE DECK
of the USS
, binoculars trained on the sea. The truth was clear, the truth he saw in the binoculars, the four American sailors in the bright red lifeboat, all young and alive, none older than Connor himself.
“TURN BACK,” the commanding officer ordered through the megaphone.
“You can’t do this!” screamed one of the Americans. “I have a son. I’ve never seen my son!” He had his shirt off, waving it frantically back and forth, a fluttering white bird over the blue water. Two other men rowed.
Warning shots spat out of the Oerlikon twenty-millimeter deck cannons, the noise deafening, rapid-fire jackhammers, a strafe line between the lifeboat and the USS
. The men vanished behind a wall of sea spray.
The mist settled, the sea again quiet. The tall one jumped up and down, waving his damned white shirt, threatening to topple the small boat. “Stop firing!” he shouted. “We are
“He’s lying,” said the Army general Willoughby. Willoughby was a few feet away from Liam on the foredeck, watching through his own field glasses, his lips drawn back, teeth clenched. “See the way he moves? He’s jumping out of his skin.”
On the bridge, the commanding officer of the
raised his megaphone. “TURN AROUND. THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.”
Another spit of bullets from the guns, and the boat vanished again in a cloud of spray. This time the line was closer, near enough to soak the men. Connor saw fear clinging to their faces like the drops of water. If the gunner raised his sights by a few degrees, they’d be shredded.
The leader of the lifeboat sat down on the gunwale, the white shirt falling from his hands. The boat floated listlessly, slowly twisting while the four argued among themselves, their words carrying over the waves. The tall one pointed toward the
, shaking his head, mouthing the phrase
No other way
“The stupid bastards are coming,” Willoughby said.
The tall one stood, facing the
, held his white shirt overhead.
he called out, and the rowers began rowing, plowing the sea as hard and fast as they could.
The commander of the
stood straight. The megaphone hung at his side.
He gave a slight nod.
It was over in seconds. Two Oerlikons fired simultaneously, and the sea erupted. The lifeboat exploded red, fragmented into an array of splinters and planks of wood. In an instant, both the men and the lifeboat were gone, nothing left but the mist and a stain of flotsam and debris on the water.
Liam saw something moving, flopping on the surface. At first he thought it was a dying fish. But it wasn’t a fish. It was an arm, severed at the shoulder.
He vomited over the side of the ship.
LIAM CONNOR HAD SPENT FOUR YEARS IN THE BRITISH ARMY
, but he had never seen men die like that. Liam was a small man, five-six, but strong-willed, wiry and tough. He was also Irish, with blond-red wavy hair and a complexion like putty stained with red ocher. He was tenacious, with a precocious, sharp mind and fast feet. He had started university at Cork at the age of fourteen and quickly established himself as a biology prodigy, on his way to a Ph.D. when the war intervened. He could also run a mile in just over four minutes fifteen seconds, making him the third fastest man in Ireland. He was a lieutenant, by the British Army’s reckoning more valuable as a scientist than a bullet catcher. Barely twenty-two years old, he’d spent the past four years at Porton Down, in the southwest English county of Wiltshire, the center of British chemical and germ weapons research. His specialty was saprobic fungi, the feeders on the dead.
He was a scientist. He’d never seen men die like that, killed by their own brothers-in-arms.
TWO DAYS AGO HE’D BEEN IN GERMANY, AT A CHEMICAL FACTORY
outside Munich. He was in the final weeks of his military service, a member of an Allied team conducting a postmortem of the Nazi chemical and germ warfare program. He expected to leave Germany within days, return to England and on to Ireland and his wife, Edith. They’d been married for almost three years, but in that time had spent less than ten days together. He missed her like he missed Ireland.
Thirty-six hours before, his plans had drastically changed. Liam was shoved on a troop transport plane in Munich with no explanation. Four flights later, he found himself halfway around the world, over the Pacific, circling a flotilla of U.S. Navy vessels. They’d strapped him in a parachute and ordered him out, the first parachute jump of his life. He’d been fished out of the sea and brought aboard the USS
just in time to see the slaughter of the four sailors.
The whole journey over, he’d been wondering why. They’d grabbed a lieutenant and shipped him across the globe. Now he was starting to understand. At Porton, they’d spent months preparing for what they believed inevitable, the use of germ weapons by the Nazis. The Germans had been the first to use poison gas on a large scale in World War I—few at Porton doubted that this time around, the Nazis would use germs. They’d been wrong. It was the Japanese.
LIAM’S POINT OF CONTACT ON THE USS
a gangly major named Andy Scilla. He was a microbiologist from Mississippi who’d trained at Harvard but kept his accent. Scilla was from Camp Detrick in Maryland, the American center of chemical and germ warfare, their equivalent of Porton Down. “I’ll be your date while you’re here,” he said, his drawl at first difficult for Liam to follow. But he got used to it, got to like it. It reminded him of some of the boggers back home.
Liam spent his first hour with Scilla in a small cabin three doors down from the communications room. Here, Scilla said, they had copies of the medical records of the men on the infected ship, the USS
, along with a series of files they’d brought from Tokyo, giving background on what was happening. They were stored in a series of metal lockers to keep out the ever-present saltwater. Scilla gave Liam the chain of events: “Five days ago, the ship those men came from, the USS
, picked up a distress call from the Japanese sub out there, the I-17. No one could figure it out. Hell, it’s been six months since the end of the war. Where’s a Jap sub been hiding all that time?
arrived, they found the I-17 dead in the water. They tried to establish radio contact, but they got zip. Absolutely nothing. But they could see a single Japanese soldier on the bow of the sub. Just sitting there. They hollered at him, but he didn’t move a muscle. So they sent a team to board.
