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Read Infected Page 40

Infected is a web novel completed by Scott Sigler.
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“Bye-bye, Daddy. And be careful. You might get a splinter from that desk.”

Dew hung up. He took one deep breath, and then the emotions faded away, pushed back to their normal hiding place. That was what he’d needed, to reconnect with the why of what he did. It was for her. It was for a country in which his daughter could live as she pleased, even if that meant living with another woman, even if her father hated it, and hated her mate, with all his heart. There were many places in the world where Sharon would have been killed — or worse — for doing what came naturally to her.

Was that cliché? To keep on fighting, and killing when need be, because America was the greatest nation on earth? Probably, but Dew didn’t care if the reasons were good, logical or even cliché. They were his reasons.

And that was enough.



Margaret, Amos and Clarence Otto stood as Murray Longworth entered the commandeered office. Murray shook everyone’s hands, then all three sat. Murray, of course, sat behind the big desk.

“What have you got for me? We got you a relatively fresh one this time. I trust that an unrotted body gave us some clues as to what the h.e.l.l these things are?”

Margaret led the charge. “It didn’t stay ‘unrotted’ for long. All the tissue is gone. Only his skeleton is left — it looks the same as the remains of Judy Washington and Charlotte Wilson. We have the liquefied remains, but I think we’ve learned all we can from that material. Before Brewbaker fully decomposed, however, we were able to gather some valuable and disturbing information. First of all, we believe the growth isn’t a modification of tissue, but rather it’s a parasitical organism.”

Murray’s face wrinkled in mild disgust. “It’s a parasite? What makes you think that?”

“Just as with Charlotte Wilson’s case, the growth itself was already decomposed. We could get nothing from it, but we found structures in the surrounding tissue that made us cla.s.sify it as a parasite. The growths are tapped into the host’s circulatory system, drawing oxygen and possibly nutrients from the blood.”

Murray stared at her, like a limestone statue just beginning to show the effects of wind, rain and erosion. “What you’re telling me is that these triangular things are alive, that they’re not part of the victim but rather a separate, living creature?”


“So why are the ‘hosts,’ as you call them, going nuts?”

“We found excessive neurotransmitter levels in the brain,” Margaret said. “Neurotransmitters are the substances that pa.s.s signals from nerve cell to nerve cell, allowing the body to communicate with the brain and vice versa, as well as allowing the brain to function. Dopamine and serotonin, in particular, were at extremely high levels. Excess dopamine is implicated in severe schizophrenia, and excess serotonin can cause psychotic

behavior and paranoia. We also found extremely high levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine throughout the brain. These two hormones are vital to the fight-or-flight response, key in reaction to emergencies and perceived threats. They also cause some of the physiological expressions of fear and anxiety. When the hormones exceed normal levels, anxiety disorders are very common.”

Murray nodded with understanding. “So these parasites make people go crazy by increasing neurotransmitters?”

“Right,” Amos said. “But there’s more. The parasite grows structures that mimic human nerves. We found such structures in the area surrounding the growth, but we found traces in the brain as well, particularly in the cerebral cortex and the limbic region.”

“What’s the limbic region?”

Margaret answered. “It’s a cl.u.s.ter of areas including the thalamus, the hippocampus and the amygdala, among others, that is thought to control emotion and comprise the basic structures for memory storage and recall. The growths in that area may have been some kind of endocrine system for secreting the excess neurotransmitters. Based on case studies of excess dopamine in the limbic region, hosts may develop extremely acute paranoia. That’s consistent with the behavior observed in Brewbaker, Blaine Tanarive, Gary Leeland and Charlotte Wilson. But if the growth was actually artificial nerves, it may have had another purpose — it’s possible the parasite was somehow wired into the brain.”

Anger flashed in Murray’s eyes. “Oh come on. I agree with your ‘drug delivery’ theory, that makes sense, but wired into the brain? What are you saying, that this isn’t just some chemical overdose, that the parasite is somehow controlling the host?”

“It is a possibility,” she said.

“Why don’t you just tell me the hosts are possessed by evil demons, Doctor Montoya? I’m beginning to suspect I made a serious mistake by putting you in charge of this. How the h.e.l.l can you expect me to believe a parasite can control people, make them do all those horrible things?”

“We didn’t say the parasite used people like some kind of robot,” Amos said. “However, there are parallels found in nature where parasites modify the host’s behavior. For example, there is a trematode that parasitizes a species of mud snail. To complete its life cycle, the trematode must pa.s.s from a snail to a sand flea. The trematode larva somehow

forces snails to high ground, out of the water, where the snails will die. It makes them commit suicide, if you will. At that point the trematode exits the snail and enters a flea. Think also of the th.o.r.n.y-headed worm, which starts in a c.o.c.kroach and moves on to a rat. To facilitate the change, the worm actually makes the c.o.c.kroach less aware of danger, so it is more likely to be eaten by a rat. Then there is the — ”


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