Then the doors closed.
Khamisi raced through the jungle, hunched low over the motorcycle. Paula Kane rode behind him, rifle on her shoulder. Zulu warrior and British agent. Strange bedfellows. Some of the bloodiest history of the land had taken place during the Anglo-Zulu wars of the nineteenth century.
Now they were a fine-tuned team.
"Left!" Paula yelled.
Khamisi twisted the wheel. Paula's rifle muzzle swung to his other side. She fired. A Waalenberg sentry fell back with a scream.
To either side, gunfire and explosions echoed throughout the jungle.
The estate's forces were in full rout.
Suddenly, with no warning, their cycle jetted out of the jungle and into a ten-acre manicured garden. Khamisi braked to a stop, skidding into cover under the branches of a willow.
The mansion filled the world ahead.
Khamisi lifted his binoculars from around his neck and searched the roofline. He spotted where the park helicopter had landed at the helipad. Movement drew his eye. He adjusted the binoculars, and a familiar shape focused into view. Tau. His Zulu friend stood at the roof's edge and studied the war below.
Then from the left, a shape entered the field of view, behind Tau, a pipe gripped above his head. Warden Gerald Kellogg.
"Don't move," Paula said behind Khamisi.
Her rifle's stock settled atop Khamisi's head as she aimed through her sniper's scope.
"I see him," she said.
Khamisi cringed but held still, staring through his binoculars.
Paula squeezed her trigger. The rifle blasted, ringing his ears.
Warden Kellogg's head snapped back. Tau almost fell off the roof in fright, but he dropped flat, unaware his life had just been saved.
Khamisi caught some of Tau's fear, a tremble of foreboding after the close call. How were the others doing in there?
"You've doomed us!" Baldric repeated.
Gray refused to give up. "Can you slow the Bell from discharging? Buy me time to get below. To fix the shield."
The old man stared at the frozen blast shield, crowned by blue light. Fear reflected in his face. "There may be a way, but…but…"
"Someone has to go inside there." He pointed his trembling cane at the blast chamber and shook his head, plainly refusing to volunteer.
A voice called as the door pushed open. "I'll do it."
Gray and Marcia spun, lifting their pistols.
An amazing sight hobbled into the room. Monk came first, supporting the dark-haired woman who had just called to them. Most of the others were strangers. An older black man limped in with a clean-shaven youth in a military buzz cut. They were followed by Fiona and a tall athletic blond woman who looked like she had just run a marathon. The two supported an older man, limp, barely standing. Momentum seemed to be all that kept him on his feet. As soon as the women stopped, he sagged. His face, hanging down until now, raised, met Gray's gaze with familiar blue eyes.
"Gray…" he mumbled numbly.
A shock of recognition passed through him. "Director Crowe?"
Gray hurried to his side.
"No time," the dark-haired woman warned, still supported by Monk. She looked little better than Painter. Her eyes studied the shield and Bell with a look of familiarity. "I'll need help getting inside the chamber. And he's coming with me."
She lifted a trembling arm at Baldric Waalenberg.
The old man moaned. "No…"
The woman glared. "We'll need two sets of hands on the polarity conduits. And you know the machine."
Monk motioned to the black man. "Mosi, help get Anna inside there. We'll need a ladder." He then faced Gray and clasped him in a brief handshake, leaning forward to touch shoulders in a more familial gesture.
"We don't have much time," Gray said in Monk's ear, surprised at how relieved he was at Monk's arrival. Renewed hope surged through him.
"Tell me about it." Monk unhooked a radio and passed it to Gray. "Get that contraption movin'. I'll get things going here."
Gray grabbed the radio and headed out. He had a thousand questions, but they would have to wait. He kept the radio channel open. He heard noises and voices, arguments and a few shouts. Footsteps followed him, running. He glanced back. It was Fiona.
"I'm coming with you!" she shouted and closed the distance by the time he reached the fire stairs.
He clambered down.
She lifted a transmitter with an extended antenna. "In case you run into any of those monsters."
"Just keep up," he said.
"Oh, shut up."
They ran the rest of the way, reaching the lower-level hallway and utility room.
Monk came on the radio. "Anna and the old bastard are inside the chamber. Course he's none too happy about it. A shame. And we were getting to be such good friends."
"Monk…" Gray warned, focusing his man back on task.
"I'm going to pass the radio to Anna. She'll coordinate with you. Oh, by the way, you've got less than a minute. Ciao."
Gray shook his head and yanked on the utility door.
Fiona saw him tug on the door a second time and sighed. "No key?"
Gray frowned, pulled out his pistol from his waistband, and aimed at the lock. He fired. The blast echoed in the hall, leaving a smoking hole where the lock used to be. He shoved the door open.
Fiona followed. "I guess that works, too."
Ahead, he spotted the motor assembly and pistons for raising and lowering the blast shield.
A strange rhythmic static flowed over the radio, ebbing and flowing like waves on a beach. Gray realized it must be interference from the Bell. Monk must have passed Anna the radio.
Confirming this, he heard the woman's voice arguing through the static. It was a jumble of technical debate, an angry mix of German and Dutch. Gray tuned most of it out as he circled the motor assembly. Then the woman's voice spoke more clearly in English.
He cleared his throat. "Go ahead."
Her voice rasped with exhaustion. "We have our fingers in the proverbial dike up here, but it won't hold."
Gray spotted the problem. A fuse smoked by one of the pistons. Using the edge of his shirt, he yanked it out. He turned to Fiona. "We need another one. Must be a spare around here somewhere."
Static grew ominously louder, but not enough to cover Baldric's words, whispered to Anna urgently, "…join us. We could use another expert with the Bell."