Who the hell does something like that?
Kane continued his headlong rush, his nose sniffing at corners or in the air. He had found Amanda’s scent.
Finally, Kane skidded to a stop, sliding a couple of feet, then returning to a closed door. Tucker met his partner there. A tiny window revealed a long washbasin, a wall of sterilized green packs, and packets of cellophane-sealed scrub brushes.
A surgical prep room.
Amanda’s trail led here.
That earlier chill spread up his spine.
Holding his pistol at the ready, he shouldered through the door and scanned the space for any hostiles. Empty. But a wide window looked into a neighboring surgical suite. A woman lay sprawled and draped atop a stainless-steel table, her upper body locked into some device. A robotic arm vibrated above her shaved head.
He had studied the photo of the president’s daughter well enough to recognize her from her features alone. Kane pawed at the door into the operating theater. He knew the truth, too.
Tucker hurried into the surgical room, finding the place otherwise deserted. A whirring buzz drew his attention back to Amanda. He stepped to her side, aghast as he recognized the source of the noise.
Blood flowed in a thick rivulet from a drill bit burrowing into her skull. He dashed around the table, unsure what to do. Kane danced at his side, reading his anxiety but not knowing how to help.
“It’s okay, buddy,” he assured his friend.
But it was far from okay.
Tucker followed the electrical cord from the robotic arm to a workstation. Not knowing what else to do, he yanked out the wall plug. The whining drone died away.
Tucker studied Amanda, watching her chest rise and fall.
At least she’s still alive.
He studied the length of steel still embedded in her head. He had to free her, but how? He dared not yank that drill free or risk more damage to her skull.
He searched around and saw what looked like a miniature set of bolt cutters—surgical pin cutters. He grabbed them up, positioned them along the shaft of the burr, about an inch from Amanda’s skull, and pinched the cutters closed. A loud snap, and she was free of the robotic arm.
Next, Tucker set about detaching her from the cushioned head clamp and unhooking her from the anesthetic machine.
Focused on the task, he was startled to hear a voice ask, “What’s that sticking out of her head?”
He swung around. Kowalski limped toward him on a bloody foot.
“How did you find me?” Tucker asked.
“Followed the trail of dead bodies. Then saw him in the hall.”
Kane panted at the doorway, guarding Tucker’s back, as usual, making sure no hostiles crept up on him.
Kowalski again pointed to Amanda’s skull. “What is that?”
“A drill bit.”
“How the hell do I know? Just help me.”
“I got her.” Kowalski stepped over and scooped Amanda into his arms as if she weighed no more than a scarecrow.
And maybe that’s all she is—a scarecrow with no brain.
Either way, she needed help.
“Where are Gray and Seichan?” Tucker asked, collecting his dog.
Kowalski headed toward the door with Amanda. “Trust me, you’re better off not knowing.”
Seichan and Gray retreated farther down the hall, away from the silvery horde as it crashed against the fiery, melted doorway. A brush against the molten metal incinerated several of the automatons. Those that made it past then did a strange thing: they circled and returned to the doorway, ignoring Gray and Seichan.
For the moment, the horde remained clustered at the doorway, scrabbling over the red-hot metal, attacking it, burning themselves, even melting into the molten remains of the door.
“It’s the heat,” Seichan said. “That’s what draws them. They must be programmed to hunt body heat.”
And, it seemed, any hot source would do. Beyond the doorway, Gray watched several of them rushing to the molten patches of steel on the floor, destroying themselves.
But as the steel began to cool, the occasional automaton tried to skitter their way. A few well-placed rounds discouraged such trespassing.
Seichan glanced back. “Should we start looking—”
The entire world shook with a sonic boom, strong enough to knock Gray to one knee. After that thunderous eruption, a strong vibration persisted, humming strongly enough to make his back molars ache. A change in air pressure made his ears pop.
Seichan shared a glance with Gray.
The fear in her eyes matched his own.
A few inches of water suddenly flowed into the hallway, as if from a burst pipe. Gray pictured the pylon that hid this base.
It was really just one monstrous pipe.
More icy water began surging, swirling.
Kowalski appeared around a corner of the hall, splashing toward them, holding an unconscious woman in his arms. Her head lolled toward Gray as Kowalski shifted her higher in his arms. Despite the lack of hair, he immediately recognized her.
Amanda … she’s alive!
But they didn’t have time to celebrate.
“What’s happening?” Kowalski hollered.
Tucker and Kane followed him, both looking equally concerned.
Seichan bent down, dipped a finger, and tasted it. “Salty.”
That left no doubt.
“They’ve busted their own pipe,” Gray said and pointed to the elevator. “Place is flooding. Out! Now!”
We often give our enemies the means to our own destruction.
Edward remembered that quote from Aesop, learned back in his Eton College days when he was a young boy. Though taken out of context now, it still felt apt as he watched the annihilation from the window of the small evacuation boat.
The air-lock-sealed boats were positioned like blisters along the circumference of the center pylon. Tracks ran up the outside of the column and across the underside of the support platform, traveling out along the five arms of the star—until they were jettisoned free of the island.
Patrols already awaited the evacuees’ arrival.
Especially the precious cargo Edward held in his lap.
The newborn, swaddled warmly and mewling softly, held so much promise: both for those Edward served and himself. The child was insurance that he would be saved from a watery grave. He had placed a frantic call upon securing the child, reporting the attack.
But word had already reached the source of that cold, computerized voice. MATTERS ARE BEING TAKEN CARE OF. ENSURE THE CHILD IS SAFE.
He intended to do just that.
He stared out the window. The boat could hold ten people, but he and Petra had the vessel to themselves.