With all the talk of Ebola, with all the scares and scaremongering, it’s hard for me not to shudder. I’d spent years researching viruses, bioengineering, bioweapons, and human experimentation (experiments humans did on each other) for my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and though I knew what could happen, I always thought that somehow we’d be able to bypass a real epidemic. It’s still possible, though it’s also possible that by the new year, there will be 1,000,000 victims of the Ebola virus.
Here is an excerpt from A Spark of Heavenly Fire detailing some of the things I discovered in my research. Oh, my. What wondrous creatures we humans are! The red death was my own creation, based on viruses that various scientists had played around with.
Greg was sitting at his computer, trying unsuccessfully to access the Internet, when he heard someone plop down in the chair behind him. Assuming Olaf had stopped by for his morning chat, Greg smiled as he swiveled his chair around.
The smile faded when he saw Clara D’Onofrio regarding him with red-rimmed, feverish eyes that glowed against her abnormally pale skin.
“Are you okay?” he asked, hoping she wouldn’t take offense.
She made a small gesture with her hand as if to brush away his concern, opened her briefcase, and removed a sheaf of papers.
“I spent most of the night researching biological weapons,” she said. “You would not believe the stuff I found. Did you know that the entire genetic code for the Black Death has been mapped, and the genetic sequences have been posted on the web?”
Greg blinked, then shook his head no.
“Also cholera and smallpox. Smallpox! Who in their right mind would mess around with smallpox? It has killed more people over the ages than any other disease, claiming at least three hundred million victims in the twentieth century alone. Why did the World Health Organization spend ten years eradicating smallpox from the face of the earth when scientists all over the world now mass produce it?”
“If they eradicated it, where did the smallpox come from?” Greg asked.
“They eradicated it in the wild, but a lot of research facilities retained samples, including Ft. Detrick in Maryland.”
Clara riffled through her sheaf of papers and plucked one from the bunch. “It says here the Russians built an underground facility capable of growing eighty to one hundred tons—tons!—of the smallpox virus every year. Get this — they modified it genetically, combining the smallpox with Ebola and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a brain virus.”
“Jeez,” Greg said, feeling sick to his stomach. “As if smallpox by itself weren’t lethal enough.”
“Tell me about it. What’s even worse, the collapse of the Soviet Union left hundreds of biological research scientists unemployed. Many of them took the smallpox with them when they went to work for other countries like Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, India, and maybe even Israel and Pakistan. And of course, the United States.
“Can you imagine what would happen if any of the new strains of the disease escaped from the laboratory? They’d travel around the world so fast and kill so many people, it would make the red death appear inconsequential.”
“No, I can’t imagine it,” Greg said. “To be honest, I have a hard time imagining the red death, even though it’s happening now. It’s too big. Too many have died. I think that’s why I focus on the puzzle aspect — who created it, and why. It’s something my mind can comprehend.”
Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.