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Dr. Emma Watson’s lifelong dream of working and studying aboard the International Space Station has finally come true. But it quickly becomes a nightmare when a culture of single-celled organisms begins to regenerate out of control–and infects the crew.
Emma must contain the outbreak and prevent as many deaths as possible while, back on Earth, her estranged husband is frantically working with NASA to bring her home. But with a contagion threatening all of humanity, there will be no rescue.
“Thrilling…fast-paced, scary, and loaded with insider information” (The Plain Dealer, Cleveland), Gravity is an unputdownable thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page.
NATIONWIDE ACCLAIM FOR
TESS GERRITSEN and
“[A] one-stop, nonstop read.… Moves at a furious pace, twisting unpredictably.”
“Gerritsen treats us to some of the best medical gore and speculation about extraterrestrial life found anywhere outside The X-Files.”
“Thrilling… fast-paced, scary, and loaded with insider information.”
—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Seat-gripping suspense.… You won’t be able to put it down.”
“[A] superb thriller… cover-to-cover excitement.”
— The Pilot (Southern Pines, NC)
“Polished and engrossing.… The medical suspense is gripping and intense.”
“GRAVITY will elate fans of medical thrillers and science fiction as well as readers of romantic suspense.… A nonstop action tale that rivals the best of Cook and Palmer.… Exhilarating.”
—Midwest Book Reviews
“A terrific tale.… Gerritsen blend[s] medicine and science into a fictional thriller that rings true.”
— Austin American-Statesman (TX)
“Excellent.… Gerritsen does a bang-up job… very scary.”
—The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)
“One of those rare books that scares you for all the right reasons. Fantastic.”
— The Providence Sunday Journal (RI)
“Absolutely convincing.… As we read along, eyes popping out of our heads, all that’s missing is one of those bland NASA voices saying ‘Houston, we have a problem… .’”
“A breathtaking experience in pure excitement, and Gerritsen’s storytelling skills are second to none.”
—San Jose Mercury News
“Scores a bull’s-eye.”
“Gerritsen’s descriptions of horror and terror… are riveting.”
—The Los Angeles Times
“An intricate thriller… a tale sure to fascinate.”
“As polished as a novel can be.”
—Toronto Globe and Mail
“The twists and turns are compelling.… Keep the lights burning brightly long after you’ve set Bloodstream down.”
“Grabs you and holds you from page one.… Be prepared to drop all your obligations until you finish.”
“Chilling science… Richly drawn hospital scenes.”
“[A] spine-tingling medical chiller.… The pieces in this adeptly crafted medical Rubik’s cube don’t click into place until the final page.”
“A gripping book.”
“The best medical thriller I’ve read since Coma.”
“Harvest will make your heart skip a beat.”
“Harrowing.… Harvest quite literally has gut-level impact.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Harvest generates its own very high level of fear and excitement.”
“Harves t offers suspense as sharp as a scalpel’s edge. A pageturning, hold-your-breath read.”
—Tami Hoag, bestselling author of A Thin Dark Line
Books by Tess Gerritsen
Available from POCKET BOOKS
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Copyright © 1999 by Tess Gerritsen
Originally published in hardcover in 1999 by Pocket Books
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
First Pocket Books mass market paperback printing October 2000
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POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Cover and stepback art by Tom Hallman
Author photograph by Brian L. Valenchenko
Printed in the U.S.A.
To the men and women who have made spaceflight a reality.
Mankind’s greatest achievements
are launched on dreams.
I could not have written this book without the generous assistance of people from NASA. My warmest thanks to:
Ed Campion, NASA Public Affairs, for personally guiding me on a fascinating inside tour of Johnson Space Center.
Flight Directors Mark Kirasich (ISS) and Wayne Hale (shuttle) for insights into their demanding roles.
Ned Penley, for explaining the process of payloads selection.
John Hooper, for introducing me to the new Crew Return Vehicle.
Jim Reuter (MSFC), for explaining the space station’s environmental and life-support systems.
