Chapter 17

Ten minutes later the door is opened by the highest ranking commander on the outside and we wheel a fully armed warhead into the nighttime air. The detonator clicks off the seconds. Fifteen minutes to Armageddon. Driving at high speed should give us and the soldiers time to get clear of the blast. Over?head, the full moon shines down on our heads, bathing the entire desert with a milky white radiance. The setting is dreamlike, as if there has already been a nuclear explosion, thousands of years ago and the radioactive fallout remains.

A small army aims a line of high-tech weapons at us.

On all sides, from the guard towers to the rocks in the hill, we are surrounded.

A minute before, a mumbling General Havor had ordered them to let us go.

But they're not listening.

The highest ranking commander on the outside is nowArturo.

He steps forward as we move out of the cave.

"Sita," he says. "This is madness."

"You tell me about madness, Arturo." I hold a pistol to General Havor's head, shielding myself and Joel with his wobbly figure. He wept as I bored into his brain, but he resisted me as well I had to destroy most of his mind to get what I wanted. Gesturing to the bomb, I add, "This warhead is set to detonate in less than fifteen minutes. That gives you and your men barely enough time to get clear."

Arturo shakes his head. "We cannot let you escape. An order has come from the President of the United States. At all costs, you are to be stopped." He gestures to the men around us. "We are expendable."

I force a chuckle. "You will not sacrifice all these people."

"It is not my decision to make."

"That's nonsense! They look to you to command them now. Command them to drop their weapons and get the hell out of here." I pause. "You are bluffing."

Arturo looks me in the eye. He is not intimidated by my gaze.

"I pray that you are the one who is bluffing," he says softly.

The timer on the detonator goes to fourteen min?utes.

I meet his gaze, "When was the last time you prayed, Arturo? Was it before the inquisitor's court? The day they hanged you? I did what I did then because I know the danger my blood poses for the world. Tonight, I killed all these people for the same reason--to protect humanity."

Arturo challenges me. "To protect us from what? A chance to evolve into something greater? Into crea?tures that need never grow old, that need never hurt one another? Earlier you laughed at my mission. Seven hundred years ago you also laughed at me. But mine is still the noblest quest on earth--to perfect humanity, to allow it to become godlike."

"You do not become godlike by merging with a monster!"

My words surprise him. "You're not a monster, Sita."

"I am not an angel, either. Or if I am, I am an angel of death--as far as humanity is concerned. True, I have the right to live. Krishna granted me that right. But only if I lived alone, and made no more of my kind. Now I have broken that sacred vow. Krishna will probably judge me harshly. Perhaps he has al?ready judged me, and that is why I am being forced to suffer in this place, to hurt all these people. But what is done is dose. I am what I am. Humanity is what it is. We can never join. Don't you see that?"

"Don't you see me, Sita? I am an example of what can be accomplished with a merger of our DNAs. And I am only an incomplete example because I never got to complete the process. Think what mankind can change into if youll just let me experiment with your blood for the next few weeks. Even a few days would be enough. That's all I'm asking. Then, when I'm finished, I promise to let you go. I will arrange it so that you can go free."

I speak with sorrow. "Arturo, I can see you. I see what's become of you. As a young man, you were the ideal person: devout, loving, brilliant. But your bril?liance was perverted the day you received my blood. Your love was twisted. For the sake of your experi?ments, you even sacrificed a boy you loved. You sacrificed us--the love we had for each other. You lied to me, and I think you lie to me again. Your devotion is no longer to Christ--it is to yourself. And even though I have also lied to my God, I still love Krishna and pray he will forgive me for my sins. I still love you, and I pray you will order these people to let us go. But because of both of these loves, I cannot surrender. You cannot have my blood" I pause. "No man can have it."

Arturo knows me.

He knows I'm not bluffing, not when it comes to matters of life and death.

The timer goes to thirteen minutes. Unlucky thir?teen.

His face and voice show his resignation. "I cannot let you go," he says quietly.

I nod. "Then we will stand here until the bomb goes off."

Joel looks at me. I stare silently at Joel. There are no words left.

Arturo stands still as a statue. The moon shines down.

