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Written for:
Senior Literature
January 29, 1999

The Cobra Event
By: Richard Preston

“The Cobra Event” is a fictional novel written by Richard Preston. It is set in New York during the late 1990s. The plot is simply, in a most complex way, about a terrorist attack. The complexity of the situation is, the terrorist is using a very deadly, new, and untreatable disease. The disease is named the Cobra Virus. This is due to the fact that it was originally discovered in a box that, when opened, released a spring loaded, wooden cobra. This action dispersed the virus, which was in a dust form, into the air.

The Main characters in this book are Alice Austen, M.D., who works for the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Alice is the person who discovers how the virus is being released. She makes the connection one-day while looking at pictures of a dead victim’s room. The other character who plays a big part in the story is Mark Littleberry, M.D. He is retired form the U.S. NAVY and now works as a paid consultant to various U.S. government agencies. Mark is in charge of the general operation.

One major obstacle in the book was when Alice was trying to diagnose the actual diseases in Cobra, being a manufactured virus it was a combination of several known viruses, and realized that the victims were all showing signs of Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome. This was a big deal because Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is a disease only found in males at birth. Victims were coming down with the same problems in days, in either sex as well. After learning what was causing the auto-cannibalism, and the awkward position of the limbs, they were able to learn more about Cobra itself.

There were many dramatic scenes in this novel. One scene is when Mark Littleberry and Will Hopkens were checking out a biological laboratory. While touring the facility, Mark went AWOL. He headed through the lab and found a door that was marked as a level three zone, which is distinguished the red biological flower on the door. He went through the door, without protection and stumbles onto a mobile level three bio-weapons lab. He then proceeded to take samples of cultures and test tubes. At the same time the lab began to move away from the rest of the facility and Mark was pushed out of the back. Even though he had proof of the development of bio-weapons, he went AWOL to get it and the truck was gone. So there was nothing to be done.

Another dramatic scene took place under the streets of New York. This is where a man known as Cope is running from the FBI with two bio-weapon bombs. While trying to escape he slips and one of the bombs is cracked. He decides to leave it in a tunnel. This is a problem because nobody notices it until it is about to go off. As a result the city of New York is about to have a biological weapon, capable of wiping out everyone there, explode.

Possibly the most dramatic scene in the book takes place in New York City, April, late 1990s. Kate Moran, an only child, becomes ill at school. After telling her art teacher she goes to the bathroom. When she gets she looks in the mirror and opens her mouth. It is filled with black blood blisters. Then she falls to the floor while clear mucus runs from her nose and mouth. She begins to spasm on the floor, uncontrollably. The next thing that happens is horrible. Kate begins to bite at her tongue, lips, and the inside of her mouth. She bites off her tongue and swallows it. Then she begins to chew on her lips. As her friends try to hold her down and make her stop, she rips her lips off her own face and begins to bite at her fingers. After a long struggle, Kate arches her back. Her spine gets stiff and her back bends into the shape of a C. Moments later her body relaxes and she collapsed to the floor. The mucus and blood stop gushing, due to the fact her heart has stopped beating, and she dies. Her brain has almost literally exploded inside her own skull.

The main turning point in this book was defiantly when the FBI went to Nairobi, Africa. The reason for this trip was to attempt to find where to boxes, used in the virus distribution, came from. After looking all day, the two agents, and the one guide, found a booth with similarly carved boxes. After questioning and showing pictures to the booth keeper, they gave her money for her information. She reviled a wrapped box exactly like the one they had in New York. She gave a very vague description of the man who purchased such boxes a while back, an American at that. She said the man had offered much more than the boxes were advertised for, which made her suspicious. It was then that the FBI was pretty sure they were on the trail of their man.

Is short, the story goes, a man believed the world was over populated and though he could remedy the situation by depleting it of a majority of its people. He does not attempt this right away, however. He starts by introducing a small amount of the virus onto the population of New York. This is how the FBI and the CDC get into the picture. The testing results in strange new deaths in a relatively large population. As the story progresses, the CDC learns where the virus came from and how it was engineered. This is all just the leading up to the possible eradication of New York and maybe the world.

As an end result I found the conclusion of the story to be most satisfying. There was a decent explanation as to why things happened the way they did. The outcome was reasonable and very realistic in a case like this. Is this book were to ever come to life, it is possible that things unfold identically to the story written by Richard Preston. Everything leading up to the end was true, or very possible. So I think the ending was very well done.

The title, “The Cobra Event,” is the name of the operation that takes place in the FBI/CDC effort to stop the spread of the Cobra Virus. The term “Cobra Virus” derived from the boxes used to disperse the virus. This is because there is a spring-loaded cobra inside a box covered with viral dust. When the box is open the dust is released into the air. In any event the case was dubbed the Cobra Event.

This story was written by Richard Preston to let the public know the truth about Biological Weapons. Much of the information used is true and has happened or has been done. However, the actual story is totally fictional. It has some very good information on the development of bio-weapons all over the world. It is an excellent attempt to give the general public a little bit of in-depth knowledge in an otherwise confusing aspect of science.

Grade Received:
94% A-

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