As they all watched, blue lines sprang to life and illuminated that genetic galaxy—but a clear pattern appeared. Most of the blue threads remained tangled and clustered down the center, only a few coursed into the outlier sections, that hazy edge of the family.
“Now the female bloodline,” Gray said.
The blue fire vanished, and crimson lines blossomed. The outer fog around the central clan lit up with a rosy glow, a crimson cloud of heritage wrapped around the Gant clan.
A small gasp rose from Painter. “Almost all of these outlier lines are women.”
Gray stared closer and traced one of those crimson lines. “A woman leaves the Gant clan—and, in a handful of generations, it’s a woman who returns to marry back into the fold. Seldom a man.” He had another idea. “Jason, can you tag only the outlier lines, see how deeply they mesh with the main Gant clan?”
“Give me a few … done. Here you go.”
On the screen, everything fell away, except for the crimson haze at the edges. Another pattern became clear. Only a few of the red lines ever delved deeply into the main genealogical center. They only stayed for a generation or two—then darted back out again.
Painter saw it, too. “It’s like they’re sticking their toe in the gene pool, then pulling it back out again.” He turned to Gray, realization dawning in his eyes. “They’re like parasites on the Gant family. Bloodsucking flies. They hover near the well of the Gant wealth and power, tap into it regularly, feeding off it to sustain themselves, but mostly they live apart.”
The very definition of outlier.
Painter pointed to the screen. “This is not chance. This was done purposefully. A breeding plan to sustain a female lineage.”
“But why?” Lisa asked behind them.
Gray answered, “It’s likely the only way they can sustain such a lineage, to keep it from fraying away in a world where wealth is passed down to the first son, where most power has been wielded by men. To survive in that world, they adapted. They became parasites on specific families. Remember, the Bloodline once involved more than just the Gants. They performed this same dance with five or six wealthy European clans. Likely these parasitic flies traveled between these various families to better hide themselves.”
“They didn’t want to keep all their eggs in one basket,” Monk said.
Gray agreed. “But over time, those other families died away, ground under the march of time, until only the Gant family was left. We know in the past the Bloodline has tried to recruit new families, but in this modern age, where it’s not easy to hide and where family wealth often comes and goes in a couple of generations, they’ve only met with failure.”
Painter leaned back in his seat, looking paler. “Leaving them with the Gants.”
“Where they’re circling the drain, likely knowing it’s become unsustainable. I believe that’s the purpose of those experiments. They were seeking ways to keep their lineage alive, to extend it and give it permanence.”
Lisa spoke, her voice hushed with shock. “That’s why they went with the triple-helix plan. A triple helix can only pass down a matriarchal line. And they came so close to succeeding.”
“I think that success—along with the pressure Sigma was putting on them—gave them the push to strike out with a masterful endgame, one final move to ensure their power for generations on end.”
“The assassination plot,” Painter said.
“And the murder of Robert. The Lineage was done nibbling at the edges. They wanted to consume the Gants whole, to take over the family completely, to fully access their wealth and power.”
“But they failed.”
“And because of that we need to be scared,” Gray warned. “This Lineage has survived centuries, living in the empty spaces between other families, doing what they must to survive, shedding their humanity.”
“And they’re skilled at it,” Seichan added, likely picturing Petra. “They won’t succumb quietly. They will leave a wake of destruction behind them. Not out of vengeance—they’re too cold and calculating for that. They’ll do it because it will serve them in the long run. To cover their escape.”
“But how do we find them?” Painter asked.
Gray nodded to those crimson lines. “We start there. They don’t know we are aware of this.” He waved a hand to the trail of red lines. “We start plucking threads—and hopefully the rest will unravel.”
“There might be a way to find which threads are the best to pull.” Painter leaned toward the laptop’s microphone. “Jason, is there a way to examine those outlier lines and determine which ones lead the farthest back? In other words, which have the richest genetic heritage?”
“That’ll take a little more time.”
