From the shadows to the side, the young girl reappeared. She held the lost pistol in both hands, pointed at Tucker. Her face was a mask of terror.
Tucker dropped his dagger and raised his palms. “It’s okay …” the man intoned softly.
The girl spat something in Somali. They didn’t have a translator, but it sounded more angry than scared. She steadied her pistol, her finger finding the trigger.
Then the girl suddenly jerked back a step—coughed blood. She dropped the pistol, her fingers scrabbling for the silver blade sticking out of her neck.
Gray turned to the source.
Seichan had a second throwing dagger in her fingers, ready if needed.
The girl slumped to her knees, then toppled forward.
Tucker gave out a soft cry of dismay. He lunged forward, going to the child’s aid, but it was no use. “What did you do?”
“What needed to be done,” Seichan said, her eyes glassy and cold.
Tucker stared across at her. “She was just a child.”
“No, she wasn’t,” Seichan whispered under her breath. “Not any longer.”
Logically, Gray knew she was right. The girl would likely have shot and killed Tucker, and the noise would have jeopardized everything. And a sad truth of the matter: some brutalized war orphans never recovered, never healed, becoming no more than animals in children’s bodies.
Still, his heart ached at the death, echoing Tucker’s anguish.
Seichan merely headed across the lobby. “Let’s find Amanda. That’s what we came here for.”
Still, he noted her fingers trembled as she tried to return the unused blade to its wrist sheath.
“Seichan’s right,” Gray said and pointed to Tucker. “Get your dog. We need to pick up Amanda’s trail.”
Tucker glowered at Seichan, but he obeyed.
As dog and handler worked in tandem, sweeping through the lobby, Gray moved to the security desk. There he found a bank of monitors. It appeared the desk was wired to the lobbies on each floor. He began hitting each button, bringing up one view after the other, looking for any evidence of habitation. Reaching the penthouse lobby on the fiftieth floor, he came up empty. Every lobby was dark, offering a dim view of marble elegance, fine rugs, and the continuation of the spiral stair.
Everything looked deserted, untouched.
“Over here,” Tucker called quietly. “I think we found something.”
Kane sniffed furiously at one of the doors along a curved bay of elevators.
Gray crossed toward him, collecting Seichan along the way.
She stood off by herself, staring into one of the aquarium pillars, her face unreadable. As he reached her, she nodded to the glowing and swirling pillar of jellyfish in front of her, reading the sign.
“It’s a giant hybrid of Turritopsis nutricula.”
He shook his head, not understanding.
“At the end of this species’ life, the adult jellyfish reverts back to a juvenile state. This cycle repeats over and over again, starting fresh each time.”
She stared over at the bloodied girl. Her eyes were damp with tears, possibly seeing herself lying there. Did she wish for such a chance—for both of them—to be reborn, to start again pure and untainted, to have their childhoods back?
“The process makes the jellyfish immortal,” she whispered.
He nodded, understanding this unusual marvel of nature.
No wonder it’s the mascot for the Eternal Tower.
But Seichan had a different viewpoint about life everlasting and mumbled it aloud. “It’s so horrible.”
Gray didn’t comment as she turned away. He followed silently with her and allowed her to work through her grief, to process it. He did keep close to her side, letting fingers brush along the back of her hand, the one that had thrown the dagger.
He expected her to pull away, but she didn’t.
They joined Tucker and Kane.
Kowalski stood nearby, neck craned, staring up, following the coil of the crystal staircase through the heart of the eternally spiraling tower.
Gray followed his gaze.
Again nagged by something.
Something about the shape …
6:47 P.M. EST
The DNA molecule slowly spiraled on the computer screen, a dance of code that mapped out the human body in all its glory—but this fragment of genetic material was unlike anything Painter had ever seen diagramed. A third strand snaked within the heart of the typical double helix.
“What do you make of it?” Painter asked, using the mystery here to keep him distracted from his worries about Kat and Lisa.
“It’s a triple helix,” Renny Quinn said, his voice flush with awe. “The Holy Grail of genetics.”
Renny leaned his large fists on Kat’s desk to stare closer. Sigma’s resident biogeneticist had been summoned to help Painter sift through the huge volume of data coming from that lab’s servers. The man was of Irish descent, with a ruddy complexion and dark auburn stubble over his scalp and cheeks. He was also a former college boxer—which included a fair amount of bare-knuckle brawling, a habit that got him discharged from the army rangers.
Afterward, Sigma grabbed him. Renny proved the stories true of men with big hands—but in his case, it meant he had a huge brain. And Renny was going to need it to slog through this mountain of data.
The files from Charleston arrived disordered and unclassified, much of it in raw code. Kat must not have had time to pare the data down to the most essential files. Instead, what arrived was the definition of a data dump—a load far more than the SD card in her pen could handle. A lot of the files came corrupted, others not fully decrypted. As a consequence, it could take days, if not weeks, to decipher, decode, and repair the damaged files.
Still, it didn’t take a computer engineer to ascertain that most of the files dealt with advanced genetics and reproductive studies, all tracing directly or indirectly back to this one image.
“A triple helix of DNA,” Painter said, staring at the monitor, as perplexed as he was intrigued.
“Actually …” Renny leaned over and dragged a finger down two of the spiraling backbones. “These strands are deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. The third—this snake wrapped around the tree of life—is peptide nucleic acid, or PNA.”
Renny tapped the new helix. “This strand is artificial. Man engineered this, not God. What we’re looking at is the result of cybergenetics, the merging of biology and technology.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Not only possible. It’s been done. A team over at the University of Copenhagen have already managed to insert a PNA strand between two DNA strands. In a test tube, of course. But the only obstacle to moving their research to the next stage is a simple hurdle.” Renny nodded to the screen. “That triple helical assembly isn’t stable in water. Build a raincoat around that strand and the whole world changes.”