Flight Surgeons Tom Marshburn, M.D., and Smith Johnston, M.D., for the details of emergency medicine in weightlessness.
Jim Ruhnke, for answering my sometimes bizarre engineering questions.
Ted Sasseen (NASA retired), for sharing memories of his long career as an aerospace engineer.
I’m also grateful for the help of experts from a variety of other fields:
Bob Truax and Bud Meyer, the real-life rocket boys of Truax Engineering, for the inside scoop on reusable launch vehicles.
Steve Waterman, for his knowledge of decompression chambers.
Charles D. Sullivan and Jim Burkhart, for the information on amphibian viruses.
Ross Davis, M.D., for the neurosurgical details.
Bo Barber, my fountain of information about aircraft and runways. (Bo, I’ll fly with you anytime!)
Finally, I must once again thank:
Emily Bestler, who let me spread my wings.
Don Cleary and Jane Berkey, of the Jane Rotrosen Agency, for knowing what makes a great story.
Meg Ruley, who makes dreams come true.
My husband, Jacob. Honey, we’re in this together.
The Galápagos Rift
.30 Degrees South, 90.30 Degrees West
He was gliding on the edge of the abyss.
Below him yawned the watery blackness of a frigid underworld, where the sun had never penetrated, where the only light was the fleeting spark of a bioluminescent creature. Lying prone in the form-fitting body pan of Deep Flight IV, his head cradled in the clear acrylic nose cone, Dr. Stephen D. Ahearn had the exhilarating sensation of soaring, untethered, through the vastness of space. In the beams of his wing lights he saw the gentle and continuous drizzle of organic debris falling from the light-drenched waters far above. They were the corpses of protozoans, drifting down through thousands of feet of water to their final graveyard on the ocean floor.
Gliding through that soft rain of debris, he guided Deep Flight along the underwater canyon’s rim, keeping the abyss to his port side, the plateau floor beneath him. Though the sediment was seemingly barren, the evidence of life was every where. Etched in the ocean floor were the tracks and plow marks of wandering creatures, now safely concealed in their cloak of sediment. He saw evidence of man as well: a rusted length of chain, sinuously draped around a fallen anchor; a soda pop bottle, half-submerged in ooze. Ghostly remnants from the alien world above.
A startling sight suddenly loomed into view. It was like coming across an underwater grove of charred tree trunks. The objects were black-smoker chimneys, twenty-foot tubes formed by dissolved minerals swirling out of cracks in the earth’s crust. With the joysticks, he maneuvered Deep Flight gently starboard, to avoid the chimneys.
“I’ve reached the hydrothermal vent,” he said. “Moving at two knots, smoker chimneys to port side.”
“How’s she handling?” Helen’s voice crackled through his earpiece.
“Beautifully. I want one of these babies for my own.”
She laughed. “Be prepared to write a very big check, Steve. You spot the nodule field yet? It should be dead ahead.”
Ahearn was silent for a moment as he peered through the watery murk. A moment later he said, “I see them.”
The manganese nodules looked like lumps of coal scattered across the ocean floor. Strangely, almost bizarrely, smooth, formed by minerals solidifying around stones or grains of sand, they were a highly prized source of titanium and other precious metals. But he ignored the nodules. He was in search of a prize far more valuable.
“I’m heading down into the canyon,” he said.
With the joysticks, he steered Deep Flight over the plateau’s edge. As his velocity increased to two and a half knots, the wings, designed to produce the opposite effect of an airplane wing, dragged the sub downward. He began his descent into the abyss.
“Eleven hundred meters,” he counted off. “Eleven fifty…”
“Watch your clearance. It’s a narrow rift. You monitoring water temperature?”
“It’s starting to rise. Up to fifty-five degrees now.”
“Still a ways from the vent. You’ll be in hot water in another two thousand meters.”
A shadow suddenly swooped right past Ahearn’s face. He flinched, inadvertently jerking the joystick, sending the craft rolling to starboard. The hard jolt of the sub against the canyon wall sent a clanging shock wave through the hull.
