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The Immortalist: A Sci-Fi Thriller

The Immortalist: A Sci-Fi Thriller

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The Immortalist: A Sci-Fi Thriller

3.5/5 (35 valutazioni)
481 pagine
7 ore
Apr 14, 2015


For fans of Robin Cook and Michael Crichton comes a medical thriller that melds cutting-edge science with ripped-from-the-headlines terror. What happens when a new immortality drug leads to an explosive outbreak of a deadly virus that, if not contained, could wipe out humanity once and for all?

World-renowned virologist Dr. Cricket Rensselaer-Wright abruptly abandoned her research in Africa after watching her colleague die tragically from the Ebola virus. When she returns to the States to reunite with her teenage daughter Emmy, her plans are sidetracked. No sooner does she set foot on the campus of Acadia Springs—the research institute where she grew up and Emmy now lives—than her onetime mentor Charles Gifford announces his discovery of the Methuselah Vector, a gene therapy agent that can confer immortality on a patient after a single injection.

Gifford’s air of triumph is marred when a young woman on campus dies suddenly from a horrific viral infection, eerily similar to the Ebola that drove Cricket out of Africa. Despite Cricket’s pleas to slow down the rollout of the Vector and run more tests, Gifford refuses. And when the unthinkable happens—when Emmy falls ill with the same mysterious disease—Cricket is forced to take matters into her own hands. But is it already too late?

Gifford will stop at nothing to release the Vector into the world. Mobs are clamoring for it. Cricket has only a few hours to find a cure for Emmy, and to convince the public that Gifford’s quest for eternal life may cost the very lives he hopes to save.

**The publisher has provided this ebook to you without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied so that you can enjoy reading it on your personal devices.**
Apr 14, 2015

Informazioni sull'autore

Scott Britz, MD, PhD, an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, is a faculty member in the Joint Program in Nuclear Medicine. He was also trained in Pathology, performing over seventy autopsies, some under infectious disease precautions, although none as death-defying as the one performed in The Immortalist. His research interests are in the field of molecular imaging.  

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  • When a thing is that important, it tempts you to think that failure is impossible. You lose the capacity to question your own assumptions. You start to play God.

  • Then any voice that opposes you becomes the devil.

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The Immortalist - Scott Britz



Four Days to Lottery Day


DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" The woman with the short, black hair and striking violet-blue eyes glowered out of the open window of the little white Kia. The guardhouse was so close to the beach that the whoosh of the surf could be heard over the hum of the engine. Beside the road, fronting a vista of pine-covered mountains, a ledge of granite flaunted a row of platinum letters: ACADIA SPRINGS BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE.

A body-builder type in a wide-brimmed, straw ranger hat and a blue uniform patterned after a state trooper’s leaned out of the guardhouse window. Yes, ma’am. You pronounced it perfectly clear. Sandra Rensselaer-Wright.

For the fifth time she began to explain her need to get through the gate. She was nervous, and her patience was wearing thin. "My father built this place. He took a two-room shack on Wabanaki Cove and turned it into one of the biggest molecular biology centers in the world. I was born here. I used to ride my bike up and down this road when it was just a one-lane strip of gravel."

Be that as it may, ma’am, your name is not on the list.

When did anyone need to be on any goddamned list? This is a research lab. People come and go.

I’m sorry. There’s a special event today, and Mr. Niedermann has given strict instructions that no one is to be—

Who the hell is Mr. Niedermann? Get Charles Gifford on the phone. I believe that Dr. Gifford is still the president of this institute. He’ll vouch for everything I’ve told you.

I’m sorry, Dr. Gifford is not available. He’s not to be disturbed. Really, I’m sorry. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?

Why don’t you kiss my ass? The car door flew open as she sprang out of the Kia and ducked under the bar of the gate. She ran, desperate to get out in the open, away from the guardhouse, where she felt trapped. The guard gave chase, followed by a second man in blue—this one hatless, with a close buzz cut, but the same bulging deltoids and lantern jaw. They cut her off a few yards down the road, forcing her to veer into a grassy field.

