Millions will die.
Anxiety kept her on her feet, for the team, for the fate of millions. She had a laptop open on a table. She had tried to work, to keep busy. She had begun downloading her digital pictures from her camera. Professor Masterson had kept her camera safe after she was kidnapped by the Russians. He had returned it to her following their escape from the jail in Pripyat.
On the screen, the photos scrolled as they downloaded into the laptop.
Pacing past, she caught a glimpse of the omphalos, resting at the center of the chakra wheel. Despite her worry, her heart still thrilled at the thought that the stone was the original Delphic artifact. For two decades, historians knew the smaller stone at the museum was a copy, the fate of the original a mystery. Some scholars hypothesized that perhaps some oracular cult had survived the temple’s destruction and that they’d stolen the stone for their secret temple.
Elizabeth drew back to the laptop. She stared at the omphalos. Here was that proof. She sank into the chair as a sudden realization struck her. She remembered what was carved inside the museum’s copy: a curving line of Sanskrit.
It was an ancient prayer to Sarasvati, the Hindu goddess of wisdom and secret knowledge. No one knew who inscribed it there or why. But it was not unusual to see religious graffiti from one religion marking another.
Still, Elizabeth began to suspect the truth. Perhaps the copy of the omphalos had been left behind like a road marker. She scrolled through the images and came upon the photo of the wall mosaic, depicting a child and young woman hiding from a Roman soldier underneath the dome of the omphalos, where the Sanskrit poem was written. It read, “She who had no beginning, ending, or limit, may the Goddess Sarasvati protect her.” It could definitely be referring to the last Oracle, a prayer to protect her lineage. Lastly, the goddess Sarasvati herself made her home in a sacred river. Many religious scholars believed that this mythical river was the Indus River, where the exiled Greeks made their new home.
Elizabeth suspected that someone had left that secret message for others to follow. As she and her father had.
She brought up the image of the original omphalos again. She had taken several pictures, including the triple line carved upon the stone that warned of the trap—written in Harappan, Sanskrit, and Greek. She brought up that image.
There had been another example of this triple writing on the chamber walls. Beneath the figure of the fiery-eyed boy. She brought that up, too. Beneath the mosaic, the line of Harappan was intact, but half of the Sanskrit and Greek and been worn away. Only a letter or two remained legible.
She read what she could. “‘The world will burn…’”
The line nagged, reminding her of what Gray and the others sought to prevent. She stared at the image of a boy rising in smoke and fire from the omphalos and felt a chill of concern. But what was the rest of the message? The only intact line was the one written in indecipherable Harappan. It was a challenging word puzzle.
Elizabeth jolted upright and leaned closer, her earlier worries forgotten. She glanced between the two images on the screen. She began to understand what she was looking at. She had lines of Harappan translated into Greek and Sanskrit. Translated. She breathed harder. On the computer, she had the beginnings of a digital Rosetta stone for this lost language.
She returned back to the broken line of passage beneath the smoky boy. She studied it, compared, and pulled up pictures of the writing on the stairwell wall, too. She began to spot commonalities.
Could she translate it?
Sensing something important, she set to work.
General-Major Savina Martov studied her adversary. She stared at the American on the screen. He remained stopped within the pool of light by the tunnel lamp. She lifted the microphone to her lips.
“Move to the doors now!” she barked sharply.
From the way he jumped at her words, the man had heard her. There was no problem with the speakers near the blast doors.
“General-Major,” the engineer said. “I have a priority call for you from the Arkhangelsk Missile Base.”
Savina tilted back and picked up the handset. One of her contacts was established at the base there. “Martov here.”
“General-Major, some disturbing intelligence is coming out of the Ukraine. It seems that Senator Nicolas Solokov is dead.”
Savina inhaled sharply. She kept any stronger reaction in check. Still, her throat tightened. Her contact did not know Nicolas was her son, only that he was intimate and supportive of her operations here.
The contact continued speaking. “Rumors are still swirling as to the details surrounding the events. Some say he was killed by terrorists, while others say he may have had a hand in the actions there. All that is certain is that he is dead. Cameras from inside the sealed Shelter show his body, along with his assistant. He was shot in the head. Radiation levels are still too high to safely remove his body, but measures are under way. I can’t say…”
The man’s words droned on, but Savina had stopped listening. Tears welled up in her eyes. She tilted her head back to keep them from spilling. As the man finished, Savina thanked him for the call and hung up.
