The Judas Strain

Page 83

"Maybe it was just the Judas Strain. The glowing pool. Even you mentioned how the ancient Khmer probably stumbled upon the glowing cavern and attributed it to some god's home. Maybe Vishnu's."

Vigor stared at the commander. "Or maybe Susan was a glimpse of that greater mystery, a peek at the godlike or angelic potential hidden inside all of us."

Gray finally shrugged, plainly ready to dismiss it. But as Vigor had hoped, he noted a slight pinch to the man's brows. Curiosity. He wanted Gray to keep his mind open.

Still, Vigor also saw that something more urgently pressed upon the man's mind and attention. He waved Gray out.

Vigor called to him as he stepped out the door. "Give my best to Seichan."

Gray stumbled a step, frowned a bit, and headed away.

Vigor replaced his reading glasses.

Ah, sweet youth . . .

12:20 P.M.

Gray handed the cup of coffee to the guard outside Seichan's door. "Is she awake?"

He shrugged, a young sandy-haired ensign from Peoria. "Don't know."

Gray pushed through the door. It was a dull assignment for the ensign. The patient was almost continuously sedated after going through a second operation for her gunshot wound. Seichan had retorn her injury and had been bleeding internally.

All because she had saved Gray's life.

He remembered Seichan's arms carrying him, the pain in her blistered face, her swollen eye. But he hadn't known that by coming back for him she had almost died.

Gray entered her room.

She lay handcuffed to her bed, arms spread to either side.

She wore a hospital gown and was covered with a clean sheet.

The room, built for mental patients, was sterile and cold. The only furniture was the bed and a rolling stand shoved against the wall. A high, narrow window had steel shutters over it.

Seichan stirred as he entered. She turned her head. Her face hardened with a slight downcast to her eyes, ashamed at her immobilization. Then anger flared up and burned all else away. She tugged at one of her handcuffed wrists.

Gray came and sat on the bed.

"Even though my parents are alive," he started right in, "that doesn't mean I forgive you. That I'll ever forgive you. But I do owe you. I won't let you die. Not this way."

Gray pulled the handcuff keys from his pocket. He reached out and lifted her wrist. He felt her pulse quicken under his fingertips.

"They're sending you to Guantanamo Bay in the morning," he said.

"1 know."

And like Gray, she also knew it was a death sentence. If she wasn't immediately executed, the Guild would assassinate her to silence her, or one of the other intelligence agencies would. The Israeli Mossad still had an open kill order on her.

He slipped in the key and turned the lock. Her cuff snapped open.

Seichan sat up, still wearing a glint of suspicion.

She held out her palm for the key, testing him.

He gave it to her. As she undid her second cuff, Gray placed the package Kowalski had obtained on the bed.

"I have three sets of clothes: a nurse's uniform, local attire, and something in camouflage. There's also local currency. I couldn't do anything about ID, not on this short notice."

Seichan's other handcuff snapped free. Turning, she rubbed her wrists.

The soft sound of a body hitting the floor sounded past the door.

"Oh, and I drugged the guard."

She glanced to the door, then back to him. Her eyes sparked. Before he could move, she lunged, grabbed his collar, and pulled him to her. She kissed him hard, her mouth parting, tasting sweetly medicinal.

Gray instinctively pulled back. He hadn't come here to—

Oh, screw it. . .

He reached to the small of her back and cupped her tightly to him. Never releasing, she climbed into him, onto him, over him. Her feet lowered to the floor. He twisted, falling back.

He heard the snick of shackles.

She pushed off of him.

His right wrist had been handcuffed to the bed.

He glanced up in time to see her elbow swinging toward his face.

His head cracked back. He tasted blood on his lips.

She leaped on him, pinning him to the bed, sitting on his chest. She raised her fist. He lifted his free arm to block. She cocked her head. "This has to look convincing, or you'll be the one sitting in Guantanamo for treason."

She was right.

Gray lowered his arm.

She struck him hard, splitting his lip. His head rang with the blow. She shook the sting from her hand—then raised her fist again.

"And this is for not trusting me," she said, and lashed out again.

Blood spurted from his nose. He felt himself drift away, then back again.

She leaned down, near his ear. "Do you remember that little promise I made to you at the very beginning?"

"What's that?" He turned to the side and spat.

"That I'd reveal the mole to you after this was all over."