You have no legal right to keep me off this campus, she exclaimed. My daughter lives here. She’s a minor and I’m claiming a mother’s right. I have a goddamned custody agreement.

Look, I’m sorry. But orders—

Don’t even think about getting in my way. She made a feint back toward the road, but Ranger Hat adroitly cut her off. The other guard reached for her sleeve.

Don’t you touch me! Don’t you fucking touch me!

The guard went into a crouch with his hand on his gun holster. Would you please get back into your vehicle, ma’am? he warned.

You think you can scare me with that gun, little man? Nice try. I’ve faced down drug-wasted, sex-hungry militias with AK-74s and RPGs. You’re nothing.

The guard’s eyes opened wide, as if he expected her to pounce. He took a step back, but still kept his hand on the gun. Disaster seemed to be in the offing. But just then all three of them heard the crunch of tires on the gravel shoulder.

The woman turned and saw a short but well-built man stepping out of a golf cart. He was dressed in an expensive-looking charcoal-gray suit and a baby-blue tie that complemented his eyes and his gray temples. But he had a haughtiness about him that she disliked on sight.

What seems to be the problem? he asked.

Sorry to bother you, sir, answered Buzz Cut. It’s this woman—

I need to get through this gate, she snapped.

The man in the suit pursed his lips and took his time studying her. Acadia Springs is closed to the public today.

I’m not the damned public. I’m a staff medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control, and a professor of virology at Emory University School of Medicine. I’ve published more than a hundred and seventy papers over the past sixteen years. Does the name Rensselaer mean anything to you? Edwin fucking Rensselaer?

Of course. We’re standing on Rensselaer Drive. The man looked to Ranger Hat for an explanation, but got only a shrug. Excuse me. I’m Jack Niedermann, vice president for development, Eden Pharmaceuticals. Did the CDC send you?

Eden Pharmaceuticals? Never heard of it. What’s your business here?

Mine? Niedermann raised his eyebrows. "Eden Pharmaceuticals is operating a joint research and production venture with Acadia Springs, and I just happen to be the executive officer on-site. And you are . . . Doctor Rensselaer, is it?"


Very well, Dr. Rensselaer-Wright. Niedermann looked away when he spoke her name, a nervous gesture that made Cricket suspect he knew damned well who she was. The fact is, no one enters the campus today without my express permission. If you’re here on behalf of the CDC—although you really didn’t answer my question, did you?—I’m sure you won’t mind if I call your headquarters in Atlanta to confirm.

CDC didn’t send me. I’m here for my daughter, Emmy. She lives on campus with her father, Hank Wright. He’s a mathematician. A statistician. Look, I just want to pick up Emmy, and then I’m out of here. That’s it.

I can arrange to have your daughter brought to you here at the gate.

No, that won’t work. She won’t—I mean, I—look, why am I even explaining this to you? Let me talk to Dr. Gifford.

I’m not going to bother Dr. Gifford. Not over this.

Cricket gave him a steely glare. "I have ways of making myself heard, Mr. Niedermann. I will speak to Dr. Gifford, whether you like it or—"

Niedermann cut her off with an upraised hand. I don’t have time for threats. He flipped open his cell phone, punched a few numbers, and paced back and forth on the pavement with the phone to his ear. After trying a couple more times, he snapped the phone shut. Dr. Gifford’s not picking up. He and I were conducting a VIP tour until you interrupted us by storming in and assaulting my security men. I’m going to have to go back to the lab and find him. Wait here. Niedermann got into the golf cart, put it into reverse, and swung back in a semicircle.

Ranger Hat, the nearest guard, wiped his brow with his sleeve. I need to ask you to move your vehicle, ma’am. There are parking spaces in front of the entrance where you can wait for Mr. Niedermann.

No. I’ll wait right here, thank you. Still breathless from her tussle with the guards, Dr. Rensselaer-Wright sat down on a rock and watched Niedermann drive down the asphalt road named after her father that ran like the spine of the campus, past the blocks of dorms and old mansions and sparkling high-rise laboratories.

