Authors: Karen Hancock
Tags: #ebook, #book
Slattery narrowed his eyes. “Why did you leave at all, then, if you’d heard nothing to concern you?”
“I was finished.” Cam lifted the teal flash drive hanging on its lanyard about his neck and waved it at Slattery. “I was going up to my office to collate this data set with the others.”
The assistant director regarded him suspiciously. What he thought Cam really might have been doing in the lab, or the real reason for his unseemly delay in coming to Ms. McHenry’s aid, Cam couldn’t begin to guess. But Slattery took his position as assistant director seriously, regarding everyone not part of the Inner Circle as likely spies or saboteurs.
“And Ms. McHenry?” Slattery asked finally. “Did she say anything to you of what happened?”
Cam let the flash drive slip through his fingers. It knocked against his chest as he shrugged. “She said she was attacked by an intruder who’d apparently broken in through the outside door in Poe’s lab.” Poe’s was the only lab on this ground floor with such a door, which, given all the paranoia at Kendall-Jakes about corporate spying, seemed a gaping weak point in the Institute’s otherwise prodigious security measures.
“Security searched the courtyard outside the door and the grounds beyond the courtyard walls,” Slattery said. “They found nothing to corroborate her story.”
“What about video surveillance?”
“I’ll have to check the recordings, but I doubt there’ll be anything.”
Cam thought, with another chill.
So the labs
He didn’t know why confirmation of what he’ d already suspected should unsettle him so. Swain made no bones about the fact that he had every inch of this place under constant watch. Still, it set up the hairs on the back of his neck and made him feel strangely violated.
Do they have cameras in our apartments, too?
Slattery continued. “It was dark,” he said, “and the girl was down here alone after a long day. She’s a new hire, you know. Still getting used to things. They’ve already had to relocate her to new quarters on account of her complaints about the generator interrupting her sleep. I think she made an intruder out of a shadow and blundered into the shelves in her panic.”
Cam did not know Ms. McHenry very well—these last weeks he’ d been only vaguely aware of her as the new animal caretaker—but he did not think she had imagined the incident. For one thing, if there had been no intruder, not even one security man would have appeared at this hour, let alone five—plus doctors Poe and Slattery. If anyone was panicking, it was Slattery. The question was, why?
The assistant director continued to eye him. “You do realize that with the open house and the review coming up, it would be better not to get anything stirred up. After the business with Ms. Stopping last winter, the press would blow this all out of proportion. I trust you will practice the utmost discretion with regard to discussing this matter with the others.”
“Of course, Doctor.”
Slattery’s swarthy scowl deepened. He held Cam’s gaze a little longer than was comfortable, then nodded and stepped back. “You’ll be going on up to your 501 office now, I presume?”
“Actually, I thought I’d give my lab a once-over before I leave, just in case there really
someone here tonight.”
The frown returned to Slattery’s brow. He could hardly forbid Cam to do precisely what their security procedures called for in such a situation, though, and the sudden vibration of the pager at the man’s waist forestalled another lecture. “Let me know personally if you find anything amiss,” he said as he pushed the response button.
Cam followed him into the hallway, then turned up the corridor toward his lab as Slattery proceeded toward the elevator.
The door to Dr. Poe’s lab stood ajar, and Cam couldn’t resist sticking his head in. What he saw shocked him. He’ d expected a few dislodged and shattered aquariums, maybe a fallen shelf or two—not total devastation. Ranks of sturdy wooden shelving had fallen toward the doorway in which he stood, one upon the other in domino effect and on both sides of the central aisle. A chaos of broken glass, shattered aquariums, overturned Rubbermaid tubs, and thrashing salamanders covered the floor beneath them.
The room was lit by the harsh illumination of two freestanding electric lamps, set up in the clearer far end of the room, needed because the ceiling fixtures had been torn loose from their bolts, parts of them dangling toward the floor where lay the rest of them. It was as if a violent wind had slammed through the near half of the room. Even the small window in the lab door had been cracked by the event.
