She stared at the ultrasound’s monitor, dark at the moment but waiting to be used in the procedure to come. They’d already performed a scan of her abdomen when she arrived here, recording her baby’s position, measuring the dimensions of his skull and approximate body length. She hadn’t resisted that first ultrasound. At the time, she had wanted to know the status of her child as fiercely as the doctor had.
In the end, it had brought her great relief to see the flutter of his heartbeat, his tiny curled fists, his small, sleepy movements. After a close examination of the sonogram, the doctor pronounced her boy wonderfully healthy.
But it seemed the medical team was not done with her.
Dr. Blake returned. Petra carried a tray holding a large syringe equipped with a five-inch-long needle. Amanda had already had an amniocentesis when she was eighteen weeks along, so she knew what to expect.
Petra swabbed her stomach with fresh antiseptic, then powered up the ultrasound and handed the lubed probe to Dr. Blake. With an eye on the monitor, the doctor guided the needle deep into her belly. The pain was minimal, like a mild menstrual cramp.
She looked away from the monitor as the tip of the needle approached her sleeping child. It was too disconcerting to watch. One slip and she could only imagine the damage that might be done.
In the end, all went well.
Fluid was drawn skillfully from the amniotic sac around her boy, and the needle withdrawn. She finally let out the breath she had been holding. Tears suddenly blurred her vision.
“Monitor her for fever,” the doctor ordered Petra. “Watch for any vaginal bleeding.”
Dr. Blake turned to Amanda. “There’s no need for tears. At least not now. We won’t have the genetic test results until the morning.”
Her first amniocentesis had been routine, done to rule out various chromosomal abnormalities like Down syndrome or genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis. But she knew that wasn’t all the doctors had been searching for—not then, not now.
The note that sent her running from the States had warned of something genetically different about her baby, something others wanted to possess. She didn’t understand much else, only enough to run before they came for her child.
Blake continued, “If the genetics are stable, your child will live—the very first of his kind. If not … well, we’ll worry about such matters then, won’t we?”
Again that paternal pat on her arm.
Even if the results were stable, she knew awful consequences would be in store for her baby boy. And if they weren’t, the medical team here would likely perform a late-term abortion.
She turned her head to the side, not knowing which result to hope for in the morning. Tears welled again as her hands found her belly—but she was certain of one thing. With the last breath in her body, she would die defending her baby.
I won’t let them harm you.
A bonfire in the outer camp glowed through the canvas wall, highlighting the crimson cross she’d noted earlier. Again she saw the odd, almost fanciful decorations along its spans, a twisting and coiling pattern that traversed both crosspieces. Only now—after the amniocentesis, after the worries about chromosomal abnormalities—did she recognize the structures.
They were helices of DNA.
She stared, disbelieving. Coldness crept through her body. Though she’d never seen this cross before, she had heard whispers about this symbol, marking an ancient mystery that traced back to the founding of her family, to a secret buried at its heart.
She had thought its existence a myth, a story meant to scare children.
But now she could no longer deny the horrible truth. It was what that cryptic note had warned her about, what had sent her running to the Seychelles in terror.
They’ve found me.
July 2, 10:12 A.M. East Africa Time
Airborne over Somalia
Gray adjusted the bulky earphones, muffled against the roar of the helicopter’s twin engines. He stared out the cabin window as Captain Alden pointed.
“There it is!” the British SRR officer yelled.
The aircraft swept low over a sun-blasted rolling landscape of parched fields, broken red rock, and occasional patches of scraggly trees. Herds of goats scattered from under the pummeling wash of the blades. In the distance, a mountain range thrust into the morning sky, breaking the horizon into jagged lines. But the medical transport chopper would not be flying that far.
Alden pointed to a large camp of tents and huts sprawled at the intersection of two gravel roads. The top of many of the tents bore red crosses. Parked vehicles—civilian cars and United Nations trucks—dotted the surrounding fields, along with many camels.
It was a relief camp run by UNICEF and operated by the French organization Médecins Sans Frontières, known in the States as Doctors Without Borders. It lay sheltered in the foothills, halfway between the mountains and the ocean, acting as a way station for those living both inland and at the coast.
A groan drew Gray’s attention back to the rear cabin of the helicopter. Major Patel remained strapped in a stretcher on the floor, his morphine wearing off from the hour-long flight from Boosaaso’s airport to this medical enclave. The French doctors here would have no trouble casting his broken tibia and stabilizing him enough for travel back to Europe.
