The Last Oracle

Page 36

“Radiation,” Monk mumbled.

Konstantin nodded. “The processing plant that poisoned Lake Karachay.” He waved toward the northeast. “It also slowly leaked down into the ground.”

Contaminating the groundwater, Monk realized. And where did all the runoff from the local mountains end up? Monk stared toward the shuttered window, picturing the bog outside.

He shook his head.

And he thought all he had to worry about was man-eating tigers.

7:04 P.M.

Pyotr sat naked, huddled in a thick quilt before the fire. Their shoes were lined up on the hearth, and their clothes hung out to dry on fishing line. The line was so thin it was as if his pants and shirt were floating in the air.

He enjoyed the flickering flames as they danced and crackled, but he didn’t like the smoke. It swirled up into the chimney as if it were something alive, born out of the fire.

He shivered and shifted on his backside closer to the bright flames.

The matron at the school used to tell them stories of the witch Baba Yaga, how she lived in a dark forest in a log cabin that moved around on chicken legs and would hunt down children to eat. Pyotr pictured the stilts he’d seen outside that held up their cabin. What if this was the witch’s cabin, hiding its claws deep beneath the ground?

He eyed the smoke more suspiciously.

And didn’t the witch have invisible servants to help her?

He searched around for them. He didn’t see anything move on its own. But then again, the flames danced shadows everywhere, so it was hard to tell.

He moved closer again to the warmth of the flames. Still, he kept his eyes on the swirling curls of smoke.

He rocked slightly in place to reassure himself. Marta came up and slid next to him, curling around him. He leaned into her. A strong arm pulled him even closer.

Do not fear.

But he did fear. He felt it itching over the inside of his skull like a thousand spiders. He watched the smoke, knowing that was where the danger truly lay as it swept up the chimney, possibly warning Baba Yaga that there were children in her house.

Pyotr’s heart thudded faster.

The witch was coming.

He knew it.

His eyes widened upon the smoke. He searched for the danger.

Marta hoo-hoo-ed in his ear, reassuring him, but it did no good. The witch was coming to eat them. They were in danger. Children in danger. The fire popped, scaring him into a small jump. Then he knew.

Not children.

But child.

And not them.

But another.

Pyotr stared hard at the smoke, pushing through the darkness to the truth. As the smoke curled to the sky, he saw who was in danger.

It was his sister.


11:07 A.M.

Washington, D.C.

“D.I.C.,” Lisa explained at the bedside of the girl.

Kat struggled to understand. She stood with her arms tight to her belly as she stared down at the tiny slip of a girl, so thin-limbed in her hospital gown, lost amid the sheets and pillows of the railed bed. Wires trailed from under her sheets to a bank of equipment against one wall, monitoring blood pressure and heart rate. An intravenous line dripped a slurry of saline and medicines. Still, over the past hours, her pale skin had grown more ashen, her lips a hint of blue.

“Disseminated intravascular coagulation,” Lisa translated, though she might as well have been speaking Latin.

Monk, with his medical training, would have known what she was talking about. Kat shook this last thought out of her head, still rebounding from seeing the child’s picture. She had plainly drawn it for Kat. They had formed a bond. Kat had seen it in the child’s eyes when she read to her. Mostly the girl’s manner was flat and affected, but occasionally she would turn those small eyes up at Kat. Something shone there, a mix of trust and almost recognition. It had melted Kat’s heart. With a new baby herself, she knew her maternal instincts and hormones were running strong, her emotions raw with the recent loss of her husband.

“What does that mean?” Painter asked Lisa.

He stood on the opposite side of the bed beside Lisa. He had just returned after taking a call from Gray in India. His team had been attacked and was now headed to the northern regions. Painter was already investigating who had orchestrated the ambush—the assassination attempt on the professor could not have been coincidence, someone knew Gray had been flying out there. Despite needing to follow up on the mystery, the director had taken time to come down here to listen to Lisa’s report.

Dr. Cummings had finished a slew of blood tests.

Before Painter’s question could be answered, Dr. Sean McKnight entered the room. He had taken off his suit coat and tie. He had his sleeves rolled to the elbow. He had gone to make some calls following Gray’s debriefing. Painter turned to him, an eyebrow raised in question, but Sean just waved for Lisa to continue. He sank into a bedside chair. He had kept a vigil there for the past hour. Even now he rested a hand on the bedsheet. Kat and Sean had talked for a long while. He had two grandchildren.