You shouldn’t have let them fluster you, she said to herself. You have enough on your plate. She tried to catch her breath as she looked at the mountains, blue-green in the morning sun. In the six years since her father had died, so much had changed here. Charles Gifford was running things now. God knew who these Eden Pharmaceuticals people were. But at least the mountains were the same. The herring gulls still glided over the beach, punctuating the heaves of the surf with their shrill cries. A sweet, mintlike fragrance filled the air.

But neither the mountains nor the sea could calm her. Her breathing became even faster and more irregular. She looked at the two armed men who stood watching her every move. Her car still stood beside the guardhouse, engine running, door ajar. Everything seemed strangely static and remote. What is it, then? What’s wrong?

She looked anxiously about her, until her eyes fell upon the flowerbed in front of the rock ledge. There, in rows of little white trumpets pointed to the sky, she found the source of the strange, sweet, minty scent.


Oh, fuck. Not here. Not now, she thought, with a growing panic.

Her chest began to tighten. It was as though an invisible anaconda, conjured out of the scent of freesia, were slithering around her, gripping her, coil by coil. Her heart beat frantically. It was a struggle just to breathe. Her ribs seemed to bend inward, almost to the cracking point. Her vision receded into a little, bright disk, as though she were looking down a telescope backward.

She clung to the rock, digging in with her fingernails. A feeling of impending doom came over her. Each breath seemed as if it would be her last.

Are you all right, ma’am? asked the guard.

The guard’s words jarred her back to the here and now. Struggling to free her arm, she reached into her pocket, popped the lid of a plastic pillbox, and lifted two white, shield-shaped pills to her mouth. She crushed them dry between her teeth, savoring their bitterness, like a miniature act of self-destruction.

I’m . . . fine. Just . . . need a minute.

The two guards eyed her as if she were crazy. Perhaps she was. The anaconda had visited her so many times that familiarity alone ought to have dispelled its power. Yet each time the terror was exactly as at the first. She had learned nothing. She had overcome nothing. If that was not insanity, what was?

Pull your shit together. The dead are dead. The living need you now.

The little shield-shaped pills started to do their work. She felt a warmth inside her, and with its onset the anaconda’s grip slackened. She was breathing more easily. Her heart eased its drumbeat. She loosened her grip on the rock. In a moment, she would be able to stand on her own two feet.

Get on with it, then. Finish what you came for. She snapped the pillbox shut in her pocket. God knows, Emmy’s the one thing you have left.


WHY? WHY SHOULD DEATH BE INEVITABLE, Madam Senator?" said Charles Gifford, just as the elevator door opened onto the lab.

No one’s beaten the Grim Reaper yet, Doctor, said Senator Libby, a woman whose sagging face clashed with the youthful styling of her shoulder-length, brown hair.

Irrelevant! Gifford turned and swept his arm, inviting the group of visitors to step forward into the penthouse laboratory. It was unlike any other laboratory they had ever seen, certainly unlike anything they had seen on their tour today—awash in the morning light that streamed through the solid glass of the eastern wall, with its majestic view of the campus of Acadia Springs and, beyond it, Quahog Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. The light reflected off the marble-tiled floor and instruments of polished chrome and brass. There was nothing of the crazed pack-rat clutter that seemed to fill every square inch of the floors below. Here all was ordered space and light—more like a showroom than a scientist’s workshop.

That peak to the left is Cadillac Mountain, announced Gifford. The first spot to see the sun rise in the United States. This lab is a close runner-up. Fifty-seven seconds later, to be exact. I timed it with a stopwatch.

We didn’t come here for the view, said General Goddard, who, crammed into a green uniform one size too small, looked like a crew-cut sausage.

Of course not. Gifford smiled. "You came here to see the dawn of . . . immortality."

There was a long silence. Like a symphony conductor wringing tension from a grand pause, Gifford toyed with the expectancy about him.

He scanned the faces of the group: Senator Harper Libby from New York. General George Goddard, chief of staff of the US Army. Roderick C. Baer, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Two governors: William Canning from California, and Cynthia Starkie from Gifford’s own state of Maine. A quartet of industrialists: Red Armbruster, Miriam Rysdale-Sloane, Simon Guche III, and Oliver Bine. And capping it off, two members of Hollywood royalty: director Roy Mancus and, most famous of all, Rick Beach, aka Howard Schimmel, star of four of the ten highest-grossing action films of the past thirty years.

