After working in the mountains of Somalia and having to deal with tools that seemed antiquated in comparison, Edward felt a surge of childish joy at having such fine equipment to play with. The station in Somalia had served its purpose for the past few years, allowing him to harvest eggs, embryos, and collect viable or promising subjects for the various other reproductive labs around the world. But he had always had larger ambitions. It was pure happenstance that Amanda Gant-Bennett had landed on his doorstep versus one of the many other reproductive facilities and egg-collection centers in India, Malaysia, Australia, or countless other points around the globe. It allowed him the opportunity to shine in the eyes of his superiors, to climb higher up that ladder.

So far, besides a few hiccups, matters had been proceeding smashingly. Amanda’s death had been framed as an unfortunate encounter with Somali pirates; the child had been delivered and secured in the new high-tech research lab here; and after this last bloody bit of work, Amanda would be shipped off, no longer his problem, leaving him in peace to dissect and test the new research material.

The newborn slept in a small crib down the hall, waiting his turn.

But first, to attend to his mother.

An array of surgical instruments shone brightly: drills, bone curettes, cranial rongeurs, scalpels, suction and irrigation tubing.

He couldn’t help but be excited. Though the technique had been developed here, he had only performed this procedure once. A few of the region’s reproductive scientists had been rotated through here to learn it. But it had been fairly easy. The right and left sides of the cerebral cortex were connected with a layer of neural tissue. Using the surgical imaging as guidance, he would first perform a procedure known as a corpus callosotomy, which cuts the brain into two halves. It was a radical technique originally developed to treat severe epileptics, to sever that wild flow of electricity through the brain, which caused seizures.

The second stage of the procedure was one developed by another of his superiors’ agencies. It was called α-ECT, or alpha-alternating electroconvulsive therapy. Electrodes would be permanently inserted into the two severed hemispheres. Small electric shocks of alternate polarity would be administered to those two halves. The resultant whirlwind of mini-seizures trapped within either cranial hemisphere, swirling in opposite polarities, caused total shutdown of the cerebral cortex, leaving only the brainstem functional, which continued to control such vital tasks as heart rate and rhythm, respiration, even gastrointestinal activities.

In the end, the body was left intact, but the mind was gone.

A perfect tool for reproductive studies.

Edward glanced one last time toward Amanda’s prone form.

After this, there would be no more Amanda.

As he exited the surgical suite for the scrub room, a chime sounded from a wall monitor overhead. It was a security feature of the station, announcing the arrival of the elevator. Every room had such a screen. A name scrolled across the bottom of the monitor.

Buggas Abdiwalli

It was the captain of Edward’s personal security force. The screen showed a black-and-white view of the tops of helmets and a black beret.

What does that bloody Bug-Arse want now? he wondered, irritated, using the slang for the man’s name.

He knew the captain was in a foul mood after losing so many men back in Somalia, but Edward didn’t have time for this. He would let security deal with Buggas. If the captain became obstinate, the new automated systems would discourage him from putting up a fuss.

Nothing could get through that layer of defense.

Petra’s voice came over the intercom as he began scrubbing.

“Doctor, we’re ready for you.”


July 3, 3:30 A.M. Gulf Standard Time

Off the coast of Dubai

Now comes the hard part …

Gray prepared his team in the seconds before the elevator doors opened. He expected another layer of security beyond a fingerprint-coded elevator key. The Guild was much too paranoid. Anyone could hold a member of their staff at gunpoint and force their way down here.

Or cut off a finger.

No, there had to be a second level of defense. But Gray’s team didn’t have the luxury of planning, which meant only one thing.

No time for subtlety.

Only one man fit that job description.

And Kowalski wasn’t happy about it. “Why the hell did I grab that bastard’s beret?”

“You’ll do fine,” Gray said.

Besides the beret, Kowalski also matched the height and bulk of the Somali leader. It wasn’t much, but they only needed the ruse to continue for a few seconds. He had to trust that the guards down here were as confident in their safety on the island as the Somalis had been earlier. He didn’t expect to catch the enemy napping or with their pants down, but he could hope for some momentary carelessness.

Gray pointed to Tucker. “You and Kane take point as soon as we’re through. You don’t wait. You track Amanda. We’ll be on your heels as soon as possible.”

Tucker rose from preparing his partner and nodded.

Seichan had her SIG Sauer in her hand.

A chime sounded as the elevator settled to a stop with a small shudder of its cage. Gray waved everyone to the side as the doors rolled open, keeping their faces shadowed by their stolen helmets.

Except for Kowalski.

The big guy was out of the elevator before it finished opening. With the beret pulled low over his eyes, he stalked ahead as if he owned the place.

In a single sweep, Gray took in the view beyond the doors. A small security lobby sealed access to the rest of the facility. The floor and walls were bare concrete; gone was the opulence of above. The ceiling was raw steel in a honeycomb pattern. A single metal door opened off the space. Next to it rose a bulletproof window, like those found at a bank, only the teller here wore a black uniform and carried a rifle over his shoulder.

The guard didn’t look up. He leaned to a microphone. “Present identification and place your palm on the reader.”

A panel glowed atop a narrow counter. A small drawer was shoved through the window and popped open, awaiting papers.

Kowalski reached and dropped a fistful of marble-size pellets into the tray. Curious, the guard finally looked up. With the heel of his hand, Kowalski slammed the drawer back to the other side.

He pressed a transceiver in his other fist.

The C-4 pellets—normally used for blowing deadbolts and locks—exploded in the guard’s face and chest. His body went flying back, a smoking ruin.

Kowalski was already in motion, spinning to the side and slapping a square of C-4 against the steel door.