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Authors: L. J Charles

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BOOK: To Touch Poison
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He nodded. “When you perfect the formula’s viability as a biological weapon, you can begin working on an antidote. For obvious reasons, it would be impractical to unleash a poison without the means to protect ourselves from accidental contamination.”

Tension crawled between Kaimi’s shoulder blades as her internal scientist fought for control. No one knew about her recent progress with the formula. At least this bought her some time. “It will be more efficient, and the outcome more certain, if I work on both processes as a unit.” Her words hung in the air. She’d unconsciously accepted his challenge. It was the word “antidote” that had tipped the scales. Her single focus since she’d discovered the ancient formula was a cure for the poison. Well, there was that other discovery, but so far she’d managed to keep it a well-hidden secret.

It was her fatal weakness as a scientist, the need to do no harm. She knew it. And the CIA knew it, so how had she ended up here? And… “Who the hell are
you
?”

He heaved a sigh. “I’m the man who decides whether you live or die. You can call me…Fred.”

Kaimi wasn’t naïve enough to believe she had any control over her life after she’d made the choice to sign on with the CIA, so she probed for a gut response from her newest handler. She was very, very skilled at reading reactions. It probably came from her intense study of forensic anthropology. Dead or alive, people were her thing. “Fred? Seriously?”

The faintest glimmer of a smile touched his eyes. “You deploy in one hour. The corporal waiting outside has your duffle and new identification.”

She had Jayme, and parents, people to touch base with. Her instructions had been to bring nothing to the meeting, and being well trained in following orders and protocol, she’d complied. But now… “I’ll need to make arrangements. Check in with my family and let J—”

Fred leaned forward, cutting her off. “No contact. It’s been done for you. You. Don’t. Exist, Ms. Maliu.”

Reality slithered through Kaimi. Anger churned, but she squashed it. Temporarily. There wasn’t anything she could do until she escaped from Fred’s pseudo interrogation cell. “Right,” she snapped, and then strode to the door. Had the bastards told her family she’d been killed in action? They knew she was CIA, but no one would believe there’d been a fatal accident. She was an analyst, a scientist, not Spec Ops, not even a regular covert officer.

The knob turned easily this time.

The corporal handed her a duffle and a small leather pouch. She flicked the thin calfskin open with her thumb. The name was Xola Muerte, and the background information bore no resemblance to reality. An entirely new history had been laid out on a sheet of paper so thin she could practically see through it. Different addresses, different schools but with similar degrees, a different social security number, and a driver’s license from Ohio. She’d never been to Ohio.

She closed the pouch and stuffed it in an outside pocket of the duffle. “Where to, Corporal?”

He held her gaze for a moment, then pressed the up button for the elevator. “I’m to escort you to a point of egress, ma’am.” Even his voice creaked.

It was obvious he knew nothing. Kaimi hefted the weight of the duffle. Clothes for sure, a weapon, she hoped. If not, she’d see to it herself.

And Jayme! Their love was strong and they wanted to make their relationship permanent. Jayme would never accept her sudden “disappearance.” Kaimi bit down on a bark of laughter. Major mistake on Fred’s part. No one knew about her private life with Jayme, so he wouldn’t have received the memo about her unfortunate demise. She and Jayme had opted to keep their plans completely under wraps, not wanting to share until they’d decided if they wanted to continue working for the CIA.

Her parents wouldn’t buy any “sudden demise” scenario, either. They were followers of Huna, a Hawaiian metaphysical practice, and both were psychically gifted. The gene had bypassed her, gifting her instead with an extraordinary affinity for plants and chemical reactions. She’d just take her work off-line, so to speak, share it with them, and together they’d discover the correct blend of plant substances to create large amounts of the antidote. Her parents knew more about healing than anyone she’d ever studied with.