Between them—enough power, money, and brains to overthrow the government of a Central American country. And get it all on film.

Gifford was a little uncomfortable with them. He preferred talking to his own kind of people—scientists and medical men. But Jack Niedermann had picked this group. They could help the cause, he had said.

Let me address Senator Libby’s comment, Gifford said at last. Is death truly inevitable? I maintain that things are ‘inevitable’ only because we choose to accept them as such. Before the Wright brothers, gravity was thought to be inescapable. Before penicillin, millions surrendered meekly to the pneumococcus, ‘the old man’s friend.’ Inevitability is nothing more than a failure of the imagination.

Senator Libby sneered, Do you expect me to believe—

"I don’t expect you to believe anything. I expect you to heed your own eyes and ears. Over the next two hours, if what I claim has not been proven to you as stark, incontrovertible fact, then go back to Washington and tell the world that the Methuselah Vector is a crock. Gifford paused and raised one eyebrow. But you will not do that, Madam Senator. Your own eyes and ears will not let you."

I’m with the senator, said General Goddard. I wouldn’t even be here if my XO hadn’t pointed out that your name has come up at the Nobel Prize Committee for the last three years running.

I’ll take that as a compliment, General. But we’re not in a prize contest. This is immensely more important.

The lab was laid out in a square, with the elevator in the middle, leaving most of the outer walls plate glass, giving the sense that it was floating in air. The few interior compartments—a storeroom, a walk-in freezer or cold room, a level 3 biological containment hood, and, in the southeast corner, Gifford’s office—all had inner and outer walls of glass as well, so as to preserve the view from every direction.

Gifford slowly led the group around the square, past thermal cyclers, incubators, tissue homogenizers, DNA sequencers, centrifuges, racks of spotless glassware—all arranged with meticulous, almost compulsive, neatness.

Rod Baer, a small, doll-like man, stepped on his tiptoes and peered into a cracked glass case, inside of which was suspended a little aluminum pan. Everything here is so spotless. And yet, over here, your have this piece of equipment that looks broken.

It’s an analytical balance. Yes, the glass has been shattered, as you see. I smashed it myself one night when . . . well, we scientists have our own version of the dark night of the soul. Gifford chuckled, but his mind flashed to a woman, her once-beautiful face turned into gray putty, choking on her tears—no longer able to swallow them or even to cough them up. A voice that had once sung O mio babbino caro and Un bel dì had turned scarcely audible, like the rasp of a wire brush against clay tile. Let me die, Charles. If you love me, let me die. His hand was on the morphine pump. . . . Yes, he did love her. His beautiful, gleaming laboratory had failed them both. The night she passed away, he raged through it, smashing every piece of equipment he could reach. He collapsed onto the floor, falling asleep on a bed of glass shards.

But when he awoke the next morning, his eyes opened, as if at an inner sunrise, upon a vision of the Cell Gate—the final, crucial idea that made the Methuselah Vector come to life.

Ding! The elevator door opened, and Gifford was relieved to see Jack Niedermann step out. Ah! he exclaimed. Mr. Niedermann has rejoined us.

Niedermann walked directly toward Gifford without looking at the guests. We have a situation, he said, taking Gifford by the arm and conducting him away from the group, toward the glass-walled office. There’s a woman demanding to be let in at the gate. . . .

Gifford chuckled. Surely you and all your men can handle one itsy-bitsy woman. Is she with the press? A demonstrator?

She claims her father built the Institute. Gives her name as Sandra Rensselaer-Wright.

Cricket? Gifford’s jaw went slack. I thought you said she wasn’t coming today.

No, what I said was that we couldn’t locate her to send an invitation. She was off in Africa, collecting data on some kind of a viral outbreak.

