“Must be a service level for the tower,” Seichan said.
“And maybe more,” Gray added, pressing the button.
The letter flashed green, and the cage dropped silently, so smoothly it was hard to tell they were moving at all.
“Be ready,” Gray warned.
Weapons appeared in hands. Tucker signaled his dog, who lowered his haunches, readying to spring.
It felt like the elevator dropped much farther than just one floor, but at last, the doors opened. Gray took a shooter’s stance and quickly inspected a small, utilitarian lobby, dimly lit and drab. He searched for any guards, but it appeared empty.
He stepped out cautiously, leading the way. Hallways branched off, with color-designated lines painted on the floor, likely to direct the hotel staff toward kitchens, laundry facilities, maintenance closets, and storage spaces.
It looked like a maze down here.
Gray waved everyone forward. “Tucker, have Kane hunt for Amanda’s trail. She could be anywhere.”
Tucker set to work with his partner.
Gray noted that two other elevators flanked this one. It seemed only three of the twelve elevators came down to this level. He had Kowalski hold their door open, in case they needed a fast exit.
A tall set of windows along one wall drew Gray’s attention. He moved closer and stared into a cavernous neighboring space. The room was encased in concrete and climbed two stories high. Inside sat a row of massive turbine generators, looking like oversize metal elephants. Control panels covered another wall.
“The building’s power plant,” Seichan said, joining him.
Gray remembered Jack Kirkland’s description of the tidal turbines that powered this building. This must be them.
Tucker came back after only a minute. “Nothing,” he said.
Gray turned around, surprised. “What?”
Tucker shrugged. “Kane checked all of the hallways leading out from here. Found no sign of Amanda.”
Impossible. She has to be down here.
“Have him check again,” he ordered.
“I’ll do it, but it’s a waste of time. I’ll vouch for Kane’s nose.”
“He’s right,” Seichan argued. “Coming down here made sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only path. There are fifty other floors. The longer we wait …”
The more danger Amanda faces.
He sighed heavily, conceding to the logic, but not happy about it. “Back upstairs, then.”
The others piled inside the elevator.
Gray paused at the threshold, staring at the two doors that flanked this one.
“Hold on.” He stepped over, pressed the call button, and summoned the other two elevators.
“What are you doing?” Seichan asked from inside the cage, as Kowalski continued to hold the door open.
The other two elevators arrived. Gray inspected both cages. He returned to the others and studied the touch-screen display in their lift.
“What?” Seichan pressed.
“All three of these cages reach the service levels, so why did Amanda’s captors use the middle elevator? Human nature says they would have just gone to the one closest to the lobby.” Gray pointed to the first set of doors. “I checked those other two. This control panel is two inches longer than the others.”
“So?” Kowalski asked.
Seichan bent down and studied the lower section of the touch screen. “You think there are other buttons here, hidden ones.”
He nodded. “Leading to restricted levels that only this elevator can reach.”
Seichan searched the edges of the screen. “But I don’t see any keyholes or slots for pass cards to activate those levels.”
Gray hit the lobby button, sending the cage back up, demonstrating. “The screen is touch-sensitive.”
Seichan got it, her eyes smiling. “It could be keyed to a fingerprint.”
Gray stepped back into the lobby as the doors opened. “The soldier who Kane took out. He looked like he was the head of the security escort from Africa. He might have been granted access below.”
Gray turned to Kowalski.
The big man rolled his eyes and sulked out, mumbling under his breath, “Why do I get all the dirty work?”
He returned a minute later, wiping a blade on his pants. He held out his hand. “I brought both. Just in case.”
Resting on his palm were a thumb and a forefinger.
Kowalski also carried the dead man’s beret and tugged it on his head. “That guy was more my size,” he said and pointed toward the ceiling of the cage. “In case of any more cameras. I’m not playing prisoner again.”
Gray took the severed thumb, pressed it against the empty space below the LL button, and kept it there. He held his breath—then a new button bloomed to life under the thumb.
If he had any doubt before, it ended as that odd symbol appeared. Gray flashed to Somalia, to running across the abandoned camp toward the tent cabin. He remembered the same marking had been painted on the outside of the jungle hospital.
A crimson cross with tiny finial decorations along its crosspieces.
The cage fell again, dropping much deeper now.
Kowalski’s face had a sick tint to it. “How far down did these pirates bury their treasure?”
Gray pictured the giant concrete pylons that supported the island. The outer ones were twenty meters across, but the centermost pylon, the one directly under Burj Abaadi, was far larger. He knew that it was not uncommon for the support pillars of oil platforms to have caissons engineered in them, hollow pockets used for storing oil.
So why not here, too? But instead of oil, an entire base could be hidden inside a pillar this huge.
Gray knew Amanda was down there. His doubt centered on a larger concern. It weighed heavily as they dropped like a rock toward the heart of the island.
Is she still alive?
Dr. Edward Blake watched the sheen of hatred fade from Amanda’s eyes as he injected the last of the propofol into her IV line. Her lids slid to half-mast, her breathing deepened.
Her last words had been a curse, a promise of revenge.
I will see you both in hell.
But it was an impotent threat.
Amanda, the person, the loving mother, would be gone in a few more minutes. All sentience would be wiped away, leaving behind nothing but the most basic of functions.
“You should scrub up,” Petra said.
His nurse was already gowned and adjusting a monitor that showed Amanda’s CT scan. The young woman lay on a surgical table, draped from the neck down, her bald head gleaming under the surgical halogens overhead. Small blue markings decorated her scalp, like so much scientific nomenclature tattooed in place. The markings delineated the multiple drill sites and electrode insertion points.
Petra prepared the stereotactic system for the pending surgery. It integrated his surgical workstation with an intra-operative MRI and microscopy setup for visualization. She secured Amanda’s head inside a fluid-filled alignment cuff, a vast improvement from the older head frames that had to be screwed into a patient’s skull.
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.
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.