The blackness engulfing Katherine Solomon felt absolute.
Having fled the familiar safety of the carpet, she was now groping blindly forward, her outstretched hands touching only empty space as she staggered deeper into the desolate void. Beneath her stockinged feet, the endless expanse of cold cement felt like a frozen lake . . . a hostile environment from which she now needed to escape.
No longer smelling ethanol, she stopped and waited in darkness. Standing dead still, she listened, willing her heart to stop pounding so loudly. The heavy footsteps behind her seemed to have stopped. Did I lose him? Katherine closed her eyes and tried to imagine where she was. Which direction did I run? Where is the door? It was no use. She was so turned around now that the exit could be anywhere.
Fear, Katherine had once heard, acted as a stimulant, sharpening the minds ability to think. Right now, however, her fear had turned her mind into a tumbling torrent of panic and confusion. Even if I find the exit, I cant get out. Her key card had been lost when shed shed her lab coat. Her only hope seemed to be that she was now a needle in a haystacka single point on a thirty-thousand-square-foot grid. Despite the overwhelming urge to flee, Katherines analytical mind told her instead to make the only logical moveno move at all. Stay still. Dont make a sound. The security guard was on his way, and for some unknown reason, her attacker smelled strongly of ethanol. If he gets too close, Ill know it.
As Katherine stood in silence, her mind raced over what Langdon had said. Your brother . . . hes been taken. She felt a bead of cold sweat materialize on her arm and trickle down, toward the cell phone still clenched in her right hand. It was a danger she had forgotten to consider. If the phone rang, it would give away her position, and she could not turn it off without opening it and illuminating the display.
Set down the phone . . . and move away from it.
But it was too late. The smell of ethanol approached on her right. And now it grew stronger. Katherine struggled to stay calm, forcing herself to
override the instinct to run. Carefully, slowly, she took one step to her left. The faint rustle of her clothing was apparently all her attacker needed. She heard him lunge, and the smell of ethanol washed over her as a powerful hand grabbed at her shoulder. She twisted away, raw terror gripping her. Mathematical probability went out the window, and Katherine broke into a blind sprint. She veered hard to the left, changing course, dashing blindly now into the void.
The wall materialized out of nowhere.
Katherine hit it hard, knocking the wind from her lungs. Pain blossomed in her arm and shoulder, but she managed to stay on her feet. The oblique angle at which she had collided with the wall had spared her the full force of the blow, but it was little comfort now. The sound had echoed everywhere. He knows where I am. Doubled over in pain, she turned her head and stared out into the blackness of the pod and sensed him staring back at her.
Change your location. Now!
Still struggling to catch her breath, she began moving down the wall, touching her left hand quietly to each exposed steel stud as she passed. Stay along the wall. Slip past him before he corners you. In her right hand, Katherine still clutched her cell phone, ready to hurl it as a projectile if need be.
Katherine was in no way prepared for the sound she heard nextthe clear rustle of clothing directly in front of her . . . against the wall. She froze, stock-still, and stopped breathing. How could he be on the wall already? She felt a faint puff of air, laced with the stench of ethanol. Hes moving down the wall toward me!
Katherine backed up several steps. Then, turning silently 180 degrees, she began moving quickly in the opposite direction down the wall. She moved twenty feet or so when the impossible happened. Once again, directly in front of her, along the wall, she heard the rustling sound of clothing. Then came the same puff of air and the smell of ethanol. Katherine Solomon froze in place.
My God, hes everywhere!
Bare-chested, Malakh stared into the darkness.
The smell of ethanol on his sleeves had proven a liability, and so he had transformed it into an asset, stripping off his shirt and jacket and using them to help corner his prey. Throwing his jacket against the wall to the right, he had heard Katherine stop short and change direction. Now, having thrown his shirt ahead to the left, Malakh had heard her stop again. He had effectively corralled Katherine against the wall by establishing points beyond which she dared not pass.
Now he waited, ears straining in the silence. She has only one direction she can movedirectly toward me. Even so, Malakh heard nothing. Either Katherine was paralyzed with fear, or she had decided to stand still and wait for help to enter Pod 5. Either way she loses. Nobody would be entering Pod 5 anytime soon; Malakh had disabled the outer keypad with a very crude, yet
very effective, technique. After using Trishs key card, he had rammed a single dime deep into the key-card slot to prevent any other key-card use without first dismantling the entire mechanism.
You and I are alone, Katherine . . . for as long as this takes.
Malakh inched silently forward, listening for any movement. Katherine Solomon would die tonight in the darkness of her brothers museum. A poetic end. Malakh looked forward to sharing the news of Katherines death with her brother. The old mans anguish would be long-awaited revenge.
Suddenly in the darkness, to Malakhs great surprise, he saw a tiny glow in the distance and realized Katherine had just made a deadly error in judgment. Shes phoning for help?! The electronic display that had just flickered to life was hovering waist high, about twenty yards ahead, like a shining beacon on a vast ocean of black. Malakh had been prepared to wait Katherine out, but now he wouldnt have to.
Malakh sprang into motion, racing toward the hovering light, knowing he had to reach her before she could complete her call for help. He was there in a matter of seconds, and he lunged, arms outstretched on either side of her glowing cell phone, preparing to engulf her.
Malakhs fingers jammed into a solid wall, bending backward and almost breaking. His head collided next, crashing into a steel beam. He cried out in pain as he crumpled beside the wall. Cursing, he clambered back to his feet, pulling himself up by the waist-high, horizontal strut on which Katherine Solomon had cleverly placed her open cell phone.
Katherine was running again, this time with no concern for the noise her hand was making as it bounced rhythmically off the evenly spaced metal studs of Pod 5. Run! If she followed the wall all the way around the pod, she knew that sooner or later she would feel the exit door.