Gifford tried to picture Cricket out in the bush, in khakis and pith helmet, chasing after mosquitoes with a net. It brought back memories of her tomboy years—dungarees, braces, her dark hair tangled with leaves and catkins. Back then, she was almost a daughter to him. He used to take her hiking and snorkeling, teaching her the names and the lifeways of each species they found. Then one day she was running around in a ratty crimson Harvard T-shirt, which she soon traded for an equally ratty Harvard Med shirt, and then something black and gold when she went down to take her PhD at Bob Gallo’s new Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore. When she came back to Acadia Springs after marrying Hank, her look had softened a little, her hair had grown out, and he had a memory of her pushing a baby stroller across campus in a green skirt with accordion pleats. God, that was sixteen years ago.

Where is she now? Gifford asked.

At the gate.

What the hell for? Let her in, Jack. She has every right to be here.

I . . . I don’t know. . . . There are risks to think about. We don’t want any disruptions. Not with all the press on campus.

Gifford scarcely heard him. Accordion pleats. There was a laugh! Pretty young mom and devoted wifey was not what Cricket Wright was cut out for. The bush called to her. Bush, jungle, desert isle—Cricket knew Kampala and Lagos the way you were supposed to get to know Paris or Milan. After Ed Rensselaer died, she was gone even more, and then, with the divorce that surprised no one, she went off to let the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta finance her safaris. Oh, yes—safaris. Some people hunted big game. Cricket hunted the littlest game there was—viruses you couldn’t see with anything short of an electron microscope. She had an idea that every disease had a life cycle of its own—something like babyhood, followed by maturity, and ending in toothless old age. It had made her famous. There wasn’t a virologist or epidemiologist in the world who hadn’t heard of the intrepid Cricket Rensselaer-Wright.

Do you understand my point? asked Niedermann. There are legal implications. The patent on the Methuselah Vector is worth billions.

What has any of this to do with Cricket?

Her father, Edwin Rensselaer, was a coauthor with you on the paper that announced the discovery of aetatin ten years ago. Without aetatin, no Methuselah Vector.

That was just basic work. It took years of toil and sweat to turn that basic insight into a working drug, and Ed, God rest his soul, had no part in any of it. The patent is clean. Legally, it’s open-and-shut.

"Lawyers can make havoc out of anything nowadays. If she were to press her claim today, in front of the press and all these VIPs, well, it would make a scandal. She could force a settlement just by threatening legal action."

Cricket wouldn’t do that.

Then why is she here? Today? It’s no coincidence.

Gifford was annoyed by the way Niedermann always saw the worst side of everyone. Maybe that invitation you never sent found its way to Africa, after all, Gifford snapped. Down the hall, the Central American Overthrow Committee was staring at them impatiently. Never mind, Jack. I’ll take care of this myself. After straightening his tie in the reflection in the glass of his office window, Gifford squared his shoulders and headed back toward the group of VIPs.

Gentlemen, I’m afraid institute business calls, he said, slapping the call button of the elevator. Mr. Niedermann will finish the tour with you. If you need anything—secure wireless access, fax machines, refreshments—just let him know. I’ll see you down at the track field at noon.

The elevator door opened and Gifford got in. A minute later, he hopped into the golf cart Niedermann had parked behind the lab building. As he turned the ignition, he whistled sharply and called out, Hannibal! An enormous gray Irish wolfhound uncurled itself from where it lay in the morning sun outside the back door of the lab and sprang onto the seat behind him. Good boy! He gave the dog a pat on the neck. Then he hit the floor pedal and swung out onto Rensselaer Drive, heading toward the campus gate.

Cricket! After all these years. Five, to be exact. Acadia Springs hadn’t been the same since she left. How he had missed her sardonic sense of humor, her taste for fillet of sacred cow. The truth was, discovering the Methuselah Vector had brought him nothing but loneliness. He was now a certified genius—no longer a man. Brilliant researchers that he had once thought of as equals were now tongue-tied in his presence. He could probably get the president of the United States to come to the phone, yet there was scarcely anyone he could really talk to.

He pushed the pedal of the golf cart to the floorboard, trying to ram it past its top speed of fifteen miles per hour. His hands felt sweaty against the steering wheel.