Painter turned to Gray. “From those massive databases you saw at the Lodge, heredity was important to them. What if the Bloodline links power to genetic heritage? The richer your heritage, the more authority you wield. If we can trace those lines of power—”
“Done,” Jason said. “You should see certain lines growing fatter on the screen, indicating stronger hereditary weight.”
On the screen, the uniformity of the crimson threads slowly altered—some growing fainter, others more prominent.
Once the process finished, Painter asked Jason to pick the thickest line and trail it down to modern times. It should point to the power brokers of this generation.
On the screen, a small cursor ran down that fat pipe and stopped at a single name at the end. It glowed brightly on the screen for all to see.
“Fuck me,” Kowalski swore, voicing all of their sentiments.
Gray remembered the digitally masked voice on the radio, ordering the assassination. Here was the person who had been manipulating events all along. The Bloodline wasn’t planning for Robert to take the grief of a wounded nation and turn it into a presidential bid.
Her name shone on that screen.
Teresa Melody Gant
It would be the grieving widow who would tug at the heartstrings of the country and assume her dead husband’s mantle.
But that wasn’t the worst news.
“Director,” Jason said, “she’s here. The First Lady arrived five minutes ago with her Secret Service detachment.”
“The president called her. He’s due in an hour to come out of hiding. He wanted his wife to hear about his survival first, to hear it from him, but also to share the good news about Amanda and the baby.”
“Where is she?”
“Down with them now, sir. And her Secret Service detachment—they’re all women. I should—”
Faint pops of gunfire cut him off.
At the foot of their daughter’s hospital bed, President James T. Gant hugged his wife, balanced between grief and joy, mourning the loss of his brother but relieved to hear his grandson was alive and safe.
The loud blasts of pistols out in the hallway jerked him out of Teresa’s arms.
What the hell?
He was alone in the room with his wife and sleeping child. He had pushed his own Secret Service agent outside to give the family this private moment together.
He realized his mistake—from the black SIG Sauer in his wife’s hand pointed at his chest.
He searched her face and knew at that moment that the woman standing before him was not his wife. She wore the same face, but she was not the same woman. A mask had fallen away, hardening her eyes to a cold polish. Even her facial features seemed subtly different, becoming a wax version of the warm girl who’d won his heart.
She stood at the foot of Amanda’s bed in a protective pose. “Jimmy,” she said, her voice equally changed, flat and affectless, indicating how much of a consummate actress she had been. “You’ve ruined everything.”
He realized the truth at that moment. “You’re a part of the Bloodline. Like my brother.”
“Robert was nothing. He was ignorant of my involvement. Only a useful tool to hide behind. Nothing more. The Lineage will survive. We always do. It is our birthright. Born from exiles cast out into the desert wilderness—we still survive.”
He stood, stunned.
“And we have not lost everything. You’ve given us Amanda. Willful and unpredictable, she is unfit for the Lineage, but she is still clearly blessed. We failed with her first child, but she will give us more until we find that special female child, the one who will lead us out of the wilderness once again, more powerful than ever.”
He took a step forward, realizing they were planning on taking Amanda. He pictured the women floating in the tanks.
Teresa backed to the edge of the bed, never letting down her guard. “But first, to open a path back into the wilderness where we can hide”—she pointed her pistol at his face—“we need chaos.”
Like a dead president.
He flinched back as Amanda—seated in her bed behind Teresa—swung the IV pole and clubbed the weighted bottom into the side of his wife’s head.
Bone cracked and blood burst out of her nose.
She fell with a momentary look of bewilderment.
Her first real emotion since she pulled the gun.
Jimmy went for the weapon, realizing that the gunfire had ended out in the hallway. He started to bend—when the door crashed open.
Turning, he prayed it was his own Secret Service detail, that they had survived the ambush.
This was not his day.
Two women in uniform burst inside, weapons pointed.
They froze, seeing Teresa on the floor, unmoving.
Out in the hallway behind them, a small figure slid past the door on his knees along the blood-slicked floor. He had a pistol pointed.
Two clean shots to the back of the women’s heads.
Then he slid out of view.