The Judas Strain

Page 82

Yesterday Lisa had spoken over the phone with Henri and Jessie at the refugee camp on Pusat. They had survived, managing to protect most of the patients and WHO staff, aided by the cannibals during the chaos. Everyone was now undergoing treatment, and so far, faring well. The only exceptions were those few who had passed into a full maddened rave. The brain damage appeared permanent. Most of the afflicted had died when the ship sank. Not a single member of the Guild team made it off the ship alive.

Except perhaps one.

Jessie had told Lisa a story of the evacuation. He had come upon a padlocked hold. He heard children crying inside. He had broken through in time to rescue the children, who told the story of a strange angel who came and gathered them all together, locking them up out of harm's way. This angel had then led a group of the ravening patients away from the hold, using herself as bait.

The children had described their angel.

Flowing black hair, dressed in silk, silent as the grave.


She had vanished away.

Painter continued. "We interviewed everyone in camp."

"About Monk," she whispered.

"One of the WHO doctors had been hiding out on the ship's deck. He had. binoculars. He watched your escape in the Sea Dart. Through binoculars, he saw Monk fall, witnessed the net dropping over him, dragging him down." Painter paused to take a tired breath. "He never resurfaced."

Lisa closed her eyes. She felt something burst inside, spreading a burning acid through her veins, weakening her. A part of her still had been hoping . . . some thin chance ... It was why she had knelt outside before one of the Buddhas.

She had been praying he was still alive.

"He's gone," she murmured, fully admitting it to herself.

Oh, Monk. . .

Lisa hugged tight to Painter. Her tears soaked through his shirt. Fingers clenched to him as she assured herself with his physicality. "Have you told Kat yet?" she mumbled, resting her cheek against his chest.

Painter remained silent.

Lisa felt him tremble.

He had.

She pulled his hand from her shoulder and kissed his palm.

He spoke in a whisper, coarse and deep. "Don't you ever leave me."

Lisa remembered why she had gone on this mission. To evaluate her life outside of Painter's shadow. To get some perspective as their lives merged together, professionally and personally.

She had learned her answer.

From cannibal attacks to the tortures of madmen.

She knew she was strong enough to stand alone.

But.. .

She leaned up, kissing his lips, whispering.

"This is where I belong."

12:02 P.M.

Gray crossed down the hospital's garden path. He had changed into jeans, boots, and an untucked shirt with a tropical print. It was good to be in regular clothes, to shed the hospital gowns. It also felt good to be outside, under the sun, though his lungs still felt heavy and the bright light stung his sensitive eyes. He was still healing, but his restless energy after a week indoors had built to an edgy irritation.

His pace quickened, his stride lengthening. He had circled the entire garden, full around the building. He wanted no surprises.

He had been plotting this for the past three days, and now the timetable had been moved up. The gate to the hospital appeared ahead.

They were allowed to leave, but only as far as the surrounding village.

Rounding a corner of a tall hedgerow, Gray came upon a small alcove, a private altar with a fat Buddha draped in red silk. A few smudge sticks lay on the ground, but currently the smoke came from another source.

Kowalski leaned on the Buddha, a palm atop the stone head. He removed the cigar from his mouth, puffing a long thick cloud.

"Oh, yeah . .." he moaned in grudging contentment.

"Where did you get a—oh, never mind." Gray held out a hand. "Were you able to find what I asked for?"

Kowalski stubbed out his cigar on the Buddha's shoulder.

Even Gray cringed a bit at the casual sacrilege.

"Yeah, but what do you want with all this?" he asked, and lifted a paperwrapped bundle from behind his back. "I bribed my nurse while getting a sponge bath. Of course it was a guy. Took all the fun out of it. But he was able to buy what you wanted."

Gray took the package and turned to head off.

Kowalski crossed his arms, his brows heavy with disappointment, even heaving out an irritated sigh.

Gray stepped back. "What's the matter?"

Kowalski opened his mouth—then closed it.

"What?" Gray pressed.

Kowalski flipped his hands in the air. "First. . . well, all this time, 1 didn't get to shoot a single goddamn gun. Not a rifle, not a pistol, not a popgun! I mean I might as well have been on guard duty back home. All I got for my troubles was a bunch of needles stuck in my ass."

Gray stood a moment, staring. It was the longest speech Kowalski had ever given. He was plainly passionate on the subject.

