Marcia stood at his back, clutching an emergency flashlight.

Gray raised a hand to the first lever.

They had already located the fire stairs for the subbasement. The stairs should lead back to the main house. But to get outside and reach the security block, they needed an additional means of distraction, extra insurance.

The answer had come a few moments ago. Gray had been leaning against one of the hallway doors. He noted the vibration and hum of the level's power plant. If they could fry the main board—create more chaos, possibly blind their captors for a spell—they'd have a better chance of making it to that radio.

"Ready?" Gray asked.

Marcia flicked on her flashlight. She met his gaze, took a deep breath, and nodded. "Let's do it."

"Lights out," Gray said and yanked the first lever.

Then the next and the next.

2:35 p.m.

Fiona watched the lamps around the courtyard flicker and die.

Oh, God…

Fiona stood in the center of the courtyard, near a small fountain. Moments ago, she had slipped from her post by the locked main door and had crept halfway across the central courtyard. She had gone in search of another exit. Surely there had to be one.

She froze now.

A momentary silence spread across the room, as if the animals sensed some primary change, a loss of the perpetual subsonic hum of power. Or maybe it was merely a sense of power shifting to them.

A door creaked open behind her.

Fiona slowly turned.

One of the iron-and-glass cages nudged open, nosed by one of the hyena monsters. The blackout had demagnetized the locks. The beast crept out of its cage. Blood dripped from its muzzle. It had been the one gnawing the thigh bone. A low growl flowed from it.

Somewhere behind her, Fiona heard a cackling yip as some silent communication passed through the menagerie's predators. Other doors creaked on iron hinges.

Fiona remained fixed by the fountain. Even the water pump had died, silencing the waters, as if fearful of drawing attention to itself.

Somewhere down one of the arched side chapels, a bright scream echoed forth. Human. Fiona imagined it was the zookeeper whom Ischke had scolded. It seemed his charges would get their bloody meal after all. Footsteps ran in her direction. Then a new scream erupted, pained and garbled amid a yowl of yips and cries.

Fiona shut her ears against the last cry, followed by the sound of feeding.

Her full attention remained on the first escapee.

The bloody-muzzled hyena approached. Fiona recognized the creature from the shadow of spotting on its flank, barely discernible, white on white. It was the same beast from the jungle.

Ischke's pet.

Skuld.

It had been denied its caged treat before.

But no longer.

2:40 p.m.

"Help us…bittel" Gunther rushed into the hut, followed by Major Brooks.

Lisa stood up, lowering her stethoscope from Painter's chest. She had been monitoring a systolic murmur. In just the past half day, it had changed from an early-peaking murmur to a late one, suggesting a rapidly progressing stenosis of the man's aortic valve. Mild angina had worsened to bouts of syncope, swooning faints if Painter overexerted. She had never seen such a rapid degeneration. She suspected calcification around his heart valve. Such odd mineralized deposits had begun appearing throughout Painter's body, even in the fluids of his eye.

Lying flat on his back, Painter pushed to his elbows with a wince. "What's wrong?" he asked Gunther.

Major Brooks answered with a worried southern drawl. "It's his sister, sir. She's having some type of fit…a seizure."

Lisa grabbed the med kit. Painter tried to stand but had to be assisted by Lisa on his second attempt. "Just stay here," she warned.

"I can manage," he answered, showing his irritation.

Lisa didn't have time to argue. She let go of his arm. He teetered. She hurried to Gunther. "Let's go."

Brooks waited, unsure whether to follow or lend an arm to Painter.

The major was waved off.

Painter hobbled after them.

Lisa ran out of the hut and crossed to the neighboring one. The day's heat struck her like stepping into an oven. The air hung motionless, burning, impossible to breathe. The sun blinded. But in a moment, Lisa was ducking into the cooler darkness of the next room.

Anna lay on a grass mat, half on her side, body arched, muscles contracted. Lisa hurried to her. She had already established an intravenous catheter in her forearm. Painter had the same. It was easier to administer drugs and fluids.

Lisa quickly dropped to a knee and grabbed up a syringe premeasured with diazepam. She gave the entire dose in one bolus IV. In seconds, Anna relaxed, dropping back to the floor. Her eyes fluttered open and consciousness returned, groggy but attentive.

Painter arrived. Monk appeared in tow with him.

"How is she?" Painter asked.

"How do you think?" Lisa asked, exasperated.

Gunther helped his sister sit up. Her face was ashen, covered in a sheen of sweat. Painter was destined for the same in the next hour. Though both were exposed, Painter's larger bulk seemed to be sustaining him a bit more heartily. But their survival was down to hours.

Lisa stared up at the shaft of sunlight spearing into the room from a slit window. Twilight was too far off.

Monk spoke into the worried silence. "I spoke to Khamisi. He reports that every light in the damn mansion just went out." He wore a tentative grin, as if unsure any good news was welcome. "I'm guessing it's Gray's handiwork."

Painter frowned. It was his only expression lately. "We don't know that."

"And we don't know it isn't." Monk wiped a hand across the top of his shaved head. "Sir, I think we need to consider moving up the timetable. Khamisi says—"

"Khamisi is not running this op," Painter said, coughing harshly.

Monk met Lisa's eyes. The two of them had held a private discussion twenty minutes ago. It was one of the reasons Monk had made the call to Khamisi. Certain expediencies had to be verified. Monk nodded to her.

She slipped a second syringe from her pocket, stepped to Painter's side.

"Let me flush your catheter," Lisa said. "There's blood in it."

Painter held up his arm. It trembled.

Lisa supported his wrist and injected her dose. Monk stepped beside Painter and caught him as his legs went out from under him.

"What—?" Painter's head lolled back.

Monk shouldered him under one arm. "It's for your own good, sir."

Painter frowned at Lisa. His other arm swung at her—whether to hit her or express some shock at her betrayal, Lisa doubted he even knew. The sedative swooned him away.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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