Raoul ‘Gator’ Fontenot paused in the act of stuffing his shirt into his duffel bag when someone knocked on his door. The men in his Special Forces paranormal squad just weren’t all that polite and tended to barge right in, no matter what time, day or night. In all the time he’d known them, no one had ever actually knocked on his door and definitely not with such a timid tap.
Holding a pair of faded jeans under his chin, he haphazardly attempted to fold them as he jerked open the door. Dr. Lily Whitney-Miller was the last person he expected to find. His squad, the GhostWalkers, as their psychic unit was often referred to, owed Lily their lives. She’d rescued them from the cages in the laboratory and saved them from being murdered. Lily owned the eighty-room mansion where the men often stayed, but she never ventured into their wing. She preferred to address them together as a unit in the more formal conference rooms.
“Lily! What a surprise.” He glanced over his shoulder at the disarray in his bedroom. “Did I miss a meeting?”
She shook her head. She looked calm and cool. Reserved. The usual Lily, but she held herself tight, too tight. Something was wrong. Worse, her gaze avoided his and Lily had a way of always looking a man straight in the eye.
“Gator, I need to speak to you privately.”
Raoul was trained to hear the slightest nuance in a voice, and there was hesitation in Lily’s. He’d never heard it there before. He looked past her, expecting to see her husband, Captain Ryland Miller. His dark brow shot up when he saw she was alone. “Where’s Rye?”
Dr. Peter Whitney, Lily’s father, had talked the men, all from various branches of Special Forces, into volunteering to be psychically enhanced. The doctor had removed their natural filters and left them extremely vulnerable to the assault of the emotions and sounds and thoughts of the world around them. It was Lily who had helped them build shields to better function in the real world when they were without their anchors. In all those months, Gator had never seen her without Ryland. He knew Lily felt guilt over the things her father had done and was uneasy in their presence, but she was as much a victim as they were—and she hadn’t volunteered.
He reluctantly stepped back to allow her entry into his room. “Sorry about the mess, ma souer.” He left the door wide open.
Lily faced him in the middle of the room, her hands tightly linked. “I see you’re nearly ready to go.”
“I told Grand-mere I would come as soon as possible.”
“So your friend is still missing? How awful.”
“Yes, Ian’s agreed to come with me to help search. I don’t know how much use we’ll be, but we’ll do whatever we can.”
“Do you honestly believe this girl isn’t a runaway? That’s what the police believe,” Lily reminded him. She’d been the one to use her contacts to get all the information for Gator. “I personally looked into every report they had on her. Joy Chiasson, twenty-two, nice looking girl, sang in the local blues clubs. The police believed she wanted out of Louisiana and took off. Maybe with a new man.”
He shook his head. “I know this family, Lily. So does Grand-mere. I don’t believe for a moment she ran away. Two years ago another woman disappeared. Different parish, no known connection and the police thought she’d left of her own volition as well.”
“But you don’t?”
“No. I think there is a connection. Their voices. They both sang. One in clubs, one in church and theatre, but I think the connection is their voices.”
Lily frowned. “If you need anything, we can help from this end. Just call and anything we have is at your disposal.”
She was still avoiding his eyes and her knuckles were white from twisting her fingers so tightly. Gator waited in silence, forcing her to speak first. Whatever she had to say, he had a feeling he wasn’t going to like much.
Lily cleared her throat. “While you’re there in the bayou, would you mind keeping an eye out for one of the girls my father experimented on? I’ve been running computer probabilities and the likelihood of Iris ‘Flame’ Johnson being in that area right now is very high. This might be one of the few chances we have of locating her.”
“The bayou is a big place, Lily, I can’t imagine just running into her. Why would you think she’d turn up in my back yard?”
“Well, it might not be that big, not if you’re searching the clubs for clues to Joy’s disappearance. Oddly enough, Flame sings too. She works the clubs in the cities she passes through.”
“And why would she be in New Orleans?”
“The burning down of the sanitarium in the bayou was well publicized and I think it will draw her to your hometown. I think she’s looking for the other girls Peter Whitney experimented on, the same as we are.”
Gator took his time answering, studying her face as he did so. Mostly he replayed the sound of her voice in his head, the tiny vibrations only he could hear, the ones that told him she was nervous and giving him only pieces of information—or that she was lying. Lily had no reason to lie to him. “What makes you think she would be looking for the other girls?”
