Gunther stood, turned his back on the Bell, and headed away.
No one tried to stop him.
He vanished out the door.
Lisa's gaze fell upon the other figure still sprawled atop the blast chamber's lead floor. Baldric Waalenberg. Like Anna, his skin had gone an unnatural white, almost translucent. But the radiation had burned away all his hair, too, leaving him bald, not even eyebrows or lashes. His flesh had also collapsed to his bones, giving him a mummified appearance. And something about his underlying osseous structure was…was wrong.
Lisa froze, horrified to step any closer.
With the hair gone, flesh sunken, the skull was plainly misshapen, as if partially melted, then hardened again. His hands were twisted, fingers oddly elongated, apelike. The word devolution filled her head.
"Get him out of there," Gray said with disgust, then faced Lisa. "I'll help you get Painter inside."
Lisa slowly shook her head, stepping back. "We can't…" She could not take her eyes off the twisted horror that was the former Waalenberg patriarch. She couldn't let that happen to Painter.
Gray came up to her. "What do you mean?"
She swallowed, still staring as Monk grabbed the monstrosity by the sleeve of his shirt, plainly afraid to touch his flesh. "Painter is too far gone. The Bell only held the hope of staving off or slowing the debilitation, not reversing it. Do you want to suspend your director in his current state?"
"If there's life, there's hope."
His words were spoken softly, gently. They almost succeeded in drawing her attention away as Monk hauled the old man's devolved form out of the device, bumping over the lip.
Lisa opened her mouth to argue against false hope.
Then Baldric Waalenberg's eyes snapped wide, milky and blind, looking more like stone than flesh. His mouth stretched in a silent and prolonged scream. His vocal chords were gone. He had no tongue. Nothing was inside him but horror and pain.
Lisa gave voice to the man, crying out, backing away until she bumped into the console. Monk recognized the true horror here, too. He lunged away, dropping Baldric on the tiles outside the blast chamber.
The mutated form collapsed. The limbs remained toneless, muscleless. But the mouth opened and closed, a fish out of water. Eyes stared blindly.
Then Gray stepped between Lisa and the horror. He gripped her shoulders. "Dr. Cummings." Her gaze, fluttering in panic, settled to his. "Director Crowe needs you."
"There…there's nothing I can do."
"Yes, there is. We can use the Bell."
"I can't do that to Painter." Her voice rose in pitch. "Not thafl."
"It won't happen. Monk told me how Anna instructed you. You know how to set the Bell for a minimum output, for a palliative radiation. What just happened here is different. Baldric had amped the Bell up to a maximum setting, one set to kill. And ultimately…ultimately you reap what you sow."
Lisa covered her face with her hands, trying to block everything out. "But what are we trying to reap?" she moaned. "Painter is at death's door. Why make him suffer any longer?"
Gray pulled her hands down. He leaned to catch her gaze with his own. "I know Director Crowe. And I think you do, too. He would fight until the end."
As a medical doctor, she had heard such arguments before, but she was also a realist. When there was no hope, all a caregiver could provide was a measure of peace and dignity.
"If there was a chance to cure," she said with a shake of her head, her voice steadying, "even a small one, I'd take it. If we knew what Hugo Hirszfeld had been trying to communicate to his daughter. His perfected code." She shook her head again.
Gray caught her chin in his fingers. She tried to break free, flaring with irritation. But his grip was sure and hard on her.
"I know what Hugo hid in those books," he said.
She frowned at him, but she read the truth in his eyes.
"I have the answer," he said.
NUCLEOTIDE VEHANDEUNG tDNA) [CROCUTA CROCUTA't ThuNnvd 14;56:25 GMT
VERANDERING L vi .'t.". "Ii.¦ i¦¦—-¦-¦-_-r—-i-_-
16 RIPPLE OF THE RUNES
3:25 P.M. SOUTH AFRICA
"It's not a code," Gray said. "It was never a code."
He knelt on the floor, a marker in hand. He circled the set of runes he had drawn for Baldric Waalenberg.
The others had gathered around him, but he kept his attention fixed on Lisa Cummings. The answer Gray had discerned made no sense, but he sensed it was the lock, and this woman, who knew more about the device than anyone else in the room, might hold the key. They would have to work together.
"Runes again," Lisa said.
Gray frowned at her for an explanation.
She nodded to the floor. "I saw another set of runes, a different set, drawn in blood. They spelled out Schwarze Sonne."
"Black Sun," Gray translated.
"It was the name for Anna's project in Nepal."
Gray pondered the significance. He pictured the Black Sun symbol on the workstation below. Himmler's original cabal must have been split after the war. Anna's group to the north. Baldric's to the south. Once separated, the two groups diverged further and further apart until allies became adversaries.
Lisa tapped the runes on the floor, drawing back his focus. "The runes I
decoded were a simple transposition of letters for symbols. Is this the same?"
Gray shook his head. "Baldric made the same assumption. It was why he was having so much trouble deciphering the runes. But Hugo would not bury his secret so shallowly."
"If it's not a code," Monk asked, "then what is it?"
"It's a jigsaw puzzle," Gray said.
"Remember back when we talked to Ryan's father?"
Gray pictured that meeting with Johann Hirszfeld, the man crippled with emphysema, lost in the past, the family estate forever shadowed by Wewelsburg Castle and the family's dirty little Nazi secret.
"He described how inquisitive his grandfather Hugo had been. Always searching up strange things, investigating historical mysteries."
"It's what drew him to the Nazis," Fiona said.
"And in his spare time, Hugo was all about sharpening his mind."
Johann's words echoed through Gray: Memorization tricks, jigsaw puzzles. Always with the jigsaw puzzles.
Gray tapped the set of runes. "This was just one more mental brainteaser. But not a code…a jigsaw. The runes were shapes to be manipulated, rearranged, returning order out of chaos."