"Jesspal, sir .. . Jessie," the young man mumbled, reading his confusion.
Lowering his gun, Monk nodded and pushed inside. "Where's Lisa?"
"I don't know. 1 was up in triage," he explained, trembling all over, close to shock. "Then the explosions. . . four of the crew opened fire in the hospital ward. I ran. Dr. Cummings had gone to speak with the toxicologist. I prayed to Vishnu that she had fled back to her cabin."
The young man glanced to the fouled bed, then just as quickly away. "Dr. Cummings had left her bag up in triage. I grabbed it. Found her key. But the man here had already been waiting inside. He got angry when I wasn't her. Made me kneel on the floor. He had a radio."
Jessie pointed to the portable radio on the floor.
"And what happened to his throat?" Monk asked.
"I couldn't let him report in. And Dr. Cummings had left more than her key card in her bag." From his waistband, Jessie pulled free a scalpel. "I... I had to . .."
Monk squeezed his upper arm. "You did good, Jessie."
The young man sagged down atop the other bed. "I heard them over shipwide radio. Calling for some of the doctors. Including Dr. Cummings."
"Where did they want them to go?"
"The ship's bridge."
"Did they repeat the order?"
Jessie stared for a moment, then slowly shook his head.
So Lisa must have obeyed. . .
Monk now had a destination.
He crossed to the door that linked their two rooms. It had been left ajar. A quick peek revealed his room was in no better shape. Someone had cleared his personal gear, including his satellite phone. He searched a bit more to be sure. No luck.
Monk also examined the dead body and discovered a surprise. The dark hue of the pirate's skin extended only to hands and face. The remainder of the man's skin was as pale as snow, sprinkled with a few freckles. This was no local islander—but some mercenary in disguise.
What was going on here?
Monk crossed back to his room to grab a pair of basketball shoes.
As he pulled them over his bare feet, he spoke to Jessie. "We can't stay here. Someone will come looking for your sleeping beauty over there. We'll find you somewhere else to hole up."
"What about you?"
"I'm going after Lisa."
"Then I'm coming with you." Jessie stood up a bit shakily.
The young man tugged his shirt over his head, plainly intending to go in a pirate disguise, too. The young man was all rib bones, but Monk supposed there were some wiry muscles under there, too. Jessie had jumped the man here, taken out someone twice his size.
"I'm better alone," Monk said firmly.
Jessie finally got his shirt over his head, mumbling something.
The nurse turned to him, exasperated. "I've been trained in jujitsu and karate. Fifth-degree black belt in each."
"I don't care if you're India's answer to Jackie Chan. You're still not coming."
A knock at the door startled them both. Someone shouted at them in Malay, plainly a question. Monk didn't understand a word. He lifted his rifle. He had other means of communication.
Jessie slipped past him, shoving Monk's rifle barrel down as he passed. The nurse called through the door, sounding irritated, snapping back in Malay. An exchange followed, then whoever was at the door left, plainly satisfied.
Jessie turned back to him, cocking one eyebrow.
"Okay, maybe you could be useful," Monk admitted.
Lisa stood with the other scientists and Ryder Blunt. The group of captives had been led at gunpoint to the foredeck of the ship. The large helicopter rested on its pad, tethered down now. Its hatches were open and a beehive of activity buzzed around it. Men unloaded heavy crates from its cargo holds.
She noted some of the stamped names and corporate logos: synbiotic, welch scientific, genecorp. One box bore a stenciled American flag and the letters usamriid. The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
It was all medical equipment.
The crates vanished down the throat of an elevator.
She caught Henri Barnhardt's eye. The toxicologist had also noted the marked crates. One hand absently scratched his bearded chin. Deep frown lines bracketed his lips. Off to the side, Miller and Lindholm simply stood with their eyes glazed over, while Ryder Blunt attempted to light another cigar in the blustering breezes atop the cruise ship.
Standing under the helicopter's rotors, Dr. Devesh Patanjali continued to oversee the final unloading personally. He had never explained his cryptic statement about saving the world. Instead he had ordered them all up here.
The Maori leader of the gunmen stood to one side, hands free of any weapons, but his palm rested on a holstered horse pistol, a massive sidearm. He stood with squinted eyes, surveying the foredeck's activity, like a sniper sweeping a killing field. Lisa knew nothing escaped his notice, including the young woman who had accompanied Dr. Devesh Patanjali.