There was a small silence. Lily let her breath out slowly. “My father wrote a computer program and input what he knew of her personality and decision making traits. The program calculated that there was an eighty-three percent chance that she would hunt for the girls. And when I fed the news article into the program it also gave an extremely high probability that she would suspect the fire had something to do with Dahlia and the Whitney trust.”
“I read several of the accounts,” he admitted. “They did report the murders and they obviously knew it was a hit of some kind, an assassination squad, so yeah, she might come looking for more information.”
“I’m sure of it.”
“Which of the missing girls is Iris?” Raoul already knew the answer. Long before Dr. Whitney had experimented on the adult men, he had acquired girls from foreign orphanages and experimented on them, psychically enhancing them. When things began to go wrong, he abandoned all of them except Lily, who he kept and raised as his own daughter. Iris had been a small redhead with defiant eyes and an attitude the size of Texas. The nurses had nicknamed her Flame and from the moment she learned Whitney forbade the name, Iris used it to make him angry. She’d been four years old.
Raoul had studied the tapes of the little girl far more than any of the others. She had abilities the others knew nothing about—but he did—he shared those same abilities. Even as a child she’d been smart enough to hide her talents from Whitney—or angry enough. Her nickname was appropriate: Flame, a little matchstick that could flare up and be as destructive as hell under the right circumstances. Whitney didn’t know how very lucky he was.
“Iris had deep red hair, almost the color of wine and she has acute hearing. She’s able to manipulate sound in extraordinary ways.”
“And she’s an anchor.” That would mean she wasn’t as vulnerable as some of the other girls. She could exist in the world without their shields.
Lily nodded. “I believe she is. I know it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack trying to find her, but you never know. She’d be somewhere between twenty-two and twenty-five now. My father kept meticulous records, yet he didn’t bother to record our birth dates, which makes no sense to me. I did a simulation on the computer aging her. Here’s what she’d look like now.” She handed him the photograph.
His heart nearly stopped beating, then accelerated wildly. Flame was beautiful. Not just striking, but truly exquisitely beautiful, unlike any woman he’d ever seen. Even in the photograph her skin looked so soft he found himself running the pad of his thumb over her face. He kept his expression relaxed and charming, no worries, the usual mask he wore. “You know, Lily, the chances of finding her are almost nil.”
She nodded her head and her gaze skittered away from his. It wasn’t the real reason she’d come. Gator waited. She shuffled her feet but didn’t speak.
“Spit it out, Lily. I’ve never been much for games. Say what you came to say.”
She slid past him to catch the edge of the door, peering out into the hallway before shutting it carefully. “This is confidential.”
“You know we’re a unit. I don’t keep things from Ryland or my men, not if it impacts them and what we do.”
“That’s just it, Gator, I don’t know if it does. I’ve discovered a couple of things and I’m checking them out. You have to understand these experiments have spanned more than twenty years. There are dozens of computers and hard drives, storage disks and zip drives I haven’t even gotten to yet, and that doesn’t include handwritten notes. I started with the girls because we wanted to find them but my father’s observations are mostly on paper and old archived disks. He references nearly everything with numbers. I have to figure out what the number refers to before I can keep going in my research to see what he did. It’s very time consuming work and it isn’t easy.”
Lily didn’t make excuses. This was so far out of character for her. Had she discovered the truth about him? He had watched the video of Iris ‘Flame’ Johnson so many times maybe she’d become curious. Maybe she’d seen him stop the tape and study the picture—the one that showed the walls expand and contract slightly. The one where the floor shifted minutely when Flame’s little gaze had narrowed on the doctor. She’d detested Dr. Whitney and her temper had barely been controlled.
“What have you discovered, Lily?”
“I think my father also did gene enhancing on the girls—as well as on some of you men.” The words left her in a little rush. This time her gaze met his solidly as if trying to read his reaction.
He counted to ten in silence before he spoke. “Why would you think that?”
“The referencing numbers had two letters beside them and I couldn’t figure it out. G.E. I went through a million possibilities until I found a small hidden cabinet in the laboratory. It was locked and coded. There were several notebooks on Iris. She was definitely genetically enhanced. G.E. Those letters were throughout the files and I’ve seen them on several other files. Most of the files. I think the letters reference back to genetic enhancement.”
