Bellisia Adams stared at herself in the mirror. Beside her was JinJing, a sweet woman, unaware the man she worked for was an infamous criminal or that the woman beside her was no more Chinese than the man in the moon. Bellisia’s hair was long and straight, a waterfall of silk reaching to her waist. She was short, delicate looking, with small feet and hands. She spoke flawlessly in the dialect JinJing spoke, laughing and gossiping there in the water closet before the chime sounded and they had to get back to work.
She kept her heart rate absolutely steady, the beat never rising in spite of the fact that she knew just by the heightened security and the tenseness of the guards that what she’d been looking for this past week was finally here. It was a good thing, too. Time was running out fast. Like most of the technicians in the laboratory she didn’t wear a watch, but she was very aware of the days and hours ticking by.
JinJing waved to her and hurried out as the chime sounded, the call back to work. Anyone caught walking the halls was instantly let go. Or at least they disappeared. Rumor had it that wherever they were taken was not pleasant. The Cheng Company paid well. Bernard Lee Cheng had many businesses and employed a good number of people, but it was said that he was a very exacting boss.
Bellisia couldn’t wait any longer. She couldn’t be caught there in the water closet either. Very carefully she removed the long wig and lifelike skin of her mask and rolled them into her white lab coat. She slipped off the laboratory uniform revealing the skin-tight one-piece body suit she wore under it—the one that reflected the background around her. Her shoes were crepe-soled and easy to move fast in. She removed them and shoved them in one of the pockets. Her pale blonde hair was braided in a tight weave. She was as ready as she’d ever be. She slipped out of the water closet, back into the narrow hallway the moment she knew it was empty. Acute hearing ensured she knew exactly where most of the technicians were on the floor. She knew the exact location of every camera and just how to avoid them.
Once in the hall, she went up the wall to the ceiling, blending in with the dingy, off white color that looked like it had seen better days. As she transitioned from the hallway of the laboratory to the offices the color changed to a muted blue, fresh and crisp. She changed color until she was perfectly blending in and slowed her pace. Movement drew the eye and there were far more people in the offices. Most of them were in open, small cubicles, but as she continued through to the next large bank of offices, the walls changed to a muted green in the one large office that mattered to her.
She could see the woman seated, facing away from her, looking at the man behind the desk. Bernard Lee Cheng. She was very tempted to kill him, take the opportunity of being so close and just get the job done. It would rid the world of a very evil man, but it wasn’t her mission, no matter how much she wished it were. The woman, Senator Violet Smythe-Freeman—now just Smythe—was her mission, specifically to see if the Senator was selling out her country and fellow GhostWalkers, the teams of soldiers few even knew existed.
There was no way into the office, but that didn’t matter. She moved slowly across the ceiling, hiding in plain sight. Even if one of the men or women on the floor happened to look up they would have a difficult time spotting her as long as she was careful to move like a sloth, inching her way to her destination. She positioned herself outside the office over the door. Muting the sounds around her, she concentrated on the voices coming from inside the office.
Cheng faced her. Even if she couldn’t hear his every word because he’d soundproofed his office, she could read lips. He wanted the GhostWalker program. Files. Everything. Including soldiers to take apart. Her stomach clenched. Violet’s voice was pitched low. She had the ability to persuade people to do what she wanted with her voice, but Cheng seemed immune.
She wanted money for her campaign. Maurice Stuart had named her his running mate for the presidential election. If elected, she planned to have Stuart assassinated and she would become president. Cheng would have an ally in the White House. It was a simple enough business deal. The origins of dark money never had to be exposed. No one would know.
Violet was beautiful and intelligent. She was poisonous. A sociopath. She was also enhanced, one of the original girls Dr. Whitney had found in an orphanage and experimented on so that he could enhance his soldiers without harming them. She used her looks and her voice to get the things she wanted. More than anything, she wanted power.
Cheng nodded his head and leaned forward, his eyes sharp, his face a mask. He repeated the price. Files. GhostWalkers.
Bellisia remained still as Violet sold out her country and fellow soldiers. She told him where to find a team and how to get to them. She also told him there were copies of the files he wanted in several places, but most were too difficult to get to. The one place he had the best chance was in Louisiana, at the Stennis Center.