"I'm just saying . . ." Kowalski blurted, suddenly mildly chagrined.

Gray sighed. "Come with me." He stalked off and headed toward the gate. He did owe the guy.

Kowalski followed. "Where we going?"

Gray led him to the gate. The guards on duty nodded to them. Gray tucked the package under his arm and fished out his wallet. He stripped out a bill and passed it to Kowalski as they stepped through the gate.

"What am I supposed to do with ten dollars?" he asked.

Gray stepped farther out and pointed down the road to where a work crew labored. Thailand-style. Four men and their two work animals.

"Look .. . elephants," Gray said.

Kowalski stared down the dirt track, down to the bill in his hands, then back out to the elephants. A giant grin split his face. He strode off, turned back, struggled to express his thanks, failed, then headed down the road again.

"Oh, yeah, I'm all over this elephant ride.. ." He lifted his arm. "Hey, you! Gunga Din!"

Gray turned around and headed back inside.

Poor elephant.

12:15 P.M.

Vigor rested in his bed. He had a pair of reading glasses perched on his nose. He had books piled on his nightstand, crowding his goldfish bowl. He had articles printed out and stacked on the other side of the hospital bed: on angelic script, on Marco Polo, on the history of the Khmers, on the ruins of Angkor.

He was presently rereading for the fourth time the scientific report Gray had sited, an article in Science magazine from 1994, relating the study of human language to DNA code.

Fascinating. . .

Motion at his open door drew his attention from the paper. He spotted Gray. "Commander Pierce!" he called out.

Gray paused at the door, checked his watch, then leaned in. "Yes, Monsignor."

Vigor was surprised at the formality. Something had set Gray on edge. He waved the man inside. "Come in for a moment."

"I have just that... a moment." He stepped inside. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine." Vigor waved away such matters. "I read this article. 1 didn't realize that only three percent of our genome is active. That a full ninety-seven percent is junk and codes for nothing. Yet, when this junk is run through the cryptography program testing for language, even such random garbage also reveals a language. Amazing." Vigor took off his glasses. "Gray, what if we could understand that language?"

Gray nodded. "Some things may be forever beyond us."

Vigor scowled gently. "Now I certainly don't believe that. God didn't give us these big brains and not want us to use them. We were born to question, to search, to strive for a fuller understanding of the universe, both external and internal."

Gray checked his watch again, subtly, a flick of his eyes down to his wrist, not wanting to appear rude.

Vigor decided to quit torturing the young man. He plainly was busy. "I'll get to my point. Remember back in the barrel vault beneath the Bayon, I mentioned how the angelic script—the possible written form of this unknown genetic language—could be the Word of God mapping out something greater in us, maybe something buried in that ninety-seven percent of our genetic code that is considered junk. What if it's not junk? Maybe we even caught a glimpse of that greater part of us."

"How do you mean?"

"The woman Susan. Maybe her transformation was a peek into the true translation of the angelic script?"

Vigor read the disbelief in the commander's face and held up a hand. "I talked to Lisa earlier this morning. She mentioned how she believed Susan's brain was fully excited by the energies of the bacteria when exposed to sunlight, awakening those parts of the human brain that are otherwise dormant. 1 find it interesting that only a tiny fraction of our genetic code is active, and at the same time, we only utilize a small portion of our brain. Don't you find that odd?"

Gray shrugged, noncommittal. "I suppose."

Vigor continued. "What if all that angelic script maps out our full potential, that which still remains hidden in all of us, waiting to be awakened? According to the book of Genesis, God made us in his image. What if that image is yet to be fully realized, buried in dormant sections of our brain, hidden within the angelic language of our junk DNA? Maybe all that script written on the walls under the Bayon, glowing in the dark, maybe the ancient writer was attempting to understand that potential, too. You mentioned yourself how it was incomplete, sections missing."

"That's true," Gray conceded. "And you raise some interesting conjectures worth exploring, but I don't know if we'll ever know the truth. Susan is back to normal, and I heard from Painter that an excavation team was able to breach the foundation vault beneath the Bayon. Some of the walls were found intact, but Nasser's acid bomb had stripped the surfaces clean. Nothing remains of the script."

Vigor felt his heart sink. "A shame. Still, I wonder about something that we never found down in the cavern."

"What's that?"

"Your turtle," Vigor said. "You thought that the vault might contain a deeper mystery, something that represents the incarnation of Vishnu."

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