“The girls. You used the phrase ‘the girls’ rather than on us. As in including yourself.”
Lily shook her head. “There are no G.E. notations in my files anywhere. Believe me, I looked.”
“Why do you think that would be, Lily?” He kept his voice flat, even, ultra calm.
“He used viruses to introduce the therapy to the cells.” Her voice faltered for the briefest of moments, but she carried on, her chin up. “I don’t think he wanted to take any chances with me and he could use me as the control subject.”
“What was in the file that I should know about?”
“Flame had cancer. The symptoms presented nearly the same as leukemia. Bruising, fatigue, abnormal bleeding, bone and joint pain. All of it. He put it into remission, but…” She trailed off.
“But he didn’t stop. He continued to enhance her cells.”
Lily looked miserable as she nodded. “Yes. He continued to experiment on her. One of the problems when using a virus to infect the cells is the body produces antibodies to fight it off. By the second or third round, it does no good to use that virus.”
“So he made up another one.”
“Several of them. He obviously wanted to perfect his technique for later use. I think all of us girls were his first tries…”
“You mean his expendable rats,” Gator interrupted harshly. He curled his fingers into tight fists. “You were all expendable. No one wanted you. And he didn’t like her, did he? She was a lot of trouble because she was so strong willed, just as Dahlia was--Dahlia who was raised in a sanitarium, not a home.”
Lily pressed her fingertips just above her eyes. She paled, but continued on as if he hadn’t spoken. “I haven’t gone through everything in Flame’s file but the cancer returned several times and each time he adjusted the virus and continued doping her after he put the cancer in remission. She’s very enhanced.”
“And you suspect I am as well.”
She bit her lip, but nodded again. “Are you, Gator? Can you run faster, jump higher? None of you have ever mentioned it to me—not even Ryland.”
He avoided the question. “Are you warning us that anyone who might be enhanced is susceptible to cancer?”
“I have no idea,” she said truthfully. “I believe he was working on a way to prevent the doping from stimulating the wrong cells. I think he used Flame to perfect his technique so he could make certain you and the others had fewer problems.”
“Charmin son of bitch, wasn’t he?” Gator stuffed the jeans into the duffel bag with a short violent stabbing motion. “He used her like a damn lab experiment.”
“It’s worse than that, Gator. I hope to God I’m wrong, I can barely conceive of the idea that the man I knew as my father could have been such a monster, but I don’t think he wanted to cure Flame. I think he knew she’d get sick and he figured her adopted parents would bring her back to him.”
“But they didn’t.”
“Not that I can see. But the chances of the cancer reoccurring seem likely. Regular treatment for leukemia would help, but it wouldn’t cure her. The cancer is caused by one particular wild cell.”
“And he knew that.”
Lily nodded reluctantly. “Without a doubt he knew it. The first time he experimented with putting the cancer into remission, he used a virus to insert DNA that caused the cancer cells to self-destruct by producing a protein that was deadly to itself. The second time he used a method of actually forcing the cancer cells to produce a protein that identified itself to her immune system, thereby causing her immune system to attack in a concentrated force, successfully destroying the cancer. It was brilliant really, far ahead of his time.” There was a trace of admiration in Lily’s voice she couldn’t hide from him.
Fury swept through him. Ugly. Dangerous. A snarling demon triggering an aggressive response. Gator turned his back and dragged air into his lungs. He noted the way the walls expanded and contracted, the movement nearly imperceptible. “If he was so damned brilliant and successful at destroying cancer, Lily, why didn’t he report his findings to the world? Why did he secret away his data in a hidden laboratory?”
“Any hospital, University or private facilities such as the Whitney Foundation involved in human experiments are required to have Institutional Review Boards to ensure the research complies with Department of Health and Human Services regulations for the protection of human subjects. And any experiment involving gene insertion must be approved in advance by an Institutional Biosafety Committee.”
He turned to lock his gaze with hers. “So bringing unwanted orphans into the country, virtually buying them and using them as human lab rats to experiment with genetic enhancement, psychic enhancement and cancer doesn’t fall into the accepted regulations? He would have been labeled the monster he was and he would have been jailed. He tortured that child. And now she’s out there somewhere, isn’t she Lily? She’s out there and you want her found because you and I both know she’s very, very dangerous and she’s got a hell of a mad on for the Whitney Foundation, doesn’t she?”