Poe was crouched at the juncture between the main room and the entry alcove, struggling to secure a thrashing red salamander. Beside him a man in janitorial gray swept shattered glass into a dustpan. The janitor—who was not the usual stoop-shouldered, white-ponytailed night man—stood to dump his dustpan into the gray plastic garbage can between them. As the clatter of broken glass tumbling into the near-empty container filled Cam’s ears, Poe captured his salamander and flipped it into a blue storage tub nearby.
The dustpan emptied and the salamander contained, a relative silence ensued, and for the first time Cam heard the distinctive
of a helicopter out in the night beyond the open door. It was a sound that always put the hair up on the back of his neck. Again the room flickered and swayed, as a sense of imminent danger jolted through him.
Poe stood up holding the tub and saw Cam in the hall doorway. He startled to a stop, his long, pale face furrowing into a scowl. “What are you doing here, Reinhardt?”
The question derailed Cam from his rising fear, though it took him a moment to collect his thoughts. “I thought you might like some help getting things back in order.”
Poe nodded at the janitor. “Thank you, but as you can see, I have help.”
Cam hesitated, scanning the wreckage. “Those shelves will be awkward to put upright with just the two of you.”
“We’re having new ones brought up.” Poe hurried toward him, glass crunching under his sneakers. “You needn’t concern yourself. We’re fine.”
Cam wasn’t exactly pushed out of the lab, but the moment he had backed into the hall, Poe closed the door in his face and turned the lock.
He stood there in surprise, thinking wryly that Slattery must not have instructed Poe about being discreet. Or perhaps he had, and the eccentric scientist thought he was obeying the injunction, even as he all but screamed,
Don’t look! Don’t look! We’ve secrets to protect. . . .
Secrets to protect . . .
Again the sense of danger swept through him— so strong now he glanced over his shoulder at the empty corridor as he stepped to the door of his own lab. He swiped his ID card through the lock slot, the bolt retracted, and he pushed the door inward, stepping over the five-inch-high raised threshold as he snapped on the lights.
The square lab was a third the size of Poe’s, with a row of narrow clerestory windows running high up along the opposite wall. Counters cluttered with lab equipment, working pans, and several ten-gallon aquariums ran along three walls atop Formica-faced cabinets. Those to his right butted up against a full-length wooden closet. Dead center, his desk and computer station stood as an island, piled with books, papers, disks, and various lab paraphernalia, looking almost as if someone
searched through it all.
When did I get to be such a slob?
He stepped into the room, letting the door swing shut behind him, his neck crawling with the awareness that his every move was being recorded. Only when his jaw began to ache did he realize he was clenching his teeth. With a sigh, he relaxed his jaw and started around the small lab, sorting through beakers and flasks, opening cabinets and drawers, reading notes, making a show of inspecting his things, even as he wondered where exactly the camera was.
The heap of the frog bodies lying in the tray where he’ d left them after removing their livers looked undisturbed. All still had their legs, so it didn’t appear the intruder had breached his lab. They
beginning to stink, however. . . .
He continued around the counter, returning finally to the island computer station, where he slid out of his wet lab coat and tossed it carelessly over the back of the chair. Immediately it slid almost to the floor, and when he picked it up again and held it up to fold it properly over the chair back, his eyes caught upon the blood that stained its left sleeve and the red palm print on its shoulder. . . .
Suddenly the distant
of a helicopter’s rotors grew loud and close. His chest constricted, and he clenched his teeth again— hard—as the bloody palm print flashed like a Vegas marquee. His hands shook and he gasped for breath as the image of another puddle of blood, much larger than what he’d seen on the prep room floor, overlaid the coat.
Suddenly he was on his knees in another ruined lab, this one on the other side of the world. Ranks of wooden cabinets had been splintered and wrenched from their moorings, huge examining tables lay on their sides, and jagged shards of glass glittered on the floor. Blood pooled around him and coated his arms to his elbows as he strove to hold closed the severed artery in the Afghan biologist’s thigh until Rudy could get back with a med kit.
