Vigor ran a hand along the carving, breathless with awe. "It makes you wonder. Could Trithemius have tapped into that language during his meditations?" He straightened as another thought struck him. "And consider ancient Hebrew, how its characters are similar to angelic script. Could early written languages have somehow been derived from this, arising out of some inherent genetic memory? In fact, it makes you wonder if this language isn't the Word of God, mapping out something greater in all of us."


Vigor shifted his light, sweeping it to cover the breadth of the vast chamber. "But either way, all of this. All this angelic language. What is it telling us?"


"I think it's a genetic blueprint," Gray said.


"But a blueprint to what?" Seichan said.


"Probably a turtle," Kowalski mumbled.


Vigor snorted at the man's joke, but both Seichan and Gray reacted with surprise, glancing to the man with matching expressions of incredulity.


"What?" Vigor asked, sensing something important.


Gray stepped closer, dropping his voice. "I think he may be right."


"I am?" Kowalski asked.


Gray expanded upon his theory of the cavern below. "The turtle's shell represents the cave. But what about the turtle itself? According to the story, it represents an incarnation of Vishnu, an angelic being." Gray waved to the wall. "And here is evidence of some strange biological process, some secret knowledge. Beyond merely a viral disease. I think the coding on the walls is some diary of that process. Possibly still incomplete."


Vigor studied the wall, the blueprint.


Before they could contemplate it further, a commotion arose from above.


They shifted in a group back to the center. It looked as if the demolition team were close to finishing. Their leader had coiled all his charge wires and cinched them into an electronic detonator so they could blow it all from above.


Overhead, Vigor spotted a woman climbing down the ladder. It was difficult to discern her features through the glare of the sunlit shaft.


Still, Gray recognized her, stepping forward. "Lisa . . . ?"


Farther above, near the lip to the shaft, Nasser appeared, accompanied by a frantic, half-naked woman. She fought forward, as if to throw herself into the pit, but she was restrained by the barrels of four rifles, kept at bay.


Vigor gaped up at her.


Dear God . . .


She glowed.


Her skin shone out from the shadows.


Impossible.


"Cover the eyes!" she screamed below, pointing an arm down into the pit. "Cover the eyes!"


Vigor could not comprehend what she was talking about.


Gray did. The commander swept from Vigor's side, dragged up a tarp used by the demolition team, and tossed it over the sculpture's eyes like a blindfold, cutting the flow of sunlight to the cavern below.


Up top, the woman collapsed as if the strings suspending her had been cut. She dropped to a slab of the broken altar.


Nasser frowned back at her.


Lisa stepped from the ladder and joined them. Her gaze remained above, but her words were for them all. "I'm sorry."


11:05 a.m.


Ten minutes later, Gray watched the last of Nasser's men mount the ladder and climb up. Above, a ring of rifles pointed down at their group. The last satchel of demolition equipment vanished over the lip, hauled up on one of the two ropes. The other rope still dangled, taunting.


"Why are they leaving us down here?" Lisa asked.


Gray eyed the rigged sandstone face. "1 think we've just become obsolete," he mumbled.


Lisa remained quiet, then mumbled an apology. "I had no choice."


She'd already explained her sudden, unexpected appearance. A desperate act, born out of the necessity for a cure. The attempt had to be risked . . . even if it meant delivering the cure into the hands of the Guild.


"And Monk," Lisa said with a choke. "He gave his life ... for this."


"No." Gray put an arm around Lisa's shoulders. He couldn't even acknowledge that reality. Not yet. "No. Monk got you all here. And as long as we're alive, there's still hope."


Nasser returned to the edge of the pit. "We're just about finished here," he announced, not so much gloating as simply stating a matter of fact. With all the cards in his hand, he kept his tone cold and civil. "Monsignor, you mentioned earlier how the scientific trail and historical trail merged at these ruins. It appears you were most astute. Here we have the two halves of Sigma joined." He waved below—then turned to Susan, who still sat in a stupefied slump, head hanging to her chest. "And it seems the Guild's efforts have also joined. The survivor from the scientific trail here . . . and the source of the Judas Strain below."


Gray slipped his arm from Lisa and stepped forward. "You may still need our help!" he called up, knowing it was a wasted breath.


