(This is the prologue. I didnt have it finished before the first chapter)
subject: greetings from Machu Picchu!
Bill, I got your message and yes, I am doing great. I'm glad to hear about Linda and the kids. I couldnt tell you anything on the phone, mostly because people might be listening and I signed a VERY lengthy non-disclosure agreement before coming along on this expedition. Isnt that crazy! Expedition! I feel like Harrison Ford in one of those Spielberg movies or something.
Anyway, as you can see from the jpegs I attached to this, I'm in Peru at the lost city, and this place is just utterly beautiful. There's really so much we dont know about the Incan's and what they accomplished, why they dissapeared, etc. Now I know what your thinking, what's a microbiologist doing on a historical/archealogical trip? Well, what I can tell you, is that this thing is a VERY BIG DEAL. There are a number of recognized experts along for this ride, (including Neal Riley! Although I dont know what they want with a computer guy?) And also we have a MILITARY escort! Well, not really military, but one of those private contractor deals that have all the same gear and everything, and big honking guns. Theyve totally shut down the Lost City since we've arrived. Which I imagine is also a pretty big deal, Wikipedia told me this place is a major tourist attraction.
Of course we've all gotten together and talked with each other about all this. What I've been told, and most of the others, is that evidence (?) of an extremely rare microbe strain was found in this area. This strain possesses some unique genetic compenents, with possible benefits for cancer research. Of course, all of us intend to publish our findings in the journals once were allowed to do so. So for me, its a vacation and a possible career-making opprotunity! What are the odds?
subject: the monkeys
Been here a week so far. I know, I'm just as excited as you are. Still might be premature though. All we've been able to do is take samples. The rainy season started, and most of us hunkered down in tents to stay dry. That computer guy Neal has been stalking around, looking for something. I caught him building some sort of 3D model on his laptop before he closed it quickly. Guy's a little retentive.
The main thing I've been dealing with is these monkeys in the forest that scream and scream. I talked to one of the security guys about it, and he said they sound just like a rocket proppeled grenade. Funny, the things you can associate together.
subject: BIG find today
So, today we found out what Neal Riley was working on: An underground map of Machu Picchu!
We knocked down a wall using some heavy equipment. Almost EXACTLY like Indiana Jones (thanks for reminding me of the name of that movie) and came face to face with a ventilatated underground passage. It was the first actual discovery any of us had made since arriving, and I actually got a little giddy.
When I got under there I was actually shocked by how cold it was. A new mystery- how did the Incans come up with air conditioning? But in the main chamber, a new shocking discovery-preserved bodies. That's right, preserved INCAN bodies.
I dont know how much you know about this Lost City stuff, Bill, so let me just summarize and say that we know next to nothing about Incan civilization. Why Machu Picchu was built, what their daily life was like, etc. And these bodies- wonderful condition. They appeared to be mummified in some way, preserved in a state of unique cold and limited decomposition. I took tissue samples, of course. The main chamber was really something else- besides the big find of the bodies, there were also relics and artifacts sure to be priceless. Needless to say, someone brought a bottle of champagne along and we popped the cork back at the camp.
Forgot to mention we are here with some sort of stuffed suit, from the government or something. And when we came out of the chamber he started to squawk at us about not wearing biohazard suits. But when I asked him what would be hazardous, he shut up and said that I wasnt cleared for that. Even when I explained to him that I was a microbiologist! Typical bureaucratic BS.
Ive been thinking that you should get a hold of your friend- the one that writes for TIME magazine- and let her know that you've got something. Dont break anything yet, but still.
subject: new developments
The site was contaminated today.
Apparently one of the security guys went into it after a group of the howler monkeys. This turned out to be a brain fart of epic proportions. Whatever cooling/ ventilation system the Incans worked out stopped working. The chambers heated up very quickly and the bodies VIOLENTLY decompress. I cannot stress that enough. Basically they exploded.
When we finally managed to suit up and get down there to check it out, the stench was overwhelming. There was rotten matter on almost every corner of the chamber where a body had lain. Giri, the actual archealogist here actually broke down and cried. This would have been a career making discovery for her. It still might be, with the video feed and samples we have. But those mummified corpses were really something else.
