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: D D TE E N H IZ IO IG R T R HO BU PY T I O U TR C T A IS O D N R FO

DECK z the titanic

un sin k a ble . un de a d . by chris pauls and matt solomon


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Manchuria to conduct field studies on the plague’s origin, and in late January of 1912, he received a cable:

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Chinese government has requested your assistance investigating potential outbreak of new plague. I have agreed. Two officials from our Interior Department already in Manchuria to study anti-plague measures. They will join you. —Kaiser Wilhelm II

cabin. hartz mountain range, germany. sunday, april 7, 1912. 4:35 p.m.

Theodor Weiss rose from a finely crafted oak rocking chair to retrieve the remaining hunk of spruce from the room’s wood box and place it in the cast-iron Franklin heating stove. Shafts of light from the setting sun beamed through the chalet’s window as particles of dust swirled through the golden air in his wake. A fresh supply of logs was stacked outside, but he wouldn’t need them. He opened the stove door. A comforting wave of heat blew forth. After the events of the past year, he would always be grateful for warmth. During the previous winter of 1911, a plague epidemic in Manchuria had overwhelmed Chinese authorities, forcing them to send out a worldwide plea for help. Eleven nations dispatched their top bacteriologists, including Germany, who sent Weiss. Upon arrival in Mukden, a city devastated by the epidemic, he felt the minus thirty degree Fahrenheit bitter cold, and he saw the death. Both were inescapable. Weiss and the other international experts did what they could for the sick, but none of the infected survived. Efforts turned to understanding the plague’s nature, and Weiss was hailed by the Chinese government for determining the plague to be pneumonic, rather than the typical bubonic variety that was spread by rat fleas. It was a form of pestilence not seen since antiquity. The epidemic was largely over by spring thanks to strict quarantine measures, but the outbreak had killed nearly 50,000. Weiss stayed in

The Chinese were very concerned about a report from a fur trader in Manchouli, who had encountered a primitive tribe of peaceful reindeer herders called the Evenki. Two of the nomads attacked the trader, or so he claimed, and tried to sink their teeth into his flesh. Only the tough hide of his jacket and a fast horse stopped them. They appeared very ill, with darkened blood running from their mouths, nose, and worst of all, eyes. He described them as “dead but alive” and felt lucky to escape with his life. Having seen firsthand what Manchuria endured only months earlier, Theodor Weiss would have felt obligated to do what he could, even without an order from the Kaiser. Six men set out into the western Manchurian wilderness in search of the Evenki. Weiss, two Chinese medical officials and a guide sat substantially lower in their saddles than the strapping Germans from the Interior Department. The junior and senior German officials, both straight-backed, no-nonsense types, took turns riding ahead of the pack with the guide. They found the small Evenki encampment with only a dozen mobile dwellings circled in a forest clearing. A herd of reindeer paced nervously in a makeshift pen. A village elder tried to warn them away, but the guide explained Weiss was a powerful healer who might be able to help. The weathered elder consented. The party was led into the village. One hut stuck out among the others, surrounded by tall pikes adorned with carvings of birds. Muted


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drumming wafted with smoke from the hut’s conical top. The guide indicated it was the yarngut, home to this village’s female shaman. As in Mukden, Weiss changed into a one-piece gown of his own design, with goggles, gloves and a special mask that allowed him to safely examine plague victims. The elder led Weiss to the yarngut and through a tanned flap that served as a door. The others waited outside. Inside the hut’s dim firelight, Weiss saw the shaman huddled on the ground around a drum. The air inside was thick with aromatic smoke and the fire crackled with iridescent colors. She rose, dressed in a fur cloak and a menacing white mask. Dark, recessed eyes hovered above a gaping red mouth, and lengthy feathers stuck out from atop the mask. The shaman gestured to Weiss to come closer. The impossibly long fingers of her white gloves seemed to grow like talons in the flicker of the fire. She stepped aside, revealing two men kneeling with their arms and ankles bound. Weiss’s breathing apparatus pulsed faster as he looked more closely at their faces. The men appeared to be in their early twenties, perhaps brothers, with strong bodies forged from their hard lives in the frigid wilderness. A reddish, bleak fluid that looked like a mixture of dead and fresh blood streamed from their eyes, mouths and noses, just as the fur trader described. Weiss recognized the dark sores and flushed skin he’d witnessed in Mukden, but this appeared to be a variation on the pneumonic and bubonic plague varieties. He took a step closer and heard the men moan. Their reddened eyes focused on the crackling fire, seemingly catatonic rather than violent. Weiss needed to examine them and, if possible, collect a sample of the discharge. He edged closer and cautiously extended a swab. It broke their focus and both men suddenly lunged for Weiss. One man opened his mouth wider than should have been possible to bite down on Weiss’s protected shoulder. The suit’s tough material held, preventing the bite from breaking through. Weiss desperately tried to push off the crazed villager, but his two front teeth were clenched down over the top of Weiss’s collarbone. The

