As part of a project, I am exploring a fictional biological/chemical weapon that can rapidly (and indiscriminately) kill by way of petrification.

To clarify, By petrification, I’m not necessarily talking about the slow process of turning organic matter into fossils. I’m interested in conditions, diseases or other methods that cause humans (or animals in a broader sense) to die in a “stiff” state. My story has interesting sub plot about a mysterious “Medusa-like” weapon, it’s details however, are non-existent.

I have found various medical conditions that can gradually calcify a range of tissues, problem being these conditions are generally treatable and do not carry a level of lethality ideal as a weapon. Some other conditions seem to be genetic and degenerative over a number of years, making them far too slow to strategically effect the outcome of a war and the concept of a genetic weapon seems difficult to realise (please correct me if I’m wrong).

Please help me expand my idea into a horrific weapon against humanity!

EDIT: Another clarification: my intention was to have this substance delivered to a large area, affecting thousands of people, symptoms showing in a matter of hours and death in a few days. Hence I added the tag.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding FryFubar! Interesting question. I'd recommend replacing the tag weapon-mass-destruction with the tag weapons, or am I misinterpreting your question? In my mind I am imagining something like a gun in the form of a Medusa-Head right now. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 10 '17 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ Spraying someone with fast-setting polymer isn't enough? You need it to be "inside" way? $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 10 '17 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like a freeze ray $\endgroup$ – Kilisi May 10 '17 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ I see you already accepted an answer. That's great. If an answer helped you it's of course your decision when to accept it. As this is your first question I just want to give you a tip for future questions. Users of WorldBuilding.SE live all around the globe in different timezones. You asked this question only 5 hours ago so a lot of regular (and irregular) users that visit WB have not seen your question yet. Generally it's a good idea to wait a day or two before accepting an answer, as someone might come up with another creative idea and people might(!) be discouraged when they see accepted $\endgroup$ – Secespitus May 10 '17 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ Why do I think "Xanthan Gum" .... :) $\endgroup$ – rackandboneman May 11 '17 at 0:38

Tetanus is perhaps one of the closest if you're looking into existing diseases that can quickly induce some form of 'petrification.' To clarify my statement see the item below how tetanus victims die when it's untreated: Tetanus Vistim

Source: Muscle spasms (specifically opisthotonos) in a person with tetanus. Painting by Sir Charles Bell, 1809.

Now this effect is caused by a toxin produced by the tetanus bacteria that screws with the nerve and pretty much forces every last muscle in the body to flex and spasm. Since we're dealing with fictional you could state a variation of this bacteria produces a toxin that makes muscles very rigid and hard until no more movement is possible. (I reckon that's not too far fetched to be developed in some deep underground government bunker). But unfortunately there is no existing way as of yet to petrify someone in the sense you want to.

Suggestion for your bacteria:

  • Short incubation time.

  • Virulent and airborne

  • Production of a potent toxin that facilitates the effects you want in very low doses (in the order of 0,1 µg/kg in a human).

  • Antibiotic resistant for the coup de grace.

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    $\begingroup$ Please, share the source of your image. It probably is old enough to be in public domain, but still it would be nice to know who painted it. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 10 '17 at 10:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Mołot I have added a source and worked the link to the wiki page for Tetanus into the source. $\endgroup$ – Hyfnae May 10 '17 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you :) Link to article is also really helpful, allows a bit quicker access to more data about illness you suggested. Good job. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 10 '17 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ Strychnine produces symptoms very similar to tetanus toxin. Not long ago you could buy it at the hardware store as rat poison. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 10 '17 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ @FryFubar The post mortem position for a modified bacterium that actually hardens the muscle physiologically is indefinate. It's especially cruel if you retain some of the tetanus toxin properties that force the body into a certain position too. The guesstimate of modifying the bacteria to take these properties... I haven't got the faintest. Maybe someone else can provide an answer on that topic. $\endgroup$ – Hyfnae May 10 '17 at 13:00

Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva is an extremely rare mutation which causes damaged tissue to, instead of healing normally, be replaced with bone. It is entirely untreatable.

Normally, this slowly replaces the body with bone until the subject is totally paralyzed. However, if it were combined with another condition which caused systemic tissue damage (maybe an autoimmune disease?), it would move much more quickly.

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    $\begingroup$ If you make it replace skin tissue early in the progression, that's a really interesting variant! $\endgroup$ – Volker Siegel May 10 '17 at 19:35

I think that the tetanus and strychnine are the best.

However, I thought that I'd point out another possibility. It's so odd that I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't had a landlord with this condition.