She turned her back slightly from the technician and engineer.
Nicolas was dead.
Her only son.
Maybe a part of her had known this already. For the past hour, she had been unable to shake a pall of despair. Her breathing had grown heavier. Nicolas…
“General-Major?” the engineer asked softly.
His gentleness only angered her. She turned her attention to the screen. The American still hadn’t moved. As if her grief were oil, her frustration set flame to it. A fury built inside her. The American had been thwarting her all day, and now defied her.
Tears dried in the heat of her vehemence.
Her son might be dead, but she had given birth to another child, to the dream that would rise out of the ashes here. Family blood was not the only way to leave behind a legacy. She would finish what had killed her son. She would find another figurehead to take his place. It might take longer, but it would be done. The world had stolen her son. But she had the power to strike back.
A fierceness entered her voice that made the engineer take a step back. “Enough!” She pointed to the two screens on the left. They depicted the heart of Operation Saturn. One displayed a view up the shaft toward the planted charges; the other centered on the iris set in the floor. “Initiate Saturn! On my mark!”
The engineer and technician swung to their stations. They tapped furiously.
Savina stared at the man on the screen. If he wouldn’t bring Pyotr to her, she would light a fire under the man. There would be no retreating, no escape.
“Green across the board,” the engineer said tersely. “Awaiting your mark.”
She took a deep breath and watched the two screens. One monitor flashed with light. She heard a distant muffled explosion. Rocks tumbled past the camera, followed by a surge of mud, smothering the view. On the other screen, the iris rolled open as a sluice of rock and mud washed down atop it with a heavy wallop. Moments later, black water flowed from above, gushing in a solid column. The engineers’ calculations proved perfect. The arc of the water sluiced straight down the open maw of the iris.
It had begun.
The world had killed her son. But her brainchild would live. Though she had initiated the operation with a fury that was equal parts hope and retribution, she could not deny a dark vein in her steel. As the water flowed, she knew she would have her revenge on the world for what it had stolen from her today.
She turned her attention to the American.
Once whetted, her vengeance sought a new target.
She was not done.
Monk picked himself off the ground. The explosion still rang in his head. Trapped in the enclosed space, the concussive force had slammed against his ears like the clap of giant hands. He had covered Pyotr with his own body.
As his head continued to ring, he helped the boy to his feet. Distantly a heavy roaring echoed from the dark tunnel behind him, sounding like the growl of some great dragon. But Monk knew what he was hearing.
The rush of water.
Tons of water.
He also knew what it all meant—the explosion, the subterranean waterfall—it meant he had failed. Operation Saturn was under way, dumping a toxic slurry into the heart of the world.
The loudspeaker squawked again by the blast doors.
“Drop your weapons!” the woman said with a mix of ice and fire, cold determination laced with anger. “Bring the boy to the door. And I suggest you move quickly. The radiation levels are rising rapidly. You have less than five minutes before you absorb a lethal dosage.”
Monk had no choice. He shrugged off the rifles and let them clatter to the tracks. Pyotr reached over and grabbed the sleeve of his stumped arm.
Together they hurried the last couple hundred yards, racing as radiation rose in the tunnel. Ahead, the blast doors slowly parted, revealing a line of five soldiers with rifles leveled.
Their welcoming committee.
Pyotr urged him faster, as if the boy knew something Monk did not.
Monk’s wounded leg lanced an agonizing spike with every step. His chest tightened. His breathing wheezed. He stared down toward his waist. He still wore his dosimeter badge. It flapped with each step. Monk could see the surface. It showed crimson, but with each passing yard, it grew a shade darker.
Despite his leg, he sped faster.
Monk and Pyotr sprinted for the doors.
As they neared the exit, a massive blast shattered like thunder, coming from out in the cavern of Chelyabinsk 88. Monk’s steps stuttered in surprise, but Pyotr tugged him onward.
The guards, equally startled, twisted around. One dropped flat in fear.
Pyotr aimed for the gap. Hitting the line, the boy leaped over the soldier’s prone form. His other hand darted and snatched a sidearm from the holster of a neighboring soldier. The boy swung and slapped the weapon into Monk’s one hand.
There was no fumbling. It had hit his palm perfectly. Monk swung out his arm. From point-blank range, he fired into the line, using a reflexive skill buried deeper than his erased memory.