“Status?” said Helen. “Steve, what’s your status?”
He was hyperventilating, his heart slamming in panic against the body pan. The hull. Have I damaged the hull? Through the harsh sound of his own breathing, he listened for the groan of steel giving way, for the fatal blast of water. He was thirty-six hundred feet beneath the surface, and over one hundred atmospheres of pressure were squeezing in on all sides like a fist. A breach in the hull, a burst of water, and he would be crushed.
“Steve, talk to me!”
Cold sweat soaked his body. He finally managed to speak. “I got startled—collided with the canyon wall—”
“Is there any damage?”
He looked out the dome. “I can’t tell. I think I bumped against the cliff with the forward sonar unit.”
“Can you still maneuver?”
He tried the joysticks, nudging the craft to port. “Yes. Yes.” He released a deep breath. “I think I’m okay. Something swam right past my dome. Got me rattled.”
“It went by so fast! Just this streak—like a snake whipping by.”
“Did it look like a fish’s head on an eel’s body?”
“Yes. Yes, that’s what I saw.”
“Then it was an eelpout. Thermarces cerberus.”
Cerberus, thought Ahearn with a shudder. The threeheaded dog guarding the gates of hell.
“It’s attracted to the heat and sulfur,” said Helen. “You’ll see more of them as you get closer to the vent.”
If you say so. Ahearn knew next to nothing about marine biology. The creatures now drifting past his acrylic head dome were merely objects of curiosity to him, living signposts pointing the way to his goal. With both hands steady at the controls now, he maneuvered Deep Flight IV deeper into the abyss.
Two thousand meters. Three thousand.
What if he had damaged the hull?
Four thousand meters, the crushing pressure of water increasing linearly as he descended. The water was blacker now, colored by plumes of sulfur from the vent below. The wing lights scarcely penetrated that thick mineral suspension. Blinded by the swirls of sediment, he maneuvered out of the sulfur-tinged water, and his visibility improved. He was descending to one side of the hydrothermal vent, out of the plume of magma-heated water, yet the external temperature continued to climb.
One hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit.
Another streak of movement slashed across his field of vision. This time he managed to maintain his grip on the controls. He saw more eelpouts, like fat snakes hanging head down as though suspended in space. The water spewing from the vent below was rich in heated hydrogen sulfide, a chemical that was toxic and incompatible with life. But even in these black and poisonous waters, life had managed to bloom, in shapes fantastic and beautiful. Attached to the canyon wall were swaying Riftia worms, six feet long, topped with feathery scarlet headdresses. He saw clusters of giant clams, whiteshelled, with tongues of velvety red peeking out. And he saw crabs, eerily pale and ghostlike as they scuttled among the crevices.
Even with the air-conditioning unit running, he was starting to feel the heat.
Six thousand meters. Water temperature one hundred eighty degrees. In the plume itself, heated by boiling magma, the temperatures would be over five hundred degrees. That life could exist even here, in utter darkness, in these poisonous and superheated waters, seemed miraculous.
“I’m at six thousand sixty,” he said. “I don’t see it.”
In his earphones, Helen’s voice was faint and crackling. “There’s a shelf jutting out from the wall. You should see it at around six thousand eighty meters.”
“Slow your descent. It’ll come up quickly.”
“Six thousand seventy, still looking. It’s like pea soup down here. Maybe I’m at the wrong position.”
“…sonar readings…collapsing above you!” Her frantic message was lost in static.
“I didn’t copy that. Repeat.”
“The canyon wall is giving way! There’s debris falling toward you. Get out of there!”
The loud pings of rocks hitting the hull made him jam the joysticks forward in panic. A massive shadow plummeted down through the murk just ahead and bounced off a canyon shelf, sending a fresh rain of debris into the abyss. The pings accelerated. Then there was a deafening clang, and the accompanying jolt was like a fist slamming into him.
His head jerked, his jaw slamming into the body pan. He felt himself tilting sideways, heard the sickening groan of metal as the starboard wing scraped over jutting rocks. The sub kept rolling, sediment swirling past the dome in a disorienting cloud.
