The Judas Strain

Page 65

But she had no choice.

Ryder swung the boat and aimed for the island, where they were to rendezvous with Susan. The boat sped toward the expanse of dark jungle, trimmed by a narrow beach.

She silently repeated Henri's last words to her.

The cure must be taken beyond the Guild's reach.

Lisa watched the jungle swell ahead of her, the beach stretch wide.

They could not fail.

5:50 A.M.

Rakao watched the strange craft sweep around the cruise ship and speed straight toward his location. Through his infrared binoculars, the boat was a hot crimson smear across the colder water.

He signaled his team to be ready. They were waiting for his first shot before launching the full assault.

Rakao lowered his binoculars and brought to his eye the telescopic sight on his rifle. He fixed again upon his target, the escaped woman. She had stepped out of the jungle, easily discernible now, and waited on the beach.

Rakao heard the rumbling of the approaching boat.

She lifted an arm. Her limb seemed to catch the moonlight as it was raised. But there was no moon.

Rakao felt a chill at the sight. Still, he did not let it distract him. He had a mission here. Answers would come later.

Out on the beach, one of the tribesmen shoved the lone dugout canoe off the beach and into the shallows. He beckoned the woman to come. She crossed to the water, climbed aboard, and sat awkwardly in the back.

Standing behind the stern, the tribesman bent down, ready to shove the woman out toward the coming boat. They did not have long to wait.

The craft swept up, turning smoothly to expose its starboard flank, idling about seven meters out.

The side hatch was already open.

Rakao spied a man inside, braced in the opening.


Rakao shifted his rifle, aimed, and fired.

5:51 A.M.

Monk jumped at the crack of a rifle.

From his perch in the hatchway he watched the tribesman behind Susan collapse into the water. His falling body bumped the canoe, sending it drifting toward him.

A flurry of gunshots followed, tiny flashes of fire in the dark jungle.

Another tribesman stumbled out, bleeding from chest and shoulder. He held an arm out toward Susan in the water, hoping the witch queen could save him. But another crack of a rifle, and his head flew back and the lower half of his face exploded.

He fell to the sand.

This was all a trap . . . with Susan as bait.

A spat of rounds peppered the flank of the Sea Dart, driving Monk back inside. Ryder swore harshly. Monk scrambled to the assault rifle on the backseat, fumbling around with it.

But a barked shout stopped the strafing of the boat.

In the silence Monk warily crept back.

A man with a familiar tattooed face stood knee-deep in the water. Rakao held a spear in one hand and a Sig Sauer pistol in the other. With his arm extended, he aimed the pistol's muzzle at the back of Susan's head as she floated in the canoe, crouched low in the stern.

Susan's eyes, aglow in the darkness, stared back in terror toward Monk.

Rakao yelled across the water in English. "Cut your engines! Throw out any weapons! Then one at a time, you're going to jump and swim to me."

Monk turned. "Lisa, I need you here. Ryder, do not cut those engines. When I yell go, you blast the hell out of here."

Lisa struggled with her straps but finally freed herself.

Monk shifted his rifle to grip it by its stock and held it out the open hatchway. A single round pinged off the side of the Sea Dart. Rakao barked at the stray sniper, angry. No damaging the merchandise. Rakao must recognize a prize well worth preserving.

Monk climbed into view, exposing himself fully in the hatch. He held his rifle out to one side, his other hand open and high.

Lisa whispered to him. "What are you doing?"

"Just be ready," he murmured.

"For what?"

It would take too long to explain.

Rakao noted his appearance and stepped farther into the water, his muzzle only a foot from the back of Susan's head. The bow of the canoe pointed toward the Sea Dart, slightly tilted up from Susan's weight in the stern.

Monk called, "We're coming out!"

To demonstrate his sincerity he tossed his rifle to the left in a dramatic underhanded throw. It cartwheeled through the air. As he had hoped, Rakao's eyes flicked to follow it, the reflex of a hunter toward movement.

Monk leaped a fraction of a second after it. He jumped high, like he was planning on doing a cannonball into the lagoon. Instead, he landed on the tilted bow of the canoe. His weight and momentum slammed the bow deep. The stern of the canoe catapulted up like a seesaw.

Susan flew over Monk's head—thrown straight at the Sea Dart.

A shot rang out from Rakao, but the stern edge of the boat had clipped the Maori's hand, sending the pistol flying.

Monk heard a splash behind him as Susan landed.

Then the canoe crashed back to the water, throwing Monk into a sprawl on the dugout's bottom. He lifted himself up on an elbow. He caught sight of Susan's legs as Lisa dragged the woman through the side hatch.

Good girl.

