The Judas Strain

Page 64

Monk turned to Ryder. "How many can your boat hold?"

"Six seats . . . but we can squeeze in one or two others." Ryder eyed the number of people gathered here.

Jessie shook his head and backed a step. "I'm not going."

Lisa took his elbow. "Jessie."

"Someone has to defend the people, the children, still on board. From the pirates, from the madness. The tribesmen are their only hope. And they know me. They'll listen to me."

Dr. Barnhardt stepped to the young nurse's side. "I'll help him. We'll attempt to set up some secure barricade. Gather as many as we can. To wait you all out."

Dr. Miller stared with reluctance toward the open hatchway, then down to the dead doctor. He nodded. "These . . . these are our people. Our friends and colleagues. We can't leave them."

Lisa hugged each one in turn. "Henri. . ." she mumbled in a half plead to the last one.

The older man squeezed her and pushed her toward the open doorway. "Go get Susan. More than our lives, the cure must be taken beyond the Guild's reach."

Lisa nodded and allowed Monk to turn her.

They followed Ryder into the launch bay.

Monk's steps faltered as he cleared the doorway and spotted Ryder's boat.

"Holy Mother of Christ!"

5:43 A.M.

Devesh descended toward the darkened stage of the ship's musical theater. The glittering crimson curtain hung closed. He followed the broad back of the Somalian guard down the theater stairs. After being ambushed and driven away from the tender docks, Devesh and the guard had fled up.

Down was not an option.

Not any longer.

The screams and cries had chased them up the stairwell. Down in the ship's bowels, Devesh had opened all five storage holds, unleashing the horrors contained within. They'd been feeding on one another, the strongest preying on the weakest.

Over two hundred.

Kept for experimentation.

Devesh had sought to use the unleashed madness to combat the cleverness of the ship's attackers, to thwart them long enough for him to orchestrate a return to the ship with grenades and machine guns. He would then slaughter the whole lot of them.

He would retake his ship.

But for the moment, he was caught in his own trap.

It was his Somalian bodyguard who had come up with this plan to escape. To reach the tender docks, rather than descending any of the main stairs, the Somalian had led Devesh to the upper balcony entrance of the ship's three-story-tall theater. They used the theater's stairs to descend the three levels back down to the deck that housed the tender dock.

The theater's lower doors lay directly across the hallway from the dock. A short dash, and they'd be motoring away from this hellish battle.

Devesh used his cane to thump down the last few stairs.

The Somalian guard held up a hand and headed to the door. "Stay back. Let me make sure it's clear." He clutched a large pistol in his other fist.

He cracked open the door, checked the hall, covering it with his pistol. He waited a breath, then opened it farther. Turning, he announced with relief, "Hall's clear."

Devesh took a step toward him—but movement over the man's shoulder stopped him. One of the feathered tribesman stepped out of hiding, sheltered within the hatchway that led down to the tender dock.

The cannibal held a drawn bow in his hands.

The large Somalian must have read something in Devesh's expression. Even before fully turning around, the man began firing blindly.

The cannibal took three shots to the chest, falling back with a sharp cry.

But the tribesman had already let loose his bowstring.

The arrow pierced the guard's throat, sprouting like some bloody tongue out the back of his neck. The large man stumbled, fell to his backside. Still, he kept his pistol pointed toward the door.

But the cannibal did not rise again, and the hall remained quiet.

Devesh knew he had to take the chance. He rushed to the guard.

"Help me," the man croaked out, eyes winced with pain, slipping back to one arm to support himself. The other arm trembled to hold the pistol up.

Devesh kicked the man's supporting arm out from under him. The Somalian fell back, startled. The arrow tip cracked against the polished wood floor. Devesh knelt on the man's shoulder and tossed his cane aside. He needed a better weapon. He wrestled the pistol from the man's grip.

But the large man refused to relent, fingers clenched with fury and pain.

"Let go!" Devesh shifted his knee to dig against the embedded arrow.

A loud wooden crash stopped their struggle.

The doors on the opposite side of the theater had banged open behind them. Devesh yanked the pistol free and turned. A figure flew into view, swift on tiny feet, swirling in silk, stained with swaths of blood.


But she was not alone.

A roil of shapes pursued her, fueled by adrenaline and hunger. They poured in after her. Some slipped on the polished wood, down to knuckles, then up again, bestial in their hunt. But the tangled stumbling slowed them long enough for Surina to gain half the theater.

Devesh scrambled to his feet, both relieved and horrified at her arrival.

He didn't want to be alone.

