Authors: John Farris
Bertie was looking at him with half-closed eyes, a sidelong glance. Alex's eyes were flicking back and forth between the two of them.
She said to Eden, "You missed something."
"You mean where she tried to hack his throat and hit the collarbone instead? A tip of one of the scissor blades broke off, didn't it?"
"Uh-huh. Still in there. His aura's a little tarnished in that area."
Alex stammered, "B-butâ"
Both women turned to Mike, who backed off a step, holding up his hands in a gesture of mock-conciliation.
"Hey, not me! My life is an open book. I'll tell you anything you want to know."
Bertie smiled and gave Mike a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Sherard looked curiously at Bertie and then at Eden, who seemed momentarily to have lost focus. He would have thought her mind was wandering, but by now he knew her better than that.
"Maybe we ought to get down to business now," Sherard said. He turned to Alex. "Where did you fellas stash the dummy device Eden needs to look at?"
"In the bedroom," Alex said. He was still trying to retain his composure, his eyes fixed on Eden.
There were double doors between the sitting room of the suite and the large bedroom. They all went inside. Bertie looked around, then went to the terrace door, parted the sheer curtain and pushed the door back. They heard church bells.
"Lovely morning," she said.
The device that the Russians had brought with them was in a titanium case two and a half feet square and a foot high. Mike put the case on a round table under a hanging light fixture and unlocked it. The device was in a carrier bag, also locked. Mike selected another key from his ring. Eden, still a little dreamy, gazed at the carrier bag. Bertie stood just outside the room on the terrace looking east toward downtown Nashville and the stadium on the Cumberland River a few blocks away from the hotel. She took some deep breaths. Eden looked slowly around at her. Sherard felt uneasy, knowing something was going on between the two women. But he couldn't say anything.
Mike removed the dummy nuke from the carrier bag. It resembled an overweight laptop computer, but the case was polished steel, and the detonator, keyboard labeled in Cyrillic, nested in a vault of armored glass. Someone had placed a happy-face sticker on the rectangle of glass. Russians were the best at gallows humor.
Eden took one look at the device and collapsed with a gurgling noise to the floor, as if she were having a seizure.
!" Bertie said, hurrying to kneel beside her. "Oh, my God, what happened?"
"I don't know," Sherard said. "Let's get her off the floor."
Alex helped him pick Eden up and carry her to one of the twin beds. Her eyes were half-closed, her face congested. The gurgling had become a desperate throat rattle as she struggled for air.
Bertie turned to Mike. "Poor kid, she's diabetic." Sherard glanced up swiftly; this was news to him but he caught Bertie's look and acted on the hint. "Can you get her something from the minibar? Fruit juice is best."
"Sure, I'll be right back."
"Alex, would you fetch a cold cloth from the bathroom?"
Alex nodded. Bertie was holding Eden down on the bed. Mike had gone into the sitting room. When Bertie heard water splashing in the bathroom she left Eden's side and took four quick steps to the bedroom door, closed it. Turned back to Sherard. Whispered.
"Do you have Danny Cheng's Glock on you?"
"When he comes back, stick it in his ear. Put him down but don't shoot him."
"Who do you mean, Alex?"
"No, he's okay, it's just his attitude. Mike's the bad apple."
Alex came out of the bathroom with a washcloth and said to Bertie, "What should I do?"
"Has she swallowed her tongue?"
"How would I know?"
Eden sat up suddenly, eyes rolled up in her head. She clamped her arms around Alex. She gagged as if she were going to vomit in his face. Alex jerked his head aside. He didn't see Mike returning. Mike saw Bertie wailing at the foot of the bed and Eden apparently convulsing. He wasn't aware of Sherard stepping in behind him. Sherard thumped Mike on the side of his skull above the ear with the steel slide of the Glock pistol.
Mike staggered a step, went down on one knee with a muted groan, and Sherard hit him again, getting more muscle into his side-arm swing. Alex yelled something. Mike pitched forward on his face and didn't move. He was still holding the unopened bottle of orange juice. Alex tried to get off the bed but Eden clung to him until Bertie intervened, thrust the long pale palm of one hand to within an inch of his forehead. If Alex could have deciphered the lines in her palm, he would have discovered a very old soul in a young woman's body.
"Do you like your brains fried or scrambled, Alex? Just settle down until you've heard us out. Eden, I think you can let Alex go now."
"Gladly," Eden said, exhaling explosively. She pushed him away. Bertie held Alex's attention with her outstretched hand. There was a moment when Alex might have come up fighting, but something in Bertie's eyes, the tone of her body, the sum and power of her chi, discouraged him.
Sherard stepped over Mike, moving where he could see both men, and aimed the Glock at Alex. Alex swore at them in Russian, his face darkening with bad blood.
Eden picked up the washcloth and mopped her own face.
"For a little while there I thought I
would lose it. Was I as good as Julia Roberts in
"Didn't see that one, but you were great," Bertie assured her. "Now we'd better get organized, on the double."
"What's up?" Sherard asked.
Bertie withdrew the hand she was holding next to Alex's head and pulled off one of the enameled copper bracelets she wore on her other wrist. She moved away from Alex, knelt beside Mike, and pressed the curved bracelet to the bone beneath his right ear.
"Implant," she said. "Barely a trace of a scar. Remember Rory Whetstone, Hannafin's right-hand man? Same deal. MORG got to both of them. I saw Mike's implant when I scanned his aura. Difference is, Mike is two-way. I just took him off the air." She slipped the bracelet back with the others on her wrist. "Magnets," she said. "Probably too late, though. My hunch is a lot of MORG guys are on the way over here already. What happens next depends on who they are. Gunmen, or MMF. I think I prefer the gunmen."