But that was not why they’d really come.
Patel’s condition was merely a cover to explain this inland journey.
Alden leaned closer, but used the radio built into the headphones to communicate. “I have a contact who should be waiting for us after we land. If any word of the kidnapped woman passed through the camp, he’ll ferret it out.”
Gray nodded and glanced over at Tucker and Seichan. Kowalski was up front with Major Butler, who was flying the helicopter.
It wasn’t a bad plan. The camp lay within the shadow of the Cal Madow mountains. As the only relief facility for hundreds of miles, the site was the major crossroads for the entire region, as Somalis from all walks of life, travelers, and nomads, came seeking medical help, continually flowing into and out of the place. Because of that, the camp was also a strategic and important clearinghouse for information. It was no wonder the SRR had someone posted on the inside here.
With care, Gray’s team might learn something vital about Amanda’s whereabouts—or at least, narrow the search parameters. Back in DC, Painter was coordinating a satellite scan of the neighboring mountains. Between boots on the ground and eyes in the skies, the hope was to pinpoint Amanda’s location before nightfall.
Sand suddenly swirled beyond the windows, kicked up as the chopper descended. With a final, stomach-lifting drop, the skids finally kissed the ground.
Alden hauled the cabin doors open. Sand and heat pounded inside as the roar of the engines whined away. They all exited the helicopter and were met by a medical team of four, who rushed forward to help offload Major Patel. His stretcher was carried away to an idling Jeep. Major Butler accompanied his injured partner, to make sure he was properly attended to and to spread the cover story that their group were foreign aid workers.
Tucker patted his dog’s side, reassuring the shepherd after the long, noisy ride.
Kowalski merely scowled at the grim surroundings. “Once … just once … why can’t we end up at some beach where women are in bikinis and where drinks come in coconuts?”
Seichan ignored him and stood at Gray’s shoulder. “What now?”
“This way!” Alden answered, heading off, accompanied by the last member of the British SRR team, Major Bela Jain. The captain pointed toward a cluster of thatched-roof huts.
As a group, they crossed through a parking lot of rusted trucks, skeletal sand-rail buggies, and beat-up motorcycles. Guarding them all stood an older Daimler Ferret Scout car, painted United Nations white and emblazoned with their blue symbol. It looked like a minitank with a fully enclosed armored cabin and mounted with a Belgian L7 machine-gun turret. A United Nations peacekeeper leaned against the vehicle, eyeing them suspiciously as they passed.
Alden noted Gray’s attention. “Camps like this need to be protected. Raids are common, for drugs, even for water. Drought has devastated much of this region, contributing to famine and death, driving the people to the coasts or up into the mountains.”
They reached the circle of huts to find a French doctor kneeling beside a long line of Somali children. A nurse prepped a syringe and handed it to the doctor, who jabbed it into the bony arm of the first boy in line.
Gray had read how the civil war going on in the southern part of the country had displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and their children, leading to outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, and hepatitis. But a vaccination program against measles and polio, along with the administration of simple deworming tablets and vitamins, was saving countless young lives.
“Here’s the contact I was telling you about,” Alden said, pointing to the doctor. “He hears everything going around the camp, misses nothing. He’s a great asset.”
Gray studied the French M.D., a middle-aged man with bulky glasses and sunburned nose and ears. But Gray was wrong about the focus of attention.
“Baashi!” Alden called out and waved an arm, stepping forward.
The spy at the camp winced as he was injected in the arm. The young dark-skinned boy thanked the doctor in French. “Merci.”
Pulling his tunic sleeve down, the child headed over. “Ah, Mr. Trevor. You come!”
“This is your contact?” Kowalski mumbled under his breath, plainly not pleased. “What is he, fourteen?”
“Thirteen actually,” Major Jain said softly. She stared at her superior with raw admiration. “Captain Alden rescued the boy from a group of Muslim insurgents outside Mogadishu. A child soldier. Only eleven at the time, hyped on bloody amphetamines, brutalized and bearing scars from cigarette burns.”
Gray’s heart ached at the sight of the boy’s mile-wide smile as he rushed forward and hugged Captain Alden, who had dropped to one knee. It seemed impossible to balance such simple joy with the horrors Major Jain described.