She remained a mystery, having spoken not a single word, her face an unwavering mask. She stood atop the foredeck with her sleek black boots together, her hands folded at her waist, a formal posture of waiting and servitude. And though her face might be unreadable, the shape and curve of her form had fully captured the attention of the Maori gunman.
Lisa had overheard her name when Dr. Patanjali had passed out of the presidential suite below. Surina. The doctor had given her a chaste kiss on the cheek as he left. It had been accepted without a flicker of emotion. The woman appeared to be of mixed Indian blood, dressed in a long sari wrap of muted oranges and rose silk, draped over which was a long ebony braid. If untied, her hair must sweep the floor behind her heels. Marking her heritage, she bore a crimson dot, the traditional bindi, on her forehead. But her complexion, a polished teak, was much lighter than Devesh Patanjali's, suggesting a European bloodline somewhere in her past.
Whether she was Devesh's sister, wife, or merely a companion, Lisa could not discern. But there was also something menacing in her silence, possibly heightened by the coldness in her eyes. Also her left arm was gloved in black, so skintight it was hard to tell if it was leather or rubber. But it looked like her limb had been dipped in black India Ink.
Crossing her arms, Lisa turned and searched the receding profile of Christmas Island. In the short time they'd been under way, the island had shrunk to a misty green silhouette, trailing a smudge of dark smoke into the sky. But who was there to see it as a signal? Painter would surely grow suspicious if neither she nor Monk called in to report. And for the moment, she placed all her hopes on his paranoia.
Luckily it was a safe bet.
A wind gusted as the tradewinds kicked up. Gulls coasted the breezes overhead, catching her eyes. If only she could fly away as easily . . .
A shout drew her attention back to the helicopter.
Two men in surgical scrubs hauled a stretcher from the rear hold of the helicopter. Wheels dropped and locked. Devesh hovered over them, checking the patient strapped to the gurney. Portable monitoring equipment lay nestled haphazardly around the patient for transport. The figure was sealed in an oxygen tent. The patient appeared to be a woman from the rise and fall of her chest. Facial features were obscured by a respirator and a tangled octopus of tubes and wires.
Devesh pointed his cane, and the two orderlies guided the gurney toward the elevators, following the train of medical equipment.
He finally crossed back to his captives.
"We'll have all the labs and medical suites set up in the next hour. Luckily, Dr. Cummings and her partner were very kind to have brought pieces of equipment that were beyond even my reach. Who would have known your Defense Department's research-and-development branch had perfected a portable scanning electron microscope? Along with electrophoresis equipment and protein sequencer? Quite a bit of serendipity to have such tools land in our laps."
He tapped his cane and set off. "Come. Let me show you the true face of what assails us."
Lisa followed with the others. In this instance, she didn't need the rifles at her back to make her obey. Mysteries were piled atop mysteries here, and she wanted answers, some clue to the reason for this assault and for Devesh's words.
My dear, together we must save the world.
They were led down three decks. Along the way, Lisa had noted crews of men in chemical suits, working along the lower passageways, moving within stinging clouds of sprayed disinfectant.
Devesh continued to the forward section of the ship. The hall ended ut II wide circular space, off which the pricier cabins extended. Monk had mandeered one of the large suites here for his own laboratory. It seemed Devesh had commandeered all the rest.
Tucking under an isolation drape, he waved them into the busy central workspace. "Here we are," he said.
A score of men were cracking open crates, yanking out packing straw and Styrofoam, hauling free plastic-wrapped medical and laboratory equipment. One man emptied a boxful of petri dishes used to culture bacteria. The door to Monk's lab lay open. Lisa noted a man inside with a clipboard, inventorying Sigma's equipment.
Devesh marched them to a neighboring cabin. He swiped a personal key card and shoved open the door.
Turning, he spoke to the tattooed leader of the mercenary force. "Rakao, please have Dr. Miller taken to the bacteriology suite." He turned to the scientist. "Dr. Miller, we've taken the liberty of bringing up and expanding your bacteriology station. New incubation ovens, anaerobic growth media, blood culture plates. I'd like you to coordinate with Dr. Eloise Chenier, my team's virologist, down the hall, to complete the infectious-disease lab."
The Maori leader waved for one of his men to escort Miller down the hall. The bacteriologist glanced around at the others, plainly not wanting to leave their company, but the rifle at his back discouraged any argument.
As Miller left, Devesh nodded to their group. "And, Rakao, would you personally escort Sir Ryder and Dr. Lindholm up to the radio room? We'll join you momentarily."
"Sir." The tattooed man did not like this decision, his one word heavy with warning, eyeing Lisa and Henri with suspicion.
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