Welcome to the eighth of ten excerpts from BOND OF FIRE.
Hélène focused her night-vision goggles, making them drag in every bit of starlight those samples of the latest technology could find. Despite it being high summer and close to the North Pole, where the days were long and nighttime meant the sun circling near the horizon, the valley below was a cavernous black gash.
Deep enough to hide the secrets of an old Soviet bioweapon manufacturing plant from spy satellites for decades. Ordinary bombs wouldn’t work against anyplace hidden within this gash in the earth’s crust, even if their bearers had made it past the bristling batteries circling the valley. Generations of American and British spymasters had sent their best teams, military and covert, against it. But its brutal terrain and layers of defenses had destroyed its attackers, letting it survive, only to be shut down after the Berlin Wall fell.
A year ago, loose tongues in Moscow attached to hungry men and women had chattered about one of the current government’s favorites starting it up again. In a few months, he’d be selling bubonic plague to anyone willing to deposit a fortune in a Swiss bank account.
The only way to utterly destroy such a plant was fire – utterly eradicating every trace from every room and piece of equipment. No chemical cleanser could be as thorough, while bombs would only scattered the pieces across an innocent landscape. Equally important, no Western politician wanted to see anyone in the current Russian government growing rich from this valley’s harvest of death. Whitehall had decided to send Hélène’s small team in, rather than commandos with thermite grenades.
She was so far away on this rocky slope, none of the old defenses watched her, if Whitehall’s penny-pinching intelligence had gotten it right for once. No prosaico should be observing this mountain, since only a vampiro firestarter could attack the place from here. It was too far for a shoulder-launched missile.
Which didn’t stop the skin on the nape of her neck from standing up every few minutes. They’d had a strangely quiet journey here.
At least when she was doing this work, she didn’t have time to think about missing Jean-Marie. . .
“Got it,” she murmured, finally focusing on one of the ugliest metallic jumbles she’d ever seen. They were lying on a boulder field at the edge of an immense forest. If there were a knife-edged rock that hadn’t found her ribs, she didn’t know about it. Or one that didn’t long to break somebody’s ankle. . .
“Can you see the storage lockers?” Duncan Ross asked. A great bear of a Scotsman and her number two, he was condemned to wear the same brutally uncomfortable body armor she wore. It kept sunlight, mosquitoes, and flies out but ensured that every drop of sweat stayed in. As a vampiro, he’d have been far happier shifting into something with teeth – and a thick fur coat to keep the biting pests out.
“Uh-huh. Looks just like the plans.” Thank God. If the bastards had done any remodeling, she’d have had a harder time finding the targets, given all the trees and rocks near the plant. “Found the research labs, too, plus the manufacturing plant.”
He didn’t quite heave a sigh of relief. “Just let me know when you’re ready to start, will you?”
“Right.” Lots of mosquitoes but nothing larger was stirring – a nasty sign. She’d have been happier if small critters were wandering around, proving no two-legged predators were patrolling other than themselves.
She counted the distant sentries through her glasses as they patrolled, clearly identifiable as brilliant splotches of heat.
One of her bodyguards sat down beside her in wolf form, his tongue lolling out as he tasted the air. She glanced over, and he nodded, giving the all-clear.
The other five members of her team began to give their assurances.
“Ready,” she said softly.
She reached out to the most distant, the most buried, of the storage lockers and stirred its molecules into frenzied motion. Faster and faster, hotter and hotter, until metal caught fire and burned like a welder’s torch. Damn near as hot as the surface of the sun – thermite grenade hot, like the result of a commando raid.
A second locker and a third, all of them, destroying forever stockpiles of bubonic plague, which had taken decades to accumulate.
“Alarms have sounded,” Duncan reported. “Sentries are evacuating the inner core and manning the outer perimeter.”
Just as they’d planned back in London. The scientists would probably get away, taking whatever knowledge they held in their heads. Even so, it would be a long time, if ever, before the greedy fools rebuilt that plant.
She grinned and turned her attention to the great vats and piping in the manufacturing plant. A bigger target required a broader brush, a heavier push of concentration until an entire building glowed red, burst into flames, and crumpled into a magma flow of blazing metal which poured over a ravine’s boulders.
Even from here they could hear the sirens. Somebody had started firing old antiaircraft guns at the sky.
“Hélène, they’re sending helicopters out,” Duncan hissed. “They’ve zeroed in on this mountain as the only location left unprotected.”
Shit, they knew about vampiros. It was definitely time to leave. But the labs were on the hillside above the plant and the storage lockers. Did she have the right to risk everyone’s life? Hell, how many of her missions didn’t rate the words highly dangerous, if not suicidal?
“Prepare to evacuate,” she said calmly and moved her glasses one last time. Dammit, the labs were slightly hidden in the smoke. Could she pull it off? If she took out their foundations, dropping them into the manufacturing plant’s quagmire below. . .
Ping! Ping! Bullets whizzed past her head. The damned helicopter was making life very difficult.
“Move out,” she snapped. One more lab to go. . .
Bullets filled the air. Somebody was shooting back at the chopper.
The lab’s wooden struts caught fire, and it began to tumble.
Somebody yelped, the immediately recognizable sound of hard training compensating for a bad wound.
Duncan yanked Hélène unceremoniously onto her feet and raced for the forest, ignoring the rocks that slipped and turned under his feet. Her bodyguard ran beside them, flowing over the treacherous terrain with four-footed grace, obviously holding back his speed. If only they’d let her learn how to shift, she could have done the same. Duncan would have matched her, and they’d be in the woods in no time – without risking her men.
It would be a damned long way back to the extraction point, especially with one man already wounded.
Bullets filled the air around them, singing against the stones and spitting up dust.
She ran faster, praying nobody died on this mission. Wishing Whitehall would let her learn to shapeshift into something useful, instead of treating her like a fragile idiot good for only one task.
Missing yet again, the only man who’d ever treated her as an equal everywhere and anywhere.
Excerpt from Bond of Fire by Diane Whiteside
Copyright © 2008 by Diane Whiteside
All rights reserved