“So you’re saying you’re the descendants of those exiled idol-worshippers?”
“I don’t know. But the Bloodline is ancient, and they still carry on some old Jewish traditions, like—”
Beyond the glass wall, the elevator doors opened with a buzz, drawing their attention forward. A familiar figure stepped out. The tall blond woman strode purposefully forward. Those glacial eyes took in the situation with a single cold sweep.
Stiff with surprise, Robert strode forward. “Petra? Why … how are you down here?”
On the far side of the glass barrier, she stepped to the air lock, typed in a code on the outer door. Thick steel rods locked the room down.
Robert rushed forward and tugged on the door handle.
Apparently, someone had grown wise to his coming betrayal.
Robert stopped tugging, realizing the truth. He called through the glass wall to her. “You’re of the Lineage. Why was I never told?”
“We are legion,” she said. “And not all are happy with your stewardship. When we lost the child—a useless thing, really—I contacted those whom I serve, reported what I found here. How you place grief over necessity. Immediate family over the Lineage. You tug and rip against the fabric that has lasted millennia. No more. You are of no further use to the Lineage.”
“But I’ve led for so many years.”
She smiled, a wicked look, as if scoffing at such a claim. “When the body is strong, the head can be cut off. We will grow a new one and be stronger for it. You are to be set aside. This branch of the Gant clan is to be pruned away, including all the fruit born from it. We will purge the old to make way for the new. With no tears, only purpose.”
Robert’s palm, which had been resting against the door, fell away.
“The purge will start here. In ten minutes. At three o’clock, an appropriately powerful number. I’ve engaged the fail-safe for both your labs and this vault of ages. This day, the Lineage will shed its past and set its eyes only on the future. Immortality is within grasp. Ultimate power at our doorstep.”
Petra bowed, oddly respectful. “Those you love will not suffer,” she said, her eyes fixing at Robert. “Even those you do not believe we know about.”
Robert lunged forward and pounded his fist against the glass, his voice breaking. “Stop!”
She retreated to the elevator, facing them—though her gaze was directed elsewhere. They were already forgotten.
Gray waited for the doors to close, then turned to Robert. “Looks like you’re out of a job.” He tilted his cuffed wrists toward the man. “How about we get these off?”
Robert looked both angry and grief-stricken.
Been there, Gray thought.
As the man undid his cuffs, Gray asked the question he was afraid to know the answer to. “What’s this fail-safe?”
Robert’s face went grave. “A thermobaric bomb. One will incinerate the vaults down here. But over at the lab …” He shook his head, looking sick.
“What’s going to happen at the lab?”
The evacuation alarms echoed across the facility as red warning lights flashed, turning the world shades of crimson.
“Sinkhole,” Fielding explained as he shoved papers into a briefcase.
“What?” Edward asked, sticking close to the man. Others fled in various directions, grabbing what they could.
“A majority of the complex sits above a dry underground lake. Miners at the turn of the century discovered the lake below, fed by an underground river. Later, engineers capped that river during construction, built scaffolding to support the lab over the pit. We’re not in an underground lab.” He snapped his briefcase closed with a note of finality. “We’re on a massive suspension bridge over a yawning pit. And they’re about to blow out that suspension.”
He moved to his workstation.
“It will create a twenty-acre-wide sinkhole that will flood as that main river is unplugged. And a new lake will be born over our graves if we don’t get clear of here.”
Edward urged the man. “Then let’s bloody well go.”
“I’m not going to lose my research—or my work.” Fielding tapped at a screen. “This will be their ultimate test.”
“What are you doing?”
“Giving them a fighting chance.” Fielding leaned to a microphone as green lights flashed down row after row of pod designations. He spoke the final command order, transmitted to all of his army. “SURVIVE.”
Beneath Edward’s feet, a low rumble rose. He backed toward the door. What was Fielding thinking, unleashing that horde now?
“Just the generators powering up,” Fielding assured him, picking up his briefcase. “The activation sequence and warm-up mode takes eight minutes. We’ll be far away by then.”
Still, Edward hurried to the door. He turned to see something leap from the worktable and latch onto Fielding’s back, landing square between his shoulder blades. It was one of his new hexapods. In the excitement, the researcher had forgotten he’d activated this one earlier, left it on standby mode while he tinkered.
Fielding screamed and struggled to reach the beast, but its ice-pick-thin legs, sharpened to surgical points, punctured deep, latching on firmly.
Edward backed toward the door. Fielding had explained about this newest pod, a nester. Its bulbous body housed a swarm of smaller robots.
Fielding backed toward him. “Get it off! Get it off!”
Edward retreated, unable to tear his gaze away. Now, latched against his back, the pregnant creature vomited a stream of smaller bots from its swollen abdomen. They spread like fire ants—racing down his back, up his neck, over his shoulders, along his chest and limbs.
“No, no, no …” Fielding cried, spinning in a circle, knowing what was coming.
Then, as if on cue, the march of the bots all stopped at once—and began drilling into his flesh.
The animal howl of pain finally broke through Edward’s shocked paralysis. He twisted away. He knew what they were drilling for. The other, larger pods were attuned to body heat. These smaller ones were attracted to the sound of beating hearts.
They would drill and drill until that beat was finally silenced.
But from the endless howling that chased Edward toward the surface, it took a long time.
As minutes ticked down, Gray lay on his side, rubbing his chafed wrists. The secretary of state of the United States knelt over his head, picking a plug of C-4 out of his ear canal, using a three-thousand-year-old sliver of Egyptian bone, a funerary object stolen from one of the cabinets.