Dr. Timothy Ryan, head of the military psychiatric unit at Grantham Barracks, is meeting a new patient, a woman known as "Prisoner Alpha." As she is being transferred, they are attacked by assassins, barely escaping with their lives. One shooter vanishes, leaving behind a dead companion unlike anyone Ryan has ever seen.
But even more baffling is the puzzle of Alpha herself. She speaks in a strange tongue, and doodles in bars, dots, and little pictures like nothing Ryan has ever seen. Is she some sort of savant, or the most cunning spy he's ever met?
Meanwhile, in Egypt, archaeologist Reid Farmer uncovers an 18th-Dynasty tomb that shouldn't exist, filled with Mayan epigraphy, mathematics, and materials that didn't exist 3,000 years ago. As a result of this discovery, Reid and forensic anthropologist Kilgore France—along with the sarcophagus they have found—are snatched away to a hidden lab to solve the enigma of a man lost in time.
As dark forces gather, Alpha makes an impossible escape from Grantham. Ryan quickly becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance, but with a team of unique allies, sets out to prove his innocence. Together, they must find Alpha and save Ryan before it is too late.
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Gray came to us without a name. She arrived at Grantham Barracks riding in the back seat of a nondescript black Lincoln Continental. Her car was the second, or "principal" vehicle, in a three-car security detail. I watched it enter our underground parking lot accompanied by the whisper of engines and the shish of tires. A gleaming black Chevy Suburban had the blocking position in front; the chase vehicle, a Tahoe, followed close enough behind to have nursed on the principal's bumper.
I stood outside Grantham's underground entrance with a team of orderlies, Gray's admission papers and commitment orders in hand.
The vehicles rolled to a stop; armed agents wearing black tactical gear burst from the doors. After they established a defensive perimeter, a uniformed captain stepped out from the Lincoln's passenger door. He looked around warily before opening the sedan's rear coach door.
I thought it all a bit overly dramatic for a patient transfer.
The way the tall woman swung her legs out and emerged from the back seat, she might have been some exotic lotus. She wore a blaze-orange jumpsuit and white athletic shoes. Her wrists were manacled and chained, as were her ankles. The baggy prison garb barely disguised her supple body, high bust, and broad shoulders.
I'd never seen a woman with such presence. Reaching her full height, she shook her tawny hair back. The effect was electric. She paused-a queen casting her curious gaze about a new but unbecoming kingdom. Then she fixed the most incredible eyes on mine: a piercing laser-blue like I'd never seen.
Rather than beautiful, I would have called her mesmerizing. She looked patrician, with a high brow, straight and proportioned nose, sculpted cheeks, and delicate jaw. The slight crow's-feet at the corners of her eyes didn't match the youthful tone of her bronzed skin; the lushness in her lips contrasted with the maturity in her gaze. My guess placed her around thirty.
Ignoring the captain, she walked toward me with a dancer's practiced grace. Each step measured precisely to the length of the confining chain at her ankles.
She stopped a pace short and fixed me with an imperious gaze.
The captain offered me a clipboard. Disturbed by the woman's magnetism, I concentrated on the paperwork. Age, date of birth, and place of birth had "unknown" written in each box. Then I glanced at the line where it said "Name." Her identity seemed to be "Prisoner Alpha."
The way my orderlies were gaping, Aphrodite might have sprung magically to life before their very eyes. I glanced sidelong at the woman, the skin on that side of my body almost prickling from her curious aura. "Do you have a name?"
She was studying me with those intense blue eyes. "Medicus eras?" Her words were thick with an unfamiliar accent.
"A psychiatrist," I told her. "Both a PhD and MD. My name is Colonel Timothy Ryan. Retired. I'm in charge of Grantham Barracks. I'll be responsible for your care and evaluation here."
"What . . . is?" She jerked her head by way of indicating the concrete pillars, the parking lot, and the glass doorway that led to the interior of Grantham's Ward Six.
"It's a military psychiatric hospital," I replied. "I've reviewed the transcripts of your arrest and interrogation. They've labeled you a threat to national security and think you're either autistic or a very clever liar. I'm to find out."
I was watching for the tells, the slight dilation of the pupils, the tensing of an eyelid, or a quiver at the corner of the mouth. All I read was incomprehension. Fugue state? No, she was too alert and responsive, the eyes clear and much too intelligent.
"Mistake," she whispered. Then broke into a sorrowful string of incomprehensible utterances. When people speak in tongues, they follow the rules of pronunciation in their own language. English speakers don't make up nonsense words beginning with ng, unvocalized L, or glottal clicks. She wasn't a native speaker.