Monk bellowed at the top of his lungs. "Ryder! Go!"

But the Sea Dart just idled.

Monk prepared to yell again, when the canoe jarred.

Rakao had hauled into the canoe, rising to his feet. The canoe spun, but he expertly kept his balance. He drove his spear at Monk with both arms.

Monk reacted instinctively. He tried to block the deadly plunge by grabbing its shaft. Prosthetic fingers locked onto it.

A mistake.

A fierce jolt of electricity ripped through his body. He remembered Rakao's earlier rescue of Lisa, striking out with his electric spear.

Monk's body clenched with agony. Muscles spasmed with a bone-breaking intensity. Still, he heard the fresh barrage of gunfire pelting at the Sea Dart.

Why was Ryder still here?

Monk fought the electrocution. He should have been killed at the outset as the volts fried through him. He only lived because of the dampening insulation of his prosthetic hand. But now he smelled plastic burning.

Ryder.. . get the hell out of here. . .

5:54 A.M.

"Wait!" Lisa screamed over the rattle of bullets against the flank of the Sea Dart.

Lisa lay beside Susan on the floor. She had a view of Rakao, leaning his weight on the spear, trying to drive its electrified steel tip into Monk's chest. Monk fought. Black smoke rose from his prosthetic hand.

The canoe spun, close ... or at least close enough.

"Now!" she yelled.

A loud explosive pop sounded over her head, detonating the hydraulics above. The Sea Dart snapped out its wings, chopping out like a pair of ax blades. One wing cracked into Rakao's shoulder, sending him flying from the canoe and dumping him in a sprawl into the lake.

The barrage of rifle fire momentarily stopped as the maneuver stunned the shooters.

Lisa yelled into the ringing silence, "Monk! Above your head!"

Groggy, Monk heard Lisa's command.

It took him a moment to realize what she meant. Something was above his head. One of the wings of the Sea Dart. Trembling in a continuous quake, he gathered his legs under him—and leaped.

He didn't trust the strength in his real hand. Smoking plastic fingers latched on to one of the wing struts. He clamped right, twitching a signal to lock down.


"Go!" Lisa hollered, still on the floor, bracing herself against the seats.

Under her belly she felt the twin engines rev. The Sea Dart leaped away, swinging its stern toward the beach as the snipers again opened fire, finally shaken free of their momentary stun.

Lisa watched a stray round strike Monk's flailing right leg.

Blood burst from his calf. She read the twist of agony in his face. His lower leg hung crookedly as Monk shifted. The bullet must have shattered through his tibia, breaking it.

Thank God, he still held on . ..

Ryder aimed away from the beach, flying across the water, out of range.

Lisa wanted to weep.

They would make it.


5:55 a.m.

Rakao choked and sputtered his face out of the water. His toes, then heels, found rock and sand underfoot. He stood chest-deep in the lagoon. The roar of a motor drew him around.

The enemy's boat shot across the lagoon, dangling a figure from one wingtip. Furious, he waded toward the beach. His left arm was on fire, burning in the seawater. He fingered the upper arm on that side, felt the sharp point of bone protruding through his skin, broken by the blow that had sent him flying.

He clutched his spear in the other hand.

Luckily he had not lost the weapon, having clung to it.

He might need it.

Already Rakao noted the flashes of fire under the water, aiming for him, drawn by the blood. He turned his back on the beach and retreated step-by-step. He kept his weapon poised, ready to use it. The shock might sting him, but it should drive the squids away.

Reaching waist-deep water, Rakao allowed himself a breath of relief.

Once out, he would hunt the others down.

No matter where in the world they landed, he would find them.

This, he swore.

Lightning cracked overhead, momentarily lighting the black waters, bright enough to illuminate the depths. A tangle of arms spread wide around his legs. The longest arms winked with a yellow glow. The bulk of the monster rested quietly in the sand only a step away. Then the flash ended, turning the lake into a dark mirror, reflecting the terror in his face.

Rakao stabbed down with his spear, thumbing the charge to full.

Blue fire crackled across the water. He gasped at the pain, like a steel trap snapping closed over his midsection. But it lasted only a fraction of a second—then the spear popped in his hand. With a final zap of electricity and an acrid spurt of smoke, the weapon shorted out, overloaded by his battle with the American.

Rakao stumbled back, splashing, his broken arm screaming.

Had the charge been enough?

The answer came in a slash of fire across one thigh. Chitinous hooks tore into the meat of his leg. He fought as the creature tugged him toward the deeper waters. Its bulk surfaced, rolling an eye.

Rakao stabbed at it. The weapon might not have a charge—but it did have a sharp point. He felt the blade sink deep. The grip on his leg spasmed, then went slack.

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