He hit the emergency-weight-drop lever and fumbled with the joysticks, directing the sub to ascend. Deep Flight IV lurched forward, metal screeching against rock, and came to an unexpected halt. He was frozen in place, the sub tilted starboard. Frantically he worked at the joysticks, thrusters at full ahead.
He paused, his heart pounding as he struggled to maintain control over his rising panic. Why wasn’t he moving? Why was the sub not responding? He forced himself to scan the two digital display units. Battery power intact. AC unit still functioning. Depth gauge reading, six thousand eighty-two meters.
The sediment slowly cleared, and shapes took form in the beam of his port wing light. Peering straight ahead through the dome, he saw an alien landscape of jagged black stones and bloodred Riftia worms. He craned his neck sideways to look at his starboard wing. What he saw sent his stomach into a sickening tumble.
The wing was tightly wedged between two rocks. He could not move forward. Nor could he move backward. I am trapped in a tomb, nineteen thousand feet under the sea.
“…copy? Steve, do you copy?”
He heard his own voice, weak with fear: “Can’t move— starboard wing wedged—”
“…port-side wing flaps. A little yaw might wiggle you loose.”
“I’ve tried it. I’ve tried everything. I’m not moving.”
There was dead silence over the earphones. Had he lost them? Had he been cut off? He thought of the ship far above, the deck gently rolling on the swells. He thought of sunshine. It had been a beautiful sunny day on the surface, birds gliding overhead. The sea a bottomless blue…
Now a man’s voice came on. It was that of Palmer Gabriel, the man who had financed the expedition, speaking calmly and in control, as always. “We’re starting rescue procedures, Steve. The other sub is already being lowered. We’ll get you up to the surface as soon as we can.” There was a pause, then: “Can you see anything? What are your surroundings?”
“I—I’m resting on a shelf just above the vent.”
“How much detail can you make out?”
“You’re at six thousand eighty-two meters. Right at the depth we were interested in. What about that shelf you’re on? The rocks?”
I am going to die, and he is asking about the fucking rocks.
“Steve, use the strobe. Tell us what you see.”
He forced his gaze to the instrument panel and flicked the strobe switch.
Bright bursts of light flashed in the murk. He stared at the newly revealed landscape flickering before his retinas. Earlier he had focused on the worms. Now his attention shifted to the immense field of debris scattered across the shelf floor. The rocks were coal black, like manganese nodules, but these had jagged edges, like congealed shards of glass. Peering to his right, at the freshly fractured rocks trapping his wing, he suddenly realized what he was looking at.
“Helen’s right,” he whispered.
“I didn’t copy that.”
“She was right! The iridium source—I have it in clear view—”
“You’re fading out. Recommend you . . .” Gabriel’s voice broke up into static and went dead.
“I did not copy. Repeat, I did not copy!” said Ahearn.
There was no answer.
He heard the pounding of his heart, the roar of his own breathing. Slow down, slow down. Using up my oxygen too fast…
Beyond the acrylic dome, life drifted past in a delicate dance through poisonous water. As the minutes stretched to hours, he watched the Riftia worms sway, scarlet plumes combing for nutrients. He saw an eyeless crab slowly scuttle across the field of stones.
The lights dimmed. The air-conditioning fans abruptly fell silent.
The battery was dying.
He turned off the strobe light. Only the faint beam of the port wing light was shining now. In a few minutes he would begin to feel the heat of that one-hundred-eighty-degree magma-charged water. It would radiate through the hull, would slowly cook him alive in his own sweat. Already he felt a drop trickle from his scalp and slide down his cheek. He kept his gaze focused on that single crab, delicately prancing its way across the stony shelf.
The wing light flickered.
And went out.
