The thumping of the blades slowed and quieted.


In its absence, Lisa recognized a new rumble. A slight vibration tickled the soles of her feet.


"We're moving," Henri said.


Ryder swore around his clamped cigar.


Lisa saw it was true. Very slowly, like the hands of a clock, the view of the burning township was shifting.


"They're taking the ship out," Miller said.


Lindholm clenched a fist to his chest.


Lisa felt a similar fear. There remained a certain level of security in knowing land was so near. But even that was being taken from them. Her breathing grew heavier, yet drew less air. Surely someone would soon realize what had transpired and come to investigate. In fact, she was due to call Painter in only three hours. When she didn't call in—


The pace of their movement accelerated as the giant cruise ship fought its own inertia and began to roll away from the island.


She checked her watch, then turned to Ryder. "Mr. Blunt, how fast can your ship travel?"


He stubbed out his cigar in an ashtray. "The Hales Trophy benchmark for racing the transatlantic crossing in a cruise ship is forty knots. Bloody fast."


"And the Mistress?" she asked.


Ryder patted one of the bulkhead walls. "Pride of the fleet. German-designed engines, monohull construction. She's capable of forty-seven knots."


Lisa calculated in her head. If she didn't phone in three hours, when would Painter begin to worry? In four or five hours? She shook her head. Painter wouldn't wait a minute longer.


"Three hours," she mumbled to herself. But was that still too late? She turned to Ryder. "Is there a map in here?"


Ryder pointed and led the way. "A globe. In the library alcove."


He took her to a niche off the main room lined with teak bookshelves. A standing wooden globe rested in the center. She leaned over it and rotated the world to bring up the Indonesian islands. She calculated in her head and measured with her fingers.


"In three hours we'll be lost among the Indonesian chain of islands."


The region, dominated by the bigger islands of Java and Sumatra, was literally a maze of smaller atolls and islets. Over eighteen thousand of them, spread over an area equivalent to the size of the continental United States. Away from the main cities of Jakarta and Singapore, the region subsisted at a Stone Age level of technology. Cannibalism was still practiced on some of the outer islands. If you wanted to hide a cruise ship, here would be a good place to do it.


"They can't hope to steal an entire ship," Lindholm exclaimed, drawn to the library in the wake of the others. "What about surveillance satellites? You can't hide something as big as a cruise ship."


"Don't underestimate our captors," Henri said. "First someone has to know to look for us."


Lisa knew he was right. Given the swiftness of the assault, along with the collusion of key members of the ship's crew, the hijacking had to have been weeks in the planning. Someone knew what was happening on Christmas Island long before the rest of the world. Lisa remembered the patient in the isolation ward, the John Doe with the flesh-eating bacteria. He had been found wandering the island five weeks ago.


Did their captors' knowledge extend that far?


A commotion at the suite's double door drew them all around. A pair of men entered. In the lead, Lisa recognized the pirate leader with the tattooed face.


Stepping past the Maori warrior, a tall stranger pushed forward. He swept off a wide-brimmed panama hat and passed it to a woman who appeared from beyond the tattooed man's shoulder. Striding forward, the newcomer had apparently come dressed for a garden party, dapperly attired in a loose-fitting white linen suit with a matching cane, his salt-and-pepper hair cut rakishly long to the collar. His burnished features and close-set eyes cast him as Indian or perhaps Pakistani.


He crossed to the group, thumping his cane, but plainly not needing the support, all for show. His eyes glinted with a misplaced cheeriness.


"Namaste." He greeted them in Hindi with a slight bow of his head. "Thank you all for joining me here."


As the stranger settled to a stop, he nodded to the owner of the Mistress of the Seas. "Sir Ryder, I appreciate your hospitality and the use of your fine ship. We will do our best to return your ship to you unscathed."


Ryder merely glowered, sizing up the man.


Turning, the stranger acknowledged the scientists. "As we embark on this great endeavor, it is a privilege to have such leading experts from the World Health Organization gathered in one room."


Lisa noted Henri's brows pinch both in wariness and confusion.


The stranger's eyes settled last upon Lisa. "And of course, we must not forget our colleague from US covert operations. Sigma Force, I believe, yes?"


Stunned silent, Lisa could only stare. How could he—?


The man offered the barest bow in her direction, genteel, not mocking. "I'm sorry your partner could not join us. It seems he met with a mishap while we attempted to fetch him. Something to do with indigenous crabs. The details remain sketchy. We lost several of our own men in the attempt. Only one fellow made it back alive."


