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Hunting Zero

Джек Марс
Hunting Zero





For an instant, time slowed down as Reid found himself, and the entire car, engulfed in the shadow of an eighteen-wheeled machine that had all but left the ground.

In that oddly still moment, he could clearly see the tall blue letters stenciled down the side of the tanker—“POTABLE,” they read—as the truck bore down, poised to crush him, the Trans Am, and any hope of finding his girls.

His higher brain, the cerebrum, seemed to have shut itself off in the shadow of the enormous truck, yet his limbs moved as if of their own minds. Instinct took over as his right grabbed the e-brake again and pulled. His left hand spun the wheel clockwise, and his foot mashed the gas pedal against the rubber floor mat. The Trans Am turned sideways and darted out, parallel to the truck, back into the sunlight and out from beneath it.

Reid felt the impact of the truck crunching against the road more than he heard it. The silver tank struck the pavement between the Trans Am and the cop cars, closing in at less than thirty yards. Brakes squealed and the cruisers skidded sideways as the huge silver tank split open at the bolted seams and released its cargo.

Nine thousand gallons of clean water cascaded out and flowed over the police cars, shoving them back like an aggressive riptide.

Reid didn’t pause to see the fallout. The Trans Am was barely pushing seventy with the pedal to the floor, so he straightened out and headed further up the highway as best he could. The waterlogged troopers undoubtedly called in the conspicuous car with the unregistered plates; there would be more trouble ahead if he didn’t get off the road soon.

The burner rang, the screen displaying only the letter M.

“Thanks, Mitch,” Reid answered.

The mechanic grunted, as seemed to be his primary method of communication.

“You knew where I was. You know where I am now.” Reid shook his head. “You’re tracking the car, aren’t you?”

“John’s idea,” Mitch said simply. “Thought you might get yourself into some trouble. He was right.” Reid started to protest, but Mitch interrupted. “Get off at the next exit. Turn right on River Drive. There’s a park with a baseball field. Wait there.”

“Wait there for what?”

“Transportation.” Mitch hung up. Reid scoffed. The whole point of the Trans Am was supposed to be clandestine, staying off the agency’s grid—not to exchange the CIA for someone else that might track him.

But without it, you’d have been caught by now.

He swallowed his anger and did as he was told, guiding the car off the exit another half a mile up the interstate and toward the park. He hoped that whatever Mitch had in store for him was fast; he had a lot of ground to cover quickly.

The park was sparsely populated for a Sunday. In the baseball field a group of neighborhood kids were playing a pick-up game, so Reid parked the Trans Am in the gravel lot outside the chain-link fence behind first base and waited. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but he knew he had to move fast, so he popped the trunk, retrieved his bag, and waited beside the car for whatever Mitch had planned.

He had a suspicion that the grizzled mechanic was more than just a CIA asset. He was “an expert in vehicle procurement,” Watson had said. Reid wondered if Mitch was a resource, someone like Bixby, the eccentric CIA engineer who specialized in weapons and handheld gear. And if that was the case, why was he helping Reid? No memories sparked in his head when he thought of Mitch’s gruff appearance, his grunting demeanor. Was there a forgotten history there?

The phone rang in his pocket. It was Watson.

“You good?” the agent asked.

“Good as I can be, all things considered. Though Mitch’s idea of a ‘distraction’ might be a little overambitious.”

“He gets the job done. Anyway, your hunch was right. My guy found a report of a twelve-year-old Caddy stolen from an industrial park in New Jersey this morning. He snapped a satellite image of the place. Guess what he saw?”

“The missing white SUV,” Reid ventured.

“Right,” Watson confirmed. “Sitting in the parking lot of some junk heap called the Starlight Motel.”

New Jersey? His hope fell. Rais had taken his girls even further north—his two-hour drive just became at least three and a half to have any hope of catching up. He might be taking them into New York. A major metro area, easy to get lost in. Reid had to get a better lead on him before that happened.

“The agency doesn’t know what we know yet,” Watson continued. “They have no reason to link the stolen Caddy to your girls. Cartwright confirmed that they’re following the leads they’ve got and sending Strickland north to Maryland. But it’s just a matter of time. Get there first and you’ll have a head start on him.”

Reid deliberated for a moment. He didn’t trust Riker; that much was clear. In fact, the jury was still out even on his own boss, Deputy Director Cartwright. But… “Watson, what do you know about this Agent Strickland?”

