But anything can be detected, given enough time, Painter had warned.

So the second part of this mission was not to loiter.

And she obeyed that now.

In short order, she had everything she needed from Dr. Cranston, including the binder of brochures and information. He walked her back to the lobby, left her with promises to keep in touch, and she soon found herself back under the swelter of the midday sun.

She headed over and climbed into her Audi sedan, a luxurious rental to match her cover. Though her part of the mission was complete, a knot of tension remained in her neck. The plan was for Kat to meet her back at their hotel in downtown Charleston. She would be relieved only when they were rejoined. From there, the electronic devices could do all the spying for them.

She swung her sedan out of the parking lot and onto the street, still worried about Kat, feeling guilty for abandoning her partner.

Her only reassurance: Kat was a pro.

Nothing fazed her.

1:14 P.M.

What the hell is going on here?

Pacing the small exam room, Kat checked the clock on her disposable phone. It had been over an hour since she first walked through the clinic’s front door. She should’ve been in and out by now. She had completed the sheaf of paperwork and handed it to the same orderly who marched her here and locked her in the room.

He’d told her to sit tight, that the initial approval process could take some time. And that it wasn’t all paperwork. A doctor will be in to do a pelvic exam and ultrasound in a few minutes. You will be paid a small stipend now in order to draw your blood and collect a urine sample. Within five business days, you will be informed by phone whether you’re selected as a donor.

This was all related in a bored monotone, as if he’d repeated the same speech a hundred times each day. And maybe he did. Through the walls, she heard other men and women coming and going, doors opening and closing along the long exam hallway.

She had hoped to get a cursory tour of the donation center, to plant another pen camera here, maybe even attempt to reach the other two research buildings. That didn’t seem likely unless she was bolder.

She stepped to the secured door. She had a lock pick incorporated into the sole of her right shoe, and a folded combat blade hidden in her left. But her escape out of a locked room would be hard to explain if she was caught later. There was an easier way.

She knocked loudly and raised a plaintive lilt to her call. “Hello! I need to use the bathroom! Can someone help me, please?”

It didn’t take long for the door to be unlocked.

She expected to see the same orderly as before—but instead it was a white-smocked doctor, a svelte woman with gray eyes. The orderly hovered behind her, holding a tray with a rack of vacuum tubes for blood collection and an array of syringes.

The only warning of trouble: one of the syringes was full.

Before she could react, the doctor stepped forward and jammed a black wand against her stomach. The snap of electricity was loud in the small space. Agony shot through her body, centered on her belly, contracting her abdominal muscles. Her limbs betrayed her, and she toppled to the side, a slim edge away from a full convulsion.

Anticipating this, the doctor caught her and lowered her to the floor. The orderly closed the door and came around her other side, syringe in hand. Even through the electric pain, she felt the needle jab in her neck.

Her vision began to immediately close down.

Kat fought against it, wondering how her cover could have been blown. She’d been so thorough to craft her alias as a shiftless transient with no familial or local ties, nothing that could be easily verified or tracked back to her.

Unfortunately, that proved her undoing.

“She seems in better than average shape,” the doctor said to the orderly, examining Kat as if she were a prized pig at a county fair. “Unusual. Feel this muscle tone. I don’t see any track marks on her arm or signs of chronic drug use. You’re sure she met the standard protocol?”

“Everything checked out, Dr. Marshall. She just moved here. No job. No family. Changed cities three times in the past year before coming here. Gainesville, Atlanta, now Charleston. No one to miss her.”

Kat’s world folded and closed over her.

Their conversation followed her into oblivion. “Then it’s perfect timing. I received a message from the Lodge a short time ago. They’re demanding more research subjects.”

Kat felt her body lifted by the muscular orderly.

“The Lodge?” he asked. “Do you know what they do up there?”

“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”


July 2, 10:20 P.M. Gulf Standard Time

Dubai City, UAE

Gray stood before the hotel windows and stared out at the jeweled nightscape of Dubai’s skyline, an emerald oasis perched between the desert and the blue sea. Towers and cloud-scraping spires blazed with lights, rising from a modern mecca of huge malls, hotels, and trendy residential complexes, all wired and connected by ribbons of flowing neon of every fathomable hue. The panorama looked less like a city and more like a glowing circuit board buzzing with the electricity of the entire region.

It seemed impossible that five hours ago he’d been in a country devastated by war, famine, and drought; a land ruled as much by pirates as any government.

Now he floated above a miracle.

Grown at a blistering pace, Dubai had risen like a mirage out of the desert, with the crown jewel being Burj Khalifa, over two hundred stories high, the tallest skyscraper in the world, appearing like a thin mountain pinnacle at the edge of the sea. Architects from around the world continued to compete to construct the most awe-inspiring designs, seemingly with one common theme: the defiance of nature and its elements. Within the city, one could lounge on a sun-baked beach, and an hour later be snowboarding down the slopes of the world’s largest indoor ski resort. And if one wanted the best of both worlds, the newly opened Palazzo Versace hotel had its own refrigerated beach to keep tourists cool while sunbathing.

But the greatest of the nature-defying projects lay beyond the beaches: Dubai’s famous man-made islands. Their hotel neighbored Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago in the shape of a palm tree, so large it could be seen from space. Its trunk grew out from the mainland and burst forth with sixteen fronds, all circled by a crescent-shaped breakwater. Another two such islands were being constructed along the coastline, multiplying the amount of Dubai beachfront tenfold.

Gray had read of other projects still in the works for Dubai: a twenty-seven-acre underwater hotel called Hydropolis; a German-designed floating palace made entirely of ice, fancifully named the Blue Crystal; and, even farther out to sea, the partially completed deep-sea island of Utopia, shaped like a starfish and sheltered by a breakwater crescent, intended both as a tourist destination and a corporate enclave, due to its unique isolation.

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