Two Years Later
Through the thunder of the solid propellant rocket boosters and the teeth-jarring rattle of the orbiter, the command abort sprang so clearly into Mission Specialist Emma Watson’s mind she might have heard it shouted through her comm unit. None of the crew had, in fact, said the word aloud, but in that instant she knew the choice had to be made, and quickly. She hadn’t heard the verdict yet from Commander Bob Kittredge or Pilot Jill Hewitt, seated in the cockpit in front of her. She didn’t need to. They had worked so long together as a team they could read each other’s minds, and the amber warning lights flashing on the shuttle’s flight console clearly dictated their next actions.
Seconds before, Endeavour had reached Max Q, the point during launch of greatest aerodynamic stress, when the orbiter, thrusting against the resistance of the atmosphere, begins to shudder violently. Kittredge had briefly throttled back to seventy percent to ease the vibrations. Now the console warning lights told them they’d lost two of their three main engines. Even with one main engine and two solid rocket boosters still firing, they would never make it to orbit.
They had to abort the launch.
“Control, this is Endeavour,” said Kittredge, his voice crisp and steady. Not a hint of apprehension. “Unable to throttle up. Left and center MEs* went out at Max Q. We are stuck in the bucket. Going to RTLS abort.”
“Roger, Endeavour. We confirm two MEs out. Proceed to RTLS abort after SRB burnout.”
Emma was already rifling through the stack of checklists, and she retrieved the card for “Return to Launch Site Abort.” The crew knew every step of the procedure by heart, but in the frantic pace of an emergency abort, some vital action might be forgotten. The checklist was their security blanket.
Her heart racing, Emma scanned the appropriate path of action, clearly marked in blue. A two-engine-down RTLS abort was survivable—but only theoretically. A sequence of near miracles had to happen next. First they had to dump fuel and cut off the last main engine before separating from the huge external fuel tank. Then Kittredge would pitch the orbiter around to a heads-up attitude, pointing back toward the launch site. He would have one chance, and only one, to guide them to a safe touchdown at Kennedy. A single mistake would send Endeavour plunging into the sea.
Their lives were now in the hands of Commander Kittredge.
His voice, in constant communication with Mission Control, still sounded steady, even a little bored, as they approached the two-minute mark. The next crisis point. The CRT display flashed the Pc<50 signal. The solid rocket boosters were burning out, on schedule.
Emma felt it at once, the startling deceleration as the boosters consumed the last of the fuel. Then a brilliant flash
The roar of launch fell ominously silent, the violent shudder calming to a smooth, almost tranquil ride. In the abrupt calm, she was aware of her own pulse accelerating, her heart thudding like a fist against her chest restraint.
“Control, this is Endeavour,” said Kittredge, still unnaturally calm. “We have SRB sep.”
“Roger, we see it.”
“Initiating abort.” Kittredge depressed the Abort push button, the rotary switch already positioned at the RTLS option.
Over her comm unit, Emma heard Jill Hewitt call out, “Emma, let’s hear the checklist!”
“I’ve got it.” Emma began to read aloud, and the sound of her own voice was as startlingly calm as Kittredge’s and Hewitt’s. Anyone listening to their dialogue would never have guessed they faced catastrophe. They had assumed machine mode, their panic suppressed, every action guided by rote memory and training. Their onboard computers would automatically set their return course. They were continuing downrange, still climbing to four hundred thousand feet as they dissipated fuel.
Now she felt the dizzying spin as the orbiter began its pitch-around maneuver, rolling tail over nose. The horizon, which had been upside down, suddenly righted itself as they turned back toward Kennedy, almost four hundred miles away.
“Endeavour, this is Control. Go for main engine cutoff.”
“Roger,” responded Kittredge. “MECO now.”
On the instrument panel, the three engine-status indicators suddenly flashed red. He had shut off the main engines, and in twenty seconds, the external fuel tank would drop away into the sea.
Altitude dropping fast, thought Emma. But we’re headed for home.
She gave a start. A warning buzzed, and new panel lights flashed on the console.
“Control, we’ve lost computer number three!” cried Hewitt. “We have lost a nav-state vector! Repeat, we’ve lost a nav-state vector!”
- On Sale
- Jun 29, 2021
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Hachette Book Group