“I want her found because she needs help and she’s one of us,” Lily corrected, her chin up. When he continued to look her steadily in the eye her gaze shifted down to her hands.
“Spit it out, Lily.”
“He also found a way to stimulate the growth of tumors with genetic therapy and then he caused the cancer cells to cut off their own blood supply so the tumor withered and died. That kind of research is invaluable.”
“On her? Flame? He gave her cancer, deliberately? He was a son of bitch, wasn’t he, Lily? A pathetic monster who had to find some kind of kick in torturing children. How old was she when he did this to her? How long did he have her? Why didn’t you tell us all this?”
“You aren’t helping me by talking this way, Gator. This happened a long time ago. I’m finding all this out about my father. My father. A man I loved and respected. I can’t help but see his brilliance. And yes, it was monstrous to perform such experiments on children, on any human, but he did and that doesn’t lessen the fact that he was able to perform medical miracles. He was light years ahead of anyone else in his field. I want her found, Gator, because she needs us. And she needs medical help. Her body is a ticking bomb and will turn on her sooner or later. She must come back here and let me help her.”
Suspicion flickered for a moment in his eyes but he quickly masked it. “She makes a hell of an experiment, doesn’t she? She must be a walking medical miracle.”
“That’s not why, Gator. She needs to be where we can help her.”
“Has it occurred to you, she’ll think you want her back here for more experiments? I hate to be the one to point this out to you, Lily, but you have that same love of science. You put it before morality and you admire a monster that tortured children. If I can see that in you, so will she.”
“You can say whatever you like about me, Gator. I believe we need research and yes, I admire his brilliance, even while I condemn the things he did. I do not put it before morality, but do you have any idea how far ahead of his time he was?”
“So you’ve said, more than once. Who are you trying to convince, Lily?”
“DNA was first sequenced in 1977. It wasn’t until 1997 the first genome was sequenced. Don’t you see what that means? He had to have been years ahead of the game. With the things he did, we should be able to figure out better gene therapy and possibly which viruses to use as vectors without the possibility of triggering cancer in unstable cells.”
“Lily…” Gator raked a hand through his hair in agitation. “You aren’t going to get me to see him as some kind of a world savior. He deliberately caused a child to get cancer, not once but repeatedly.”
“You aren’t listening to me, Gator. Don’t you see how the research he did, monstrous or not could be beneficial? It all happened years ago. We can’t change what he did, but we can acknowledge his brilliance and use what he found out. It’s the only way to bring some good out of the horror he inflicted on us all.”
He breathed deeply to calm the temper pushing so close to the surface. Lily didn’t know what he was capable of doing. No one did. Not even Whitney. And he suspected Flame was just as capable of the same mass destruction as he was. “Damn him to hell, Lily, for what he did to her. For what he did to all of you. All of us. I’ll do my best to find her, but I doubt she’ll be very cooperative. I wouldn’t be under the circumstances. I guess you’d better explain exactly what genetic enhancement and gene doping is to me. And do your best to explain in terms I can understand.”
He couldn’t look at her. Didn’t dare look at her. He didn’t want to have to kill Flame Johnson. He didn’t want to have to look at her face, knowing what a monster had done to her and put a gun to her head, but he might have no choice. Lily was giving him no choice and right at that moment, he was nearly as angry with her as he was at her father. She had no right to ask this of him. They both knew it wasn’t going to be simple bringing Flame back into the fold. Damn both Whitney’s to hell for this.
“Basically, gene therapy uses genes to treat or prevent disease. A gene can be inserted into a damaged cell to repair it. At this time, researchers are testing different approaches to gene therapy. They can replace a damaged gene that causes disease with a healthy one. They can knock out a mutated gene that is malfunctioning and they can introduce a new gene into the body to fight a disease.”
Gator stuffed two more shirts into his duffel bag. “In theory, gene therapy is a good thing.”
“In any experiment, Gator, there’s going to be failures, it’s how scientists learn.”
“Tell that to Flame.”