Lisa cleared her throat. “D.I.C. is a pathological process where the body’s blood begins to form tiny clots throughout all systems. It depletes the body’s clotting factors and leads contrarily to internal bleeding. The causes are varied, but the condition arises usually secondary to a primary illness. Snake bites, cancers, major burns, shock. But one of the most common reasons is meningitis. Usually a septic inflammation of the brain. Which considering the fever and…”

Lisa waved to the device attached to the side of the child’s skull. Her lips thinned with worry. “All tests confirm the diagnosis. Decreased platelets, elevated FDPs, prolonged bleeding times. I’m certain of the diagnosis. I have her on platelets, and I’m transfusing her with antithrombin and drotrecogin alfa. It should help stabilize her for the moment, but the ultimate cure is to treat the primary disease that triggered the D.I.C. And that remains unknown. She’s not septic. Her blood and CSF cultures are all negative. Might be viral, but I’m thinking something else is going on, something we’re in the dark about, something tied to the implant.”

Kat took a deep, shuddering breath. “And without knowing that…”

Lisa crossed her own arms to match Kat’s pose. “She’s failing. I’ve slowed her decline, but we must know more. The initials—D.I.C.—have another connotation among medical professionals. They stand for Death Is Coming.”

Kat turned to Painter. “We must do something.”

He nodded and glanced to Sean. “We have no choice. We need answers. Maybe with time we could discern the pathology here, but there are certain individuals who know more, who are current with this biotechnology and know specifically what was done to this girl.”

Sean sighed. “We’ll have to tread carefully.”

Kat sensed a discussion had already occurred between Sean and Painter. “What are you planning?”

“If we’re going to save this child”—Painter stared at the fragile girl—“we’re going to have to get in bed with the enemy.”

11:38 P.M.

Trent McBride strode down the long deserted hallway. This section of Walter Reed was due for renovation. Hospital rooms to either side were in shambles, walls moldy, plaster cracked, but his goal was the mental ward lockdown in back. Here the walls were cement block, the windows barred, the doors steel with tiny grated cutouts.

Trent crossed to the last cell. A guard stood outside the door. They weren’t taking any chances. The guard stepped to the side and offered a jangling set of keys to Trent.

He took them and checked through the small window in the door. Yuri lay sprawled fully dressed in the bed. Trent unlocked the door, and Yuri sat up. For an old man, he was wiry and spry, plainly he had been juicing up on a strong cocktail of androgens and other anti-aging hormones. How those Russians loved their performance-enhancing drugs.

He swung the door wide. “Time to go to work, Yuri.”

The man stood up, his eyes flashing. “Sasha?”

“We shall see.”

Yuri crossed to the door. Trent didn’t like the resolute cast to the man’s expression and grew suddenly suspicious. Rather than beaten, Yuri had an edge of steel to him, like a sword’s blade pounded and folded to a finer edge. Maybe all the old man’s strength didn’t just come from injections into his ass cheeks.

But resolute or not, Yuri was under his thumb.

Still, Trent waved for the guard to follow with his sidearm. Trent had planned to walk Yuri back himself. Well over six feet and twice the man’s weight, Trent hadn’t been worried about needing an escort. But he did not trust the cast to Yuri’s eye.

They headed out.

“Where are we going?” Yuri asked.

To put a final nail in Archibald Polk’s coffin, he answered silently. Trent had orchestrated the death of his old friend, but now he was planning on putting an end to one of Archibald’s shining successes, his brainchild, a secret organization that the man had dreamed up while serving the Jasons.

A team of killer scientists.

Basically Jasons with guns.

But after murdering the professor, Trent must now destroy the man’s brainchild. For his own work to continue, Sigma must die.


September 6, 7:36 P.M.

Punjab, India

As the sun sank into the horizon, Gray admitted that Rosauro’s choice of vehicle proved to be a wise decision. In the passenger seat, he kept a palm pressed to the roof to keep him in his seat as their SUV bumped along a deeply rutted muddy road. They’d left the last significant town an hour ago and trekked through the rural back hills.

Dairy farms, sugarcane fields, and mango orchards divided the rolling landscape into a patchwork. Masterson had explained that Punjab was India’s abundant breadbasket, the Granary of India, as he described it, producing a majority of its wheat, millet, and rice.

“And someone has to work all these fields,” Masterson had said as he gave them directions from the backseat.

Kowalski and Elizabeth shared the row with him. Behind them, Luca sat in the rear, polishing his daggers.

“Take that next left track,” Masterson ordered.

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