She remembered her earlier words. No organism is evil for evil's sake. It just sought to survive, to spread, to thrive.


The file was also cross-indexed to the original viral photos. She brought those up, too.


Old and new. Side by side. All the same.


She reached to close the file, but her finger hovered over the button.


No...


Her hand began to tremble.


Of course . ..


Lightning cracked, blindingly bright through the balcony doors, followed by an immediate clap of thunder that made her jump. The entire ship shuddered. The balcony doors rattled.


The lightning had struck right over the ship, maybe hitting it.


The cabin lights flickered. Lisa glanced up just as they went out. Darkness fell over the cabin.


The orderlies yelled out a complaint.


Lisa stood up.


Oh. My. God.


Then the lights zapped back on with a surge of current. The computer squelched a complaint and made a loud smoky pop. The television in the other room garbled, then settled into regular movie dialogue.


Lisa stayed where she was, frozen in shock.


She continued staring down at the figure in the bed. In the moment of brief darkness, Lisa had made another discovery about the patient. Had no one ever turned out the lights in here? Or was this phenomenon new?


It wasn't only the woman's eyes that glowed.


In the darkness, dressed only in a thin gown, the woman's limbs and face had glowed with a soft blush, a sheen of phosphorescence that was not evident in the bright light.


The cyanobacteria had not just spread to her eyes—but everywhere.


Lisa was so stunned that she failed to note one other detail for a full breath: the patient's eyes were open, staring back at Lisa.


Parched lips moved.


Lisa read those lips more than heard the words.


"Wh-who are you?"


8:12 p.m.


Monk listened to the radio's earpiece as he climbed the stairs from the lower decks. He had gone down to check the access to Ryder Blunt's private dock, where he kept his boat. It was unguarded. Few knew about the private slide launch.


"I have the electronic key to the dock's hatch," Ryder said. "Once I'm free, I'll head down there, get the boat gassed up, and be ready to launch. But can you free Dr. Cummings by yourself?"


"Yes," Monk said into the mouthpiece. "The less commotion the better."


"And you've got everything prepared."


"Yes, Mother." Monk sighed. "I'll be ready in a half hour. On my word, you know what to do."


"Roger that. Out."


Monk climbed to the next landing of the stair, crossed to a janitorial closet, and collected up the blanket, pillow, and clothes he had hidden inside earlier.


His earpiece buzzed again. "Monk?"


"Lisa?" He checked his watch. It was early. His heart thudded harder. "What's wrong?"


"Nothing. At least not exactly. We need a change of plans. We need room for one more."


"Who?"


"My patient. She's awake."


"Lisa. . ."


"We can't leave her here," she insisted in his ear. "Whatever is happening to her is critical to everything that's going on. We can't risk the Guild escaping with her before we can return."


Monk breathed hard out his nose, recalculating. "How mobile is she?"


"Weak but mobile enough. I think. I can't judge more with the orderlies in the next room. I'm in my room where I can talk. I left her back there, feigning still being catatonic."


"And you're sure she's that important."


"Positive."


Monk asked a few more questions, settled a few more details, revising on the fly. Lisa signed off to get ready at her end.


"Ryder?" Monk said.


"I heard," the Aussie billionaire said. "My radio was still on."


"We'll have to move up the timetable."


"No bloody kidding. When will you be here?"


Monk flipped the safety off his weapon. "I'm heading up there right now."


 


8:16 p.m.


Lisa returned to the infirmary suite. She had donned a sweater. She had complained earlier to the orderlies that she was cold, a simple excuse to return briefly to her room and make the radio call to Monk.


As she entered, Tweedledee and Tweedledum were still engrossed in their movie. Some shoot-out was under way on the television. Life was about to imitate art.


If all went well.


Lisa turned and crossed to the bedroom—then stumbled back a step, startled.


Dr. Devesh Patanjali stood at the foot of the bed, hands behind his back. Ahead, Susan lay sprawled on the bed, under the isolation tent, eyes closed, breathing evenly.


Devesh was not supposed to be here.


"Ah," he said without turning, "Dr. Cummings, how is our patient doing?"


8:17 P.M.


The elevator doors chimed open onto the level of the Presidential Suite. Monk, tired and irritable, strode out into the hall. He had a bundle of blankets and a pillow.


He crossed toward the pair of guards posted by the double doors.


One sat on a chair, the other straightened from where he was leaning against the wall.


"Go," Monk said crisply into his radio's microphone.