“I only met him once or twice. He’s young, a bit eager to please, but seems decent. Maybe even trustworthy. Why, what are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking…” Reid couldn’t believe he was about to suggest it, but it was for his daughters. Their safety was the most important thing, no matter what the perceived cost. “I’m thinking that we shouldn’t be the only ones with this intel. We need all the help we can get, and while I don’t trust Riker to do the right thing, maybe Strickland will. Could you get information to him anonymously?”

“I think I could, yeah. I’d have to filter it through some of my asset connections, but it’s doable.”

“Good. I want to get him our intel—but after I’ve been there to see for myself. I don’t want him gaining a lead on me. I just want someone to know what we know.” More specifically, he wanted someone who wasn’t Cartwright to know what they knew. Because if I fail, I need someone to succeed.

“If you say so, sure.” Watson was silent for a moment. “Kent, there’s one more thing. Back at that rest stop, Strickland found something…”

“What? What did he find?”

“Hair,” Watson told him. “Brown hair, with the follicle still attached. Pulled out by the root.”

Reid’s throat ran dry. He didn’t believe that Rais wanted to kill the girls—he couldn’t allow himself to believe that. The assassin needed them alive if he wanted Kent Steele to find them.

But the thought was of little comfort as unwelcome images invaded Reid’s thoughts, scenes of Rais grabbing his daughter by a fistful of hair, forcing her to go where he wanted. Hurting her. And if he was hurting them in any way at all, Reid was going to hurt him in every way.

“Strickland didn’t think much of it,” Watson continued, “but the police found more of it in the back seat of the dead woman’s car. Like someone left them there on purpose. Like a…”

“Like a clue,” Reid murmured. It was Maya. He just knew it. She was smart, smart enough to leave something behind. Smart enough to know that the scene would be swept over carefully and her hairs would be found. She was alive—or at least she had been when they were there. He was simultaneously proud that his daughter was so keen while rueful that she would ever have to think to do such a thing in the first place.

Oh god. A new realization took its place immediately: If Maya had purposely left her hair in the rest stop bathroom, then she was there when it happened. She had watched that monster murder an innocent woman. And if Maya was there… Sara might have been too. They had both been affected, mentally and emotionally, by the events of February, on the boardwalk; he didn’t want to think of the trauma going through their minds now.

“Watson, I have to get to New Jersey fast.”

“Working on it,” the agent replied. “Just stay put, it’ll be there any minute.”

“What will be here?”

Watson answered, but his response was drowned out by the sudden, startling chirp of a siren directly behind him. He spun as a police cruiser crunched over the gravel lot toward him.

I don’t have time for this. He snapped the phone shut and slipped it into his pocket. The passenger’s side window was down; he could see that there were two officers inside. The car pulled right up alongside his and the door swung open.

“Sir, put the bag on the ground and your hands on your head.” The officer was young, with a military-style high and tight fade and aviator shades over his eyes. Reid took notice that one hand was on the holster of his service pistol, the button clasp undone.

The driver got out as well, older, around Reid’s age with a shaved head. He stood behind his open door, his hand also hovering near his belt.

Reid hesitated, unsure of what to do. Local police must have heard the APB from the troopers. It couldn’t have been difficult to spot the Trans Am with the fake plates parked so openly next to the baseball field. He scolded himself for being so careless.

“Sir, put the bag down and hands on your head!” the young officer shouted forcefully.

Reid had nothing to threaten them with; his guns were in the bag, and even if he had one he wasn’t about to shoot anyone. As far as these cops were aware, they were just doing their job, detaining a fugitive from a high-speed chase that had incapacitated three cars and, in all likelihood, still had the northbound lanes of I-95 shut down.

“This isn’t what you think.” Even as he said it, he lowered the bag to the gravel slowly. “I’m just trying to find my daughters.” Both arms came up, his fingertips touching just behind his ears.

“Turn around,” the young officer ordered. Reid did so. He heard the familiar clinking of handcuffs as the cop pulled a pair loose from the pouch on his belt. He waited for the cold bite of steel on his wrist.


“You have the right to remain silent…”

As soon as he felt contact, Reid sprang into action. He spun, grabbed the officer’s right wrist with his own, and twisted it upward at an angle. The cop cried out in both surprise and pain, though Reid was careful not to twist far enough to break it. He wasn’t going to injure the officers if he could help it.