Surina flew to his side, one arm sweeping down. Her fingers collected his abandoned cane, and in a breath, wood slipped off of steel. She brandished the sword.

Devesh headed toward the open door. "This way!"

Cradling the pistol in both hands, he leaped over the Somalian, who groaned, only half conscious, blood spreading over the dark wood. At least the man's body might distract the cannibals.

As Devesh landed, he felt two sharp bites at the backs of his knees.

He took a startled step, but suddenly his legs lacked any ability to hold him upright. He fell to a knee in the doorway, then harder to an elbow, knocking the pistol away. The pain rang up his arm to his skull. From the corner of an eye, he watched Surina rise from a low stance behind him, her sword held out to one side, blood spattered from its tip.

Devesh kicked to stand. But he had no ability to control his legs. He watched blood pouring through the knees of his pants. As Surina slipped past him, he realized what had happened. The bitch had sliced through the tendons at the back of his knees, hamstringing him.

She sailed across the hall and vanished into the darkness of the dock.


Devesh tried to crawl, dragging his legs.

Toward his pistol.

But other hands fell upon him, drawn by the blood, digging into his flesh. He heard the guard's agonized scream from the depths of the dark theater. Devesh was dragged back to join him, his palms scrabbling through the smears of his own blood, fingers dug for some purchase, some last mercy.

He found none.

5:45 A M

As screams and gunshots echoed down to them, Lisa joined Monk at the bottom of the launch bay's stairs. She shivered in the damp breeze.

Ryder's private bay was small, arched in steel, reeking of gasoline and oil. In the center rested what looked like the aluminum tracks of a roller coaster, consisting of a pair of cushioned rails, tilted at an angle and aimed toward an open hatch in the ship's side. Beyond the hatch, the dark lagoon beckoned, brushed with sweeps of rain.

But it was what rested atop the tracks that continued to hold her partner's full attention. "That is no goddamn boat," Monk blurted out.

Ryder led them forward, hurrying. "It's flying boat, mate. Half seaplane, half jet boat."

Monk gaped at the sight.

Lisa was no less awed.

Seated on the launch tracks, the craft looked like a diving hawk with its wings tucked back. The enclosed cabin ended in an aerodynamic point at the bow. Its stern supported two raised propeller engines. And over the top, two wings lay folded over the cabin, tips touching just in front of the upright tail section and propellers.

"She's built by Hamilton Jet out of New Zealand," Ryder said as he ran a hand along her hull and led them to the open side hatch. "1 call her the Sea Dart. In the water, her twin V-12 petrol engines pump water from the front and shoot it out the stern's dual nozzles. Once you get her up to speed, all you have to do is explode the hydraulics to snap wide the folded wings, and she sails into the sky... where her rear props keep her aloft." Ryder patted its side. "She's quick on her legs, too. Sky or water. Clocked her airspeed up to three hundred miles per hour."

Ryder held out a hand toward Lisa. He helped her up the steps beside the launch track. She ducked into the cabin. It was not that much different from a Cessna: a pair of seats for a pilot and copilot in front and four more seats in the back.

Ryder climbed in behind her and scooted forward to settle into the pilot's seat. Monk clambered in last, closing the hatch.

"Strap in!" Ryder called out.

Monk took the seat nearest the side hatch, ready to haul Susan inside when they reached the beach. Lisa climbed forward and took the seat next to Ryder.

"Hold on," he said to her.

Ryder triggered an electronic release, and the Sea Dart rolled smoothly down the inclined tracks and dumped into the lagoon with a slight jar.

Water washed over the windshield as the boat's bow bobbed deep.

Lisa immediately heard the rumble of engines behind her, throaty and growling with horsepower. She felt it in the seat of her pants, too.

The Dart began to glide forward across the water with a gentle burbling from the stern. Rain rattled in fits and splashes over the top of the cabin.

"Here we go," Ryder mumbled, and throttled the speed.

The boat lived up to its name and shot like an arrow across the storm-swept water, throwing Lisa back into her seat.

Behind her an appreciative whistle flowed from Monk.

Ryder angled the boat, skimming over the water as if on ice. He sailed the boat around the cruise ship's bow, a gnat before a whale.

Lisa stared up at the mighty ship. Away from the gunshots and screams, the Mistress of the Seas looked peaceful, gently aglow in the storm's gloom.

But she knew the ship was anything but peaceful.

As she settled back, she could not escape a slight twinge of guilt. For Jessie, for Henri, and Dr. Miller. And for all the others. She still felt like she was running from a fight, abandoning the others for the sake of her own skin.

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