Lisa's vision narrowed, closing down with dread.


Monk...


A hand touched her shoulder, consoling. It was Ryder Blunt. He faced the stranger. "Who the bloody hell are you?"


"Of course. My apologies." The man lifted a palm and formally introduced himself. "Dr. Devesh Patanjali, chief acquisition officer, specializing in biotechnology, for the Guild."


Despite her anguish, a cold stone settled into the pit of Lisa's stomach. She had heard all about the Guild from Painter . .. and the bloody swath that the terrorist organization left behind in its wake.


The man tapped his cane on the floor with a note of finality. "And I'm afraid we must not waste any more time on introductions. We have much work to do before we reach port in the morning."


"What work?" Lisa managed to force out, bitter with grief.


He cocked one eyebrow toward her. "My dear, together we must save the world."


3:45 P.M.


Monk clamped his palm tight over the man's mouth. His other hand's prosthetic fingers tightened on the man's throat, just under his jaw, squeezing off his carotid, halting blood flow to the brain. The man struggled, but Monk's fingers were strong enough to crack walnuts between them. He waited for the man's kicking legs to go slack—then lowered him to the floor.


He hauled the man into a small equipment closet.


Monk noted the vibration underfoot, and a sonorous pitch to the engines. He straightened. The ship was moving. He had stowed away just in time.


After the explosion of his Jet Ski, Monk had boarded via one of the stabilizing anchor chains on the far side of the ship, shedding his scuba tanks and letting them sink to the bottom of the cove. His entry point was scantily guarded, most of the attention being directed toward shore. From the chain, he was able to leap to one of the hanging lifeboats, then clamber and roll to the Promenade Deck.


He had ducked quickly into hiding.


From the supply closet, he had waited a quarter hour for a lone guard to pass, one of the pirates, bearing a Heckler & Koch assault rifle. The guard was now sprawled in the same closet. Monk unzipped his wet suit and stripped the man of his loose pants and shirt. He changed quickly, but he was unable to cram his feet into the stolen boots.


Too small.


No choice, he left barefooted, but not barehanded.


The rifle's weight helped center him.


Stepping into the hall, he pulled the head scarf over his face, masking up like the other pirates. Monk knew the ship, having memorized the schematics while en route to the islands from the States. He hurried down a deck and along the starboard hallway. He met another two pirates at the stairwell, but he merely shouldered through them, appearing busy and hassled.


One of the guards yelled at him, jostled by his passage. Monk didn't understand the language, but he knew when he was being cursed. He lifted his rifle, acknowledging but not stopping.


He hurried down the hallway.


Lisa and Monk shared adjoining staterooms here. It was his first place to hunt for his missing partner. Monk had passed two sprawled bodies on his way down here, shot in the back, left where they had fallen. He had to find her.


He counted the staterooms. He heard someone crying behind one door, but he hurried until he reached their assigned cabins.


He tugged on his own door. Locked. He had left his room's electronic key card back with his bags in the beached Zodiac. He moved to the next door, Lisa's cabin. The knob refused to budge—but he heard someone stir behind the door.


It had to be Lisa.


Thank God. . .


He tapped a plastic knuckle lightly on the door and leaned his lips close. Lisa ... it's me.


The peephole in the door darkened as someone shifted to peek through. Monk stepped back and lowered his head scarf, revealing himself. After a breath, the chain scraped on the other side, and the dead bolt released with a click.


Monk pulled up his mask and checked up and down the hall. "Hurry it up," he whistled out.


The door swung open, pulled inward.


Turning back to the door, he stepped forward. "Lisa, we have to—"


Monk immediately recognized his mistake and swung up his gun.


It was not Lisa.


Silhouetted against the brighter sunlight in the cabin, a young man crouched, half hidden by the door. "Don't. .. please don't shoot."


Monk held his rifle rock-steady while he scanned the cabin. Someone had ransacked the room: drawers opened and dumped, closets emptied. But his attention quickly fixed on the room's one other occupant: a dead body, facedown on the bed. It was one of the pirates. From the pool of blood soaked into the bedding, his throat had been slashed.


Eyes widening, Monk turned his attention back to the trespasser.


"Who are you?"


The young man waved an arm to encompass the room. "I came here to find Dr. Cummings. I didn't know where else to look."


Monk finally recognized the young nurse who had been helping Lisa. He could not recall the man's name.

***

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