“I don’t have to. Do you think I don’t know what she went through? I’m the one reading her files first hand. You’re getting the watered down version.” For the first time, Lily looked angry, her eyes dark with temper. “I thought you’d be the best person to approach about this. You’re always calm and you think things through. Throwing stones at me isn’t going to help Flame.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing? I’m hearing this for the first time. I’m struggling to understand not only what he did to Flame, but how it impacts all of our lives. How did you react, Lily, the first time you realized what he’d done? Did you immediately think to yourself what a brilliant scientist he was, or did you wonder how it would affect you and Ryland and your kids, because it damn well made me think about it. Did you picture Flame as a child so sick and miserable she couldn’t walk, with no one to comfort her? Because I did. I’m sorry I’m not handling this to your liking, but someone needed to kill the son of a bitch.”
Lily winced. “Someone did, Gator.”
He rubbed his forehead and the sudden headache pounding at his temples. “I’m sorry, Lily, that was completely uncalled for. Tell me a little more about enhancement and why gene therapy is such a great thing. I swear, I’ll try to listen with an open mind.” He flashed a small grin at her. “And try to speak English. I have to actually understand what you’re telling me.”
Grateful that he was at least willing to try, Lily sent him a small smile in return. “I’ll do my best. Gene therapy research has expanded to include the ability to not only correct faulty genes, but also enhance normal ones. This is where it gets a little complicated.”
“I’m following you,” Gator said.
“A carrier molecule or vector is used to introduce the desired gene—or genes into a patient’s target cells. A virus is used as the vector because viruses have evolved a way of encapsulating and delivering their genes to human cells in a pathogenic manner. Are you following me?”
“So far. I think being around you so much, I’m beginning to pick up all your scientific jargon.”
“Besides viral-mediated gene delivery systems, there are several non-viral options for gene delivery. The simplest method is the direct introduction of therapeutic DNA into target cells. But that approach is limited in its application because it can only be used with certain tissues and it requires large amounts of DNA.”
“Another non-viral approach involves the creation of an artificial lipid sphere with an aqueous core. This liposome, which carries the therapeutic DNA, is capable of passing the DNA through the target cell’s membrane.”
“Hell, Lily, you just went into the ozone with that explanation.”
“Sorry. It wouldn’t enhance, let’s say your legs. You’d need to reach a tremendous amount of cells to do that. But…” Lily frowned and something in the way her face stilled and her voice lowered made Gator pay closer attention. “There are forty-six chromosomes in the human body. My father appears to have been working on a forty-seventh chromosome. One that would exist autonomously alongside the standard forty-six—not affecting their working or causing mutations. It appears to be a large vector capable of carrying substantial amounts of genetic codes. If he succeeded, the body’s immune system wouldn’t attack it. The difficulty, of course is, how to deliver such a large molecule to the nucleus of a target cell. If he managed to do that, it would solve a lot of the problems with gene therapy, but create other, much more frightening hazards.” One hand fluttered protectively over her stomach. “In the data we have so far, gene enhancement doesn’t appear to affect the next generation, but if he inserted a new chromosome, all bets would be off.”
“You have to discuss this with Ryland.” Gator couldn’t help but notice that her hands were shaking.
“I don’t know anything for certain. I wouldn’t have come forward yet, but you were leaving for New Orleans and this is probably our best opportunity to find Iris Johnson.” She tilted her head and stared up at his face, her gaze meeting his squarely. “When I realized Flame might be in New Orleans, I really paid attention to the data we have on her. Most of it was on her health and genetic enhancements, not on her psychic abilities. She could do extraordinary things from the enhancement, but little was said about her potential as a weapon. She can manipulate sound, Gator. She can use her voice for a wide range of sounds including the lower frequencies that we now have learned make excellent weapons. Given the fact that I’ve found years of research on her and she could be both ill and dangerous, not to mention she’s invaluable to medical research, she has to be found.”
Gator kept every expression from his face. He was beginning to feel like a lab rat all over again. He felt very sorry for Flame. She had to have had a miserable life, used solely as a caged experiment. Mostly he detested when Lily sounded so much like her adopted father. Disconnected. Impersonal. More scientist than human. “How do you know she can manipulate sound?”
“I pay attention to detail, the same as you do. Don’t play dumb with me.” She pressed her fingertips harder just above both eyes, obviously trying to ease a bad headache. “I’m angry. You’re angry. I can accept that, but we’re in this together. Why are you being so difficult?”
“Why aren’t you talking to everyone about this?” Gator asked. “We’ve always done things a certain way, Lily. We’ve always been a team. You’re deliberately dividing that team. Why?”
