She gaped, unblinking, bearing silent witness.
This is where I would’ve ended up.
Amy wore the same mask of revulsion.
Kat shied from imagining herself here, unable to balance this monstrous act with the simple wonders and mysteries of her own pregnancies, of carrying those tiny lives inside of her. She staved off the paralysis of horror by remembering her babies’ first cries, the suckle of a tiny mouth on a tender nipple, the grip of little fingers, so demanding, so needy.
She pictured the other four buildings of the clinic complex, of the levels of research and development performed here: the cutting-edge retrieval and cryopreservation techniques for ova and sperm, the advancements in in vitro fertilization procedures, and the latest innovation in embryo culture and transfer. Many of the greatest reproductive and genetic scientists from around the globe worked here or had in the past. How many, if any, knew what trickled down from their groundbreaking research, seeping like toxic waste to pool here with poisonous purpose?
Kat swung away, knowing she had only half the answers to the mysteries here. She knew where to find the others.
“C’mon,” Kat said, sensing time running short.
She returned to the central alleyway between the rows. She had noted glass-enclosed offices at the back and headed there, striding quickly, with Amy in tow. As her mind raced, she considered various exit strategies. There was not likely to be a back door out of this lab, not with what this facility was hiding down here. The only escape was back the way they’d come, through those red steel doors and past that gauntlet of armed guards.
She searched as she strode to the end of the room—for a weapon, for some other means of escape.
She wasn’t the only one searching.
Amy gasped behind her. “Denise …!”
Without turning, Kat reached an arm back and grabbed Amy’s wrist before the young woman could dart to the side, toward one of the shrouded tanks. Amy had come along with Kat to discover the fate of her sister.
“That’s not her,” Kat said, drawing Amy closer. “That’s just a husk, a shell. Your sister died when she was taken through those doors.”
Amy resisted for a couple of steps, then surrendered—knowing Kat was right. They hurried together, each needing the warmth of the other.
The hallway ended at a line of three glass-walled offices, all facing the horror show. Other hallways branched to the left and the right, likely leading to smaller labs, storerooms, and mechanical spaces.
Kat noted the names etched on the three doors. She memorized them, intending to hold the persons accountable if she ever got out of here. But she moved to the centermost and largest of the three. The name on the door read NANCY MARSHALL, M.D., D.Sc., PH.D., A.B.O.G. It seemed the more abbreviated letters followed a name, the less humanity remained.
Through the glass door, Kat spotted a computer glowing with a screensaver depicting a slowly spiraling helix of DNA. She found the lock unfastened and hurried inside, crossing to the computer.
She reached to wake the monitor up, then paused, noting something odd about the screensaver. The glowing, high-definition image detailed a thick double helix of DNA, slowly spinning, all color-coded, mapping out nucleotides, codons, and chemical bonds. She leaned closer, studying a strange abnormality: a third strand of protein wound within the double helix, entwined into the genetic matrix like a snake in the grass.
Biology and genetics were not her specialty—but she knew someone at Sigma who could better analyze this data. Reaching to the mouse, she woke up the computer. A standard desktop appeared. She needed to secure as much of the data stored on that hard drive as possible and transmit it back to DC, but she also knew she didn’t have time to crack whatever passwords locked this system from the outside world. There was no way to e-mail or send files electronically. The firewalls around this complex were fierce and military-grade.
She would have to improvise and hope for the best.
Reaching to her breast pocket, she removed her surveillance pen. The camera’s video and audio were recorded to a secure digital SD card linked to a cellular transceiver—but the data could also be manually ported over if necessary via a built-in USB connection. She twisted the pen, shedding the camera features, leaving behind the two-terabyte storage card linked to a USB adapter.
Working fast, she found the USB port in the desktop’s tower and shoved the drive in place. Her intent was not to download the card’s content, but to upload files to it, hoping they’d eventually reach Sigma. With the guts of her pen exposed, Kat noted the cellular transceiver glowing a pinpoint green. It remained active, but was anyone picking up the signal?
She straightened as a new icon blinked onto the screen’s desktop, representing her flash drive.
A rumble drew her attention around. Amy stood at the open office door, staring back to the far end of the lab. The steel doors had begun to slowly open, unsealing and cracking with a sliver of light.
Dr. Marshall’s sharp bark carried through: “Find them!”
Kat returned to the computer.
No time to be picky about which files to grab.
Using the mouse, she dragged the image of the computer’s hard drive and dumped it all onto the thumbnail for the SD flash drive.
Files immediately began transferring.
That’s all she could do for now.
“What the hell was that?”
Painter stared over at General Metcalf. He’d never heard the man swear, seldom saw him lose composure. The pair stood before the bank of monitors in the communications nest. Minutes ago, the technician monitoring Kat’s surveillance pen reported new feed coming from her second device. This was the first video transmission since the pen had been activated. They’d picked up some initial audio, snatches of conversation, but nothing afterward.
Then suddenly the screen had bloomed to life.
The first few minutes were a jumbled confusion until the camera settled on a set of red metal doors with a cross symbol emblazoned on them.
Metcalf had just been leaving when the monitor sprang to life, exciting the technician. The general accompanied Painter to observe what was picked up. Together, they viewed in growing dismay as Kat surveyed a dark lab, revealing rows of women in tanks. Then she continued to some offices at the back of the room.
“Did you get those names?” Painter asked the technician. “The ones on the office doors?”
After that, the monitor went dark once again.
“Is that everything?” Metcalf asked. “Where was this footage taken?”