Cheng responded adamantly, insisting she get the files for him. She was just as adamant she couldn’t do that. He asked her why she was so against the GhostWalker program.
Bellisia tried to get closer as if that would help her hear better. She wanted to know as well. Violet was one of them. One of the original orphans Peter Whitney had used for his own purposes—a ‘sister’, not by blood but certainly in every other way. She’d undergone the same experimenting with enhancing psychic abilities. With genetics, changing DNA. There was no doubt that Whitney was a genius, but he was also certifiably insane.
Violet’s murmured response horrified Bellisia. The woman was a GhostWalker snob. Superior soldiers were fine. DNA of animals was fine. Enhancement met with her approval. But not when it came to the latest experiments coming to light—the use of vipers and spiders. That was going too far and cheapened the rest of them. She wanted anyone with that kind of DNA wiped out.
There was a moment of silence as if Cheng was turning over her sudden burst of venomous hatred over and over in his mind, just as Bellisia was. Bellisia could have warned Violet that she was skating close to danger. Violet was a GhostWalker. Few had that information, but in that one outburst, she’d made a shrewd, extremely intelligent man wonder about her outburst. He had a GhostWalker right there in his laboratory.
Violet, seemingly unaware of the danger, or because of it, swiftly moved on, laying out her demands once again. The two went back to haggling. In the end, Violet began to rise and Cheng lifted a hand to stop her. She sank down gracefully and the deal was made. Bellisia listened to another twenty minutes of conversation while the two hashed out what each would do for the other.
Bellisia calculated the odds of escaping if she killed the Senator as the traitor emerged from Cheng’s office. They weren’t good. Even so, she still entertained the idea. The level of treachery was beyond imagination for Bellisia. She despised Violet.
A stir in the office drew her attention. Guards marched in and directed those in the smaller offices out. She glanced into the hallway and saw that the entire floor was being cleared. Her heart accelerated before she could stop it. She took a slow breath and steadied her pulse just as the siren went off, calling everyone, from the labs to the offices, into the large dorm areas.
Lock down. She couldn’t get to the water closet to retrieve her uniform, lab jacket and wig before the soldiers searched, nor did she have enough time remaining before the virus injected into her began to kill her. She couldn’t remain in one of Cheng’s endless lock downs. He was paranoid enough that he had kept workers on the premises for over a week more than once. She’d be dead without the antidote by that time. Cheng would be even worse with his security once the jacket and wig were discovered.
She began the slow the process necessary to make her way across the ceiling to the hall. She couldn’t go down to the main floor. Soldiers were pouring in and every floor would be flooded by now. She had to go up to the only sanctuary she might be able to get to. There were tanks of water housed on the roof that fed the sprinkler systems. That was her only way to stay safe from the searches Cheng would conduct once her clothes were found. The items would only feed his paranoia. That meant she had to take the elevator.
Cursing in every language she was fluent in—and that was quite a few—she hovered just above the elevator doors. The soldiers would go into the space, but it was confined, a relatively small space and that meant she had to be very close to them. The men were already on alert. The slightest mistake would cost her. More, she could blend into her environment, but it took a few seconds for her skin and hair to change. Her clothing would mirror her surroundings, so she would have the look of the elevator over her body but her head and hands and feet would be exposed for that couple of seconds.
Heart pounding, she edged over to the very top of the elevator. Should she try to start blending into that color now, or wait until she was inside with a dozen guards and guns? She had choices but the wrong one would end her life. Changing colors to mirror her background was more like the octopus than the chameleon, but it still took a few precious moments. She began, concentrating on her hands and feet first. She was already clinging to the elevator doors now, high up, so as she mirrored the colors around her, she appeared part of the doors.
The ping signaled that she only had seconds to get inside and up the wall to the ceiling of the elevator. She waited until soldiers stepped into the elevator and she slipped inside with them, clinging to the wall over their heads. The door nearly closed on her foot before she could pull it in. The men crowded in, and there was little space. She felt as if she couldn’t breathe. The car didn’t have high ceilings, so they were mashed together and the taller ones nearly brushed against her body. Twice, the hair of the man closest to her—and it was just her bad luck that he was tall—actually did brush against her face, tickling her skin.