“What they found was a nightmare. The entire crew, maybe a hundred men, sliced open like gutted fish. From the looks of it, they had committed hara-kiri en masse. All except that one Japanese soldier, alone on the bow of the sub. He looked catatonic, cross-legged, back straight, staring forward like a statue. The leader of the boarding crew, a chief petty officer named Maddox, thought he was in traumatic shock. But that wasn’t it. Not at all. He waited until they were practically next to him. Then he sliced himself open, shoved a grenade in his belly, and blew himself to bits.”
“Suicide?” Liam asked. The Japanese were cultish about their honor and death—surrender was a mortal sin.
“Not exactly. That took a while to figure out. Why blow yourself to bits right when the soldiers get there? If he was a kamikaze, he would’ve attacked, thrown the grenade at the boarding crew. Plus, they had plenty of weapons below, plenty of guns, lots of ammo. He could have killed quite a few of our men.
“No one really got it worked out for about twelve hours. The key was the boarding crew, the sailors that had been there when the bastard blew himself to bits. The leader, Maddox, took a pretty good whack to the head. He woke up two hours later in the
’s sick bay, asking about his men. Everyone was more or less fine. But eight hours later, in the bed next to Maddox, Smithson begins to display unusual symptoms. A depressed temperature, an unpleasant smell about him. An hour later, Smithson is scratching wildly at his skin and has to be physically restrained. He is incoherent, raving. Twenty hours later, Maddox is no better. He is certain that iron-skinned snakes are living in his belly, feeding on his intestines. From these two, it spread throughout the ship.”
Liam understood. “The Jap was a vector. A germ bomb.”
“And the rest of the boarding crew?”
“Maddox is dead. He got loose, grabbed a knife, and stabbed himself to death. Just kept shoving it in his gut again and again until he bled out. The doc on the
counted twenty-two separate entrance wounds. Smithson’s still alive, but he bit off his own tongue. Spit it out on the floor in front of him, laughing madly the whole time. Reports say it’s a complete nightmare over there. A day or two after infection, you begin to completely lose it. Go violently crazy. One guy seemed perfectly normal until he locked himself in the galley with four sailors, shot them in the guts, then stomped on their skulls until a few others broke in and put a bullet in him. Everyone is paranoid. As soon as you show any symptoms, they tie you down. They ran out of beds and are roping men to their bunks, to piping on the walls, everything.”
“Holy Christ. How many are infected?”
“One hundred eighty-eight,” Scilla said. “Of those, thirty-two have died. And they’re losing a few more each hour.”
“Their temperatures run a couple of degrees low.”
“And their smell? You said there was an odor?”
“Ammonia? Like urine?”
“I’ll tell you what it sounds like. It sounds like mycotoxin poisoning,” Connor said. “Maybe
. Ergot. Or one of the species of
Scilla nodded. “That’s why we brought you here. We’re all germ people. Bacterial. But we got nobody with a background in fungi, so we called Porton. And they sent you.”
“Anything else? Other physical signs?”
“A few of the men have spiral growths in their mouths.”
“A pale white? Like candy floss? Cotton candy?”
“That’s just the way they described it.”
“How many are still symptom-free?”
“Less than forty now.”
Liam tried to take it all in. He had never heard of virulence like this. The entire ship in four days?
Scilla grabbed a thick manila folder and dropped it on the table. The cover said
. “Read this. I’ll be in the comm room when you’re done.”
Inside the folder was a twelve-page report issued by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps and under the signature of a Major General William N. Porter. The title was simple:
Summary of the Testimony of Hitoshi Kitano, Unit 731
. It was dated March 2, 1946. Liam had never heard of Hitoshi Kitano, but he’d heard rumors of Unit 731.
The report began with a short bio on Kitano. He was an officer in the Kwantung Army, the Japanese occupying force in north China. He was twenty-one years old. His uncle was a well-known lieutenant colonel, killed in the Philippines in 1944. His mother and father were killed in the atomic bomb explosion at Nagasaki. For the last two years of the war, Kitano was assigned to a biological weapons unit called Unit 731, in Harbin, China, a few hundred miles north of Peking, returning to Japan in the final days of the war. He’d been picked up by the British in Hirado, not far from Nagasaki.
From there, the report turned to Kitano’s accounts of Unit 731. The official title of Unit 731 was the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, but its true mission was germ warfare. According to Kitano’s account, Unit 731 was formed in the mid-1930s, the brainchild of a Japanese general named Shiro Ishii. He was unusually brash and aggressive by Japanese standards but undeniably brilliant, convincing key military officials that Japanese victory could be assured only by the development of new biological weapons.
Unit 731 grew into an enormous operation, Japan’s version of the Manhattan Project, researching and testing every aspect of biological weaponry. Thousands of scientists, one hundred and fifty buildings, contained within a perimeter of six kilometers, all devoted to the perfection and refinement of biological weapons. They had collected pathogens from all over the world, tested them, refined them, coaxed out the deadliest strains. It dwarfed the efforts by the British at Porton Down and by the Americans at Camp Detrick.
They also ran field tests on the most promising weapons, according to Kitano. In Baoshan, in southern China, they tested “maggot bombs.” These were ceramic containers dropped from planes that shattered on impact, spreading a gelatin emulsion filled with cholera bacteria and living flies. The flies survived the fall because of the gelatin, and then carried the cholera, landing on humans, animals, latrines, and cooking instruments, spreading the pestilence. Before the attack, Kitano said, cholera was unknown in Yunnan province. Within a month, cases were reported in sixty-six separate counties. Within two months, two hundred thousand were dead. All from a few bombs of jelly and flies, easily carried by a single airplane.