He had no choice.
He had to get clear…no matter his own life.
Retreating several steps from roof’s edge, he took a deep breath, then sprinted back toward the front of the building. Reaching the roof’s edge, he bounded up and leaped over the brick parapet.
He sailed out over the six-story drop.
CHRIST ALMIGHTY!” Logan exclaimed as Grayson made the leap off the roof.
“He’s numb-nuts crazy,” the tech appended, jerking to his feet.
Painter simply watched the man’s suicidal ploy. “He’s doing what he must.”
GRAY KEPT his legs under him, arms out for balance. He plummeted earthward. He prayed the laws of physics, velocity, trajectory, and vector analysis didn’t betray him.
He readied for the impact.
Two stories below and twenty yards out, the spherical roof of the Eight Ball rose up to meet him. The million-liter steel containment globe glistened with morning dew.
He twisted in midair, struggling to keep his plunge feet-first.
Then time sped up. Or he did.
His booted feet hit the surface of the sphere. The liquid body armor cemented around his ankles, protecting against a break. Momentum slammed him forward, facedown, spread-eagled. But he had not reached the center of the sphere’s roof, only the curved shell closest to Building 470.
Fingers scrabbled, but there was no grip, no traction.
His body slid down the dew-slick steel, twisting slightly askew. He spread his legs, toes dragging for friction. Then he was past the point of no return, free-falling down the sheer side.
With his cheek pressed to the steel, he didn’t see the catwalk until he struck it. His left leg hit, then his body tumbled after it. He landed on hands and knees atop the metal scaffolding that had been built around the equator of the steel globe. He shoved to his feet, legs wobbling from the strain and the terror.
He couldn’t believe he was still alive.
He searched the curve of the sphere while freeing the bio-bomb from his ditty bag. The surface of the containment globe was pocked with portholes, once used by scientists to observe their biological experiments inside. In all the years of its regular use, no pathogen had ever escaped.
Gray prayed the same held true this morning.
He glanced to the bomb in his hand: 00:18.
With no time to curse, he ran along the exterior catwalk, searching for an entry hatch. He found it half a hemisphere away. A steel door with a porthole. He sprinted to it, grabbed the handle, and tugged.
It refused to budge.
PAINTER WATCHED Grayson tug at the hatch on the giant sphere. He noted the frantic strain, recognized and understood the urgency. Painter had seen the explosive device retrieved from the exhaust duct. He knew the mission objective of Grayson’s team: to lure out a suspected trafficker in weaponized pathogens.
Painter had no doubt what form of death lay inside the bomb.
Plainly, Grayson could not defuse the device and sought to safely dispose of it.
He was having no luck.
How much time did he have?
Grayson ran again. Maybe there was another hatch. He clomped around the catwalk. He felt like he was running in ski boots, his ankles still cemented in his body suit.
He circled another half a hemisphere.
Another hatch appeared ahead.
“YOU! HOLD RIGHT THERE!”
The fierceness and boom of the bullhorn almost made him obey.
He kept running. A spotlight splayed over him.
“STOP OR WE’LL FIRE!”
He had no time to negotiate.
A deafening rattle of gunfire pelted the side of the sphere, a few rounds pinging off the catwalk. None were near. Warning shots.
He reached the second hatch, grabbed the handle, twisted, and tugged.
It stuck for a breath, then popped open. A sob of relief escaped him.
He pitched the device into the hollow interior of the sphere, slammed the door secure, and leaned his back against it. He slumped to his seat.
“YOU THERE! STAY WHERE YOU ARE!”
He had no intention of going anywhere. He was happy right where he was. He felt a small jolt on his back. The sphere rang like a struck bell. The device had blown inside, safely contained.
But it was only the primer cord of greater things to come.
Like the clash of titanic gods, a series of jarring explosions rocked the ground.
Sequential, timed, engineered.
It was the wired demolitions of Building 470.
Even insulated on the far side of the sphere, Gray felt the slight suck of air, then a mighty whoosh of displacement as the building took its last deep breath and expelled it. A dense wall of dust and debris washed outward as the building collapsed. Gray glanced up in time to see a mighty plume of smoke and dust bloom upward, seeding high and spreading out with the wind.
But no death rode this breeze.
A final explosion thundered from the dying building. A rumble of brick and rock sounded, a stony avalanche. The ground bumped under him—then he heard a new sound.
The screech of metal.
Shoved by the explosion, its foundations shaken, two of the Eight Ball’s support legs popped and bent, as if the sphere were attempting to kneel. The whole structure tilted away from the building, toward the street.
More legs popped.
And once started, there was no stopping it.
The million-liter containment sphere toppled toward the line of security trucks.
With Gray directly under it.
He shoved up and scrabbled along the tilting catwalk, struggling to get clear of the impact. He ran several steps, but the way quickly grew too steep as the sphere continued its plummet. Catwalk became ladder. He dug his fingers into the metal framework, kicked his legs at the support struts of the railings. He fought to get out from beneath the shadow of the crushing weight of the globe.
He made one final desperate lunge, grabbing a handhold and digging in his toes.
The Eight Ball struck the front lawn of the courtyard and pounded into the rain-soaked loam. The impact traveled up the catwalk, slamming Gray from his perch. He flew several yards and landed on his back on the soft lawn. He had only been a few yards from the ground.
Sitting up, he leaned on one elbow.
The line of security trucks had retreated as the ball fell toward them.
But they would not stay gone. And he must not get caught.
Gray gained his feet with a groan and stumbled back into the pall of smoke from the collapsed building. Only now did he hear the alarms ringing throughout the base. He shed out of his body suit as he moved, transferring his identification tags to his civilian clothes beneath. He hurried to the far side of the courtyard, to the next building, to where he had left his motorcycle.