"I don't," Sherard said with a nod to the Glock in his hand. "This is all we have, unless Alexâ"
"No I don't have a gun, and what is all this fuhkeeng nonsense about implants!?"
Bertie got up from one knee. "I could do a little surgery with a pocketknife and show it to you."
"We don't have time," Eden said.
"Right, what am I thinking. Alex, get your dummy nuke and let's be on our way. Both Eden and I have left signatures in this suite the MMF can follow like a neon rainbow."
"I'll make a stand here," Sherard said. "The rest of you get out."
"No good, Tom. You'll get two or three, sure; then you're a goner. Besides, we need one of them if we're to have any hope of coming up with that live nuke. Alex, are you a believer yet?"
Sherard said, "I think we had better leave the Russians behind."
"Good idea. Then
disarm the fuhkeeng bomb, if you find it in time."
"He believes," Eden said, with an encouraging look at Alex.
Alex glanced at Mike and said to Bertie, "Since you seem to have all the answers, has he betrayed us?"
"No, he didn't know about the bug they snuck into his skull. Probably while he was having dental surgery. That's the beauty, and the terror of it."
"Then let me tie his hands, at least. If they, whoever they are, find him bound and unconscious, they may not execute him."
"Do it," Sherard said, and to Bertie: "What about those telepathic signatures, footprints we'll be leaving in the air?"
"We do nothing. Let 'em follow us."
"Where are we going?"
Bertie didn't answer him. She seemed to have drifted away momentarily, attracted by other sounds, another's voice.
Sherard tensed, also listening. But he heard nothing except the nearby tolling of church bells.
PLENTY COUPS, MONTANA â¢ JUNE 7 â¢ 6:25-7:40 A.M. MDT
ven though she couldn't be seen, by human or optical eyes, Eden Waring's doppelganger soon discovered in her forays down the long bright passages of the underground facility that there were areas where she couldn't go without tripping a hullabaloo and razzamatazz of alarms. Flashing red lights and massive steel gates rising out of the floors she could deal with. But she drew the line at fogs of lethal gas and unleashed killer dogs. These rewards for unauthorized MORG employees who might have an itch to explore were graphically posted in the red zones.
And she was still hallucinating (which was what Eden had called it) although her visions of paradise became more ephemeral with each recurrence. It was during the flashbacks to what had never been that she had violated a couple of minimum-security zones while trying to orient herself. But no one had come to investigate; obviously no evidence of her presence had shown up on the TV monitors. After thirty seconds the warning lights had stopped flashing, the entrapment gates had been withdrawn with a clang of super-hardened steel.
She was cold and hungry. Eden, for practical reasons, had forbidden her to eat. Ingested substances remained visible in her digestive tract. There was nothing on her stomach. She had emptied her telltale bowels and, one last time, her bladder before venturing out.
Sunday morning, very early. The Plenty Coups facility seemed nearly deserted. And endless. And totally confusing in the businesslike sameness of its corridors. She longed for Fiji, coconut palms, blue water. She was barefoot, and the floors were cold. She shuddered almost every step of the way. After fifteen minutes and two nerve-jolting alarms she was ready to give up and retreat to her hammockâthe South Seas furnishings in her suite were real, at leastâand coddle herself with a picturesque dream.
And Eden would be so angry with her that she would never achieve the only dream she had that truly mattered: her desire to be
, and be granted a life of her own.
Then she could spend the rest of that life in Polynesia, if she damned well wanted to.
There was no choice. Eden had to be obeyed.
Get it done, the doppelganger thought drearily. Help Robin Sandza find his eternal rest. Easy enough to accomplish. A few circuits to disconnect. Robin already had shown her how to do this, on his guided tour through his own brain.
BOZEMAN, MONTANA/BIG COUNTRY RANCH â¢ JUNE 7
ust before eight-thirty Sunday morning Air Force One touched down on the recently extended (to ten thousand feet) runway at Bozeman's Gallatin airport, under the protection of MORG security: three helicopters in the air, perimeter patrols on the ground. Another, identical 747 with limousines, trailers, and logistical support aboard had arrived half an hour earlier. The First Lady had banned from Air Force One the traveling press corps and nearly everyone else, excepting the new MORG presidential security detail and the military crew from the 89th Airlift Wing. The press corps, which was billeted in Bozeman, was due to arrive on a third plane after the President had disembarked and was on his way to the western White House.
Clint Harvester had been sedated for the trip to his home state, although not so heavily that he needed help walking down the steps from the door of Air Force One to the waiting limo. There wasn't much of a crowd on hand for their early arrival; Bozeman is a small city of about thirty-five thousand people when Montana State University is in regular session. Rona saw a few signs and banners half a mile away at the airport terminal. She nudged Clint's elbow, a signal for him to wave, and hoped nobody with a camera had caught him yawning.
He dozed in the limousine on the thirty-mile trip down to the ranch. Roadblocks, cars and pickups pulled over, some flags waving, Boy Scouts in uniform, backpackers, old-timers and babes in arms behind barricades at crossroads hamlets with names like Lingo and Beaver Hut. Friendly faces for the most part; but then you could never, in Rona's book, tell what an Indian was thinking. She had the window down on her side and showed a cheery face, a perky thumbs-up. The caravan was traveling at thirty-eight miles an hour, fast enough so that none of the onlookers could catch more than a shadowy glimpse of their President.
Keeping up appearances in Washington for the past week had been an ordeal, and Rona was happy to be home, in near isolation on eighteen thousand acres of summer range, subalpine meadows, hanging valleys, and forested cirques. Roadless terrain. Mountain peaks wherever one looked. Fast clear water and huge red cedars; animal trails dense with needle-pack and hard crusts of snow year-round. Twelve feet of snow in ordinary winters, twenty to thirty feet when the weather turned savage.