Something causes his muscles (when he is under stress) to absorb all of the potassium in his blood. This causes all of his muscles to constrict, paralyzing him. When I stayed there, I had a key to his apartment so I could drag him out if there was a fire (his biggest fear).

Also, after the incident, his blood would be almost completely depleted of potassium. I suggested bananas to supplement his potassium levels. He just laughed and showed me a bottle of pills that each contained a "very lethal" dose of potassium that he took twice daily.

In your story there could be a gas or indigestible that could trigger the potassium uptake. This would be for a shorter term, non-lethal version.

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  • $\begingroup$ is this related to Hypokalemic Periodic Paralysis ? $\endgroup$ – FryFubar May 11 '17 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ @FryFubar, I'm not a doctor but that looks a lot like how my landlord described it. Fortunately, I never witnessed an episode since, by then, he'd gotten good at avoiding stress in public. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat May 11 '17 at 17:16

Try pyroclastic streams. The inhabitants of Pompei will confirm that it works.

The Roman city of Pompei was burried by a nearby volcano, creating petrified dead for us to dig up many years later.

Pyroclastic streams are formed by some classes of vulcanoes. They look like a fast moving blazing hot ash-rock avalanche.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would be skeptical about this, but question is tagged with weapon-mass-destruction so this answer seems valid. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 10 '17 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that it is only a good fit if the right circuimstances apply. It isn't stealthy like a disease, and the landscape changes significantly. Therefore the story has to accomodate these drastic changes. $\endgroup$ – WalyKu May 10 '17 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @FryFubar there is another possibility. There was a case of a dormant volcano with a lake in the crater. This lake acummulated gasses in it's lower layers. Mainly CO2 and some sulphur compounds as far as I remember. A little bit of acitvity triggered the relase of all of this gas at once. This killed people, animals and some plants in a large radius. I think this happened either in S. America or east Africa. Now they vent the gasses from lakes like that, so that they don't acummulate enough to kill off their surroundings. $\endgroup$ – WalyKu May 10 '17 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ You just need different chemicals which cause your desired symptoms. $\endgroup$ – WalyKu May 10 '17 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ creating petrified dead for us to dig up many years later. That's not true. When digging at Pompeii, archeologists discovered weird holes. When filled with plaster and dug out, they discovered people-shaped plaster. IOW, the Pompeiians were covered in ash, and their bodies decomposed, leaving human-shaped holes. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 10 '17 at 16:43

The weapon could somehow cause a cume of space to form in an area. Victims would first suffocate but then all their liquids would rush to the surface and boil off. In essence they would be freeze dried leaving mummies behind. The full process may take a few days but the effect would be devastating and horrific.
Most measures would not help. Even air tight bomb shelters may crack at the pressure difference over days of exposure. At the end there would be little destruction to infrastructure except pipes, and no radiation poisoning, making it a great weapon

How to turn an area into a vacuum for a few days? Antigravity. Fire the beam from space suppressing 90% of the planet's gravity in a location surrounding it by a forcefield wall. Let space suck the atmosphere out. Great weapon considering that even super futuristic defences not designed to deal with the specific threat may prove completely useless.

EDIT As people are doubting my hresults here is a quick reference http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=1692 Refer to answer 1 point 2, as we are in a vacuum, and there is still heat coming from earth and the sun.

If there's heat, but no spacesuit or spacecraft, the body will very quickly dry out, because water evaporates extremely quickly in the vacuum of space. This will almost completely stop biological processes, and the lack of air will prevent weathering and chemical degradation.

If there is no heat the ice would sublimate as in a freeze drying process noted above. The question is how long would this take. This is not an experiment that looks like it has been done in real life, bvt for we can assume quickly can be within days. Also hote the drying does not need to go bone deep. Once the skin and maybe muscle turn to jerky the vicum will look quite petrified

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  • $\begingroup$ Cume of space? And it seems you don't know what happens to humans in vacuum. Hint: no freezing. No drying. Skin is watertight enough, humans just swell a lot and suffocate, and overheat. In order of observation. After all we use vacuum flasks to keep drinks hot, right? $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 10 '17 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot vacuum flasks don't hold the liquid in a vacuum. The vacuum is within the flask itself, the liquid is at normal pressure, or even increased pressures due to higher vapor pressures when the flask is sealed. $\endgroup$ – Asher May 11 '17 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ Just read about humans in vacuum. There are real life examples. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 11 '17 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot these examples are about seconds and minutes, not days. $\endgroup$ – Andrey May 11 '17 at 18:01

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