"I'm sure we'll manage. The Guild has abundant resources to fit these last pieces together. We've managed to reach this point, starting with only a few words in an ancient text. A text, I understand, that came into our possession because of your actions, Commander."


Gray's fist tightened. He should have burned the Dragon Court's library when he'd had the chance.


"Of course, it was the Guild's efforts afterward—through the employment of marine archaeologists and satellite imagery—that uncovered one of Marco's sunken ships off the coast of Sumatra."


It took Gray a moment to realize what Nasser was implying. "You found one of Polo's ships?"


"And we were lucky. One of the keel beams, encased in insulating clay, still contained biological activity. But we couldn't understand its full capacity without an in vitro trial, a real-world scenario."


Gray felt his blood go cold. If Nasser was telling the truth, the outbreak at Christmas Island hadn't been a matter of chance exposure. "You .. . you purposely contaminated Christmas Island."


He glanced to Seichan for confirmation.


She would not meet his eyes.


Nasser continued. "From the study of sea currents and tidal patterns, it required just planting the beam off the coast and observing what happened. In fact, we were monitoring and collecting samples when our patient here stumbled onto the scene. She and her party. The first human subjects. Of course, the currents eventually carried the tide to the island. As planned. A perfect localized and contained scenario."


Lisa mumbled, "Then with the cruise ship, the Guild saw the opportunity to reap what they'd sown."


Gray sank back.


Seichan mumbled behind him. "Now you know why I had to stop them."


Gray glanced to her.


But she had failed . . . they'd all failed.


11:11 a.m.


Susan drifted in a haze, as if in a waking dream.


Fire danced across her brain.


Since baring herself to the raw sunlight, she had passed beyond an edge. She felt it inside her skull. She was no longer fully herself—or maybe more herself than ever before.


She had become unmoored as a lifetime of memories rebuilt inside her. Her past swelled up out of recesses long thought lost and inaccessible. They knit together, one day to another, one hour to the next, blending into a seamless whole. Her past came alive again, not just bits and pieces, but the full spread and panorama of it all.


And she could remember it all as a single moment: from the crush of her skull as she was squeezed out her mother's womb ... to the beat of her heart now. She sensed the traces of air over her naked skin, every current, scribed into memory, indelible, adding to the whole.


It was all held in a suspended, shimmering bubble.


And beyond that thin surface .. . more.


But she wasn't ready to venture there.


She knew there were steps still to be taken.


Below.


With the fiery eyes closed, the panic inside her subsided to a dull glow.


Floating between past and present, adding moments with every breath, new words slowly dropped into the pool that was her life, overheard from a step away.


... it required just planting the beam off the coast and observing what happened. . . when our patient here stumbled onto the scene. She and her party. The first human subjects. . .


NO.


The single note rang through her.


With her life held in that endless moment between one breath and the next, she was again underwater, weightless. She saw the finger of age-blackened wood protruding from the sand. Her thoughts from then returned, as if she were still in those waters. At the time, she had supposed earthquakes had shaken the keel beam free, or perhaps the recent tsunami had stripped away the sand, exposing it.


Now she knew the truth.


The beam had been planted there.


Purposefully.


To kill.


She remembered how excited she had been to tell her husband, who loved diving wrecks. Just the memory of him filled her senses.


Gregg.


Now she knew the truth.


Why he had died.


And the truth was fire.


 


11:12 A.M.


Lisa leaned against Gray, his arm over her shoulders. She stared up at the rifles. Nasser was saying something, but she didn't hear, lost in her own guilt.


Gray suddenly flinched.


Though she hadn't moved, she snapped back to the moment.


At the rim of the well, Susan's head slowly lifted, her blond hair parting from a face lost in fury. The guards' attentions remained focused on Nasser. Past Nasser's shoulder, Lisa watched the soft glow of Susan's skin flush fiercer.


Her eyes burned with an inner fire.


Nasser must have sensed something and had begun to turn.


Lisa did not see Susan move.


One moment the woman was seated on the crumbled bit of altar—the next she was latched around Nasser, hugging tight to him, cheek to cheek in an intimate embrace.


He screamed—a wail that tore from his throat.


Smoke curled between them.


One of the guards reacted, clubbing Susan from behind.


She dropped loose, head lolling.


Still screaming, Nasser shoved her away.


Over the edge of the pit.


"Susan!" Lisa called up.


***

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