She rode floor to floor as men got off to sweep each, making certain that all personnel did as the siren demanded and went immediately to the dormitory where they would be searched.
The last of the soldiers went to the roof. She knew this would be her biggest danger point. She had to exit the elevator right behind the last soldier. It was imperative that all of them were looking outward and not back toward the closing doors. She was a mimic, a chameleon and no one would be able to see her, but once again it would take a minute to get there in a new environment.
She crawled down to the floor and eased out behind the last man, her gaze sweeping the roof to find the water tanks. There were six banks of them, each feeding the sprinklers on several floors. She stayed very still, right up against the elevator until her skin and hair adjusted fully to the new background. Only then did she begin her slow crawl across the roof, making for the nearest tank while the soldiers spread out and swept the large space.
Up so high the wind was a menace, blowing hard and continuously at the men. They stumbled as it hit them in gusts. She stayed low to the ground, almost on her belly. She stopped once when one of the soldiers cursed in a mixture of Mandarin and Shanghainese. He cursed the weather, not Cheng. No one would dare curse Cheng, afraid it would get back to him.
Cheng considered himself a businessman. He’d inherited his empire and his intellect from his Chinese father and his good looks and charm from his American movie star mother. Both parents had opened doors for him, in China as well as the United States. He had expanded those doors to nearly every country in the world. He’d doubled his father’s empire making him one of the wealthiest men on the planet, but he’d done so by providing terrorists, rebels, and governments’ information, weapons and anything else they needed. He sold secrets to the highest bidder and no one ever touched him.
Bellisia didn’t understand what it was that drove people to do the terrible things they did. Greed. Power. She knew she didn’t live the way others did, but she didn’t see that the outside world was any better than her world. Maybe worse. Hers was one of discipline and service. It wasn’t always comfortable and she couldn’t trust very many people, but then outside her world, where the majority lived, she didn’t see that they had it much better.
The cursing soldier stopped just before he tripped over her. She actually felt the brush of the leather of his boot. Bellisia eased her body away from him. Holding her breath. Keeping her movements infinitely slow. She inched her way across the roof, the movements so controlled her muscles cramped in protest. It hurt to move that slow. All the while her heart pounded and her she had to work to keep her breathing steady and calm.
She was right under their noses. All they had to do was look down and see her, if they could penetrate her disguise. She watched them carefully, looking out of the corners of her eyes, listening as well for them, but all the while measuring the distance to the water tower. It seemed to take forever until she reached the base of the nearest tank. Forever.
She reached a hand up and slid her fingers forward using the setae on the tips of her fingers to stick. Setae—a single microscopic hair split into hundreds of tiny bristles—were so tiny they were impossible to see, so tiny, Dr. Whitney hadn’t realized she actually had them, in spite of his enhancements. By pushing the setae onto the surface and dragging them forward allowed her to stick to the surface easily. Each setae could hold enormous amounts of weight, so having them on the pads of her fingers and toes allowed her to climb or hang upside down on a ceiling easily. The larger the creature, the smaller the setae, and no setae had ever been recorded that was small enough to hold a human being—until Dr. Whitney had managed to do so.
Her plan was to climb into the water tank and wait until things settled down and then climb down the side of the building and get far away from Cheng. She was very aware of time ticking away, and the virus beginning to take hold in her body. Already she knew her temperature was rising. The cold water in the tank would help. She cursed Whitney and his schemes for keeping the women in line.
The girls had been taken from orphanages. No one knew or cared about them. That allowed Whitney to conduct his experiments on the female children without fearing repercussions. He named them after flowers or seasons, and trained them as soldiers, assassins and spies. To keep them returning to him, he would inject a drug he called Zenith, a lethal drug that needed an antidote, or a virus that spread and eventually killed. Sometimes he used their friendships with one another, so they’d learned to be extremely careful not to show feelings for one another.
She started up the tank, allowing her body to change once again to blend in with the dirty background. The wind tore at her, trying to rip her from the tank. She was cold, although she could feel her internal temperature rising from the virus, her body beginning to go numb in the vicious wind. Still, she forced herself to go slow, all the while watching the guards moving around the roof, thoroughly inspecting every single place that someone could hide. That told her they would be looking in the water tanks as well.
