Major Brooks watched, his mouth hanging open.
Monk shrugged at the Air Force man. "Never seen a mutiny before?"
Brooks collected himself. "All I can say, sir…about bloody time."
Monk nodded. "Khamisi is on his way in with the package. ETA three minutes. He and Dr. Kane will take over ground support here."
Lisa turned to Gunther. "Can you carry your sister?"
As proof, he scooped her up and stood.
"What are you all doing?" Anna asked weakly.
"You two are not going to last until nightfall," Lisa said. "We're going to make a run for the Bell."
"Don't worry that pretty little head of yours," Monk said and hobbled out with
Painter, supported by Major Brooks. "We've got it covered."
Monk again met Lisa's eyes. She read his expression.
It may be too late already.
Gray led the way up the stairs, pistol in hand. He and Marcia moved as silently as possible. She kept a palm over her flashlight's lamp, keeping any illumination to a minimum. Just enough to see where they were going. With the elevators incapacitated, he feared running into a stray guard on the stairs.
Though he was disguised as a guard, one leading a researcher out of the darkened basement, he'd still rather avoid any unnecessary encounters.
They crossed past the sixth sublevel, dark like the one below.
Gray continued, increasing his pace, balancing caution against the fear secondary generators would kick in at some point. Climbing around the next landing, a glow appeared ahead.
Holding up a hand, he stopped Marcia behind him.
The light didn't move. It remained stationary.
Not a wandering guard. Probably an emergency lamp.
"Stay here," he whispered to Marcia.
Gray continued ahead, pistol raised and ready. He climbed the steps. At the next landing, light seeped through a half-open doorway. As Gray approached, he heard voices. Farther up the stairs, it remained dark. So why was there light and power here? This level must be on a separate circuit.
Voices echoed down the corridor.
Familiar voices. Isaak and Baldric.
They were out of direct sight, hidden deeper in the room. He glanced below and saw Marcia's face limned in the light washing down the stairs. He waved her up to his landing.
She had heard the voices, too.
Isaak and Baldric seemed unconcerned about the loss of electricity. With power here, did they even know the rest of the manor was blacked out? Gray held his curiosity in check. He had to warn Washington.
Words reached him. "The Bell will kill all of them," Baldric said.
Gray paused. Were they talking about Washington? If so, what were their plans? If he knew more…
Gray held up two fingers to Marcia. Two minutes. If he wasn't back, she was to head up on her own. He had left her his second pistol. If he could see this Bell, it might be the difference between saving lives and losing them.
He held up the two fingers again.
Marcia nodded. It would be up to her if Gray was caught.
He squeezed into the opening, not budging the door, afraid a squeak of hinges would alert the two inside. The same gray fluorescent-lit hall stretched ahead. But it ended a short distance away at a double set of steel doors, opposite where the darkened elevator opened on this floor.
One of the double doors stood open.
Gray moved quickly, staying on the balls of his feet. He reached the doors and hugged the wall. He dropped to a knee and peered past the edge of the door.
The chamber beyond was low-roofed but cavernous, encompassing this entire sublevel. Here was the heart of the laboratory. Banks of computers lined one wall. Monitors glowed with scrolling numbers and code. The computers probably warranted the separate circuit, their own power supply.
The room's occupants, so focused on the task at hand, hadn't noted the loss of power elsewhere. But surely they would be alerted any minute.
Baldric and Isaak, grandfather and grandson, were bent over a station. A thirty-inch flat-screen monitor on the wall flashed rapidly through a series of runes, one after the other. It was the five from Hugo's books.
"The code remains unbroken," Isaak said. "Is it wise to move the Bell program global while we still have this riddle unsolved?"
"It will be solved!" Baldric slammed a fist on the table. "It is only a matter of time. Besides, we are close enough to perfection. Like with you and your sister. You will live long. Fifty years. The deterioration will not weaken you until your last decade. It is time for us to move forward."
Isaak looked little convinced.
Baldric straightened. He lifted an arm and waved it toward the ceiling. "See what delays have wrought. Our attempt to distract international attention to the Himalayas has backfired."
"Because we underestimated Anna Sporrenberg."
"And Sigma," Baldric added. "But no matter. Governments now breathe down our necks. Gold will buy us only so much protection. We must act now. First Washington, then the world. And in that chaos, there will be plenty of time to break the code. Perfection will be ours."
"And out of Africa, a new world will arise," Isaak said in rote, as if it were a prayer drilled into him at a young age, cemented in his genetic code.
"Pure and cleansed of corruption," Baldric added, ending the litany. But his words were equally dispassionate. It was as if all this were no more than another step in his breeding program, a scientific exercise.
Baldric teetered straighter on his cane. Gray noted how enfeebled the man really appeared, with no audience but his grandson. Gray wondered if the accelerated timetable wasn't fueled more by Baldric's own impending mortality than by any true necessity. Were they all unwitting pawns in Baldric's desire to move forward in his plan? Had Baldric orchestrated this scenario on purpose—consciously or unconsciously—to justify acting now, during his lifetime?
Isaak spoke again. He had shifted over to another workstation. "We've green lights across the board. The Bell is powered up and ready for activation. We'll now be able to cleanse the estate of the escaped prisoners."
Gray stiffened. What was this all about?
Baldric turned his back on the flashing runic code and focused toward the room's center. "Prepare for activation."
Gray shifted to see farther into the room.
In its center rested a massive shell, composed of some type of ceramic or metallic compound. It was shaped like an upended bell and stood as tall as Gray. He doubted he could hug his arms halfway around its circumference.