The only problem would be staying under Fred’s radar. He seemed the determined sort, so she’d have to finesse it. Hopefully, Jayme would have some ideas on how to slide under…no, of course he wouldn’t. CIA attorneys didn’t know squat about Special Ops. Did they? She and Jayme had had better things to do than discuss the minutiae of their work. They’d have to rectify that as soon as she was able to talk with him.

The corporal motioned her off the elevator and toward a recessed door, his other hand hovering over a keypad. “After I enter the code, you have five seconds to exit.”

Or what? He’d shoot her, knives would drop from above, or maybe an arm would pop out of the molding and inject her with a lethal substance. That would be fitting. “Thanks, Corporal.”

She stepped through the door, it whisked shut behind her, and the locks clicked into place. The man who stepped out of the large, anonymous vehicle awaiting her was trained. She’d learned to recognize the highly skilled operatives who wandered the halls at Langley, not that they were big on friendly communication, but they could slide into and out of “normalcy” in a nanosecond. It was noticeable to her human-astute mind. And maybe that was what she’d inherited from her parents instead of the psychic gene. It was as though she had a skewed chromosome, maybe a mutation.

The agent grasped her arm, fast-walked her to the vehicle, and lifted her, a little too vigorously, into the back seat. He followed, sliding in next to her. Inside were a driver and one other agent who rode shotgun, all three were armed to the teeth, and all three dressed in jeans, polo shirts and jackets. Normal, except for their demeanor.

A sliver of unease scraped at Kaimi’s nape. They weren’t going to kill her, or they’d have done it without going to the trouble of a Pentagon meeting. But they weren’t taking her back to Langley, either. And there wasn’t a current address in the information included in her pouch.

Where the hell were they taking her?

 

CHAPTER THREE

 

THE VEHICLE LEFT PENTAGON PROPERTY
AND
merged into traffic. Was there any point in asking her bodyguards…yes, she like liked the term bodyguards much better than kidnappers…where they were headed? Kaimi did a mental shrug. Questioning them would be fruitless. Oh, they’d answer her, but they’d lie with conviction and without tells.

Damn, but she needed to talk to Jayme. He was privy to all sorts of information databases regular CIA officers weren’t. And if she went missing, he’d search for her. She didn’t doubt that. And when he did, all kinds of shit could come down on him. Cold panic shivered in her veins. She couldn’t tell Jayme anything about this, not when it might endanger his life.

The man next to her shifted position, turning his head slightly toward her. Curiosity flashed in his eyes. “We’re escorting you to Andrews Field, ma’am.”

His tone was cautious, bordering on conspicuously polite…like he was afraid of her. How…odd. And then his words sunk into her overloaded brain. Not going to Langley. Not going to her apartment. But they were taking her somewhere, obviously unknown. Where no one knew how to find her. Like a prison?

A burst of fear shut down her breathing for a heartbeat. She fought it, straightened her spine, and explored the possibilities. Holding her in captivity would be stupid if they expected her to perfect the formula and find an antidote. What they didn’t know, what no one knew, was that she’d discovered a slight variation of the formula that held curative properties. She hadn’t tested it thoroughly enough to share the news with anyone, but there was little doubt that, with some minor tweaking, it had the potential to become a miracle drug.

A sigh welled from deep in her chest. No point getting her hopes up. Curative drugs were rare, and this one would require switching several key components, and she had to factor in the healing abilities that were inherent in her genes. In addition to being psychic, both Makani Maliu, the sweetest of all possible mothers, and Aukele, the most enigmatic of all possible fathers, were born healers. Damn, but she needed a lab, preferably close to the source of the plants she’d need in order to produce the formula. As much as she longed to ensure no one would be able to create the fatal toxin in future generations, it was far more important to make the healing formula available to everyone, unless it required her specific genetic make-up to actually work. But she wouldn’t know until she tried it.

The government would only be interested in the toxin and a possible antidote. Maybe. Miracles held the potential to generate astronomical sums. Not something the government would turn down, nor would pharmaceutical companies, or industrious entrepreneurs. Or criminals.

