There was no return fire.
"Could it have been the pilot?" Lisa asked. "Maybe there was a problem with the engine and he evacuated in a panic."
The soldier kept his post by the window, resting his stock on the sill, one eye to the scope, scanning and sweeping.
Ang Gelu pointed to the roil of oily smoke rising from the potato fields. Exactly where the helicopter had been parked. "I don't believe that was a mechanical accident."
"What do we do now?" Lisa asked. Had another of the crazed monks blown up the chopper? If so, how many other maniacs were loose in the monastery? She pictured the sickle-wielding wild man, the self-mutilation of the monk…what the hell was happening here?
"We must leave," Ang Gelu said.
"And go where?"
"There are tiny villages and occasional homesteads within a day's walk. Whatever has transpired here will require more than three people to discern."
"What of the others here? Some may not be as far gone as your brother-in-law's cousin. Should we not try to help them?"
"My first concern must be for your safety, Dr. Cummings. Additionally word must reach someone in authority."
"But what if whatever agent struck here is contagious? We could spread it by traveling." The monk fingered his wounded cheek. "With the helicopter destroyed, we have no means of communication. If we stay here, we die, too…and no word reaches the outside world."
He made a good point.
"We can minimize our exposure to others until we know more," he continued. "Call out for help, but maintain a safe distance."
"No physical contact," she mumbled.
He nodded. "The information we bear is worth the risk."
Lisa slowly nodded. She stared at the column of black smoke against the blue sky. Possibly one of their party was already dead. There was no telling the true number of afflicted here. The explosion would surely have roused others. If they were to make their escape, it would have to be quickly.
"Let's go," she said.
Ang Gelu spoke sharply to the soldier. He straightened with a nod and retreated from his post at the window, his gun at the ready.
Lisa gave the room and the monk one last worried glance, considering the possibility of contagion. Were they already infected? She found herself internally judging her status as she followed the others out of the room and down the ladder. Her mouth was dry, her jaw muscles ached, and her pulse beat heavily in her throat. But that was just the fear, wasn't it? A typical flight-or-fight response to the situation, normal autonomic responses. She touched her forehead. Damp, but not feverish. She took a deep breath to steady herself, to recognize the foolishness. Even if the agent was infectious, the incubation period would be longer than an hour.
They crossed through the main temple with its teak Buddha and attendant gods. Daylight glared exceptionally bright through the doorway.
Their armed escort checked the courtyard for a full minute, then waved an all clear. Lisa and Ang Gelu followed.
As Lisa stepped into the courtyard, she searched the dark corners for sudden movement. All seemed quiet again. But not for long…
With her back turned, a second detonation tore through the building across the courtyard. The force blew her to her hands and knees. She ducked, rolling on one shoulder to stare behind her.
Roof tiles sailed skyward amid flames. A pair of fireballs blasted out of shattered windows, while the door to the lodge exploded into a splintery ruin, belching out more smoke and fire. Heat washed over her like the exhalation from a blast furnace.
The soldier, a few steps ahead, had been knocked onto his backside by the blast. He'd kept his gun only by locking his fingers on its leather strap. He scrambled up as a rain of broken tiles fell from the sky.
Ang Gelu gained his own feet and offered a hand to Lisa.
It was his undoing.
A sharper blast punctuated the clatter of tiles and roar of flames. A gunshot. The upper half of the monk's face blew away in a mist of blood. But this time it was not the handiwork of her armed escort.
The soldier's rifle still hung from its strap as the man fled the rain of stone tiles. He seemed deaf to the shot, but his eyes widened as Ang Gelu toppled over. Reacting on pure reflex, he dodged to the right, throwing himself into the shadow of the neighboring lodge. He yelled at Lisa, unintelligible in his panic.
Lisa crab-crawled back toward the temple doorway. Another shot sparked off the rocky courtyard. At her toes. She flung herself across the threshold and into the dark interior.
Ducking around a corner, she watched the soldier sidle along the wall, careful to keep clear of where he estimated the sniper might be perched.
Lisa forgot how to breathe, eyes fixed wide. She searched the rooflines, the windows. Who had shot Ang Gelu?
Then she saw him.
A shadow sprinted through the smoke billowing out of the far building. She caught a reflection of flames off gunmetal as the man ran. A weapon. The sniper had fled his original position and was tacking for a new vantage.
Lisa moved back into the open, praying the shadows hid her well. She called and waved to the soldier. He had his back to the wall, sliding toward her location, toward the main temple. His gaze and weapon focused on the roofline overhead. He had not seen the flight of the sniper.
She yelled again. "Get out!" She didn't speak the language, but her panic must've been plain. His eyes met hers. She urged him over to her hiding place. She pointed, trying to illustrate the path the sniper had fled. But where had he gone? Was he already in position?
"Run!" she screamed.
The soldier took a step toward her. A flash over the man's shoulder revealed Lisa's mistaken assumption. The sniper hadn't been sprinting to gain a new vantage. Flames danced behind a window in the neighboring building. Another bomb.
Oh, God…The detonation caught the soldier in midstep. The doorway behind him exploded outward with a thousand fiery shards, piercing through the soldier at the same time the blast lifted him off his feet and tossed him across the yard. He landed hard on his face and slid.
Once stopped, he did not move, even as flames ignited his clothing.
Lisa dodged into the depths of the main temple, eyes searching the doorway. She retreated toward the rear exit, back toward the narrow hall. She didn't have a plan. In fact, she barely had control of her own thoughts.
She was certain of only one thing. Whoever had murdered Ang Gelu and their escort had been no maddened monk. The actions had been too calculated, the execution too planned.
And now she was alone.
She checked the narrow hallway, spotted the bloody body of Relu Na. The rest of the hallway appeared clear. If she could get the dead man's abandoned sickle…at least have some weapon in hand…