Prologue - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
The whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.
— Book of Enoch 10:8
“Your cover has been compromised.”
The quiet voice in his ear sent a wave of cold down the man’s spine that had nothing to do with the snow melting on his collar. He ducked into a brick-lined alley, as if attempting to get out of the wet wintry mix pelting the city, and pulled the collar of his coat closer around his neck. In doing so, he touched something behind his ear. “How badly compromised?”
“Your hotel room is being tossed as we speak. I’ve hacked the security cameras. They know exactly what they’re looking for.”
“Where is my point of extraction?” The man picked up his pace, pushing through the crowd of kipeople also sheltering from the weather under awnings that arched over back doors. Profanity blistered the air behind him.
“Uniform Lima Alpha Alpha 1-5-1,” said the voice through his earpiece. “Rendezvous at 02:45 exactly. Mark.”
He glanced at his watch. “That’s less than twenty minutes!” he complained bitterly. His words plumed into white vapor in the closeness of the alley and mingled with those of the other people sheltering there.
“Then I suggest you hurry.”
He dropped his grip on his collar. Twenty God-damned minutes. When he reached the end of the alley, he turned left and broke into a flat run. His loafers slipped in the slush on the sidewalk. The chinks between the cobblestones were white with packed snow, and he slowed his pace a little to ensure he didn’t lose his footing. It would cost him precious time, but he couldn’t risk the attention a fall would bring. A clock ticked away the time in his head, growing louder with each step. Seconds falling into the void, minutes swallowed before he had realized it.
The extraction point loomed up over the city. It was a half-finished hotel that had been abandoned after funding ran out, and now the edifice stretched into the sky like a broken finger caged in rusty scaffolding. The windows were empty eyes, doors gaping like frightened mouths. Before the construction had been halted, the exterior walls had been completed, disguising the skeleton of wooden frames. Plastic tarps used to keep out the elements had long pulled free of the anchoring staples and flapped like flags.
The wind whistled through the rattling chain link fence as the man dropped over it and into the perimeter. Glass gritted under his feet. The tarps snapped in the gusts funneled into them. Above him in the darkness, the man could see the slowly rotating form of a helicopter blade, its dimmed lights easily mistaken for stars. His contact. For the first time since her voice had come through his ear comm, he felt weight lift off his shoulders. He was almost clear. He ran up the bare cement stairs inside two at a time, winded well before he reached the top but still climbing.
The helicopter’s rotor blades had roared to life by the time he had reached the roof where it sat like some malformed beetle. The downwash from landing had blown the powdery snow outward in a wobbly ellipse and mounded it against the door and parapet. The man’s feet sank in past his ankles as he approached. A hooded figure dropped out of the cockpit into the snow, a black blot under the red lights on the fuselage.
“Do you have it?”
The man breathed a sigh, dropping his hand from the small of his back without drawing the pistol secreted there. He knew the voice well; it was the companion in his ear. “It’s safe,” he growled under the whistle of the wind. “What about the room?”
“They were slitting open your mattress when I broke down my post.” The woman - he could see the shape of her body as she passed in front of the lights behind the landing skids - ducked under the slowing blades even though there were easily two feet between them and the top of her head. “Pity. It looked to be an expensive model. Naturally you didn’t put it there, did you?”
“Too obvious.” He sauntered past her to shelter from the wind and snow beside the helicopter. “It’s safe, but we need to be going before they realize they’re on the wrong trail.”
His mouth opened to respond, but he froze at the sight of the pistol she held in gloved hands. The lights on the belly of the helicopter illuminated her enough that he could see the unwinking black eye of the gun barrel. Close to her now, he could see the black catsuit she wore, the black combat boots, the black leather gloves that could only be the finest kid for how it molded to her hands. Her face was a pale smear behind the snow and barrel. His jaw tightened as he realized how fully he’d been double-crossed. “Let me guess,” he said coldly. “Mossad? VAJA? CIA?”
“The Americans have their hands full trying to control that badly-toupeed fucktrumpet they elected. They’re completely ignorant of this matter.” Her grip didn’t waver an inch. “Where is it, Vollan? Or should I just call you Endicott? That's the name your father gave you after all.”
He stepped back only to find himself pinned between her and the fuselage. “Who are you working with? W-We could strike a deal. I’ll give you a quarter of what I’m earning for delivering it. A quarter!”
“Where is it?” she asked again. Her voice dripped with saccharine sweetness, as if asking a parent for extra pocket money to see a film.
He edged along the fuselage toward the cockpit, sliding his feet against the skids to keep his position as he stared down her gun. It tracked him as if connected to his head by steel rods, unwavering; his adversary’s aim was impeccable. “Don’t do this,” he wheedled. “We could be partners. You could help me smuggle it to the buyers. I’ll give you half! It’s more than what you’ll ever earn with your government. You could retire to the Mediterranean and-”
His statement went unfinished as he lunged at her, a hand dipping into the back of his waistband. The combat knife he produced would not have been legal in any country in Europe. Its blade was serrated almost an inch from its guard while the point and sweep almost seemed to produce a whistling sound as they cut through the snowy air. The woman wrenched her gun upward and blocked the blow with her forearms, twisting aside to redirect his momentum. He staggered past her, but she also lost her footing, slipping in the snow. She landed on her backside, and a silvery kiss of metal bit across her still-raised arm, followed by the thick slide of blood under her sleeve. Having drawn first blood, Vollan bared his teeth in a savage animal snarl and lunged for her again. Her back rolled, propelling her hips and legs up into his gut and throwing him off her, toward the parapet. She scrambled in the mounded snow for her firearm.
A neat black hole appeared between Vollan’s eyes as he straightened, ready to strike again. He stared at her for a moment that stretched into eons before his eyes rolled back, and he toppled off the roof into open space.
“Tell me you didn’t put a hole in my helicopter, Agent Lockhart.”
The woman chuckled as she pulled herself up and looked over the side of the roof. The snow and the darkness swallowed the ground, but while she couldn’t see the corpse, she knew it was there. She put two fingers to her ear. “Have some faith in me, will you, Q? I’m not as hard on my toys as the Double-Ohs. I made sure he was far from it.” Her boots crunched in the snow. “He didn’t tell me where it was. I’ll need a few more hours. I’ll call in when I’m ready for extraction.”
“What time frame are we looking at, Lockhart?” This voice was female and spoke with a clear smile.
“Oh hullo, qix. Are you relieving Capital Q?” The woman’s boots crunched in the snow as she returned to the helicopter’s cockpit and climbed in. “I hope so. There’s only so much of him I can stand in a day. Give me six hours. I’ll need to search what remains of Abraham Vollan and search his room.”
“You’ll find a coded keycard in your supplies,” the Q Branch operative said cheerfully. “Check in with me every two hours. I’ll keep surveillance on the heli as well as on you, Kyra.”
Kyra smiled and started down the long staircase inside the unfinished hotel. “Noted. Lockhart out.” She descended into the darkness, her mind turning ahead to the search of a mangled corpse and a still very-intact hotel room.