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ISBN-10: 1-55404-476-6
Genre: Science Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 527 Pages
Published: August 2007

From inside the flap

When an eco-tourist is infected with the larvae of an ancient parasite, their effect on him is staggering. He becomes ill and dies, only to become resurrected hours later with his aging in rapid reverse. Better than any anti-aging treatment, his lined and brittle skin soon becomes smooth and supple, his thinning hair lush and full, his sagging body taut and slim once more.

News of this remarkable man soon reaches Tom Bell, an aging pharmaceutical billionaire working on extending life, who makes it his business to acquire both the man and the enzyme the larvae are releasing.

But the enzyme responsible for youth is old and so prone to mutation that its genetic synthesis produces a contagious virus capable of infecting people with extreme longevity.

For Tom, the virus is his only means of cheating death, and he will stop at nothing to obtain it, including sacrificing the lives of those around him. In his way stands a frightened government and its law enforcement agencies, ready to kill anyone coming into contact with it.

But when the stakes are this high, just how far would a government go to suppress the truth from the public? Ultimately, what happens if Methuselahís Virus threatens to spread to the entire planet?


Chapter One

Day 1

The Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador, present day

Chris Ellis was beginning to wish heíd never turned off the main road. The jungle shortcut seemed overgrown and unused. In parts, the track had been reclaimed by nature to such an extent that it had reverted to its original wild condition, making the rented Defender seesaw on its sprung suspension as it negotiated the uneven ground.

Heíd been driving an hour already, which was more than enough time to reach the Maue settlement. The delay, he decided, didnít bode well for him or his wife, Jenny, sitting in the passenger seat.

When he stole a glance at her, he saw the distress on her face and his heart sank. Sheíd been silent for the last ten minutes, ever since the tree canopy had thickened and plunged them into false twilight.

Maybe she was right; maybe he had made a mistake taking them alone into the rainforest. Certainly, there were compelling reasons why he ought to stop before he got them both killed. In fact, it seemed to him that the reasons themselves had been conspiring, one on top of another that morning, to stop him completing a goal heíd set himself twenty years earlier.

First, there was the map that had turned out to be useless, despite the dashboard GPS flashing up map co-ordinates at regular intervals. The tonal ping! that accompanied the receipt of fresh satellite data sounded like the stewardess call button on planes, but here, in the depths of the jungle, it acquired the sinister quality of a dire warning.

Second, there was the satellite phone that had inexplicably stopped picking up a signal, even though the GPS was still working. The first reason was bad enough, but without the phone, continuing the trip was sheer foolhardiness-but for Chrisís conviction that theyíd gone beyond the point of no return. Getting to the settlement had to be closer than going back, right?

But what if Iím wrong? Chris lamented as he clutched the wheel and looked out at the jungle through the smeared window. What if Iím driving around in circles...?

He snagged on that second thought, felt his confidence haemorrhaging at the very possibility and drain away like water going down a plughole.

No, not circles...We canít have passed this way before.

And then he heard his wifeís voice in his head, saying: Are you sure, Chris...? I mean the put-your-life-in-your-hands kind of sure...?

The voice sounded so real that he frowned at Jenny as if she had actually spoken.

This time, Jenny caught the look and frowned back: What?

The bushes were now whipping past in an endless tangle of movement, making a cacophony of pattering, scratching sounds that meant they had to be ripping hell out of the new paintwork. Heíd paid a hefty deposit for the rental and now it looked as if he could kiss that goodbye.

Ahead, the gnarled branches overhung the road like hairy ape limbs, effectively reducing the visibility to zero. He was about to steer blind, and that wasnít going to please Jenny.

"Hang on," he said, his face suddenly inflexible as he gripped the wheel with the same urgency as he would a safety bar on a white-knuckle ride.

Jenny stared at the road ahead, her fingers gripping the edge of the seat.

He heard her cry out-an incoherent, bubbling cry of agony-as the Defender ploughed into the heavy vines. There was a solid bang, and the snap of branches as the windshield took the full brunt of the impacts.

One of the blows was so loud and so close to his head that he tensed in readiness for the explosion of glass. It never came, but it convinced him to slow down.

His foot started for the brake pedal, but before he reached it, the Defender dropped several heart-stopping inches into the unknown.

