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Bellisia Adams stared at herself in the mirror. Beside her was JinJing, a sweet woman, unaware that the man she worked for was an infamous criminal or that the woman beside her was no more Chinese than the man on 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 companionably in the restroom during their short break.
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 he was a very exacting boss.
Bellisia couldn't wait any longer. She couldn't be caught in the restroom 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 skintight one-piece bodysuit she wore under it-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 blond hair was braided in a tight weave. She was as ready as she'd ever be. She slipped out, 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 precise location of every camera and just how to avoid them.
Once in the hall, she climbed up the wall to the ceiling, blending in with the dingy, off-white color that looked like it had seen better days. As she moved from the hallway of the laboratory to the offices the wall 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 small, open 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 so that 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 orphanages 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 that she couldn't. 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 experiments 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 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 with that one outburst, she'd made a shrewd, extremely intelligent man wonder about her. 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 the woman's treachery was beyond imagination. 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.
Lockdown. She couldn't get to the restroom to retrieve her uniform, lab coat and wig before the soldiers searched, nor did she have enough time remaining before the virus injected into her began to kill her. She also couldn't remain in one of Cheng's endless lockdowns. 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 tighter with his security once the clothes and wig were discovered.
She began the slow 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. That meant she had to take the elevator.
Cursing mentally 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 elevator and that meant she had to be very close to them. The men were already on alert and gathering in front of the elevator. The slightest mistake would cost her. Although she could blend into her environment, 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 slowly 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 changing, concentrating on her hands and feet first until she appeared part of the doors.
A 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 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 precious seconds to complete the change 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 wall 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 to terrorists, rebels and governments classified 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, the majority didn't seem to have 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 slowly. All the while her heart pounded and 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 for them as well, but all the while measuring the distance to the water tanks. It seemed to take forever until she reached the base of the nearest one. Forever.
She reached a hand up and slid her fingers forward using the setae on the tips of her fingers to stick. Setae-single microscopic hairs 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. Pushing the setae onto the surface and dragging them forward allowed her to stick to the surface easily. Each seta 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 unwittingly to create one.