"But there was no mole."

"Are you certain of that?"

Her eyes hovered over his. Suddenly he wasn't so sure.

She sat back and whipped out with her elbow, a glancing blow to his eye.


"That'll swell fine." She rubbed her lips, studying him, like an artist over an oil painting in progress. Then said, "I'm the mole, Gray."


"A mole planted inside the Guild."

She slammed a fist into his other eye. His vision went black for a breath.

"I'm one of the good guys, Gray. Haven't you figured that out yet?"

Gray lay there dazed, from her words, from her blows.

"A double agent?" he coughed out, incredulous. "Two years ago, you shot me! Point-blank in the chest."

She cocked her fist again. "I knew you had on liquid body armor. Didn't you ever wonder why I was wearing the same? Catch a clue, Gray."

Her fist hammered down, rocking his head back. She then pinched the bridge of his nose, plainly wondering if she should break it.

"And the anthrax bomb," he said. "At Fort Detrick?"

"Already sterilized. A dud. I was planning on blaming the bomb's designer."

"But... the curator in Venice?" he sputtered out. "You killed him in cold blood."

She slashed her fingernails down his left cheek, digging deep furrows of fire. "If I hadn't, his whole family would have been slaughtered. Including wife and daughter."

Wincing, Gray stared up. She had an answer for everything.

Seichan leaned back, cranking the heel of her hand up to her ear, eyeing his nose. "And I'm not stopping... not after five years, not when I'm this damn close to discovering who leads the Guild."

She punched down, but he caught her wrist this time.

She leaned her weight, pressing down on him.

"Seichan. . ."

She stared down at him, muscles straining, eyes fiery, as if in pain. Their eyes met. She searched his face, looking for something. She didn't seem to find it. For a flash, he saw disappointment in her eyes. Also regret. . . maybe loneliness. Then it was gone.

She slammed him with her other elbow, a blow to the ear, scattering stars across his vision. He released her. She fell back, scrambling off of him.

"That'll do," she mumbled, turning away.

She crossed to the clothes, shed her hospital gown, and quickly donned the nurse's uniform, including a demure silk scarf to hide her healing face. She kept her back to him.


Once dressed, she didn't say a word, only stepped to the door. She wouldn't even turn, only asked one last thing of him, spoken softly, a lifeline thrown back toward him.

"Trust me, Gray. If only a little. I've earned that much."

Before he could answer, she left. The door swung closed behind her.

Trust me. . .

Heaven help him, he did.

He shoved up in the bed, his face throbbing, his one eye swelling.

Fifteen minutes passed. Long enough to ensure that she escaped.

Finally Painter appeared at the door, pushing inside.

"Did you get all that?" Gray asked.

"The wire picked up everything."

"Could she be telling the truth?"

Painter frowned, staring back at the door. "She is a consummate liar."

"Maybe she had to be. To survive inside the Guild."

Painter undid the handcuffs. "Either way, the passive tracer we planted in her belly during the operation will allow us to track her whereabouts."

"And what if the Guild finds it?"

"It's a plastic polymer, invisible to X-ray. They'll never detect it." Unless they cut her open. Gray stood up. "This is wrong. You know it."

"It was the only way the government would allow us to free her." Gray remembered Seichan's eyes, staring down at him. He knew two truths. She had not been lying. And even now, she was certainly far from free.





August 11, 8:32 a .m. Takoma Park, Maryland

"The restoration job looks great," Gray said.

His father slid a cloth moist with Turtle Wax over the hood of the Thunderbird. They had rescued the convertible out of impound, towing it away on a flatbed. Painter had arranged to have the T-bird repaired at the best classic restoration shop in the D.C. area. His father had gotten it back last week, but this was the first time Gray had seen it.

His father stepped back, hands on his hips. He wore an oil-stained undershirt and long shorts, showing off his new leg, another courtesy of Sigma, DARPA-designed, exceptionally realistic. But it wasn't the leg that concerned his father at the moment.

"Gray, what do you think of these new rims? Not as nice as my old Kelsey wire wheels."

Gray came around to stand next to his dad. They looked the same to him. "You're right," he said anyway. "These suck."

"Hmm," his father said noncommittally. "But they were free. That Painter fellow was pretty generous."

Gray could get a sense of where this was leading. "Dad . . ."

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