A siren went off abruptly, a loud jarring blare that set one’s nerves on edge. It wasn’t the same sound as the first siren indicating to the workers to go immediately to the dorms. This was one of jangling outrage. A scream of fury. They had found her wig, mask and lab jacket. They would be combing the building for her. Every duct, every vent. Anywhere a human being could possibly hide.
She had researched Cheng meticulously before she’d ever entered his world. It was a narrow, almost military world, with constant inspections and living under the surveillance of cameras and guards. Cheng didn’t trust anyone, not even his closest allies. Not his workers. Not even his guards. He had watchers observing the watchers.
Bellisia was used to such an environment. She’d grown up in one and she was familiar with it. She also knew all the ways to get around surveillance and cameras. She was a perfect mimic, blending into her environment, picking up nuances of her surroundings, the language, the idioms, the culture and Whitney thought that was her gift. He had no idea of her other abilities, the ones far more important to the missions he sent her off on. All the girls learned to hide abilities from him. It was so much safer.
The guards reacted to the blaring siren with a rush of bodies and the sound of boots hitting the rooftop as they renewed they went into a frenzy of searching. She kept climbing, using that same slow, inch-by-inch movement. It took discipline to continue slowly instead of moving quickly as every self-preservation cell in her body urged her to do.
She relied heavily on her ability to change color and skin texture to blend into her surroundings, but that didn’t guarantee that a sharp-eyed soldier wouldn’t spot her. The pigment cells in her skin allowed her to change color in seconds. She’d hated that at first, until she realized it gave her an advantage. Whitney needed her to be a spy. He sent her out on missions when so many of the other women had been locked up again.
She gained the top of the tank just as one of the soldiers put his boot on the ladder. Slipping into the water soundlessly, she swam to the very bottom of the tank and anchored herself to the wall, making herself as flat as possible against the side. Once again she changed color so that she blended with tank and water.
She loved water. She could live in the cool liquid. The water felt cool against her burning skin. In the open air, she felt as if her skin dried out and she was cracking into a million pieces. She often looked down at her hands and arms to make certain it wasn’t true, but in spite of the smoothness of her skin, she still felt that way. The one environment she found extremely hostile to her was the desert. Whitney had sent her there several times to record the effects on her and she hadn’t done well. A flaw, he called it.
The soldier was at the top of the tank now, peering down into the water. She knew each tank had soldiers looking into them. If they sent someone down into the water, she might really be in trouble, but it appeared as if the soldier was just going to sit at the edge to ensure no one had gone in and was underwater. She was fine with that. He could sit there all night for all she cared. Once it was dark she would be able to slip up to the surface and get air.
Right now she was basking in the fact that the cool water was helping to control the temperature rising in her from the virus. Whitney had injected her every time she left the compound where she was held, to ensure she would return. She’d always managed to complete her mission in the time frame given to her so she had no idea of how fast-acting the virus was. The water definitely made her feel better, but she didn’t feel good at all. Her muscles ached. Cramped. Never a good thing when trying to be still at the bottom of a water tank with soldiers on the lookout above her.
Night fell rapidly. She knew the guards were still there on the roof and that worried her. She had to be able to climb down the side of the building and she couldn’t get out of the tank as long as the guard was above her. She also needed air. She’d risked blowing a few bubbles but that wasn’t going to sustain her much longer. She needed to get to the surface and leave before weakness began to hit. She had been certain the soldier would leave the tank after the first hour, but he seemed determined to hold his position. She was nearly at her max for staying submerged.
Bellisia refused to panic. That way lay disaster. She had to get air and then find a way to slip past the guard so she could climb down the building, get to the van waiting for her and get the antidote. She detached from the wall and began to drift up toward the surface, careful not to disturb the water. Again, she used patience in spite of the urgent demands her lungs were making on her.
After what seemed an eternity, she reached the surface. Tilting her head so her only her lips broke the surface, she drew in air. Relief coursed through her. Air had never tasted so good. She hung there, still and part of the water so that even though the guard was looking right at her, he saw nothing but water shimmering.
