The woman spoke again, coldly calm, as she slowly circled toward the door. “I rigged the building with C4 and TNT. Easy enough since the structure’s already scheduled for demolition. The Army was nice enough to have it all prewired. It just took a minor detonator modification to change the building’s implosion to one that will cause an explosive updraft.”

Gray pictured the resulting plume of smoke and debris riding high into the early morning sky. “The vials of anthrax…” he mumbled, but it was loud enough to be heard.

“It seemed fitting to use the base’s own demolition as a toxic delivery system.”

Christ, she had turned the entire building into a biological bomb.

With the strong winds, it was not only the base at risk, but the entire town of nearby Frederick.

Gray moved. She had to be stopped. But where was she?

He edged toward the door himself now, wary of her gun, but he couldn’t let that stop him. Too much was at stake. He tried flicking on his night-vision mode, but all he earned was another snap of flame by his ear. The heads-up display continued its erratic flashing, dazzling and confusing to the eye.

Screw it.

He thumbed the catch and yanked the helmet off.

The fresh wash of air smelled moldy and antiseptic at the same time. Staying low, he carried the helmet in one hand, the dagger in the other. He reached the back wall and hurried toward the door. He could see well enough to tell the swinging door hadn’t moved. The assassin was still in the room.

But where?

And what could he do to stop her? He squeezed the handle of his knife. Gun against dagger. Not good odds.

With his helmet off, he spotted a shift of shadows near the door. He stopped, going dead still. She was crouched three feet from the door, shielded by a table.

Watery light filtered from the hallway, glowing through the windows of the swinging doors. Dawn neared, brightening the passage beyond. The assassin would have to expose herself to make her escape. For the moment, she clung to the shadows of the windowless lab, unsure if her opponent was armed or not.

Gray had to stop playing this Dragon Lady’s game.

With a roundhouse swing, he threw his helmet toward the opposite side of the lab. It landed with a crash and tinkle of glass, shattering one of the old tanks.

He ran toward her position. He only had seconds.

She popped from her hiding place, swiveling to lay down fire in the direction of the noise. At the same time, she leaped gracefully toward the door, seeming to use the recoil from her gun to propel her.

Gray could not help but be impressed—but not enough to slow him.

With his arm already cocked, he whipped his dagger through the air. Weighted and balanced to perfection, the carbonized blade flew with unerring accuracy.

It struck the woman square in the hollow of her throat.

Gray continued his headlong rush.

Only then did he realize his mistake.

The dagger bounced harmlessly away and clattered to the floor.

Liquid body armor.

No wonder the Dragon Lady knew about his body suit. She was wearing the same.

The attack, though, threw off her leap. She landed in a half crash, plainly turning a knee. But ever the skilled assassin, she never lost sight of her target.

From a step away, she aimed the Sig Sauer at Gray’s face.

And this time, he had no helmet.

5:09 A.M.


WE’VE LOST all contact again,” the technician said needlessly.

Painter had heard the loud crash a moment before, then all went deadly silent on the satellite feed.

“I still have base security,” his second said by the phone.

Painter tried to piece together the cacophony he had heard over the line. “He tossed his helmet.”

The other two men stared at him.

Painter studied the open dossier in front of him. Grayson Pierce was no fool. Besides his military expertise, the man had first come to Sigma’s attention because of his aptitude and intelligence tests. He was certainly above the norm, well above, but there were soldiers with even higher scores. What had been the final factor in the decision to recruit him had been his odd behavior while incarcerated at Leavenworth. Despite the hard labor of the camp, Grayson had taken up a rigorous regimen of study: in both advanced chemistry and Taoism. This disparity in his choice of study had intrigued Painter and Sigma’s former director, Dr. Sean McKnight.

In many ways, he proved to be a walking contradiction: a Welshman living in Texas, a student of Taoism who still carried a rosary, a soldier who studied chemistry in prison. It was this very uniqueness of his mind that had won him membership into Sigma.

But such distinctiveness came with a price.

Grayson Pierce did not play well with others. He had a profound distaste for working with a team.

Like now. Going in alone. Against protocol.

“Sir?” his second persisted.

Painter took a deep breath. “Two more minutes.”

5:10 A.M.


THE FIRST shot whistled past his ear.

Gray was lucky. The assassin had shot too fast, before being properly set. Gray, still in motion from his lunge, just managed to duck out of the way. A head shot was not as easy as the movies made it seem.

He tackled the woman and pinned her gun between them. Even if she fired, he would still have a good chance of surviving.

Only it would hurt like hell.

She fired, proving this last point.

The slug slammed into his left thigh. It felt like a hammer blow, bruising to the marrow. He screamed. And why the hell not? It stung like a motherfucker. But he didn’t let go. He used his anger to slam an elbow into her throat. But her body armor stiffened, protecting her.

Damn it.

She pulled the trigger again. He outweighed her, outmuscled her, but she didn’t need the strength of fist and knee. She had the might of modern artillery at her disposal. The slug sucker-punched into his gut. Pounded all the way to his spine, his breath blew out of him. She was slowly maneuvering her gun upward.

The Sig Sauer had a fifteen-round magazine. How many shots had she fired? Surely she still had enough to pound him into a pulp.

He needed to end this.

He lifted his head back and slammed his forehead into her face. But she was no novice to brawling. She turned her head, taking the blow to the side of her skull. Still, it bought him enough time to kick out at a cord trailing from the nearby table. The library lamp attached to it came crashing to the floor. Its green glass shade shattered.

Bear-hugging the woman, he rolled her over the lamp. It was too much to hope that the glass would penetrate her body suit. But that wasn’t his goal.