“Because I just had a very fast lesson on how sound can be used as a weapon and quite frankly it scared the hell out of me. Dahlia is a very frightening person with the powers she wields, and if what I suspect about Flame is true, with her personality, she could be a major threat to all of us.”
Gator studied Lily’s expression. “You know she’s royally pissed, don’t you? You know more than you’re letting on to me. I don’t like games. I never have. You can either tell me what you know and let me decide for myself whether or not I want in, or you can forget about receiving any help from me.”
“I don’t know anything for certain, Gator, I only suspect. There’s a huge difference between the two. If you asked me straight up what I believe about Flame, I’d have to tell you I don’t think there was any home and adopted parents. Not ever. I think the story in the computer is a complete fabrication.” She sank down onto his bed as if her legs wouldn’t support her any more. “I think she was held somewhere and the experiments continued long after her childhood, maybe even until she was in her late teens. I think she escaped.”
Gator took an aggressive step forward, looming over Lily. “And you are still defending that bastard? What the hell is the matter with you?”
“I’ve never defended him. Never.” She lifted her face to his, tears swimming in her eyes. “I don’t trust what I’m reading anymore. I can’t even tell you exactly what’s making me suspicious, but I have this horrible feeling the stories about the girls are planted. Or at least about Flame.”
Gator forced his temper under control. Lily suddenly looked fragile enough to shatter. “Why haven’t you gone to Ryland with this?”
“We’ve been trying to have a baby.” Lily burst into tears and covered her face with her hands, her slender shoulders shaking as she wept. “We’ve been trying for months. I was so excited and now I’m terrified. I’m not enhanced, but he is. I know he is. And how much more can he take before he looks at me the way you just did a few minutes ago?”
“I’m like him, like my father. I have the same mind, the same drive to get answers. The same need to push everything to the limit. Eventually, if all I suspect is the truth, if it all comes out, Ryland will leave me. He won’t be able to look at me.”
“That isn’t true.”
“Yes it is. I loathe my father. Every time I look in the mirror, I feel like I’m looking at him. When I’m reading about the things he did, instead of thinking what a monster he was, I can’t help my first reaction, the awe that his mind was capable of visualizing so far in advance of our most gifted researchers. What does that say about me, Gator? How can I look Ryland in the eye knowing I have that kind of reaction? I just stood here arguing with you about what a brilliant man my father was after admitting he deliberately gave a child cancer. If he’s a monster, what does that make me?”
“Are you pregnant, Lily?” Gator guessed shrewdly, watching the way Lily pressed her hands into her stomach.
A fresh flood of tears answered him. His stomach twisted in sympathy and sudden understanding. In fear for her and his friend. “You need to talk to Ryland.” His voice was much gentler.
She shook her head adamantly. “I don’t have all the facts yet, Gator. There’s just so much data to sift through. When I finally realized what I’d stumbled onto, I started working as many hours as possible to compile information to get a clearer picture.” She wiped at her eyes again. “The picture just keeps getting worse and worse. I don’t know if anything is true. I’m tired and discouraged and overwhelmed. How can I tell any of you what my father did when I don’t know for certain myself?”
“You need to tell all of this to Ryland,” he repeated, sitting beside her and taking her hand. “He’ll understand.”
She sighed. “I don’t understand. How can I expect him to understand? If the stories and the letter from my father asking me to find the girls and help them is all a sham, what’s going on? Why would he bother to write me such a letter? I’m spending a fortune trying to find the other girls he experimented on.” She leaned toward Gator, visibly trying to get a handle on her emotions and become the scientist she was much more comfortable with. “Do you know that the computer is programmed to send a flag each time someone with the screen name of babyblues logs onto one particular blues site? Why would that be, Gator?”
“You have an idea.”
“I don’t much like the idea I have. I think babyblues is really Flame. I think she loves blues music and someone was smart enough, after she escaped, to figure out her screen name. They attempt to find her location whenever she goes online and happens to get an update of what is happening in the blues community. And that scares the hell out of me. Who programmed the computer to do that? If it was my father, why did he write the letter to me stating the girls were all given away for adoption and he wanted me to find them? How come, with all my resources, I haven’t been able to track them?”
“Where do you think they are? He can’t have sanitariums scattered all over the United States housing these women, can he?”
