Even frightened, Baldric was playing all the angles.
Gray listened more closely. Would she betray them? He motioned to Fiona. "Toss me that transmitter."
She underhanded it to him. He caught it and snapped off the metal antenna. He didn't have time to find a spare fuse. He would have to jump it. He jammed the antenna between the contacts and crossed to a control board with a massive manual wrench-lever. The operation was self-explanatory.
At the top was marked op and below it onder'aan.
Up and down.
Not exactly rocket science.
Gray spoke into the radio. "Anna. You and Baldric can get out of there."
"We can't, Commander. One of us has to keep their finger in the dike. If both of us let go, the Bell will blow instantly."
Gray closed his eyes. They dared not trust Baldric's cooperation.
Static had grown to a dull roar in his ear.
"You know what you must do, Commander."
He shoved the lever.
Distantly her last words reached him. "Tell my brother…I love him."
But as she lowered the radio, one final statement rasped out—whether to answer Baldric's offer, or to make a last declaration to the world, or simply to satisfy herself.
"I'm not a Nazi."
Lisa knelt on the floor, cradling Painter. Then she felt the rumble of massive machinery below her knees. Ahead, the giant lead shield rose toward the ceiling, pinching off the blaze of blue light.
She rose half up. Anna was still in there. Even Monk took a step toward the closing blast shield.
A terrified scream erupted from inside.
It was the old man. Lisa spotted his fingers scrabbling above the edge, frantic, trying to catch a grip. Too late. It rose above his reach and smoothly clamped into the ceiling's O-ring.
His screams could still be heard, muffled, frantic.
Then Lisa felt it. In the gut. A whompoi power. It had no description. A quake that rattled without movement. Then nothing. Complete silence, the world holding its breath.
Painter moaned, as if the effect were painful for him.
His head lay in her lap. She examined him. His eyes had rolled back in his head. His breathing grated with fluid. She shook him gently. No response. Semicomatose. They were losing him.
"Hurry, Gray!" Monk called into the radio.
Gray pounded back up the steps, followed by Fiona. Below, he had delayed only long enough to find a replacement fuse and repair the shield. He didn't understand all that Monk had relayed, but he filled in the blanks with what he knew. Painter had some form of radiation poisoning, and the Bell held the only cure.
As he neared the fifth-floor landing, he heard a heavy booted tread stumbling down toward them. Gray pulled out his pistol. Now what?
A massive figure, heavy-browed and pale white, appeared above, half falling down the stairs toward him. His shirt was soaked in blood. A ragged scrape raked the side of his face from crown to throat. He held a broken wrist to his belly.
Gray raised his weapon.
Fiona pushed past him. "No. He's with us." And in a lower voice to Gray, she added with a nod, "Anna's brother."
The giant stumbled to them, recognizing Fiona, too. Eyes narrowed at Gray with tired suspicion. But he waved his rifle back up the stairs. "B/ockiert,"he grunted.
So the giant bought them time with his own blood.
They hurried down the hall toward the Bell chamber. But Gray knew he had to prepare Gunther. After Anna's sacrifice, he owed her brother at least that. He touched the man's elbow.
"About Anna…" he began.
Gunther turned to him, tensing, eyes going pained, as if he expected the worst.
Gray faced that fear and explained in terse words, sparing nothing, ending with the final truth. "Her efforts saved everyone else."
The large man's feet had slowed with the telling. What his wounds couldn't bring low, grief finally did. He slumped slowly to his knees in the hall.
Gray paused. "Her last words…were for you, passing her love."
The man covered his face and curled to the floor.
"I'm sorry…" Gray offered.
Monk appeared in the doorway. "Gray, what the hell are you—?" Then he spotted Gunther in a posture of pure grief. His voice died.
Gray strode toward Monk.
It was not over for any of them.
"Lower the shield!"
Lisa glanced to see Commander Pierce stride into the chamber with Monk, both leaning their heads together. She stood over the Bell's control suite. She had spent the past few minutes familiarizing herself with the device. On the trek here, Anna had gone over in detail how the Bell functioned. The woman had feared she might be too debilitated to oversee its use. Another had needed to know. That onus fell upon Lisa.
"The shield!" Gray called to her again from Monk's side.
She nodded dully and flipped the toggle.
Motors clattered below. She turned to watch the blast shield drop. With the Bell quiescent, light no longer blazed out from inside. A step away, Painter lay on a tarp on the floor, attended for the moment by Dr. Fairfield. To the right, Mosi and Brooks dragged another tarp over the bodies of the twins.
What about the pair's grandfather?
The blast shield continued to lower, waist-high now. The Bell sat quietly in the center, waiting to be activated again. Lisa remembered Anna's description of the bell-shaped device. The ultimate quantum-measuring tool. It scared the hell out of her.
To the left, yelling a bit to be heard over the motor, Monk related the radioed message from Khamisi. The Zulu forces had secured the estate, driving any surviving Waalenberg forces into the mansion, where a siege was under way. A continuing firefight ensued above.
"Gunther blocked the fire stairs," Gray said. "And the elevator doors are jammed open. It should buy us some time." He waved to Brooks and Mosi. "Keep a watch on the outer hall!"
They lifted their weapons and headed out.
As they left, Gunther stumbled inside. From the expression on his face, Lisa knew he had been told about Anna. He had shed all his weapons. Each step was leaden as he headed toward the lowering shield. He had to witness the end. A final absolution for all the blood on his hands.
The shield settled to a stop. The motors went silent.
Lisa feared viewing the damage herself, but she had a duty here.
She crossed toward the Bell.
Anna lay on her side in the shadow of the device, curled like a baby. Her skin was ash white, her dark hair turned snowy, as if she had become a marble statue. Gunther stepped over the lip of the shield and knelt beside his sister. Without a word, expressionless, he bent and scooped her in his arms. She lolled limply in death, her head coming to rest on her brother's shoulder.