A flurry of activity drew the guard’s attention and she attached herself to the side of the tank and began to climb up toward the very top. She was only half out of the water when the shouted orders penetrated. They wanted hooks dragged through the tanks just to make certain no one was hiding in them with air tanks. So many soldiers tromped up onto the roof that she felt the vibrations right through the tank. Spotlights went on, illuminating the entire roof and all six tanks. Worse, soldiers surrounded the tanks and more climbed up to the top to stand on the platforms, ringing the large holding containers.
Bellisia sank slowly back into the water, clinging to the wall as she did so, her heart pounding unnaturally. She’d never experienced her heart beating so hard. It felt as if it would come right out of her chest and she wasn’t really that fearful—yet. Her temperature was climbing at an alarming rate. She was hot and even the cool water couldn’t alleviate the terrible heat rising inside of her. Her skin hurt. Every muscle in her body ached, not just ached, but felt twisted into tight knots. She began to shiver, so much so she couldn’t control it. That wasn’t conducive to hiding in a spotlight surrounded by the enemy.
She stayed up near the very top of the tank, just beneath the water line, attached to the wall and made herself as small and as flat as possible. There was always the possibility that she could die on a mission. That was part of theâ€¦adrenaline rush. It was always about pitting her skills against an enemy. If she wasn’t good enough, if she made a mistake, that was on her. But thisâ€¦ Peter Whitney had deliberately injected her with a killer virus in order to ensure she return to him. He was willing to risk her dying a painful death to prove his point.
He owned them. All of them. Each and every girl he took out of an orphanage and experimented on. Some died. That didn’t matter to him. None of them mattered to him. Only the science. Only the soldiers he developed piggybacking on the research he’d conducted on the girls. Children with no childhood. No loving parents. She hadn’t understood what that meant until she’d been out in the world and realized the majority of people didn’t live as she did.
All of the girls had discussed trying to break free before Whitney added them to his disgusting program to give him more babies to experiment on. The thought of leaving the only life they’d ever known was terrifying. But this. Leaving her to die in a foreign country because she was late through no fault of her own. She had the information Whitney needed but because of he insisted on injecting her with a killer virus before she went on her mission, she might never get that information to him. He liked playing god. He was willing to lose one of them in order to scare the others into compliance.
Something hit the water hard, startling her. She nearly jerked off the wall, blinking in protest against the bright lights shining into the tank. Her sanctuary was no longer that. The environment had gone from cool, dark water—a place of safety—to one of overwhelmingly intense brilliant light illuminating the water nearly to the bottom of the tank. The hook dragged viciously along the floor and she shuddered in reaction.
A second hook entered the water with an ominous splash as the first was pulled back up. The next few minutes were a nightmare as the tank was thoroughly searched with hooks along the bottom. Had a diver with scuba gear been hiding there, he would have been torn to pieces.
She let her breath out as they pulled the hooks back up to the top. They would leave soon and she could make the climb out of the tank and across the roof. Already she could tell she was weaker, but she knew she could still climb down the side of the building and get to the van where Whitney’s super-soldiers waited to administer the antidote to the poisonous virus reducing it to a mere illness instead of something lethal.
The hook plunged back into the water, startling her. She nearly detached from the wall as the iron dragged up the side of the tank while the second hook entered the water. This wasâ€¦bad. She had nowhere to go. If she moved fast to avoid the hook, she would be spotted. If she didn’t, the hook could tear her apart. Either way, she was dead.
The sound, magnified underwater, was horrendous on her ears. She wanted to cover them against the terrible scraping and grinding as the point of the hook dug into the side of the tank. She watched it come closer and closer as it crawled up from the bottom. The other hook came up almost beside it, covering more territory as they ripped long gouges in the wall.
She tried to time letting go of the wall so neither hook would brush against her body and signal to the men on the other end that there was something other than wall. She pushed off gently and slid between the two chains, trying to swim slowly so that movement wouldn’t catch eyes. She stroked her arms with powerful pulls to take her down, still hugging the wall as best she could below the hooks. If she could just attach herself on the path already taken, she’d have a good chance of riding this latest threat out.
The advantage of going deeper was that the light didn’t penetrate all the way to the bottom. She just had to avoid the hooks as they plunged into the water and sank. Once she was deep enough the soldiers above her wouldn’t be able to see even if she did make a jerky movement to prevent the hook from impaling her.