"Sign here, sir." The captain indicated the places on the forms. The name tag pinned to his chest said STANWICK
I scrawled my name on the appropriate lines.
"She's all yours, Colonel." He saluted even though I'm retired and technically a civilian contractor according to the Department of Defense.
Captain Stanwick turned on his heel and marched back to the gleaming Lincoln. At his signal, the security team broke for the vehicles.
I heard the hollow pop! Felt a weird tingling on my skin, my hair prickling, and the world seemed to wobble as if a wave had passed through it.
I was still disoriented when the woman cried, "Ennoia! Muliebris canis!"
Struggling for equilibrium, I followed the woman's gaze. The outer ring of guards seemed to have fainted, their bodies limp on the concrete. Beyond them, a man and woman stood clutching small boxes with gleaming lights.
Even as I watched, the green-eyed woman with auburn hair slipped the box behind her belt. She swung a slung M16 from her shoulder with the ease of long practice. The sights settled on Prisoner Alpha.
Combat instincts either become hardwired, or you go home in a body bag. Mine kicked in. I grabbed the tawny blonde and jerked her off her feet. Even as we fell, a burst of 5.56 rounds cracked inches above us and pulverized the glass doors. My orderlies were diving in all directions.
From the floor I caught a glimpse as Stanwick pawed at his sidearm, leaped to the side of the Lincoln and leveled his pistol over the roof. It barked twice, hot brass clattering on the concrete before my nose.
The meaty snap of Stanwick's popping skull mingled with the M16's deafening staccato. His strings cut, the captain flopped onto the concrete. Blood and brains spewed from the back of his shattered head as it hit.
I heard the attacking woman's pained voice cry, "Dear God, no!"
A couple of heartbeats later I felt that skin-prickling sensation, my hair standing on end, and then the hollow pop!
Silence filled the garage. One of the security guards groaned as he struggled to his feet.
"What the hell?" I whispered, trying to control my pounding heart. I still held the trembling woman, her lungs laboring for breath.
I rose cautiously, staring through the Lincoln's shattered window glass to the place where the assailants had appeared.
The male attacker lay dying in the exit lane. I could see no sign of the woman.
"Holy shit," one of the guards cried as he staggered forward, the HK MP-5 he clutched at the ready. "Who is this guy?"
The man lay on his back. Dressed in brown utility wear, a darker beard contrasting with his collar-length blond hair, he looked tanned and maybe thirty. Captain Stanwick had dropped him with a shot through the top of the heart. An M4 carbine lay just beyond his curled fingers.
"What the fuck just happened here?" another of the guards asked.
"More to the point," a third growled, "where the hell did he come from . . . and where the hell did that woman go?"
I helped Prisoner Alpha to her feet. She stared bitterly at the strange man's sprawled body.
I was trying to evaluate her absolute disregard for the captain's gruesome corpse at her feet as she whispered, "Totem pereo."
She uttered the words with such hopelessness they engraved themselves upon my consciousness. Only later would I learn they meant "All is lost."
In the Ch'olan language, the word is satay. When speaking in Latinum, my native tongue, one would say, pereo. I am lost. Lost to time, marooned in a barbaric and benighted world. Even before I could gather my wits, I was cast into the hell these beasts reserve for their mentally broken flotsam.
They do not know. They cannot conceive.
How, then, did the Ennoia find me? And who was that man who accompanied her? They have shown me his picture. I do not know him. All they have from their security camera is a three-quarter image of the Ennoia as she appears. They have enhanced the image. I can read the hatred in her green eyes.
For the moment, I can only hope they will keep me safe.
As long as they do, time remains my ally.
I cradle time, draw it to my breast, and caress it like a lover.
They have taken the navigator. And while it brought me to this vile place, eventually-assuming the stupid clods don't destroy it in an attempt to learn its secrets-it will become the vehicle of my escape. Ignorant brutes cannot deny a sparkling seductress like the navigator as long as it remains in their hands.
As the Kaplan woman's recent visit indicates, they have realized its value. They need my help, and I shall repay them manyfold for this horror and humiliation.
On that day they will weep.
Wadi Kerf, Western Thebes, Egypt. Site 65-A.
Dr. Reid Farmer perched on the lip of the archaeological excavation and studied the sheer-walled canyon in which he worked. The tomb area had been cut out of the tan-and-amber canyon wall; it lay perhaps three meters above a dry streambed filled with rocks and gravel.
With his archaeologist's eye, Reid could reconstruct the valley's original morphology. Higher beds of pale-yellow sandstone had been incised by hydraulic action-probably back in the Pliocene some four million years ago. During the ensuing 1.6 million years of the Pleistocene this part of Egypt had remained desert, and the canyon was occasionally scoured as runoff poured down the exposed slick-rock, sluiced into the wadis, and thundered down the channel.