“I’m beginning to think he could do anything. And I’m beginning to think some of this was government sanctioned. Not outright of course, but he had to have help. He had money, Gator, more money than even I can conceive of. And he had top security clearance. How much they knew, I have no idea, but they had to have wanted the weapons he could provide. If Flame can do the things I think she can, she would be invaluable. Even as an experiment. It’s possible they allowed her to escape with the idea she’d get sick and have to come back.”
“Like Dahlia and the sanitarium. She had to return because she couldn’t make it on the outside. It was her only refuge.” Gator was beginning to feel very protective toward the absent Flame. “So Flame goes out into the world and does whatever it is she does and they know she has to come home sooner or later because her body is going to betray her.”
Lily nodded. “That’s my guess. And to be strictly honest, Gator, I’m a scientist and I don’t do guesses. I prefer to deal in hard facts, something I can prove. At this point, I don’t have enough information to prove anything. It’s a gut feeling. Sometimes I know things. And I know she’s out there, she’s in trouble and she’s going to come after us if she hasn’t already, especially if she thinks she’s going to die.”
“Worse. The things she can do with her voice are incredible. And if she were down the street, she might, under the right circumstances, be able to hear our conversation. The key would be to filter out multiple sounds and not get inundated by all the sounds surrounding her.”
Gator didn’t even flinch, not even when her shrewd gaze rested on his face.
“Well,” she continued, ignoring the fact that he hadn’t responded, “maybe not in this house. The walls are soundproofed. And maybe that’s why my father had it built this way. For his protection, not mine.” She wiped the tears from her face and stood up, pacing restlessly across his room. “Have you kept up with the latest research on sound as a weapon?”
He had, but he wasn’t going to admit it. GhostWalkers rarely volunteered information, especially when it concerned their own talents. He remained silent.
Lily cast him a small glance, clearly waiting for him to speak. When he didn’t she sighed. “Flame can use sound as sonar. She can literally ‘see’ in the dark like a bat or a dolphin. As a weapon, infrasound can debilitate by causing nausea, bowel spasms, change of heart rhythm, interference with lung capacity, vertigo etc.”
“In other words, she can kill a human being.” He said it without looking at her. He knew firsthand what low frequency sound could do and it sickened him.
“Absolutely she could kill a human being. Also, infrasound is non-directional in its propagation, therefore envelops without any discernable localized source. She could produce the “weapon” without her direction being detected.” Lily met his gaze again, squarely. “Another thing that is most interesting about what she can do, Gator. Aside from ‘talking’ to animals, she could conceivably create a mass exodus of say bats from a cave or rats from an abandoned complex using a high frequency. She could even draw or repel insects such as mosquitoes.”
Lily was well aware she was talking about things he could do and she was looking for a reaction. He remained absolutely without expression. She lifted her chin at him. “Can you use ultrasound to detect problems in people, Gator? Can you ‘see’ organs by using a high frequency?”
“I believe the idea was to be able to help should anyone in my unit be injured. We’d have a walking ultrasound machine.”
“Which is no answer at all. If you find her, Flame could be very ill. She might not let a doctor get near her, but she might let you. Would you be able to detect cancer?”
“I’ve never tried.”
“If she tried to kill you, Gator, would you be able to defend yourself against her, or would you allow sentiment to get in your way?” She asked it bluntly.
“Don’t you think it’s a little late to be asking me that?”
She had the grace to blush. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know where else to turn. You’re heading back to the bayou and I think there’s a very good chance she’ll be in the same vicinity. Look in the blues clubs. She won’t be able to resist them. She has to have a dynamite singing voice—like you. And you’ll be there looking for information on Joy anyway.”
“You’ve never heard me sing.”
“I don’t have to hear it. I know you have the ability. I have no idea what Flame’s going to be like and I’m sorry I’m dumping this in your lap, but I have all I can do trying to sort out the mess we’re all in. Something’s wrong, but I can’t figure it out.”
“Talk to Ryland, Lily. That’s your first mistake, not trusting him to help you.”
She hung her head. “I hate the way you all look at me.”
“The guilt is in your own mind, Lily. I don’t blame you for what Whitney did. We volunteered. You didn’t.”
“Please know I wouldn’t have asked you to do this, but I honestly believe it’s imperative to find Flame. She may be very sick.”
“I’ll look for her, Lily.”
“Thank you and please, Gator, be careful.”