Then, coming up over a rise in the road, he saw a small, white car with its door open behind the crash beam of the gate, and, about twenty yards in front of that, a petite, dark-haired woman in orange-colored shorts and a striped top standing in the grass beside a rock, cowing two linebacker-size armed guards with a doughty look. Her legs and arms were tanned and lightly freckled, reflecting her naturally fair complexion. Her once-luxuriant hair was trimmed in a tight pixie cut, which startled Gifford. He had remembered her hair as long and jet black. But now, with the morning sun glancing through it, he picked up on a reddish tint, like dark sienna.

As he cut the motor to the golf cart, he saw her turn and look at him. Her fine, straight nose, full mouth and gently rounded chin were just as he remembered. But her eyes—deep violet-blue, unwavering, stone-piercing—took his breath away.

Hello, Cricket, he said.


CRICKET’S FIRST IMPULSE WAS TO FLEE. But her feet wouldn’t move. The guards blocked her escape. And the Kia, only a hundred feet away, seemed hopelessly out of reach.

Goddamn you, Charles was all she could say. Get these fucking goons away from me.

Peace, gentlemen, said Gifford, raising his hand as he stepped out of the bright green golf cart. Let me rescue you from the good doctor. The guards stepped back, all too eager to give Cricket a wide berth. From the backseat of the cart Hannibal, ears pricked, seemed to catch the scent of their timidity. The golf cart thudded as the massive wolfhound leaped to the pavement and chased the two men back to the guardhouse.

There, now, Cricket, said Gifford, arching one eyebrow teasingly. All quiet on the front.

Charles! It had been five years since Cricket had seen him, and he had aged better than any sixty-two-year-old she had known. He was a fitness fanatic and an accomplished long-distance runner, she knew, but the vitality she saw in him surpassed all remembrance. Was his walk more self-assured than before? His hair darker, thicker, more stiffly waved? Had he gained two inches in height? His tall, lithe frame rippled under the plush, gray fabric of his suit. His sleek neck was framed by a yellow silk tie that perfectly complemented his ruddy complexion. His square chin accentuated the powerful straight line of his mouth. But it was his voice and eyes—almost liquid in their expressiveness and their reactivity—that struck her as especially youthful and strong.

He approached her with arms wide-open, and she let him embrace her and offer an avuncular kiss on the cheek. His gentle good humor calmed her.

What’s going on, Charles? Guards and guns?

It’s a new age, Cricket. Eden Pharmaceuticals, our corporate sponsor, insisted on it. There are competitors who would do nearly anything to get their hands on what we have here.

I thought science thrived on competition.

Old-style science. Your father’s kind.

And what kind is yours?

Ah, Cricket, Cricket. You haven’t changed a bit. He rubbed the back of his neck. As he did so, Cricket noted the care he took not to disturb a single strand of his hair. Actually, I’m so glad you made it. This is an important day. All sorts of noteworthies are here. The campus is crawling with press. But without you, the celebration just wouldn’t have been complete.

I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Gifford’s eyebrows shot up. The invitation . . . You’re not here about the Vector?


The Methuselah Vector.

Oh. She had come across that term in the New England Journal of Medicine. Back then it had struck her as crassly commercial. You mean aetatin.

We’ve made it work, Cricket. We’ve started human trials.


Something cold and wet brushed the back of her hand—Hannibal’s nose. The dog had come back from the guardhouse to intimate that even after five years he remembered her. Smiling, Cricket placed her hand on his head and began to rub him between the ears. His fur was coarse, like steel wool.

You honestly mean to tell me you don’t know anything about this? said Gifford. Don’t you read newspapers?

"What—Notícias de Maputo? Cricket laughed. Sorry, I’ve been out of touch for a while. She folded her arms around Hannibal’s neck and pressed her cheek against his forehead. Look, I’m dead tired and I could use a shower. If you’ll call off your rangers here, I’ll be in and out by suppertime. I won’t interfere with your little shindig."

Gifford touched her arm. You’ve got this all wrong, Cricket. You’ve got to stay on. Stay and see it from the box seats. This is the culmination of your father’s dream.