Jenny made that noise again, and this time, a howl escaped Chris too.

A wall of black mud climbed the sides of the car, sheeting across the windows as it bottomed out onto a much narrower path.

They were through it. His foot settled back on the gas and the wipers made a single pass across the screen, bleeding together the colours of the jungle.

The ground here was even slicker, a skidpan cratered with water-filled potholes, and the rutted path angled steeply sideways down the hill.

To his side, he heard Jenny let out her breath. How long sheíd been holding it, God only knew.

"Chris, I want you to listen to me."

"Iím listening." He thought: Here it comes; the Third Degree. If there was one thing twenty years of married life had taught him, it was that her arguments had the helpless momentum of a weight falling under gravity. He couldnít avert it. An argument now could set a frosty mood that would linger like a painful sore until they got home, all the way across a thousand miles of sky to Dallas.

"Youíve got to stop. I want you to go back."

"And how do I do that?" Chris asked. "You can see what itís like."

"Just take your foot off the gas, wait for an opening, and turn around. We go back the way we came."

"Jen, I canít do that."


"Iím just saying we should give it a few more minutes."

"How many more?"

Chris opened his mouth to provide her a number plucked from the air, that she was willing to go along with, when the Defender hit a shallow, sludge-filled trench that held it firmly in a sticky embrace.


"I know, I know." Chris shoved his boot down on the gas. The engine howled in protest as they floundered in the churning mud pie. But he kept the pressure on and was finally rewarded with a whiplash jerk as the Defender hauled itself out, all four wheels spinning mud.

Chris sneaked a sigh of relief as the Defender began moving. But he knew he was in for it now. Even back home, on the flat, smooth city roads, Jenny had a tendency to get carsick on long journeys, especially if she sat in the back and couldnít see straight out the front window. He imagined this must be torture for her, all the rolling and pitching, and this ride was getting a little wild, the track a tad too unpredictable-

-Like right here, he thought squeamishly, seeing a gloss of light skit over the track ahead, where it became smooth, wet rock.

"Chris..." Jenny growled in a warning tone. She had seen it, too.

Chris clung to the Defenderís hot, foam rubber wheel, feeding it through his hands as he stared at the new problem in undisguised horror.

Slow, keep it slow...and donít brake...

But the steering was suddenly gone. It was like flicking a switch. There was no traction.

Chris turned the wheel, but there was nothing there. It was like sitting in a childís toy car, with a pretend steering wheel, hurtling down a hill. And then the tail end began to slide laterally into the underbrush.

...No, no no!

He hit the gas again, hard. The wheels, screeching like some ethereal choir of bitch vampires, sprayed twin plumes of black slime high into the air. Suddenly, the wheels caught. Even though the surface they were on was as smooth as glass, he had control again. Thank God, he thought, as he powered the Defender away from the edge of the path.

The pounding of his heart eased in increments. He felt light-headed, as if a lid had come off the pressure cooker of his nerves, releasing dizzying anxiety like an unwanted drug.

The midday sun shimmered down from the treetops, adding bright streaks of light to the huge, overstated plant life. Although the road had become a sometimes-there-meandering-gap in the endless foliage, he could see for a distance now. The track ahead was long and straight. Maybe the worst is over, he thought, clinging to his renewed hope like a long lost friend. Sure it is, how could it get any worse? Sweat shimmered on his greasy, unshaven, forty-year-old face and his khaki shirt was drenched a darker shade front and back.

To his side, Jenny abruptly shook her dark, curly hair, freeing a shower of droplets that faintly struck Chrisís cheek.

Chris glanced at her long enough to judge her expression. Sheís still simmering, and who can blame her?

"You okay?" he asked above the whine of the engine.

"No, Iím not," Jenny answered curtly, without taking her eyes away from the window. "I hate this. Youíre going to get us killed. Weíre going to die out here. Do you hear me?"

"I swear, Jen, weíre through the worst of it. We must be right on top of the settlement. The map had this track marked as a straight line to the Maue village."

She looked at him as if heíd gone mad. "Chris, this is a fucking maze. The trackís a joke, if it is the right track. Youíve had your chance, now turn around!"


"Do it, Chris. For fuckís sake, just do it!"