She made it about half way down when the hooks began their upward scraping along the wall. Once again she stayed very still, the sound grating on her nerves, her heart pounding as the huge hooks got closer and closer. This time she did a slow somersault to avoid getting scraped up by either hook. The dive took her lower into the tank. She didn’t see how they could possibly think anyone could stay under water that long and by now, certainly they would have discovered a scuba tank.
The soldiers were thorough, plunging the hooks deep and dragging them up the walls without missing so much as a few inches of space. Bellisia realized they had to have perfected this method of searching the tanks by doing it often. That made sense. The tanks were large and Cheng was paranoid. No doubt the many floors and laboratories were being searched just as thoroughly.
There, in the water, listening to the sound of the chains scraping up the walls, she contemplated the difference between Cheng and Whitney. Both had far too much money. Whitney seemed to need to take his research further and further out of the realm of humanity and deeper into the realm of insanity. No government would ever sanction what he was doing, yet he was getting away with it. At least his motive, although twisted, was to produce better soldiers for his country.
Cheng wasn’t affiliated with his government as far as she could tell. He worked closely with them, but he wasn’t a patriot. He was out for himself. He seemed to want more money and power than he already had. She’d researched him carefully and few on the planet had more than he did. Still, it wasn’t enough for him. Yet he had no family. No one to share his life with. He didn’t work for the sake of knowledge. He existed only to make money.
Bellisia was aware of her heart laboring harder and the pressure on her lungs becoming more severe. That was unusual. She’d taken a large gulp of air and she should have quite a bit of time left before she had to rise, but it felt as if she’d been underwater a little too long, even for her. Of course Whitney would find something that would negatively impact her ability in the water. He didn’t want her to use that means as an escape route.
She had no choice but to begin her ascent. She tried to stay to the side of the tank they’d already dredged. It was terrifying to be in the water as the large, heavy hooks slammed close to her again and again. It was inevitable, given the many strikes the soldiers made at the water and it happened as she was just pushing off the wall to allow her body to rise slowly, naturally. The hook hit the bottom of the tank was jerked upward and to the left, right across her back. She folded herself in half to minimize the damage, but it hit hard enough to jar her, even with the way the water slowed the big hook down.
Bellisia felt the burn as the point ripped her skin open. It was a shallow wound, but it stung like hell and instantly there was blood in the water. She had to concentrate to close those cells to keep from leaking enough blood that the soldiers would notice. Under her skin she had a network of finely controlled muscles that aided her in changing the look and feel of her body’s surface skin. Now, she used them to squeeze the cells closed and prevent dumping blood into the water, at least until the spotlights were turned off.
It seemed to take forever as she continued to rise, her lungs burning and her muscles cramping. All the while the horrible splash and scraping of the hooks continued. Twice she had extremely close calls and once more the tip barely skimmed along her body, hitting her thigh, ripping her open. It was much harder to control the bleeding this time as she was weaker and needed to break the surface before her muscles went into full cramps.
She was relieved the hooks were dragged from the water and the soldiers began to climb down the ladders back to the roof. Instantly she kicked the remaining four feet to the surface and took in great gulps of air. She clung to the side for several long minutes, resting her head against the wall while she tried to breathe away the inferno inside her. She couldn’t keep doing this for Whitney. She wouldn’t survive. He made them all feel as if they were nothing. She knew she wasn’t alone in wanting to escape because they all talked about it, late at night when one or two could disrupt the cameras and recording equipment and they were alone in the dorms.
She had tried planning an escape with her best friend, Zara, but before they could attempt to carry out their plans, Zara was sent on an undercover mission and Bellisia was sent to ascertain whether or not Violet was betraying Whitney. Whitney had set Violet up as Senator, taking over when her husband had been killed. Whitney didn’t trust Violet so he’d gone so far as to ‘pair’ her with him. That meant she would always be physically attracted to Whitney. That attraction evidently didn’t stop Violet from conspiring against the man who had experimented on her.
Bellisia began her slow climb out of the water tank. She would have to dry off before she could make the trek across the roof to the side of the building. If she didn’t, one of the soldiers might discover the wet trail leading to the edge. From the high-powered lights, the platform around the tank was really warm and she lay down, allowing her body to change to the color of the dingy planks.