But if there
was
a viable antidote that could be produced in mass quantities, that formula would be different from her potential miracle drug. That was for sure. She’d tried using the healing formula to undo damage from the toxin, and it had failed every single test.

The South American jungle was the only place where the specific combination of plants she needed grew. Natively, anyway. She might be able to create hospitable conditions in a lab, but… And there it was. A simple answer to the question she hadn’t asked. They were going to transport her to the heart of the South American jungle without allowing her to have any contact with her family. Or Jayme. Emotion rolled in her gut, so strong she couldn’t separate the anger from the sadness.

“No. Oh, no this isn’t going happen.” Her fingers closed over the seatbelt fastening, freeing it. She kicked the duffle out of the way, and lurched toward the door. Stop and go traffic. As soon as the vehicle slowed…

A hand fisted around her upper arm. “My orders, ma’am, are to ensure your safe delivery to Andrews Field. And that door is locked. Controls are up front.”

She was a prisoner. Without bars. Kaimi managed to choke down her need to flee. The timing was off, and failure the probable outcome. She didn’t act on poor odds. Not normally. Settling into the leather seat, she refastened her seat belt and yanked the duffle onto her lap to explore the contents. Maybe it was an inopportune time to fight her way out of the situation, but it was an excellent time to prepare.

She took mental inventory of what Fred had provided: Three sets of jungle camouflage clothing, four sets of serviceable underwear, one pair of boots, appropriate toiletries, and an ASEK survival knife. Hot damn. A weapon.

A sideways glance at the corporal confirmed he was aware of the blade, and in close quarters he’d have the advantage of physical strength. She did better in a fight with more room to maneuver.
Know your weaknesses, Kaimi. Take advantage of your strengths.

She puffed out a sigh and zipped the duffle closed. The survival knife would do for now, but she’d be adding a Busse Boss Jack when she had a chance. Correction.
Made
a chance. Kaimi had been jungle-trained when she lived with a local tribe while working on her dissertation. There was no way these Army boys would be able to track her. Probably.

Problem was, probabilities could get a gal killed.

She closed her eyes and focused on her memories of the Amazon jungle. Past experience suggested they’d fly her into Manaus, and then transfer her to a boat for travel up the Rio Negro. There were more than forty thousand indigenous plants that grew in the jungle, but the ones she’d need to continue her research were located in a special reserve area populated by the local tribes who’d taught her about the ground roots and bark they used for euthanasia. And about the plants that
might
be an antidote. But they were very reluctant to share that information. Interesting how comfortable they were with dying compared to the vast majority of the world’s population.

“At least it’s early May.” Her words slipped out on a sigh.

The agent riding shotgun turned to her and hiked an eyebrow. “Nice weather where you’re going?” Again, there was that curiosity.

“Questions can put you in a body bag, soldier. But no, they’re not sending me to sunshine and surf.”

The memory of the heat and humidity was so intense that a line of sweat beaded along Kaimi’s spine. “There is no
nice
weather where I’m headed, but May is the cusp between the dry and wet seasons.”

Their arrival at Andrews Field was obviously expected, as they were whisked through security, and her bodyguard hustled Kaimi onto a military plane, leaving her with nothing more than a brisk farewell nod.

A disembodied voice suggested she strap in, told her the projected duration of the flight, and drew her attention to an ice chest with water and sandwiches. A good sign. They definitely wanted her alive. At least for now.

When the plane hit cruising altitude, Kaimi changed out of her suit and heels, happy to replace them with camouflage gear and boots. She fastened the knife sheath around her thigh, and, after a few minutes of practice thrusts, had a feel for the blade they’d included in her duffle. It would do.

With nothing but hours of flight time ahead of her, Kaimi focused on eating, hydrating, and sleeping. When they landed she needed to be ready for… anyone’s guess. And wasn’t that the perfect definition of working for a three-letter agency? Only she didn’t anymore. Now she was…military, but without a rank? Or maybe nothing at all.

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