The ancient Egyptians had changed it with their copper, bronze, and-finally-iron tools. During the Eighteenth Dynasty, they'd quarried the exposed strata for stone and carved out the very bedrock to construct a series of tombs the length and breadth of the valley. For over three thousand years, wind, weather, and sun-along with occasional pillaging looters-had tumbled enough material down the slopes to reduce the valley back to rubble.
Reid glanced up at the brass-hot sky and wondered what kind of damned fool would be out here running an excavation when the temperature was knocking on forty degrees Celsius.
One who's being paid extraordinarily well, he reflected. Almost too well.
Though why Skientia had chosen him for the job still made no sense. His expertise and skills were in North American archaeology, not Egyptology. Excavation, however, was excavation, be it an Anasazi pithouse or an Egyptian tomb. Reid was being paid to dig and, by God, he'd get it done.
Everything had been seen to with incredible efficiency: visas, excavation permits, travel and lodging, food, tools and supplies, and even security-a perimeter guard of uniformed security consisting of alert young men with slung Kalashnikovs.
"Quite the operation," Reid mused as he stepped over to their field tent and pulled out yet another bottle of water.
"They really think something is here?" Yusif, the Egyptian crew chief, wondered. He was a broad-shouldered man, closing on forty, who sported a thick black beard. Skientia had chosen him for his expertise in excavation. "I've been doing this since I was a boy. Worked with the best. I have a PhD in Egyptology from Cambridge. Never have I seen a project as, how do you say . . . forthwith?"
"This company?" Yusif asked. "Skientia? You have worked for them before?"
"Until two weeks ago, I'd never heard of them." Reid glanced up at the fractured sandstone outcrops and high canyon walls. Heat waves shimmered above the pale stone. "When they said Egypt, mentioned the salary, and asked if I had a valid passport, I said yes to all three."
"Do you know why they said to dig here?"
"Something about an inscription on a potsherd that one of their researchers found in the Cairo Museum of Antiquities."
"We have heard the same rumor."
"You ever seen this mysterious potsherd?"
Yusif shot him a sidelong glance. "No, sahib. You?"
Reid shook his head.
"They just gave you the coordinates?" Yusif pointed at the GPS on Reid's belt.
Reid chugged hot water from his bottle. "They told me Wadi Kerf, this GPS reading, and that I'd have everything I needed waiting for me in Cairo." He screwed the cap on and looked back at the line of sun-baking vehicles stuffed with research equipment.
Yusif's voice lowered. "You know, don't you, that this dig is highly irregular?"
"You have seen the export permit? The document which allows you to remove artifacts from Egypt?"
"Sure. They faxed copies of all the paperwork before I left the US."
"I've never seen an export permit before." Yusif paused to emphasize his point. "Not in modern Egypt. Everyone looted Egypt's finest artifacts going clear back to the Romans. Our antiquities fill foreign museums. These days it's a matter of national pride and identity that Egypt's archaeology remains Egyptian. Why does Skientia, a company no one has ever heard of, have an export permit?"
"All I can tell you is that I was hired to bring a team of excavators to these exact coordinates, open a test unit, and determine if a tomb is present. If we find one, I'm to open it, thoroughly record the tomb's contents, recover all possible ancillary samples for dating, as well as floral and faunal analysis. I'm supposed to document, then stabilize and remove, all fabrics, wood, and bone. If a burial is present, it is to be painstakingly recorded in situ by the famous Dr. Kilgore France. Under her direction the burial is to be removed, packed in some special shipping container, and sent back to the US."
"And all of it has been approved by the Minister of Antiquities," Yusif muttered to himself. "I do not understand."
"Neither do I." Reid paused. "But as long as the pay is this good . . . and no one asks me to compromise my professional ethics, I'm on board. Anyone demanding this level of anally meticulous data collection isn't in it to just 'grab the gold and run.'"
The ringing of a shovel on stone was followed by a cry from Ibrahim. Reid stepped to the pit rim. Ibrahim-one of the field crew-worked in a crouch, using a trowel to loosen the sandstone-filled matrix from the rear of the trench. Reid could tell that the squared rock emerging from beneath the overburden was a lintel stone, the top of a heavy doorway.
"How about that," Reid muttered to himself. "Right where they said it would be."
The rest of the crew pitched in, laying planks to allow them to use wheelbarrows to more quickly remove the crumbled colluvium.
Ibrahim called out in a string of Arabic, then turned to Reid. "Dr. Farmer. Come. Take a look! This is not right."