Prologue: Full Text

This story tells how the human race came to a rapid near-extinction early in the twenty-first century. The cause was not in any way related to the folly of modern man. No thermonuclear or biological war, pollution catastrophe, or any other kind of human created disaster played a part.

This catastrophe had its beginnings in outer space, more than four hundred years ago. A burst of cosmic rays, originating from an ancient supernova struck a cluster of organic molecules within a comet traveling far outside the orbit of the farthest planet, Pluto. A unique chemical reaction resulted in the formation of
dangerous new organic molecules.

For three centuries, the molecules remained harmless in the cold vacuum of outer space. When the comet's path finally came closer to the Sun, a near encounter with Saturn's third moon, Prometheus, caused the comet to break up into hundreds of smaller pieces.

One piece containing the new molecules, measuring about ten feet in diameter, was now set onto a new path which would become a collision course with the planet Earth, about a hundred years in the future.

On Thursday, July 9, 2015, the collision with Earth was imminent. The comet fragment had passed within twenty million miles of the Sun and was now on its path returning to deep space. However, Earth was now directly in its path. At nine in the evening, some residents of the town of Glens Falls in northern New York
State saw a shooting star in the southeast. The few people who saw the shooting star had no idea of its upcoming impact on their lives and on the lives of all the seven billion or so people living on Earth.

After its fiery journey through Earth's atmosphere, only a small snowball remained at the point of impact, in a cow pasture about five miles from town. The dust and debris from the violent impact with the ground were spread over an area of about a square mile. The dust fell with the morning dew as a light, almost
invisible coating on the grass. In the dawn's early light of the following day, the cows continued their normal feeding activities, the previous night's loud and bright explosion at the far end of their field now forgotten.
However, the milk the cows provided at their Friday evening milking was contaminated with minute quantities of the now-active organic molecules created more than four hundred years earlier in deep space.

The processed milk was delivered to the Glens Falls supermarket on Saturday morning, just in time for the weekend grocery shoppers. Unknown to anyone, the organic molecules had largely survived their journey through the Earth's atmosphere, the cows' digestive systems and the milk-processing factory. A small
number of the milk containers on the grocery shelves included enough of the contaminant to initiate the final phase of the end of the world as we knew it.

On Sunday morning, Jim Henderson got up early to complete the preparation for a presentation he was making the following day in New York City. His wife, Elaine, and their two children slept in. Jim helped himself to cornflakes with the milk his wife had purchased in Glens Falls the previous day. He was already suffering from the early symptoms of a summer cold. He was not concerned because he usually did not suffer much when he caught a cold.

He would however have been horrified if he had realized what was about to happen inside his body when the cold virus encountered the contaminant now in his bloodstream.

The contaminant reacted with the DNA of the cold virus and caused a unique and dangerous mutation. This mutation resulted in the creation of a completely new virus, with a much more serious impact on the human body than the original cold virus. The circumstances of the reaction of the rare extra-terrestrial contaminant
with Jim's specific cold virus were unique. No one else who consumed the contaminated milk was infected by that same cold virus from which the mutated virus originated. Jim was the only victim at this time.

However, the new virus grew and multiplied in Jim's body. It spread to the people he loved in exactly the same way as the common-cold virus did. The virus was highly contagious. Because it was a completely new strain, no one had antibodies in their bloodstreams able to defend against it. By the end of the day on Sunday, Jim, Elaine and both of their children were infected with the new virus. They did not know, because the early symptoms of this virus were no different from, or more serious than a mild summer cold. The mild cold symptoms that all the family were experiencing the next morning were not enough to prevent them from going about their normal Monday activities.

Jim drove to Albany to catch an early flight to New York City. He was going there to make a presentation to executives from all over the country at a trade conference for police security specialists. Elaine went to her regular job at the Glens Falls public library. Michael went enthusiastically to his summer computer day camp. Susan went, less enthusiastically, to her summer job as a sales clerk in the local hardware store. In the course of their day, they had dealings with a large number of people in Glens Falls and, unknowingly, spread the mutated virus to many of their contacts. On Monday, after a long hard day and with an early start on uesday ahead of them, the children were already in bed by ten. Jim and Elaine also decided to have an early night. They still were suffering from mild headaches and running noses but they did not suspect they were infected with something much more serious than a summer cold.

Jim, whose infection with the new virus was now more than thirty hours old, would never find out.

The mature cells of the new virus that were more than twenty-four hours old had started to produce small quantities of a lethal enzyme not usually found in the human body until close to death. When we go to sleep, our brains naturally produce essential chemical messengers to tell the heart, lungs and other vital organs to keep on functioning even though we are fast asleep. The lethal enzyme produced by the new virus slowed and eventually cut off the brain's production of these chemical messengers.

While Jim was awake, the presence of the enzyme in his body did not matter, but as he fell into a deep sleep, it became fatal. Without the production of the chemical messengers in sufficient quantities, his vital organs quietly shut down. His breathing gradually slowed and became shallower and, just after midnight, his heart stopped beating. Thus, he became the first victim of the Sleeping Death Contagion, or SDC, as it became known.

Elaine, who was asleep in their queen-size bed beside him, did not notice anything wrong or particularly different, except he was not snoring loudly as he usually did when he was in a deep sleep. When she was wakened by their alarm at seven the next morning, she was devastated to find she could not wake Jim up
and that his body was cold. In a blind panic, she discovered he was not breathing and she could find no pulse.
She had no way of knowing that Jim was to be the first of more than seven billion SDC fatalities, including herself and her children.