In the same motion he grabbed the loose cuff with his left hand and snapped it around the officer’s wrist. The driver had his gun out in an instant, shouting angrily.

“Back away! On the ground, now!”

Reid shoved forward with both arms and sent the young officer stumbling into the open door. It swung shut—or tried to, pushing the older cop backward. Reid tucked into a roll, coming up on his knees right beside the man. He snapped the Glock out of the cop’s grip and tossed it over his shoulder.

The younger cop straightened and tried to yank his pistol loose. Reid grabbed the empty, swinging half of the handcuffs dangling from the officer’s wrist and pulled, throwing the man off balance again. He looped the cuffs through the open window, yanking the cop into the door, and snapped the open loop of steel around the older officer’s wrist.

As the pair struggled against each other and the door of the cruiser, Reid tugged the younger cop’s pistol free and aimed it at them. They fell still immediately.

“I’m not going to shoot you,” he told them as he retrieved his bag. “I just want you to stay quiet and don’t move for a minute or so.” He leveled the gun at the older officer. “Put your hand down, please.”

The cop’s free hand fell away from his shoulder-mounted radio.

“Just put down the gun,” the younger officer said, his uncuffed hand out in a pacifying gesture. “Another unit is on its way. They will shoot you on sight. I don’t think you want that.”

Is he bluffing? No; Reid could hear sirens wailing in the distance. About a minute out. Ninety seconds at best. Whatever Mitch and Watson had planned, it needed to arrive now.

The boys on the baseball field had paused their game, now clustered behind the nearest concrete dugout and peering out in awe at the scene mere yards from them. Reid noticed in his periphery that one of the boys was on a cell phone, likely reporting the incident.

At least they’re not filming it, he thought glumly, keeping the gun trained on the two cops. Come on, Mitch…

Then—the younger cop frowned at his partner. They glanced at each other and then skyward as a new sound joined the distant screaming sirens—a whining hum, like a high-pitched motor.

What is that? Definitely not a car. Not loud enough to be a chopper or a plane…

Reid looked up as well, but he couldn’t tell what direction the sound was coming from. He didn’t have to wonder long. From over left field came a tiny object, soaring quickly through the air like a buzzing bee. Its shape was indistinguishable; it appeared to be white, but it was difficult to look directly at it.

The underbelly is painted in reflective coating, Reid’s mind told him. Keeps the eyes from being able to focus on it.

The object dropped in altitude as if it were falling from the sky. As it crossed over the pitcher’s mound, something else dropped down from it—a steel cable with a narrow crossbar at the bottom, like a single rung of a ladder. A rappelling line.

“That must be my ride,” he murmured. While the cops stared in disbelief at the literal UFO soaring toward them, Reid dropped the gun on the gravel. He made sure he had a tight grip on his bag, and as the crossbar swung toward him, he reached up and grabbed onto it.

He sucked in a breath as he was instantly swept into the sky, up twenty feet in seconds, then thirty, then fifty. The boys on the baseball field shouted and pointed as the flying object above Reid’s head retracted the rappelling line rapidly, gaining altitude again at the same time.

He glanced down and saw two more police cars screeching into the park’s lot, the drivers exiting their vehicles and looking upward. He was a hundred feet in the air before he reached the cockpit and settled into the single seat that waited there.

Reid shook his head in astonishment. The vehicle that had picked him up was little more than a small egg-shaped pod with four parallel arms in an X shape, each of which had a spinning rotor at the end. He knew what this was—a quadcopter, a single-person manned drone, fully automated and highly experimental.

A memory flashed in his mind: A rooftop in Kandahar. Two snipers have you pinned at your location. You have no idea where they are. Make a move and you die. Then, a sound—a high-pitched whine, barely more than a hum. It reminds you of your string trimmer back home. A shape appears in the sky. It’s hard to look at. You can barely see it, but you know help has arrived…

The CIA had experimented with machines like this one to extract agents from hot zones. He had been part of the experiment.

There were no controls before him; just an LED screen that told him their air speed of two hundred sixteen miles an hour and an ETA of fifty-four minutes. Beside the screen was a headset. He plucked it up and fit it over his ears.


“Watson. Jesus. How did you get this?”

“I didn’t.”

“So Mitch,” Reid said, confirming his suspicions. “He’s not just an ‘asset,’ is he?”

“He’s whatever you need him to be for you to trust that he wants to help.”

