He heard the pop of the lamp’s bulb under their combined weight.
Frogging his legs under him, Gray leaped outward. It was a gamble. He flew toward the light switch beside the swinging door.
A cough of a pistol accompanied a slam into his lower back.
His neck whiplashed. His body struck the wall. As he bounded off, his hand palmed the electrical box and flipped the switch. Lights flickered across the lab, unsteady. Bad wiring.
He fell back toward the assassin.
He couldn’t hope to electrocute his nemesis. That only happened in the movies, too. That wasn’t his goal. Instead, he hoped whoever had last used the desk had left the lamp switched on.
Keeping his feet, he pivoted around.
The Dragon Lady sat atop the broken lamp, arm outstretched toward him, gun pointing. She pulled the trigger, but her aim was off. One of the windows in the swinging door shattered.
Gray stepped around to the side, moving farther out of range. The woman could not track him. She was frozen rigidly in place, unable to move.
“Liquid body armor,” he said, repeating her earlier words. “The liquid does make for a flexible suit, but it also has a disadvantage.” He stalked up to her side and relieved her of her gun. “Propylene glycol is an alcohol, a good conductor of electricity. Even a small charge, like from a broken lightbulb, will flow over a suit in seconds. And as with any assault, the suit reacts.”
He kicked her in the shin. The suit was as hard as a rock.
“Goes rigid on you.”
Her own suit had become her prison.
He searched her rapidly as she strained to move. With effort, she could make slow progress, but no more than the rusted Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.
She gave up. Her face reddened from her strain. “You won’t find any detonator. It’s all on a timer. Set for—” Her eyes glanced down to a wristwatch. “Two minutes from now. You’ll never deactivate all the charges.”
Gray noted the number on her watch drop below 02:00.
Her life was tied to that number, too. He saw the flicker of fear in her eyes—assassin or not, she was still human, afraid of her own mortality—but the rest of her face only hardened to match her rigid suit.
“Where did you stash the vials?”
He knew she wouldn’t tell him. But he watched her eyes. For a moment, the pupils shifted slightly up, then centered on him.
It made sense. He needed no other confirmation. Anthrax—Bacillus anthracis—was sensitive to heat. If she wanted the bloom of toxic spores to spread outward from the blast, the vials would have to be up high, caught in the initial concussive blast and jettisoned skyward. She couldn’t risk the heat of the explosion incinerating the weaponized bacterium.
Before he could move, she spat at him, hitting him on the cheek.
He didn’t bother wiping it off.
He didn’t have the time.
He straightened and ran for the door.
“You’ll never make it!” she called after him. Somehow she knew he was going for the bio-bomb, not fleeing for his own life. And for some reason, that pissed him off. Like she knew him well enough to make that assumption.
He ran down the outer corridor and skidded into the stairwell. He pounded up the two flights to reach the roof door. The exit had been modified to meet OSHA standards. A panic bar gated the door, made for quick evacuation in case of a fire.
Panic pretty much defined this moment.
He struck the bar, initiating an alarm Klaxon, and pushed out into the dark gray of early dawn. The roof was tar and paper. Sand crunched underfoot. He scanned the area. There were too many places to hide the vials: air vents, exhaust pipes, satellite dishes.
He was running out of time.
HE’S ON the roof!” the technician said, jabbing a finger at the monitor from the NRO satellite.
Painter leaned closer and spotted a tiny figure stepping into view. What was Grayson doing on the roof? Painter searched the immediate area. “Any sign of pursuit?”
“None that I can detect, sir.”
Logan spoke from the phone. “Base security reports a fire alarm going off in Building 470.”
“Must’ve tripped the exit alarm,” the tech interjected.
“Can you get us any closer?” Painter asked.
The technician nodded and toggled a switch. The image zoomed down atop Grayson Pierce. His helmet was gone. His left ear appeared stained, bloody. He continued to stand by the doorway.
“What is he doing?” the tech asked.
“Base security is responding,” Logan reported.
Painter shook his head, but a cold certainty iced through him. “Tell base security to stay away. Have them evacuate anyone near that building.”
GRAY SCANNED the roof one more time. The emergency Klaxon continued to wail. He ignored it, drawing inward. He had to think like his quarry.
He crouched low. It had rained last night. He imagined the woman had only planted the vials recently, after the downpour. He looked carefully and noted where the sand washed smooth by the rain had been disturbed. It wasn’t too difficult, as he knew she had to have passed through this door. It was the only roof access.
He trailed her steps.
They led across the roof to a hooded exhaust vent.
The exhaust flume would serve as the perfect chimney to expel the spores as the lower levels of the building imploded, creating a toxic blowgun.
Kneeling, he spotted where she had tampered with the hood, disturbing an old layer of rust. He didn’t have the time to check for booby traps. He yanked the vent off with a grunt.
The bomb rested inside the duct. The fifteen glass vials were arrayed in a starburst around a central pellet of C4, just enough to shatter the containers. He stared at the white powder filling each tube. Biting his lower lip, he reached down and carefully lifted the bomb out of the duct’s throat. A timer counted down.
Free of the ductwork, Gray straightened. He did a fast check of the bomb. It was rigged against tampering. He had no time to decipher the wires and electronics. The bomb was going to go off. He had to get it away from the building, away from the blast zone, preferably away from him.
Only one chance.
He tucked the bomb into a nylon ditty pouch over one shoulder and stalked to the front of the building. Headlights aimed toward the building, drawn by the alarm. Base security would never reach here in time.