Painter expected something worse than that.
Jason Carter appeared at his door, ever his shadow. “Director, you asked me to let you know when I finished that special project.”
“You’re done? Already?”
“On our computer. But I might have to demonstrate.”
Painter stood from the chair and relinquished it to Kat’s chief analyst. The kid hurried over and dropped into the seat. He tapped rapidly and brought up the genealogical map of the Gant clan. Painter had asked for his expert assistance at building a more detailed version, one set to his specific parameters.
From the very beginning, something had been troubling him about the Gant family tree, a nagging sense that he was missing a vital detail. He began to suspect the problem, but he didn’t know what it signified, or if it meant anything at all. The only way to make sure was to construct a genealogical representation where no detail was left out.
He wanted the complete picture—and asked Jason to prepare it.
“Here’s the lineage you originally assembled,” Jason said.
With a click of the mouse, the three-dimensional schematic of the Gant family tree appeared. Progeny and familial connections formed a monumental tapestry, a weaving and warping of heredity and genealogy that spanned two centuries, back to the founding of the country.
It was hard to get reliable records much earlier than that.
But apparently not for Jason.
“Okay, director, I know what you asked for, but I took the liberty of also searching back another century—just to be thorough.”
I want to clone this kid.
Painter leaned closer. “And you were still able to expand the search to the sides.”
Painter had spent hours studying that chart, finally gleaning what nagged him. Certain tendrils of the chart showed familial lines that wove in and out of the main genealogical matrix, marking distant cousins marrying back into the family. For such a rich family, it wasn’t unusual, a typical inbreeding of power and blood among aristocrats.
But those loose threads in the Gant family’s tapestry troubled him, because there seemed to be too many of them, even for such a rich dynasty, a suspicious fraying of the cloth. Painter couldn’t help but pick at those threads to see what they might reveal.
He asked Jason to stretch the genealogical search to the sides of the main family tree, to follow all of those loose threads. He also instructed him to look for new ones, specifically lines of the family that strayed even farther from the fold, farther than merely distant cousins, before diving and returning to the Gant bosom.
“Show me,” Painter ordered.
“Be prepared. The chart is vast. No individual names will show up, just data points.”
Jason tapped a few keys, and that original matrix Painter constructed shrunk to a size of a fist. Names dwindled away to become nodes of a network, stars in a galaxy. Around that galactic core, a hazy corona of new data points and fine lines appeared, scintillating into existence on the screen, surrounding yet incorporated into the whole.
Painter brushed his fingertips across the new spiral arms of this galaxy. “And all of these extensions mark where a strand of the family tree shot away from the others—”
“Only to eventually return again,” Jason confirmed. “The average deviation was two generations, but a few of those lines broke away for five or six generations. A couple of the prodigal relatives returning to the family were seventeenth or eighteenth cousins. But return they did.”
“Like moths around a lamp,” Painter said. “Fluttering out, then diving back in again. Over and over again.”
Jason shrugged. “I can probably confirm this is excessive, even for a prominent family like the Gants, but it’ll take time to work up a comparable dynasty. Still, I’m not sure what the significance is.”
Painter wasn’t either—but his breathing deepened, adrenaline flowing as he balanced on the edge of a precipice.
His eyes remained glued to the screen as the matrix slowly spun in place. He sensed there was a pattern hidden inside that hazy cloud at the edges of the genealogical map. He just needed a key to unlock it.
What am I missing?
July 3, 4:16 A.M. Gulf Standard Time
Off the coast of Dubai
Gray slogged through the chest-deep water toward the entrance to the Burj Abaadi. The others waited by the stairs, ready to flee up to escape the rising waters.
Beyond the glass wall, the city of Utopia slowly drowned. A few buildings still shone with emergency lights, run on batteries. Otherwise, the island was dark. Black waves swept across the park, crashing against the tower steps. Dangerous debris floated everywhere: spare lumber, plastic trash buckets, even a toppled palm, still potted in its crate. The currents were equally hazardous.
Gray pictured the entire platform sinking, crushing the damaged pylons beneath its weight. In the time it took Gray to cross the lobby, the water rose another foot. They needed a way to escape the flooding tower before the island’s descent became a fast plummet—or worse, the entire platform started to cant and tip, toppling buildings over like a waiter dumping a tray of tall glasses.
He didn’t know if Jack Kirkland was alive, if he’d survived the pyrotechnics that blew out the understory of the platform. Gray had activated the homing beacon Jack had given him, hoping for the best, and left it with Kowalski, who still carried Amanda.
But Gray wasn’t counting on hope alone.
He stared at his goal beyond the doors of the tower.
It stood across the park. The roof of the yellow Hummer—the one they’d hid behind earlier—was still above water for the moment, but that wasn’t Gray’s target. They weren’t going to be driving off this island.
Beyond the bulk of the truck, the matching yellow jet boat bobbed. The rising waters had floated it off of its trailer. Straps still tethered it in place, but someone hadn’t properly ratcheted the boat down.
Gray had a dagger strapped to his wrist, ready to cut the craft the rest of the way loose. He hoped he could get the boat started, but if nothing else, at least it floated. He would take that versus clinging to debris at the whim of the eddying currents and riptides.
Reaching the entrance, he shouldered into one of the doors. Swinging the half-submerged barrier open proved a challenge against the weight of water. But it slowly budged. He got it wide enough to slip outside.
The buffeting currents tried to rip him from his perch atop the steps that led down to the park. All that held him in place was his iron grip on the door handle.