The quadcopter’s air speed increased steadily, leveling out at just under three hundred miles per hour. Several minutes fell off the ETA.

“What about the agency?” Reid asked. “Can they…?”

“Track it? No. Too small, flies at low altitudes. Besides, it’s decommissioned. They thought the motor was too loud for it to be stealthy.”

He breathed a small sigh of relief. He had a trajectory now, this Starlight Motel in New Jersey, and at last it wasn’t a taunt from Rais that led him. If they were still there, he could put an end to this—or try to. He couldn’t ignore the fact that this would only end in a confrontation with the assassin, and keeping his girls out of the crossfire.

“I want you to wait forty-five minutes and then send the motel lead to Strickland and local PD,” he told Watson. “If he’s there, I want everyone else there too.”

Besides, by the time the CIA and police arrived, either his girls would be safe or Reid Lawson would be dead.


Maya hugged her sister closer to her. The handcuff chain rattled between their wrists; Sara’s hand was drawn up over her own chest, her hand gripping Maya’s on her shoulder as they huddled together in the backseat of the car.

The assassin drove, easing the car down the length of Port Jersey. The cargo terminal was long, several hundred yards by Maya’s best guess. Tall stacks of containers loomed high on either side of them, forming a narrow lane with no more than a foot of room on either side of the car’s mirrors.

The headlights were off, and it was dangerously dark, but it did not seem to bother Rais. Every now and then there would be a brief break between the cargo stacks and Maya could see bright lights in the distance, closer to the water’s edge. She could even hear the drone of machinery. Crews were working. People were around. Yet that gave her little hope; Rais had so far shown a propensity for planning, and she doubted they would come into view of any prying eyes.

She would have to do something herself to keep them from leaving.

The clock in the car’s center console told her it was four in the morning. It had been less than an hour since she had left the note in the toilet tank of the motel. Shortly thereafter, Rais had stood suddenly and announced that it was time to go. Without a word of explanation, he led them out of the motel room, but not to the white station wagon in which they’d arrived. Instead he led them to an older car a few doors down from their room. He seemed to have no problem as he jimmied open the door and put them in the backseat. Rais had tugged off the cover of the ignition column and hotwired the vehicle in a matter of seconds.

And now they were at the port, under the cover of darkness and drawing near to the northern tip of land, where the concrete ended and Newark Bay began. Rais slowed and put the car in park.

Maya peered beyond the windshield. There was a boat there, a fairly small one by commercial standards. It couldn’t have been more than sixty feet long end to end, and was laden with cube-shaped steel containers that looked to be about five feet by five feet. The only light on that end of the dock, other than the moon and stars, came from two sickly yellow bulbs on the boat, one on the bow and another at the stern.

Rais turned off the engine and sat there in silence for a long moment. Then he flicked the headlights on and off, just once. Two men emerged from the boat’s cabin. They glanced his way, and then disembarked down the narrow ramp between the ship and the dock.

The assassin twisted in his seat, staring directly at Maya. He said only one word, drawing it out slowly. “Stay.” Then he got out of the car and closed the door again, standing only a few feet from it as the men approached.

Maya clenched her jaw and tried to slow her rapidly pulsing heartbeat. If they got on this boat and left shore, their chances of ever being found again would be diminished significantly. She could not hear what the men were saying; she heard only low tones as Rais spoke to them.

“Sara,” she whispered. “You remember what I said?”

“I can’t.” Sara’s voice broke. “I won’t…”

“You have to.” They were still handcuffed together, but the ramp to board the boat was narrow, barely more than two feet wide. They would have to remove the cuffs, she told herself. And when they did… “As soon as I move, you go. Find people. Hide if you have to. You need to—”

She didn’t get to finish her statement. The rear door was yanked open and Rais peered in at them. “Get out.”

Maya’s knees felt weak as she slid out of the backseat, followed by Sara. She forced herself to look at the two men who had come from the boat. They were both light-skinned, with dark hair and dark features. One of the pair had a thin beard and short hair, and wore a black leather jacket with his arms folded across his chest. The other wore a brown coat, and his hair was longer, around his ears. He had a paunch that protruded over his belt and a smirk on his lips.

It was this man, the chubby one, that circled around the two girls, walking slowly. He said something in a foreign language—the same language, Maya realized, that Rais had spoken over the phone in the motel room.

Then he said a single word in English.

