His only weapon.
He couldn’t risk bringing anything else through the security gate.
Gray closed the door and crossed to the stairwell on the right. The only light on the stairs came from the red EXIT sign. He reached to his motorcycle helmet and toggled on the night-vision mode. The world brightened in tones of green and silver. He mounted the stairs and climbed quickly to the fourth floor.
At the top, he pushed through the landing’s door.
He had no idea where he was supposed to meet his contact. Only that he was to await the man’s signal. He paused for a breath at the door, surveying the space before him. He didn’t like it.
The stairwell opened at the corner of the building. One corridor stretched straight ahead; the other ran to the left. Frosted glass office doors lined the inner walls; windows slitted the other. He proceeded directly ahead at a slow pace, alert for any sign of movement.
A flood of light swept through one of the windows, washing over him.
Dazzled through his night-vision, he rolled against one wall, back into darkness. Had he been spotted? The sweep of light pierced the other windows, one after the other, passing down the hall ahead of him.
Leaning out, he peered through one of the windows. It faced the wide courtyard that fronted the building. Across the way, he watched a Humvee trundle slowly down the street. Its searchlight swept through the courtyard.
Would the attention spook his contact?
Cursing silently, Gray waited for the truck to finish its round. The patrol vanished momentarily, crossing behind a hulking structure that rose from the middle of the courtyard below. It looked like some rusting spaceship, but was in fact a million-liter steel containment sphere, three stories tall, mounted on a dozen pedestal legs. Ladders and scaffolding surrounded the structure as it underwent a renovation, an attempt to return it to its former glory when it was a Cold War research facility. Even the steel catwalk that had once circumnavigated the globe’s equator had been replaced.
Gray knew the giant globe’s nickname at the base.
The Eight Ball.
A humorless smile creased his lips as he realized his unlucky position.
Trapped behind the eight ball…
The patrol finally reappeared beyond the structure, slowly crossed the front of the courtyard, and rolled away.
Satisfied, Gray continued to the end of the corridor. A set of swinging double doors blocked the passage, but their narrow windows revealed a larger room beyond. He spotted a few tall, slender metal and glass tanks. One of the old labs. Windowless and dark.
His approach must have been noted.
A new light flared inside, incandescent, bright enough to require Gray to flick off his night-vision. A flashlight. It blinked three times.
He stepped to the door and used a toe to push open one of the swinging sides. He slid through the narrow opening.
“Over here,” a voice said calmly. It was the first time Gray had heard his contact’s voice. Prior to this moment, it had always been electronically muffled, a paranoid level of anonymity.
It was a woman’s voice. The revelation piqued his wariness. He didn’t like surprises.
He followed through a maze of tables with chairs stacked on top. She sat at one of the tables. Its other chairs were still stacked atop it. Except for one. On the opposite side of the table. It shifted as she kicked one of the legs.
Gray had expected to find a nervous scientist, someone out for an extra paycheck. Treason for hire was becoming more and more commonplace among the top research facilities.
USAMRIID was no exception…only a thousandfold more deadly. Each vial for sale had the capability, if properly aerosolized in a subway or bus station, to kill thousands.
And she was selling fifteen of them.
He settled into his seat, placing the satchel of money on the table.
The woman was Asian…no, Eurasian. Her eyes were more open, her skin deeply tanned to a handsome bronze. She wore a black turtlenecked bodysuit, not unlike the one he wore, hugging a slim, lithe frame. A silver pendant dangled from her neck, bright against her suit, bearing a tiny curled-dragon charm. Gray studied her. The Dragon Lady’s features, rather than taut and wary like his own, appeared bored.
Of course, the 9mm Sig Sauer pointed at his chest and equipped with a silencer might be the source of her confidence. But it was her next words that truly iced his blood.
“Good evening, Commander Pierce.”
He was startled to hear his name.
If she knew that…
He was already moving…and already too late.
The gun fired at near-point-blank range.
The impact kicked his body backward, taking the chair with him. He landed on his back, tangled in the chair legs. Pain flattened his chest, making it impossible to breathe. He tasted blood on his tongue.
She stepped around the table and leaned over his sprawled form, gun still pointing, taking no chances. The silver dragon pendant dangled and flashed brightly. “I suspect you’re recording all this through your helmet, Commander Pierce. Perhaps even transmitting to Washington…to Sigma. You won’t mind if I borrow a little airtime, will you?”
He was in no position to object.
The woman leaned closer over him. “In the next ten minutes, the Guild will shut down all of Fort Detrick. Contaminate the entire base with anthrax. Payback for Sigma’s interference with our operation in Oman. But I owe your director, Painter Crowe, something more. Something personal. This is for my sister in the field, Cassandra Sanchez.”
The gun shifted to his faceplate.
“Blood for blood.”
She pulled the trigger.
FORTY-TWO MILES away, the satellite feed went dead.
“Where’s his backup?” Painter Crowe kept his voice firm, biting back a litany of curses. Panic would not serve them.
“Still ten minutes out.”
“Can you re-establish the link?”
The technician shook his head. “We’ve lost main feed from his helmet cam. But we still have the bird’s-eye of the base from the NRO sat.” The young man indicated another monitor. It showed a black-and-white overshot of Fort Detrick, centered on a courtyard of buildings.
Painter paced before the array of monitors. It had all been a trap, one directed at Sigma and aimed at him personally. “Alert Fort Detrick’s security.”
“Sir?” The question rose from his second-in-command, Logan Gregory.
Painter understood Logan’s hesitation. Only a handful of those in power knew of Sigma and the agents it employed: the President, the Joint Chiefs, and his immediate supervisors over at DARPA. After last year’s shake-up among the top brass, the organization was under intense scrutiny.