I’m just here for Emmy, Charles.

Emmy? Oh, of course . . . the accident. Gifford tapped his lips together pensively. Then he smiled. But . . . you’re here. Please stay.

Cricket lowered her gaze. I’m sorry to disappoint you, Charles. Really.

It’s not about me, Cricket. This is so much bigger. It’s . . . it’s . . . Think of your father. You ought to be here for him. For aetatin. It would have meant so much to him.

There it is. The trump card. What Daddy would have wanted. The card everybody plays when they want to get their way. Cricket felt a tenseness about her mouth. But her answer was meek: Yes, I’m sure it would.

Think about it?

She shrugged. She was too tired to argue.

Good, good. Gifford seemed to sense that one more word would have been a word too much. Hannibal, seeing him start for the golf cart, shot ahead and leaped into the backseat. As Gifford drove off, he called out to the guards, loudly enough that Cricket could not fail to hear, Let Dr. Rensselaer-Wright through, gentlemen. Make sure she gets a Level I administrative pass, with a mag strip—not the ordinary visitor’s pass. She can go wherever she likes.

Acadia Springs Biological Research Institute had changed almost beyond recognition. As Cricket drove across the hundred-acre campus—a little finger of rock and sand on the southern edge of Mount Desert Island—she saw block after block of steel, glass, and concrete laboratories where only five years ago a carpet of hemlock and white pine had covered the virgin hills. The three high-rise labs on the west end, Dalton, Sobczak, and fourteen-story Rensselaer, cast a midmorning shadow that reached to Smuggler’s Beach, where clam diggers used to be seen at low tide. On the north side of the central quadrangle she barely made out the yellow gables of the old Cheville House lab, where she had worked as an undergrad intern sorting Drosophila flies for Erich Freiberg, the famous geneticist. Rising above Cheville were the white turrets of Weiszacker House, the sprawling mansion that served as administrative center and Director’s quarters—and that had been her childhood home.

Weiszacker House. The verandaed, arbored Camelot of the princess of Acadia Springs. It seemed like a fairy tale now: the story of the little girl with patched pants who was on a first-name basis with the world’s top scholars of medicine and molecular biology. Other little girls had tea sets. She had a Zeiss binocular microscope, with a substage condenser and the finest achromat objective lenses, plus a rack of stains to color the specimens she brought home daily from the woods and shore. Bottles with names that even now sounded like poetry to her:



Sudan black

Safranin O

Prussian blue . . .

She tried not to think about Weiszacker House, nor about her mother and father who had passed away within its walls, nor about Charles Gifford, who now slept in her father’s grand four-poster bed and ruled over his legacy from his same mahogany-paneled study. She had one thing to focus on—and it led her well past the quadrangle, to an L-shaped block of shingled town houses at the western water’s edge, a place called Wabanaki Cove.

She parked her car and went up a wrought-iron stairway to the second unit from the end. There she paused, listening for the sound of anyone at home. Her resolve weakened as she looked at the peeling gray paint of the door—paint that she herself had laid long ago. What am I doing here? she wondered. What makes me think I can go through with this? Wouldn’t everyone be better off if I just got back into the damn car and disappeared forever? But even as she wavered in her mind, her small hand, roughened by encounters with rocks and thorns and the equatorial sun, reached out and rapped against the door with a sound out of proportion to its size.

She took a half step back, listening. Nothing—a reprieve. Then her heart sank at the sound of approaching footsteps, followed by the rattle of a chain. She drew a quick breath as the door opened. A tall, dark-haired man in a red-and-brown flannel shirt faced her in the entryway, his feet planted in a foursquare stance.

Cricket! he exclaimed. What are you . . . Why didn’t you call?

Hello, Hank.

He looked at her nervously, forcing a smile. You wouldn’t be here for the Vector, would you? The grand unveiling?

You know what it is, Hank.

"Yeah . . . that. His smile wilted. I didn’t think you were serious."

Are you going to let me in?

Sure, sure.