“Pretty.” He laughed. His cohort in the leather jacket grinned. Rais stood there stoically.

With that one word, a comprehension crept into Maya’s mind and tightened like icy fingers gripping a throat. There was something far more insidious happening here than simply being taken out of the country. She did not even want to think about it, let alone fathom it. It couldn’t be real. Not this. Not to them.

Her gaze found Rais’s chin. She couldn’t stand to look at his green eyes.

“You.” Her voice was quiet, quavering, struggling to find the words. “You’re a monster.”

He sighed gently. “Perhaps. That’s all a matter of perspective. I need passage across the sea; you are my bartering chip. My ticket, as it were.”

Maya’s mouth ran dry. She did not cry or tremble. She just felt cold.

Rais was selling them.

“Ahem.” Someone cleared their throat. Five pairs of eyes snapped to attention as a newcomer stepped into the dim glow of the boat’s lights.

Maya’s heart surged with sudden hope. The man was older, perhaps in his fifties, wearing khakis and a pressed white shirt—he looked official. Under one arm he held a white hard hat.

Rais had the Glock out and leveled in an instant. But he did not shoot. Others would hear it, Maya realized.

“Whoa!” The man dropped his hard hat and put both hands up.

“Hey.” The foreigner in the black leather jacket stepped forward, between the gun and the newcomer. “Hey, is okay,” he said in accented English. “Is okay.”

Maya’s mouth fell agape in confusion. Okay?

As Rais slowly lowered the gun, the thin man reached into his leather jacket and produced a crumpled manila envelope, folded on itself in thirds and taped shut. Something rectangular and thick was inside it, like a brick.


He handed it off as the official-looking man scooped up his hard hat.

My god. She knew damn well what was in the envelope. This man was being paid off to keep his crews away, to keep that area of the dock clear.

Anger and helplessness rose in equal measure. She wanted to shout at him—please, wait, help—but then his gaze met hers, for just a second, and she knew it was no use.

There was no remorse behind his eyes. No kindness. No sympathy. No sound escaped her throat.

Just as quickly as he had appeared, the man retreated back into the shadows. “Pleasure doing business,” he muttered as he vanished.

This can’t be happening. She felt numb. Never in her entire life had she ever met someone who would stand idly by while children were clearly in harm’s way—and accept money to do nothing.

The chubby man barked something in his foreign tongue and made a vague gesture toward their hands. Rais said something in response that sounded like a succinct argument, but the other man insisted.

The assassin looked annoyed as he fished in his pocket and pulled out a small silver key. He grabbed at the chain of the handcuffs, forcing both their wrists aloft. “I’m going to take these off of you,” he told them. “Then we’re going to get on the boat. If you wish to make it back to dry land alive, you’ll stay silent. You’ll do as you’re told.” He pushed the key into the cuff around Maya’s wrist and opened it. “And don’t even think about jumping into the water. None of us will go after you. We will watch you freeze to death and drown. It would take only a couple of minutes.” He unlocked Sara’s cuff, and she instinctively rubbed her sore, reddened wrist.

Now. Do it now. You have to do something now. Maya’s brain screamed at her, but she couldn’t seem to move.

The foreigner in the black leather jacket stepped forward and grabbed her upper arm roughly. The sudden physical contact broke her paralysis, jarring her into action. She didn’t even think about it.

One foot swung upward, as hard as she could muster, and connected with Rais’s groin.

As it did, a memory flashed across her vision. It took only an instant, though it felt much longer, as if everything had slowed around her.

Shortly after the Amun terrorists had tried to kidnap her in New Jersey, her father had pulled her aside one day. He had to stick to his cover story—they were gang members abducting young girls in the area as part of an initiation—but still he told her: I won’t always be around. There won’t always be someone there to help.

Maya had played soccer for years; she had a powerful and well-placed kick. A hiss of breath escaped Rais as he doubled over, both hands flying impulsively to his crotch.

If someone attacks you, especially a man, it’s because he’s bigger. Stronger. He’ll outweigh you. And because of all that, he’ll think he can do what he wants. That you don’t have a chance.

She jerked her left arm downward, quickly and violently, and pulled free of the leather-jacketed man. Then she launched herself forward, into him, and knocked him off balance.

You don’t fight fair. You do whatever you need to do. Crotch. Nose. Eyes. You bite. You flail. You scream. They’re already not fighting fair. You don’t either.

