A soldier brought in the coffee, a plastic carafe and two china cups on a tray. Richards remained standing behind Sykes desk, his back to the broad windows that looked out on the woodlands that ringed the Compound. Sykes explained what he wanted Wolgast to do. It was all quite straight forward, he said, and by now Wolgast knew the basics. The Army needed between ten and twenty death-row inmates to serve in the third-stage trials of an experimental drug therapy, codenamed Project Noah. In exchange for their consent, these men would have their sentences commuted to life without parole. It would be Wolgasts job to obtain the signatures of these men, nothing more. Everything had been legally vetted, but because the project was a matter of national security, all of these men would be declared legally dead. Thereafter, they would spend the rest of their lives in the care of the federal penal system, a white-collar prison camp, under assumed identities. The men would be chosen based upon a number of factors, but all would be men between the ages of twenty and thirty-five with no living first-degree relatives. Wolgast would report directly to Sykes; hed have no other contact, though hed remain, technically, in the employment of the Bureau.
Do I have to pick them? Wolgast asked.
Sykes shook his head. Thats our job. Youll get your orders from me. All you have to do is get their consent. Once theyre signed on, the Army will take it from there. Theyll be moved to the nearest federal lock-up, then well transport them here.
Wolgast thought a moment. Colonel, I have to ask--
What were doing? He seemed, at that moment, to permit himself an almost human-looking smile.
Wolgast nodded. I understand I cant be very specific. But Im going to be asking them to sign over their whole lives. I have to tell them something.
Sykes exchanged a look with Richards, who shrugged. Ill leave you now, Richards said, and nodded at Wolgast. Agent.
When Richards had left, Sykes leaned back in his chair. Im not a biochemist, agent. Youll have to be satisfied with the laymans version. Heres the background, at least the part I can tell you. About ten years ago, the CDC got a call from a doctor in La Paz. He had four patients, all Americans, who had come down with what looked like Hantavirus high fever, vomiting, muscle pain, headache, hypoxemia. The four of them had been part of an eco-tour, deep in the jungle. They claimed that they were part of a group of fourteen but had gotten separated from the others and had been wandering in the jungle for weeks. It was sheer luck that theyd stumbled onto a remote trading post run by a bunch of Franciscan friars, who arranged their transport to La Paz. Now, Hanta isnt the common cold, but its not exactly rare, either, so none of this would have been more than a blip on the CDCs radar if not for one thing. All of them were terminal cancer patients. The tour was organized by an organization called Last Wish. Youve heard of them?
Wolgast nodded. I thought they just took people skydiving, things like that.
Thats what I thought, too. But apparently not. Of the four, one had an inoperable brain tumor, two had acute lymphocytic leukemia, and the fourth had ovarian cancer. And every single one of them became well. Not just the Hanta, or whatever it was. No cancer. Not a trace.
Wolgast felt lost. I dont get it.
Excerpted from The Passage by Justin Cronin Copyright © 2010 by Justin Cronin. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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