15

I don't recall enough material for this to be a novel, but I may have simply forgotten a great deal.

The protagonist (young, male, uninfected) is transporting an infected young woman to either a quarantine area or a safe zone. If I'm not conflating stories, this was set in the U.S. and he's headed roughly for Florida. I don't recall if he's doing this out of a sense of what's right, or because he's been recruited/paid to do it.

The infection causes people to grow novel sense organs, like the ability to taste things with their hands. (There may be further effects as the infection progresses, but that happens off-screen.)

They naturally become friendly, and one night he wakes up to find she's running her hands over his face - which will transmit the infection to him.

There are some (2?) scientists involved who are sympathetic/helpful; they offer to try to keep him from getting infected, which essentially involves an acid bath. He changes his mind at the last minute, deciding to accept being infected to stay with the young woman.

One of the scientists is infected, and in order to stay focused on his work he chooses to chemically burn off any sense organs that grow on him.

I feel like I read this about 12-15 years ago.

  • 1
    I feel like I can almost remember this, but it's been a couple of weeks, and I'm not getting closer... – DavidW Dec 30 '19 at 19:16
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    I might have read the same short story, though I still haven't been able to remember title and author. A few additional details that, if confirmed by @davidw, could help other find the answer: (1) the infection originated from a meteorite; (2) the infection grants different "superpowers" to each victim and makes the infected people desire to infect others; (3) it is finally revealed that the infection was a gift from an alien world that wanted to share it with other civilizations so that they could evolve beyond their limits. – lfurini Dec 30 '19 at 20:05
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    The meteorite was a "space capsule" with a message warning about its content, but the humans who found it ignored the symbols and smashed it open, thus beginning an uncontrolled contagion. – lfurini Dec 30 '19 at 20:07
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    Already asked and answered here: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/53407/… – Eike Pierstorff Dec 30 '19 at 22:46
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    Note that I chose the better question/answer to mark this as duplicate of. – DavidW Jan 1 at 17:25
15

This is Dark Benediction by Walter M. Miller.

  • they offer to try to keep him from getting infected, which essentially involves an acid bath.

Check (not exactly; when he risks getting infected, they debate whether an acid bath would be effective or not; they conclude that it might).

  • One of the scientists is infected, and in order to stay focused on his work he chooses to chemically burn off any sense organs that grow on him.

Check. All the people on the island are infected, and overcome the psychological effect of the extra organs through mental discipline, but the scientist chose a more radical way to get rid of the distraction. "They keep regrowing them, but I've taken strict measures" he says, more or less.

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  • nice! Thanks for the id – Organic Marble Dec 31 '19 at 1:18
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    I found a copy in Fantastic Adventures, Sept. 1951 (archive.org link), and it's definitely the story, though I got some of the details wrong. Not sure where I read it though... – DavidW Jan 1 at 17:23
  • Is the “acid bath” a treatment? I thought the OP meant the lime pit into which the woman was about to be thrown when the protagonist rescued her. – Anton Sherwood Jan 12 at 2:36
  • @AntonSherwood no, at the end the girl manages to touch the protagonist, and the priests debate whether an acid bath could prevent the infection (they suspect it wouldn't) – LSerni Jan 12 at 13:18

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