Twelve. Eleven. Ten.

Ten minutes might be long enough to get clear of the blast.

"Arturo, ti prego, "I say suddenly. "Arturo, please." "At least warn your men. Let them flee. I have enough blood on my conscience."

"The blast will leave no blood," he says, turning his eyes upward, toward the sky. "We will be like dust, floating on the wind."

"That is fine for you and me. We have lived long lives. But most of these men are young. They have families. Give the order--enough will remain to prevent Joel and me from escaping."

Arturo sighs, and turns. He raises his arms and shouts. "Units G and H are free to go! Hurry! A nuclear bomb is about to detonate!"

There is a great commotion. I suspect more than units G and H want to leave. The men pour into their trucks. Engines roar to life. Tires burn rubber. The front gate is thrown open. The vehicles roar out of sight. Driving at a hundred miles an hour, they can put at least twelve miles between themselves and the blast in the time they have left. They should survive. Yet many remain behind who will not survive. Too many men still stand guard over us. If we try to escape, we will be cut down. It is better to go out like this, I think. Standing on our feet. Disintegrating in an all-consuming wave of fire. Then I remember something.

"He's in a box so thick an atomic bomb couldn't blast through it."

But if we move and try to flee toward the lab basement, they'll open fire.

For the first time in my long life, I can see no way out.

Time creeps by.

Eight. Seven. Six. Five.

"I don't even know if the warhead can be deacti?vated once it's armed," I mutter.

"It can't be," General Havor mumbles with what is left of his mind.

"Oh," I say.

Then I begin to feel a peculiar sensation, a subtle but constant vibration inside my body. The moon is directly overhead, of course. It has been shining down on us since we left the cave. But what I didn't realize--with all that was going on around me--was that the moonlight has been filling my body all the time we have been out in the open. It has become more and more transparent. I feel as if I am made of glass. Interesting, I think--and I didn't even have to take my clothes off. It is Arturo who is the first one other than myself to notice the effect.

"Sita!" he cries. "What's happening to you?"

Standing beside me, Joel gasps. "I can see through you!"

I let go of the general. Staring down at my hands, I glimpse the ground through my open palms, through my fingers. Yet I can still see the blood pulsing in my veins, the tiny capillaries glowing like a complex web of fiber optics. A cool energy sweeps over me, yet my heart is strangely warmed.

It warms even as it starts to break.

The white glow spreads around me.

I realize I can just lift off and fly away.

Yaksha's blood, maybe Krishna's grace, gives me another chance.

Do I want it? I feel myself leave the earth.

I reach out to hug Joel, to carry him away with me.

My arms go right through him!

"Joel," I cry. "Can you hear me?"

He squints. "Yes, but it's hard to focus on you. What's going on? Is this a special vampire power?"

My luminous body floats a foot off the ground now.

"It is a gift," I say. Despite my unusual physical state, I feel tears on my face, white diamonds that sparkle with a red sheen as they roll over my transpar?ent cheeks. Once more, I have to say goodbye to those whom I love. "It is a curse, Joel."

He smiles. "Fly away, Sita, far away. Your time is not over."

"I love you," I say.

"I love you. The grace of God is still with you."

The ground is two feet below me now. Arturo tries to grab me, but can't. He stands back and shakes his head, resigned.

"You are probably right," he says. "Mankind is not ready for this." He adds, "Everything you require is in my basement. It is your choice."

I don't understand. But I smile at him as I float higher.

"Ti amo," I whisper.

"Ti amo anch'io, Sita."

A wind takes hold of me. Suddenly I am soaring. The stars shine around me. The moon beats down on the top of my head like an alien sun spawned in the center of a distant galaxy. It is so bright! My now-invisible eyes can hardly bear the glare, and I am forced to close them. As I do an even greater light ignites beneath me. The fiery rays of it rise up and pierce through my etheric body. There is tremendous heat and noise. A shock wave as thick as a granite mountain strikes me. Yet I feel no pain--just swept away, on currents of destruction and tidal waves of death. The compound is gone, the stolen blood is vapor. The world is safe once again. But I, Sita, I am lost in the night.

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