The gap ahead moved. Chris turned the wheel to the right, tracking it carefully, and straightened up in one quick movement. The path was still unequivocally there, weaving up an incline to a wide ridge. He decided, seeing it laid out before them like a paper trail, that it was worth trying to reason with her, just to go on a little longer.

"Look there. Iíve seen that on the map. I bet itís just over that next ridge." He pointed.

Jenny stared out at the approaching ridge, then seemed to hesitate in her resolve, as if caught at a crossroads. After a moment, she picked up the folded map tucked under her thigh, found the GPS coordinates, and traced the outline with her finger.

"Okay, I see it," she said. Having the map for reference seemed to quell some of the fire in her tone. "Just the same, I think you should give it up. This isnít what I wanted to be doing on my last day."

"Me neither," Chris admitted. It was true. It wasnít what he wanted to be doing-at least, not like this-and he could sympathise with what she was probably thinking: That it was the end of their vacation and he had to go ruin it with this stunt at playing Indiana Jones.

To be sure, he had sought out this situation; this thrill he was feeling as he fought to control the vehicle-that sense of peril and adrenaline-to mark the end of their vacation as eco-tourists. What he hadnít counted on was the genuine sense of danger he was also feeling, or the way it had grown in direct proportion to their distance from civilisation. And yet, he had to give it a few more minutes, so that he could tick all the boxes in his one-time-only eco-adventure, and the Maue was his last box. He owed himself that much, after years of waiting for this.

He said in a conciliatory tone: "Jen, I know you donít like this, and I donít, either. But weíre in the Amazon, staying in a tiny rainforest town. Jungle is all there is in every direction. What else were you expecting?"

"Thatís not what I mean, and you know it."

"But we agreed on this; we were going to throw caution to the wind and have some fun."

"I never agreed to this!" Her tone had drifted towards shrillness. "You said an ecological adventure-quote, unquote-thatís what we agreed."

"I guess I did," Chris said gruffly. "Iím sorry youíre not having a good time." He changed down a gear as the incline increased. "In any case, this was about experiencing something new, away from civilisation. Weíve been wanting to come out here ever since college, and do exactly what weíre doing."

"No." She paused, apparently waiting for the Defender to clear the top of a sharp rise and finish pitching giddily downwards. "Thatís you putting words in my mouth. I wanted to see the rainforest, sure, but not like this. I didnít ask for two weeks of food poisoning, or drenching rain, or the heat and humidity. Honestly, Chris, Iíve had it. Iíve been feeling like shit the whole time weíve been here. Itís just too much at our age."

"Our age?" He forced a nervous laugh. "Weíre forty, Jen. Thatís not even middle-aged!" But you think it is, donít you?

"Well, itís too much for me." She watched the jungle rush past her window for a moment. "The map said the village was two miles east of Palora. We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, because it feels like weíve gone ten." A branch struck the window next to Jenny, soliciting another cry of agony.

When Chris turned to look he saw that the force of the blow had cracked the glass. He glanced down at the dashboard; the tank was quarter full, and the temperature gauge was running worryingly hot. He was still thinking about the temperature when the truck slammed down into a large pothole, almost throwing Jenny from her seat. The map fluttered down into the footwell.

With a grunt, Jenny put a muddy boot up on the dash, pushed back into her seat, and braced herself against the hot metal of the doorframe.

Chris turned to look at her, then back just in time to see a large shape rush at them, followed by a loud thwack! He flinched involuntarily and blew air out through his pursed lips.

A hanging vine had smacked the windscreen dead centre, leaving a dirty imprint. He turned on the wipers, but they just spread the filthy stain in a wide arc. He heard Jenny take a breath, in readiness to say something, but instead she screamed.

"Chris-look out!"

Chris saw the hulking black object in their path a moment too late, but in that instant, some deadly intuition came to him: Their lives were about to change.

He tugged at the wheel, the car swayed and Jenny slammed into him. There was a loud thump from underneath and suddenly the Defender climbed into the air, its engine whining like a wounded animal as the wheels came free of the ground.

Jenny screamed as she saw treetops through the windscreen, then the muddy ground as the vehicle slammed back to earth and ploughed into shrubs before coming to a dead stop.

The engine spluttered, then stalled.