Automatic-weapon fire rattled in the cavernous chamber beyond the lab’s shattered doorway, the sulfurous smoke of burned gunpowder acrid in his nose. He heard a chorus of screams; then all was drowned out by a lionlike roar. His trembling grew so violent he could hardly keep himself upright, his hand unable to hold the artery firmly, the Afghan’s hot blood welling up against his palm. The roar sounded again, closer now, and panic seized him.
Abruptly he was back in his quiet southern Arizona lab, messy but not demolished. The floor was clean and clear, the walls solid, cabinets intact. Silence replaced the gunfire, though he could still hear the choppers, somewhere off in the distance—Institute security forces searching the desert for Slattery’s nonexistent intruder.
Suddenly the coat in Cam’s hands terrified him. He flung it away as if it were a flesh-and-blood attacker, surprised when it only crumpled to the floor about five feet away from him. He watched it warily, nonetheless, telling himself he was being utterly irrational as he breathed deeply and sought to regain control of himself.
Slowly it dawned on him that he’ d had a flashback. His first in almost ten years.
He sagged back against the desk, horrified. That had been another time, another life, one he’ d put firmly behind him. Why would he relapse now?
His gaze fixed on the bloody palm print just visible on a fold of the coat.
Please . . . help us. . . .
He shoved himself away from the desk and went to the wooden cabinet, where he pulled out a clear plastic garbage bag. Weirdly unwilling to even touch the lab coat now, he picked it up with the bag, then shook the garment down into the bag’s plastic folds. Knotting the ends, he dropped the whole thing into the hazmat bin at the end of the left counter, dumped the dead frogs on top of it, and followed that with a tray of used plastic test tubes. From there he went around the counters straightening and tidying, throwing away the trash that had accumulated—as if in doing so he might purge the memories that were even now trying to creep back into his present.
When the lab’s door lock clacked, he nearly jumped out of his skin. As he turned toward it, the regular night janitor entered, a swarthy-faced, elderly Hispanic with snow-white hair. The old man stopped in surprise to see Cam staring at him. Then he dipped his head, apologizing in a raspy, heavily accented voice for “disturbing the doctor.”
“That’s all right,” Cam said before the man could back out the door. “I was just leaving.” And he did exactly that.
“Did you hear that the Enforcers took Andros away?” Terra’s voice came from the other side of the goat, barely carrying above the rhythmic hiss of the milk as it streamed into the bucket between Zowan’s knees. His hands, locked into the familiar cadence, squeezed and released in perfect alternation, one teat allowed to fill as the other was emptied.
Hiss. Hiss. Hiss.
He didn’t miss the beat by even a hair, so if anyone was watching—always a possibility, particularly since it was Andros who’d been taken—they would not guess at the sudden sick lurch of his stomach, nor the wild acceleration of his heart.
The goat did, though, for she stamped restlessly and tossed her head as much as the stanchion allowed. Zowan kept the streams aimed into the ceramsteel bucket, alternating evenly, and clamped down on his panic. As Miss Malpi settled back, he leaned his forehead once more against her soft brown flank and spoke with careful casualness. “No.”
Hiss. Hiss. Hiss.
“This morning after service.” Terra sat on her own stool, milking her own goat on the other side of Miss Malpi, the two of them alone in the small low-ceilinged milking room with the goats. Things had not gone well this morning. Three of their twenty-five milkers had developed early signs of bag fever, which necessitated isolating the sick trio and treating them, checking the others for potential illness, then sterilizing all the equipment and stalls. When the breakfast bell had rung, they still had fifteen goats to milk and all of them to feed. Zowan had sent his younger staff members to breakfast and morning Affirmation, staying on to finish up the morning’s work alone. He’ d been on the third to last milker when Terra had returned about fifteen minutes ago.
“Gaias led them?” he asked, speaking of the Enforcers who’d taken his friend.
“Blasphemy.” She paused, her streams of milk shortening and faltering as she coaxed the last bit of liquid from her goat’s udder. “He refused to say the Affirmation.”
After what Andros had told him last night in the Star Garden, Zowan knew he shouldn’t be surprised. But he was. Part of him rejoiced at Andros’s courage and conviction; another part was horrified.