Knowing her opponents better, she stood and stared over at the small bunker through which she’d exited the facility. She knew they were watching. She just glared.
Let’s see what else you’ve got.
She turned and sprinted for the tree line.
“She’ll do well,” Emmet Fielding said, forming a temple of his fingers before his lips, studying the bank of monitors. “Very fit.”
Edward sat beside him at the curved bank of computer screens. He gently fingered his broken nose, taped up after Lisa’s surprise attack. He watched the woman flee out of the view of one camera and into another. She fled through a dark forest of oaks, pine, and spruce.
“Aren’t you upset that she dispatched your weapons so quickly?” Edward asked.
A flap of fingers waved away his concern. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Porsche destroys fleets of their sports cars in their testing lab and field trials. That’s how you build the best. And I won’t settle for anything less.”
Edward had noted how the man’s pulse beat faster in his throat during the attack. He suspected this testing was as much a blood sport to him as it was science. But that wasn’t his concern.
After seeing that, surely Lisa would return with the boy.
“Any word?” Edward asked.
Fielding made a noncommittal noise, plainly not interested. Whether Lisa showed up or not, he intended to continue this test until the woman on the screen was a macerated ruin.
He glanced to the clock. Petra had also gone off on her own to search for Lisa. After being caught off guard and struck in the head, his research associate was out for blood, hunting as diligently and as coldly as those steel creatures.
Fielding sat back from his workstation, stretching. “I think we’re ready for round two.”
“How many will you send this time?”
“A full score, I believe. Twenty. But she’s shown so much promise—truly remarkable—I think we’ll skip straight to the next level of challenge. Introducing a new element.”
Fielding glanced behind him to the back of his lab. Larger pods hulked back there, on four limbs, each leg ending in curved claws patterned after a sloth’s, perfect for gutting prey. Edward had seen how fast the quadrupods could move, bone-chillingly frightening to witness.
“I think I’ll send up two,” Fielding said and tapped buttons with a bit of bravado.
Blake stared at the running woman.
She had better hope Lisa changed her mind and returned with the child—though, in the end, it would not make any difference.
Not for either of the women.
Lisa fled down a long, dim corridor, the baby under one arm, the knife ready in the other. She had watched in fleeting glimpses Kat’s successful battle with the metal creatures—but more to come had been promised, and she had no doubt it would be delivered.
She glanced above her head.
I should be under the red zone by now.
By her best estimate from the live feed, she was, unfortunately, fleeing in the opposite direction from Kat. She could not offer her friend any help—other than to survive herself.
She continued down the corridor that transected the huge complex, passing through a zone designated as black. This area appeared empty but not deserted. The air had a feeling of expectation to it, like before a lightning storm. The source appeared a few yards ahead. To the right opened a vast, cathedral-size warehouse. A full flight of steps led down to the lower floor.
From up on top, Lisa had an expansive view of the space, a hangar large enough to park a commercial jet inside. The warehouse was full of more of those metal creatures, stacked in racks or, for the larger ones, resting on the floor. Cables ran to charging racks or directly into the backs of the four-legged ones. In the center, clearly still under construction, was a monster the size of a Pershing tank, a slumbering giant waiting to be awakened.
A steady hum and the electrical smell of ozone radiated from the space, creating that sense of a pending storm.
The charge in the air stirred the hairs on the back of her neck.
She hurried past with a sense of dread.
The corridor finally ended. She took the stairs, picturing the map in her head. These steps led up to an exit off a spur of the main lab, hopefully leading to some forgotten backwater where she could slip away on foot. She crept up slowly, landing by landing, expecting a shout at any moment. She crossed past the middle level to the top floor.
As she continued to the next step leading up toward freedom, a loud voice echoed to her.
“DR. CUMMINGS! WE ARE READY FOR ROUND TWO.”
Frightened, Lisa fled up the stairs.
I don’t want to see.
But she could still hear. Echoing up from below came the faint shift of machinery, the groan of hydraulics, accompanied by the sudden spike in electricity in the air.
Forces were being mobilized against Kat.
Lisa reached the top of the stairs. A door appeared ahead with an emergency evacuation bar. She feared passing through it might set off some internal alarm, get eyes looking her way in this remote corner of the complex, but she had no other choice. If she remained below, it was only a matter of time until she and the child were discovered.
I’d rather take my chances above than be trapped below.
She shoved the bar, momentarily scared it wouldn’t open—but it did. Bright sunlight flowed over her, stirring the child with its brightness; a chubby arm flailed against it.
Along with the sunshine came a deafening roar.
She stepped out of the bunker and faced a waterfall spilling over a thirty-foot-high cliff. It crashed down to a river below her perch. She did a slow turn, realizing she’d come out on a narrow plateau framed by a frothing river on one side and towering cliffs on the other.
There was no way up or down.
A dead end.
The baby started to cry, soft wails becoming loud ones, echoing off the cliff wall.
She didn’t blame him.
July 4, 2:25 P.M. EST
Blue Ridge Mountains
Within lies the true heart of the Bloodline.
Gray pondered those words as he stood at the threshold of the sealed museum space.
“I was first brought here when I was a boy,” Robert explained. “I was too naïve to understand the true cost of the knowledge inside, of the blood pact that it would require of me, of the losses I would have to endure.”
Two symbols, etched on the glass, flanked either side of the air-lock door. To the right was a cross, emblazoned with spirals of DNA. Gray had seen that symbol before, enough to know Robert was not lying about the importance of this space. To the left was the same cross, only it was decorated with entwining snakes.