It was his signal.


A muffled gunshot rang out from behind the suite's door as Ryder took out the man posted inside.


Startled, the guard who'd been standing by the wall swung to the door.


Monk was on him immediately. He swung up both arms, a pistol in each hand, one tucked into a pillow, the other bundled in the blanket. He shoved the pillow against the man's back and pulled the trigger, taking out his spine. As the guard dropped, he fired a second round into the man's head. Before the body even hit the ground, Monk turned to the seated man, lifting the blanket-wrapped pistol. He pulled the trigger. . . twice.


8:19 P.M.


Lisa entered the bedroom.


"Dr. Patanjali, I'm glad you're here," she said, swallowing the gall that came with the lie. She needed Devesh out of here. She had told Monk only two orderlies would be here.


Devesh turned to her.


Lisa swiped some loose hair over her ear, feigning exhaustion as her heart pounded. "I had come to get some test results on a CSF tap 1 performed earlier. But.. ." She waved to the computer. "The power surge knocked out the CPU. I was hoping to review the results before 1 went to bed."


"Why didn't you order one of the men to fetch them from Dr. Pollum's lab?"


"No one's there. I was hoping you might expedite matters."


Devesh sighed. "Certainly. 1 was just heading over to my room for the night. I'll call down and have Pollum send you a hard copy."


"Thank you."


Devesh headed away, but he stopped at the threshold and turned back to her.


Lisa tensed.


"You looked quite handsome at the cocktail party. Truly radiant."


Lisa kept her face impassive by sheer force of will. "Th-thank you."


Then he was gone.


Shaken a bit, Lisa hurried over to Susan. Leaning down, Lisa whispered in her ear. "I'm going to begin unhooking you from everything. We're getting out of here."


Susan nodded. Her lips moved, exhaling a soft "thank you."


As Lisa set to work on the IV catheter, she noted the tear tracks leaking from the outer corner of Susan's eyes to her pillow. Earlier, Lisa had quietly explained about the fate of the woman's husband. Lisa had read his autopsy reports, courtesy of Devesh.


Lisa squeezed the woman's shoulder.


Luckily, Devesh had not noted her glowing tears.


8:25 p.m.


Monk hurried across the outside starboard deck, hunched against the wind-lashed rain. Only a few pools of light spilled to the darkened deck. Black clouds whipped and roiled above the giant net woven across the top of the island. Flashes of lightning glowed like a distant war zone. The rumble of thunder was almost constant.


After his first talk with Lisa, Monk had scouted the proper section of deck and prepared everything he needed. But he hadn't had time to ready a second sling. He'd simply have to haul the women up one at a time.


To accomplish that quickly, Monk needed more muscle.


Ryder pounded behind him, dressed in local rags like Monk.


Gassing up the billionaire's boat would have to wait.


"This way!" Monk yelled above the drench of rain and gusts of wind.


A deck chair skittered past him. The winds were picking up. They needed to be out of here in the next hour to escape the worst brunt of the coming typhoon.


Overhead, the island's woven roof shook and rattled.


Monk reached the section of deck where he had rigged a rope and fireman's sling, stolen from out of the ship's emergency rescue gear.


Monk pointed. "Haul it to the rail!" he hollered as he leaned over the edge.


He searched below. The curve of the ship's hull made it hard to be certain, but two levels below him should be the balcony to the cabin where Lisa had been tending her patient. It was the point of egress for this op.


Farther below, the dark lagoon reflected the ship's few lights, rippling gently, sheltered from the worst of the wind by the high volcanic walls. As Monk turned to Ryder, he noted some flashes of light in the water. Not reflections, something deeper. Bright blues and crimson fire.


What the hell?


A crackle of lightning shattered overhead, striking the roof net, lighting up the lagoon. Monk ducked from the thunder. Where the lightning struck, sparkling blue energies shattered outward along the steel bracings of the net, leaving momentary dances of St. Elmo's fire. The entire structure must be grounded, acting like a massive lightning rod.


Ryder joined him at the rail. He had the coil of rope over his shoulder and tossed the sling over the rail. He lowered it with the experience of a dock lineman. The sling reached the level of the balcony, swinging in the blustering wind.


"I'll go down," Monk yelled in his ear. "Secure the cabin. Then haul ass back up here. The two of us will have to pull the woman up."


Ryder nodded. He had already heard the plan. Monk had repeated it, just to give the man one last chance to volunteer to go down instead.

***

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***