Where the hell is the guard?
The even spacing of the studs continued as she ran with her left hand on the sidewall and her right out in front of her for protection. When will I reach the corner? The sidewall seemed to go on and on, but suddenly the rhythm of the studs was broken. Her left hand hit empty space for several long strides, and then the studs began again. Katherine slammed on the brakes and backed up, feeling her way across the smooth metal panel. Why are there no studs here?
She could hear her attacker lumbering loudly after her now, groping his way down the wall in her direction. Even so, it was a different sound that scared Katherine even morethe distant rhythmic banging of a security guard pounding his flashlight against the Pod 5 door.
The guard cant get in?
While the thought was terrifying, the location of his bangingdiagonally to her rightinstantly oriented Katherine. She could now picture where in Pod 5 she was located. The visual flash
brought with it an unexpected realization. She now knew what this flat panel on the wall was.
Every pod was equipped with a specimen baya giant movable wall that could be retracted for transporting oversize specimens in and out of the pods. Like those of an airplane hangar, this door was mammoth, and Katherine in her wildest dreams had never imagined needing to open it. At the moment, though, it seemed like her only hope.
Is it even operable?
Katherine fumbled blindly in the blackness, searching the bay door until she found the large metal handle. Grasping it, she threw her weight backward, trying to slide open the door. Nothing. She tried again. It didnt budge.
She could hear her attacker closing faster now, homing in on the sounds of her efforts. The bay door is locked! Wild with panic, she slid her hands all over the door, feeling the surface for any latch or lever. She suddenly hit what felt like a vertical pole. She followed it down to the floor, crouching, and could feel it was inserted into a hole in the cement. A security rod! She stood up, grabbed the pole, and, lifting with her legs, slid the rod up and out of the hole.
Hes almost here!
Katherine groped now for the handle, found it again, and heaved back on it with all her might. The massive panel seemed barely to move, and yet a sliver of moonlight now sliced into Pod 5. Katherine pulled again. The shaft of light from outside the building grew wider. A little more! She pulled one last time, sensing her attacker was now only a few feet away.
Leaping toward the light, Katherine wriggled her slender body sideways into the opening. A hand materialized in the darkness, clawing at her, trying to pull her back inside. She heaved herself through the opening, pursued by a massive bare arm that was covered with tattooed scales. The terrifying arm writhed like an angry snake trying to seize her.
Katherine spun and fled down the long, pale outer wall of Pod 5. The bed of loose stones that surrounded the entire perimeter of the SMSC cut into her stockinged feet as she ran, but she pressed on, heading for the main entrance. The night was dark, but with her eyes fully dilated from the utter blackness of Pod 5, she could see perfectlyalmost as if it were daylight. Behind her, the heavy bay door ground open, and she heard heavy footsteps accelerating in pursuit down the side of the building. The footsteps seemed impossibly fast.
Ill never outrun him to the main entrance. She knew her Volvo was closer, but even that would be too far. Im not going to make it.
Then Katherine realized she had one final card to play.
As she neared the corner of Pod 5, she could hear his footsteps quickly overtaking her in the darkness. Now or never. Instead of rounding the corner, Katherine suddenly cut hard to her left, away from the building, out onto the grass. As she did so, she closed her eyes tightly, placed both
hands over her face, and began running totally blind across the lawn.
The motion-activated security lighting that blazed to life around Pod 5 transformed night into day instantly. Katherine heard a scream of pain behind her as the brilliant floodlights seared into her assailants hyper dilated pupils with over twenty-five-million candlepower of light. She could hear him stumbling on the loose stones.
Katherine kept her eyes tightly closed, trusting herself on the open lawn. When she sensed she was far enough away from the building and the lights, she opened her eyes, corrected her course, and ran like hell through the dark.
Her Volvos keys were exactly where she always left them, in the center console. Breathless, she seized the keys in her trembling hands and found the ignition. The engine roared to life, and her headlights flipped on, illuminating a terrifying sight.
A hideous form raced toward her.
Katherine froze for an instant.
The creature caught in her headlights was a bald and bare-chested animal, its skin covered with tattooed scales, symbols, and text. He bellowed as he ran into the glare, raising his hands before his eyes like a cave-dwelling beast seeing sunlight for the first time. She reached for the gearshift but suddenly he was there, hurling his elbow through her side window, sending a shower of safety glass into her lap.
A massive scale-covered arm burst through her window, groping half blind, finding her neck. She threw the car in reverse, but her attacker had latched on to her throat, squeezing with unimaginable force. She turned her head in an attempt to escape his grasp, and suddenly she was staring at his face. Three dark stripes, like fingernail scratches, had torn through his face makeup to reveal the tattoos beneath. His eyes were wild and ruthless.
I should have killed you ten years ago, he growled. The night I killed your mother.
As his words registered, Katherine was seized by a horrifying memory: that feral look in his eyesshe had seen it before. Its him. She would have screamed had it not been for the viselike grip around her neck.
She smashed her foot onto the accelerator, and the car lurched backward, almost snapping her neck as he was dragged beside her car. The Volvo careened up an inclined median, and Katherine could feel her neck about to give way beneath his weight. Suddenly tree branches were scraping the side of her car, slapping through the side windows, and the weight was gone.
The car burst through the evergreens and out into the upper parking lot, where Katherine slammed on the brakes. Below her, the half-naked man clambered to his feet, staring into her headlights. With a terrifying calm, he raised a menacing scale-covered arm and pointed directly at her.
Katherines blood coursed with raw fear and hatred as she spun the wheel and hit the gas. Seconds later, she was fishtailing out onto Silver Hill Road.