Maya twisted her body back around and, at the same time, swung one thin arm in a wide arc. Rais was bent at the waist; his face was about eye level with her. Her fist smashed into the side of his nose.

Pain immediately splintered through her hand, starting at the knuckles and radiating up the length, all the way to her elbow. She cried out and grabbed at it. Even so, Rais took the blow hard, nearly falling to the dock.

An arm snaked around her waist and pulled her backward. Her feet left the ground, kicking at nothing as she thrashed both arms. She hadn’t even realized she was screaming until a thick hand clamped over her nose and mouth, cutting off both the sound and her breath.

But then she saw her—a small figure getting smaller. Sara ran, back the way they had come, disappearing into the darkness of the cargo stacks.

I did it. She’s gone. She’s away. Whatever fate would befall Maya now didn’t matter. Don’t stop running, Sara. Keep going, find people, find help.

Another figure shot forward like an arrow—Rais. He sprinted after Sara, also vanishing into the shadows. He was fast, much faster than Sara, and had seemed to recover quickly from Maya’s blows.

He won’t find her. Not in the dark.

She couldn’t breathe with the hand gripping her face. She clawed at it until the fingers slid down, only slightly, but enough for her to suck air in through her nose. The chubby man held her fast, one arm around her waist and her feet still off the ground. But she didn’t fight him; she fell still and waited.

For several long moments the dock was quiet. The droning of machinery at the other end of the port echoed in the night, likely drowning out any chance of Maya’s screams having been heard. She and the two men waited for Rais to return—the former praying desperately he came back empty-handed.

A short shriek shattered the silence, and Maya’s limbs went limp.

Rais emerged from the darkness again. He had Sara under one arm, the way one might carry a surfboard, with his other hand clasped over her mouth to quiet her. Her face was bright red and she was sobbing, though her cries were muffled.

No. Maya had failed. Her attack had done nothing, least of all get Sara to safety.

Rais stopped a few feet short of Maya, staring her down with pure fury in his bright green eyes. A thin rivulet of blood ran from one nostril where she had struck him.

“I told you,” he hissed. “I told you what would happen if you tried to do something. Now, you’re going to watch.”

Maya flailed again, trying to scream, but the man held her tight.

Rais said something harshly in the foreign tongue to the one in the leather jacket. He hurried over and took Sara, holding her still and keeping her silent.

The assassin unsheathed the large knife, the one he had used to murder Mr. Thompson and the woman in the rest stop bathroom. He forced Sara’s arm out to one side and held it firmly.

No! Please don’t hurt her. Don’t. Don’t… She tried to form words, to scream them out, but they came out only as shrill, muffled cries.

Sara tried to pull away as she wept, but Rais held her arm in a white-knuckled grip. He forced her fingers apart and wedged the knife in the space between her ring and pinky fingers.

“You’re going to watch,” he said again, staring directly at Maya, “as I cut off one of your sister’s fingers.” He pressed the knife to skin.

Don’t. Don’t. Please, god, don’t…

The man holding her, the chubby one, muttered something.

Rais paused and looked up at him irritably.

The two had a quick exchange, not a word of which Maya understood. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway; her gaze was locked on her little sister, whose eyes were clenched shut, tears running down both cheeks and over the hand that held her mouth tightly.

Rais growled in frustration. At long last he released his grip on Sara’s hand. The chubby man released his grip on Maya, and at the same time the one in the leather jacket shoved Sara forward. Maya caught her sister in her arms and hugged her close.

The assassin stepped forward, speaking quietly. “This time, you’re lucky. These gentlemen suggested that I not damage any merchandise before it gets to where it’s going.”

Maya trembled from head to toe, but she didn’t dare move.

“Besides,” he told her, “where you’re going will be far worse than anything I might do to you. Now we’re all going to get on the boat. Remember, you’re only good to them alive.”

The chubby man led the way up the ramp, Sara behind him and Maya right behind her as they stepped shakily onto the boat. There was no use in fighting back now. Her hand throbbed with pain where she’d struck Rais. There were three men and only two of them, and he was faster. He had found Sara in the dark. They had little chance of making it out on their own.

Maya glanced over the side of the boat at the black water below. For just a split second, she thought about jumping; freezing in its depth might be preferable to the fate that awaited them. But she couldn’t do that. She couldn’t leave Sara. She couldn’t lose her last ounce of hope.

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