She didn’t dare sleep, not when soldiers still guarded the roof, but they seemed content with pacing the length of it in patterns, checking every place that could possibly hide a body over and over. She realized the soldiers were as afraid of Cheng as she and the other women in her unit were afraid of Whitney. Life was cheap to both men, at least other people’s lives.
She began her slow crawl down the side of the tank once she felt she wouldn’t leave behind a trail. Her body was hot now, so hot she felt as if her skin would crack open. Her muscles cramped and she couldn’t stop shaking. That didn’t bode well for crossing the roof, but at least it was very dark now that the spotlights had been turned off. If she shook when a guard was close, hopefully the darkness would conceal her.
It took her just under forty minutes in the dark, with her body on fire and her muscles cramping painfully to climb down the side of the building. The virus he’d given her was vicious, her fever high, her insides searing her from the inside out. For someone like her, someone needing more water than most people, it was sheer agony as if he’d developed the strain specifically for her—and he probably had. That only strengthened her resolve to escape.
She rested for a moment to get her bearings and plan out her next step. She needed the antidote immediately and that meant putting herself back in Whitney’s hands. She had no other choice. Bellisia made her way across the lawn to the street where the van was waiting for her. It was parked one block down to be inconspicuous, one block away which put it right next to the river.
She was staggering by the time she reached the vehicle and Gerald, one of the super-soldiers sent to watch over her leapt out to catch her up and leap back into the van. He placed her on a gurney and immediately spoke into his cell to tell Whitney she was back. She closed her eyes and turned her face away, as if losing consciousness.
“I need the information she has,” Peter Whitney said. “Get it from her before you administer the antidote. Take her to the plane immediately. Your destination will be Italy.”
Her heart nearly jumped out of her chest. She knew several of the women had been taken there to ensure they became pregnant. The GhostWalkers had destroyed his breeding program in the United States. No way was she going to Italy.
“Whitney needs a report,” Gerald said.
She kept her breathing shallow. Labored. Eyes closed, body limp.
“Bellisia, honey, come on, give me the report. You need the antidote. He won’t let me give it to you until you give him what he wants.”
She stayed very still. Gerald and his partner Adam were her handlers on nearly every mission. The three had developed a friendship of sorts, if one could be friends with their guards. She knew how to control her breathing and heart and she did both to make him think she was crashing.
“We’re losing her, Doc,” Gerald said while his partner, Adam caught at her arm, shoving up the material of her bodysuit.
“Be certain. She could be faking,” Whitney warned.
“No, she’s out of it. She got back way past the time she was supposed to. We might be too late to save her. They locked the building down and she was still inside.” Gerald’s voice held urgency.
“Did you see Violet or any of her people going in or coming out?” Whitney demanded.
“I never saw Senator Smythe. I have no idea if she was there or not,” Gerald said. Bellisia wasn’t altogether certain he spoke the truth. He may very well have seen the Senator, but Gerald and Adam didn’t always like the way he treated the women.
“Be sure Bellisia is really out.”
Gerald prodded her. Hard. She made no response.
“She’s burning up. And she’s bleeding on her back and thigh.”
“Inject her. She’ll need water.”
“Adam, give her the antidote fast. We’ll need water for her.”
She felt the needle and then the sting of the antidote as it went in. She stayed silent, uncertain how fast it was supposed to work. She hated needles, in fact the sensation of them entering her skin often made her nauseous. The double row of muscles caused the needle to spread a terrible fire through every cell.
“Doc says get her water.”
Adam held up a bottle. “She’s not responsive enough to drink.” That showed her how upset on her behalf Adam was, he knew she would need to be submerged in water. He wasn’t thinking clearly.
“Not drink. Pour it over her.”
The cool water went over her arm and then her chest. She nearly lost her ability to keep her heart and lungs under control, the relief was so tremendous.
“That’s not enough. Get it out of the river.”
Adam threw open the double doors to the van and hopped out. Her acute hearing picked up Whitney hissing in disapproval. He didn’t like that they’d parked by a river. That was her signal to move.
She leapt from the gurney, onto the ground right beside a startled Adam.
“Grab her,” Gerald yelled.
She raced across the street with Adam rushing after her. The tips of his fingers brushed her back just as she dove right off the edge into the river. Water closed over her head, the cool wetness welcoming her.