Near-future SF thriller from Jensen, designer of the Gabriel Knight computer-game mystery series. In 2005, against a backdrop of worldwide drought and starvation, a group of people, later called seeds or witnesses, is drawn to a small Mexican village. Each experience miracles: a Catholic nun sees the Virgin Mary, a New Ager talks with aliens, a Native American communes with his Spirits, and so forth. Vatican representative Father Michele Deauchez watches in terror as stigmata appear in his palms, and only by a vast effort of will retains his skeptical viewpoint. New York Times reporter Simon Hill thinks that there were probably 24 witnesses, though he finds evidence for only 22, and most of these are convinced that the Apocalypse is coming. Sure enough, mysterious spores rain down on large parts of the world, causing sores in people and killing crops. A deadly new virus appears, nearly a hundred percent lethal and spreading rapidly. The Pope tells Deauchez to continue his investigations into the miracles. But then the Pope is assassinated, and Deauchez ordered back to Rome. By now suspicious of his Vatican superiors, he refuses to go and instead joins forces with Hill. All the witnesses, it emerges, were given inoculations or hospital treatment in the months before their spiritual summons to Mexico. Forced to flee for their lives, Deauchez and Hill learn that the secretary-of-state, high-powered industrialist Anthony Cole, heads a clandestine group, Red Scepter, that apparently is orchestrating the apocalyptic events. Imaginative, snappy and incident-packed, though the plot would work better if Jensen didn’t keep giving the game away: an exciting debut.