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Executive Summary UNPS-25B/23: Charybdis

Epidemiological Agent 01

Timestamp: 1501 23/08/2023

Authorship: UNPS

Distribution: CSIRA, FEMA, UN (HoD: Eyes Only)

Key Phrases: EID, "Extinction Level Event," "God Module," "Green Death," Charybdis, pilgrim, "Religious Impulse," Wanderlust

Jurisdiction: US/WestHem Economic Alliance

Threat ID: GrEp Ag-01 (UNPS designation: common names inc. "spore," "God Bug," "SOftball Syndrome," "RapCer," others)

Threat Category: Weaponised Biological

Threat Summary:

Taxonomy: Awaiting classification.
Origin: Unknown (extrasolar): see UNPS-25A/23: "Charybdis,"
Description: Engineered a genetic bioweapon, monogenerational saprophyte.

Tentative Life Cycle and Epidemiology: Dispersal phase resembles a radially ridged spore 0.1-1.5mm in diameter; released by "Charybdis Spires" common throughout the MIZ. Initial dispersal is ballistic/explosive with an effective launch radius of 50-60m. Subsequent dispersal is passive/windborne, and of limited range: the spore becomes biologically inert and noninfectious within three to five hours of release, effectively restricting its range to New York and its immediate environs.

Infectious spores settle and sprout on animal tissue, preferring moist membranes (eyes, respiratory tract) or open wounds. While they show at least some level of metabolic activity on all animal species tested to date, active proliferation appears limited to humanoid hosts. Humans, chimpanzees and gorillas are most vulnerable; the spore is debilitating but apparently nonlethal to orangutans, gibbons and Old World monkeys, although it may simply take onlger for the agent to reach lethal levels in these taxa.* Tarsids, Omomyids and Old World monkeys appear to be relatively immune.

* In vintro testing is ongoing. Dr. Strahan has submitted an expedited request for additional live specimens across a range of primate species, and for a temporary waiver of the board's Experimental Ethics rules.

Upon taking root in a suitable host, the spore germinates into a filamentous mass that proliferates throughout the body and shows a special affinity for the myelinated cells of the central nervous system. Superficial physical symptoms during this phase are obvious and grotesquely disfiguring: The lymph nodes grow hyperbubonic, and abscesses erupt across the skin (white cell counts from extracted pus range as high as 200,000). These abscesses frequently present a slight greenish tinge due to the presence of pyocyanine (a pigment evidently introduced by the spore itself). A variety of fleshy protuberances also sprout from the body during this phase, preferentially but not exclusively from the body orifices; these range from filamentous rootlets of <1mm diameter to ropy tumorous structures several centimeters thick. These are chaotically vascularised, and consist of hypertrophied columnar cells. (The precise mechanisms underlying their metastasis are currently being explored.) While the breakdown of host tissue would prove ultimately fatal in any event, death usually results from more proximate causes such as physical constriction and/or occlusion of vital organs, or suffocation.

At no point in this process does GrEp-Ag01 appear to be contagious: No fruiting bodies or other reproductive structures have been observed. However, the agent does rewire the behavior of its victim's at the neurological level, inducing the so-called Wanderlust that draws the infected toward Charybdis aggregations. In approximately 70% of casis it also hijacks the religious-impulse circuitry in the temporal lobe (hence the term "pilgrim"); we speculate that it is alse responsible for the self-mutilation behavior among some infected. While victims sometimes refer to the resulting injuries as "stigmata," the behavior is thought to function as a means of increasing exposure to further spore infection.

While the neurological reprogramming of complex behavior is well documented even among earthly parasites (see Dicrocoelim; Entomophthora; Holy See; Sacculina; Toxoplasma; others), it should be emphasized that the cognitive abilities of infected "pilgrims" do not appear to be significantly impaired until infection renders them effectively immobile. Victim's remain capable of intelligent conversation, complex problem-solving, and other hallmarks of legally competent adults. Areas in which mental faculties are impaired--unsupported beliefs in mystical spirits, cryptic behaviors such as "speaking in tongues," and even self-destructive acts born of a desire to give up their lives for their "god"--are well within the pale of mainstream religious practices around the world. While the agent does proliferate throughout the brain and central nervous system, its impact on CNS function is remarkably subtle until the tertiary stage.

Prognosis: Ultimate mortality rate among infected human hosts is believed to be 100%; while not all known victims have yet died, none are known to have recovered. We are unable to provide a cure at this time The relative resistance of related primate species does, however, suggest that some form of gene therapy may prove effective. This avenue is under intense investigation, although it is currently hampered by a lack of funding and personnel.

Conclusions: GrEp Ag-01 presents a paradox. Its extreme host specificity points inevitably to and engineered bioweapon specifically intended for human targets. However, it is not contagious among humans; to date, the only observed means of infection is via direct contact with a viable spore. This is a profoundly ineffective strategy for wide-scale attack, one which limits human casualties to within a few kilometers of the spires themselves. It is not plausible that a species with Charybdis's obvious capabilities would commit such an elementary oversight. We propose two hypotheses to account for this discrepancy:

  1. The enemy is solely interested in establishing local control, and has no interest in expanding beyond Manhattan (and perhaps its immediate environs);
  2. The bioweapon is still under development, and the enemy is not yet ready for a wide-scale release. This would suggest that the Ceph are practitioners of the "Precautionary Principle," and do not wish to globally release an agent that has not been thoroughly field-tested. In this case the limitations we have thus far observed would only be temporary, and the appearance of a truly infectious variant would herald the end of the prototyping stage.

It is our opinion that the second hypothesis is the more plausible of the two. We note, however, that our opinions arise from a distinctly human perspective, while the beings we are trying to second-guess are anything but. Perhaps this offers some grounds for hope.