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: D D TE E N H IZ IO IG R T R HO BU PY T I O U TR C T A IS O D N R FO

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shaman rushed to Weiss’s aid and pulled him free. The second villager dove and sank his teeth into the only exposed spot on the shaman’s body, where her cloak ended and mask began at the base of her neck. Weiss kicked the infected man in the head, breaking his grip on the shaman’s torso. The two infected men writhed on their bellies, unable to rise because of the bindings, still snapping away wildly. The shaman slumped to the ground. Her cloak hung to the side, revealing a sizable bite mark. Weiss approached to inspect the wound, but the shaman waved him off. She sent Weiss outside with the village elder while she tended to her wound with a salve from a leather pouch. Outside the yarngut, the guide translated Weiss’s report to the Chinese authorities: The men appeared to be inflicted with a variation of the plague, one completely unfamiliar to him. The sickness made them violent, possibly cannibalistic. If it ever reached a populated area there would be mass chaos and destruction. One of the German Interior officials nodded thoughtfully. “The infection should be studied then, to learn everything possible in case of an outbreak.” “We cannot allow such a thing. It would be too dangerous,” was the Chinese official’s response. “And frankly, Manchuria’s facilities aren’t up to the task,” Weiss added. “We will protect the Fatherland and the world from this plague,” said the German. “I am authorized to commit German resources for such study. Transportation could be arranged by rail so Professor Weiss could safely examine a subject in Germany’s best laboratories.” Weiss considered the situation. The shaman had been bitten and mucus from the infected man stained her wound. She would soon fall ill and present a better test subject than either of the raving men inside the hut. All forms of the plague killed its victims, except this one. To study its effects in a living person might be the key to treatment, if not a cure for all strains. The shaman emerged from the hut. Weiss addressed the guide: “Please tell her the bite may make her sick soon. If she comes with us,


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I can try to help her.” She nodded as the German’s plan was conferred, then turned toward the group. “She sees you as a powerful shaman,” the guide said to Weiss. “The evil spirits were powerless against your costume. She will do as you say.” Weiss was taken aback by the shaman’s bravery, and wondered if she even understood the sacrificed she would be making. He gave her a nod of thanks, then addressed the Chinese officials. “The men inside are beyond help. I recommend the two victims be dispatched and their bodies burned. That should take care of the immediate threat here. The shaman will come with us by rail to Germany, and I’ll do all I can to make sure she doesn’t meet the same fate.” The Chinese officials huddled and then gravely nodded their acceptance.

A plume of coniferous smoke escaped from the briefly open stove door and mingled with the aroma of coffee percolating on the stovetop. Anticipating a long night, he poured himself another cup from the pot. His hands were perfectly steady, as they always were, no matter how much coffee he drank. Then he headed out the door into the cabin’s one and only other room. The long, narrow space was dark, and he quickly shut the door to keep it that way. A small amount of light snuck beneath the room’s thick curtains, but until his eyes adjusted, the room seemed pitch black. He paused and blew across his coffee, standing next to a steel desk covered with papers. Past that were several laboratory-grade stainless-steel tables covered with beakers, test tubes, and burners, which stood next to three large gas tanks. A stench of rot and formaldehyde stung the inside of his nostrils. Like the wood box, the formaldehyde tanks were nearly empty and would not need replenishing. He took a cautious sip of hot coffee, then set the cup down gingerly on the ghostly outline of the desk and walked deeper into the room.

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Weiss didn’t need light to find his way. He’d long ago counted the steps: twenty-three past his equipment, turn right for two steps, left for five steps, and then stop in front of the custom-made, six-foot-tall, thick-walled glass enclosure that anchored the end of the room. As he walked, he reached into his pocket and fingered his lighter, flicking open the top so it would be ready to go. He walked slowly and silently, as always. It was not yet time for haste. When he arrived in front of the glass cage, he paused to listen. No sound but the ticking of gauges. Good. With his left hand, he brought forth his lighter, and with his right hand, he lifted his sweater as if to guard the flame from an imaginary breeze. With calm deliberation, his thumb spun the abraded wheel across the flint and a single spark leapt onto the carefully trimmed wick. A thin, blue flame jumped forth. He quickly began his work. Light agitated what was inside the glass. On top of the enclosure, a galaxy of tubing emanated and flowed down the outside, its meandering course ending in a single 16mm by 150mm vial. A drop of jet black fluid fell into the tube. It was nearly full, but he was determined to get every drop possible. The sound of movement from inside the glass, like cloth on cement, caused Weiss to smother the flame by snapping shut the lighter top with a practiced flip of his thumb. He thought he saw the figure inside turn toward him, but it made no more sound. As Weiss carefully and silently retraced his steps, gathering his coffee and returning to his living room and the warmth of the stove, he thought: The vial is ready. Now I wait only for darkness. It’s time.


Deck Z : The Titanic. Unsinkable. Undead. by Chris Pauls and Matt Soloman - Chronicle