She pushed her way inside, trying not to look at him. He still had those lanky, Gary Cooper looks that had made her heart stop the first time she saw him. Now there were flecks of gray in his stubble beard, but otherwise he was the same. Still those rower’s shoulders, still that rugged nose and jaw, still that little boy’s glint of mischief in his eye. He looked more like a carpenter on his day off than someone who had once published the founding paper on the statistics of viral recombination.

You cut your hair. She stirred at the sound of his voice—dry and warm, like musk wafting over charcoal. She had forgotten what his voice could do to her.

I cut it some time ago, she said tersely. It’s growing out.

I like it.

She bristled at his presumptuousness. It wasn’t a style decision, you jackass. I did it . . . for Étienne.

Hank heaved the door shut. Yeah. Of course. I heard about him. Sorry. I was never in the guy’s fan club, to be sure. But, what happened was—

I don’t want to talk about it.

She stepped into the small living room, cluttered with books and old newspapers and journal reprints. She clung tightly to her pocketbook for a moment, then set it down on the sofa table. She was determined not to stay a minute longer than she had to.

Can I get you anything?

Coffee. Black.

He went into the kitchen, an open area separated from the living room by a breakfast island, and poured her a cup from the coffeemaker. I thought you were in Africa.

I was.

You’re back early, then.


He brought her the coffee in a mug without a saucer. She tested it gingerly for hotness, then took a bracing, bitter sip.

Gorgeous summer weather out here, he said cheerfully. "Emmy and I were going to take the Bay Dreamer out for a sail next week. Up to Halifax."

She could barely resist tossing the coffee in his face. Did you not get my goddamn e-mail?

Hank went pale. Look, I can explain—

"Explain? You’re back on the bottle again, Hank. The police said you had a fifth of bourbon in the pickup with you. Nearly empty. And you had the gall—the fucking gall—to take our daughter—my daughter—out on the road when you were too soused to know the difference between a guardrail and a double line. Forget that you almost got her killed. What the hell kind of example was that?"

She’s okay. A couple of stitches.

Ten fucking stitches, Hank.

I haven’t had a drop since. He placed his hand over his heart as if to make light of it, but real remorse was in his eyes. There’s just . . . there’s been a lot of pressure. They’ve taken my lab away. I’ve gotten on the wrong side of these corporate bastards that Charles brought in to run the institute, and I’m . . . I’m just one slip away from losing my job here. Plus, you know, money. I had to refinance after the divorce, and the interest rates—

Skip it, Hank. I know all about you and pressure.

Hank had seemed like a real up-and-comer when she first met him. He was a visiting professor at Harvard-MIT, teaching a seminar in statistical virology, where he opened her eyes to a new way of using mathematics and computers to investigate how viruses changed over time. They had met, of all places, in a bicycle smashup at the bottom of Mendon Hill, during the Pan-Massachusetts

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Cosa pensano gli utenti di The Immortalist

35 valutazioni / 7 Recensioni
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Recensioni dei lettori

  • (2/5)
    The book had an interesting premise and held up for the first several chapters. I read to the end, but only to see how silly it could get. Comparing it with Coma as a piece of fiction? No.
  • (4/5)
    Enjoyed the thrill and fast pace of this book. Would recommend it!
  • (2/5)
    The science was sound. The prose adequate. The plot weak and predictable. The PCR figures were the most interesting bits.
  • (1/5)
    As a voracious reader with a tendency to complete any book I start, let me just say that I actually gave up on this about halfway through. Terrible characterization and a contrived plot that reels from point to point like a drunken musician who has forgotten about half his lyrics.
  • (4/5)
    interesting characters with realistic motives and perspectives. although the author sometimes pays attention to detail more often than not there are cliches and plot holes. eg when your protagonist is a top medical doctor you cant ask silly questions that every high school student knows the answer to (how viruses replicate and survive) just to explain the medical concepts to the reader. you need to be more creative than that.
    overall nice concept, really good first half and character development but i found the story a bit 'meh' after a while.
  • (4/5)
    I have enjoyed the reading. I appreciating the writer for this woknderful work
  • (4/5)

    1 persona l'ha trovata utile

    I loved this book it was quite surprising to see

    1 persona l'ha trovata utile