For me, at least, this raises all sorts of new questions. Chiefly among these, why did the bodies explode? Was the freezing temperature meant to keep them in a sort of...stasis? All sorts of wild speculation. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Yes, we've found our mystery microbe!
I've done a few test on the cultures collected from the Incan remains, and found a living microbial bacteria- supposedly preserved in all that cold- that seems to have certain cancerous properties. BUT, and this is a big but, with more than a little speculation thrown in, instead of forming a tumor or a melanoma, which is really just a cluster of junk cells, it appears to form a living unit. No idea if this is the next stem cells yet, or just some new form of parasite.
The security guy got covered in that bio-gunk, and were keeping an eye on him. We cleaned him up but he suffered a few cuts and scrapes from being down there. I talked to Anders- he's the PMC that told me about the monkey's sounding like RPG's- and he said the guy's a real dumbass. One in every group.
The PMC died today.
It looked like he had a slight cold. We all excused it due to the rain- its been raining nearly nonstop for the last three days. Then he had a sudden seizure and cardiac arrest. We brought along a portable AED, but it didnt do any good. I didnt even know his name.
There was a real panic in our little camp. Everyone wanted the biohazard suits right then. There are only five of them- and fourteen of us, but Neal managed to calm people down enough to get them to settle for little surgical masks. Then the suit came out and talked, and basically bullied us into not calling for help. Or leaving. Spoke of "Possible quarantine procedures."
Then he had me and our resident MD perform an autopsy. When I say "had" I mean "pointed a gun in our face, and told us to cut that fucking thing apart" I didnt think I could be that much help, overall, but the suit probably could have done it himself. The cadaver's organs were mush- and the exterior skin had suddenly undergone extreme deteriation. There were also evidence of growths- new organs (!) and fleshy extensions that served to obvious purpose. All of which is very interesting, from a clinical point of view. But Neal brought up a good point afterwards, what if we've been sent out here to retrieve a new biological agent? Which seems kind of overkill if you ask me, and I said so. Sarin or Blood Agent will kill anyone stone dead with no possible cure, quickly and effectively. There was certainly some lethal POSSIBILITIES here, which cant be ignored, but the discovery of a completely new species of microbe, which reproduces in an entirely new way, was worth exploring.
Neal said that "Alien was about a new species" Which I gathered to be another one of those science fiction movies. Or something. At any rate, I dont think its worth being a Luddite about these sorts of things. The proper precautions should keep us all secure for the time being.
Things are unraveling rapidly here. Faster than I thought possible.
The suit left today. A helicopter came and picked him up. He took most of my microbial samples with him, as well as the video footage I shot, and several of our laptops. I still have extra copies of everything on a portable drive, but I smiled as he thanked me for all my hard work, and shot him the bird once he was safely in the air. Not sorry to see him go.
The PMC's looked extra worried about the whole thing. All of us science types were just grateful to have that monkey off our back. Or I should use past tense. Because we WERE grateful, until there was some sort of shouting and screaming and gunshots from the main tent.
From what I can gather happened, the infected cadaver dissapeared. I shouldnt say dissapeared. I should say was taken by forces unknown. The PMC's were firing at an unknown person, running down the mountain away from the Lost City. I didnt get a good look at the whole thing. Frankly at this point I'm more than a little worried about whats going on.
We broke up camp two days ago and started to move out on foot. I'm sending this out on our portable satlink with what limited battery I have left in this laptop. I keep thinking about that Keats poem. The one that goes "things fall apart..the center does not hold..." About how basically how all our planning doesnt work when we dont know what were confronting. Thats probably what happened to the Incans. A huge abandoned city? How could we not see Machu Picchu as a warning sign? Maybe thats not it. I'm sorry I'm not making more sense. I'm sick and I dont know if I've got it.
Something is wrong with the monkeys out here. I'm pretty sure they were infected by the ones that got into the underground site, theres a lot of noises coming from the jungle. Bad noises.
Most of the PMC's are gone. Anders shot himself. I dont blame him. The batteries blinking red right now. I just want to say I love you and Linda both, and I hope that God-damned suit crashed his helicopter deep, deep into the ocean.
I can see it right now