“The bolts must be attracted to shifts in some electromagnetic field, a giant motion-detecting field.” Coral stared down. “But what if someone could move through the field unseen?” “How?” Painter asked.




Coral glanced to the hodja and the other Rahim. “They can be unseen when they want to be.” “But that’s not physical,” Painter said. “It’s some way they affect the viewer’s mind, clouding perception.” “Yes, but how do they do that?”




No one answered.




Coral stared around, then straightened. “Oh, I never told you.”




“You know?” Painter said.




Coral nodded and glanced at Safia, then away. “I studied their blood.”




Safia remembered Coral had been about to mention something about that when Cassandra’s forces had attacked. What was this about?




Coral pointed toward the cavern. “Like the lake, the water in the Rahim’s red blood cells—all their cells and fluids, I imagine—is full of buckyballs.” “They have antimatter in them?” Omaha asked.




“No, of course not. It’s just that their fluids have the capability of maintaining water in buckyball configurations. I wager the ability comes from some mutation in their mitochondrial DNA.” Dread grew in Safia’s chest. “What?”




Painter touched her elbow. “A little slower.”




Coral sighed. “Commander, remember the briefing on the Tunguska explosion in Russia? Mutations arose in flora and fauna of the area. The indigenous Evenk tribe developed genetic abnormalities in their blood, specifically their Rh factors. All caused by gamma radiation from antimatter annihilation.” She waved an arm out toward the storm raging. “The same here. For who knows how many generations, the population residing here has been exposed to gamma radiation. Then a pure bit of chance happened. Some woman developed a mutation—not in her own DNA, but the DNA in her cellular mitochondria.” “Mitochondria?” Safia asked, trying to remember her basic biology.




“They are the small organelles inside all cells, floating in the cytoplasm, little engines that produce cellular energy. They’re a cell’s batteries, to use a crude analogy. But they have their own DNA, independent of a person’s genetic code. It is believed that mitochondria were once some type of bacteria that absorbed into mammalian cells during evolution. The little bit of DNA is left over from the mitochondria’s former independent life. And as mitochondria are found only in the cytoplasm of cells, it is the mitochondria of a mother’s egg that becomes the mitochondria of the child. That’s why the ability passes only through the queen’s line.” Coral swept a hand over the Rahim.




“And it is these mitochondria that mutated from the gamma radiation?” Omaha asked.




“Yes. A minor mutation. The mitochondria still produce energy for the cell, but it also produces a little spark to actively maintain buckyball configuration, giving it a little juice. I wager this effect has something to do with the energy fields in this chamber. The mitochondria are attuned to it, aligning the charge of a buckyball to match the energy here.” “And these charged buckyballs give these women some mental powers?” Painter asked, incredulous.




“The brain is ninety percent water,” Coral said. “Charge that system up with buckyballs and anything could happen. We’ve seen the women’s ability to affect magnetic fields. This transmission of magnetic force, directed by human will and thought, seems to be able to affect the waters in the brains of lower creatures and somewhat upon us. Affecting our will and perception.” Coral’s eyes glanced to the Rahim. “And if focused inward, the magnetic force can stop meiosis in their own eggs, producing a self-fertilized egg. Asexual reproduction.” “Parthenogenesis,” Safia whispered.




“Okay,” Painter said. “Even if I could accept all that, how does any of this get us out of this mess?” “Haven’t you been listening?” Coral asked, glancing over her shoulder to the vortex of storm, above and now stirring the lake. They were running out of time. Minutes only. “If one of the Rahim concentrates, she can attune herself to this energy, alter her magnetic force to match the electromagnetic detecting field. They should be able to walk through safely.” “How do they do that?”




“By willing themselves invisible.”




“Who would be willing to take that chance?” Omaha asked.




The hodja stepped forward. “I will. I sense the truth in her words.” Coral took a deep breath, licked her lips, and spoke. “I’m afraid you’re too weak. And I don’t mean physically…at least not exactly.” Lu’lu frowned.




Coral explained, “With the storm raging, the forces out there are intense. It will take more than experience. It will take someone extremely rich in buckyballs.” Turning, Coral’s eyes met Safia’s. “As you know, I tested several of the Rahim, including the elder here. They only have a tenth of the buckyballs found in your cells.” Safia frowned. “How is that possible? I’m only half Rahim.”




“But the right half. Your mother was Rahim. It was her mitochondria that were passed to your cells. And there is a condition in nature called ‘hybrid vigor,’ where the crossing of two different lines produces stronger offspring than crossing the same line over and over again.” Danny nodded to the side. “Mutts are basically healthier than pure-breds.”




“You’re new blood,” Coral concluded. “And the mitochondria like it.”




Omaha stepped to Safia’s side. “You want her to walk to the trapped sphere. Through that electrical storm.” Coral nodded. “I believe she’s the only one who could make it.”




“Screw that,” Omaha said.




Safia squeezed his elbow. “I’ll do it.”




8:07 P.M.




O MAHA WATCHED Safia standing out on the sandy path in the courtyard. She had refused to let him come. She was alone with the hodja. So he waited in the entryway. Painter stood vigil with him. The man looked none too pleased with Safia’s choice either. In this, the two men were united.




But this choice was Safia’s.




Her argument was simple and irrefutable: Either it works or we all die anyway.




So the men waited.




Sandstorm




Safia listened.




“It is not hard,” the hodja said. “To become invisible is not a concentration of will. It is the letting go of will.” Safia frowned. But the hodja’s words matched Coral’s. The mitochondria produced charged buckyballs aligned to the energy signature in the room. All she had to do was let them settle into their natural alignment.




The hodja held out a hand. “First you’ll need to strip out of your clothes.” Safia glanced sharply at her.




“Clothes affect our ability to turn invisible. If that woman scientist was right with all that mumbo jumbo, clothes might interfere with the field we generate over our bodies. Better safe than sorry.” Safia shed her cloak, kicked her boots off, and shimmied out of blouse and pants. In her bra and panties, she turned to Lu’lu. “Lycra and silk. I’m keeping them on.” She shrugged. “Now relax yourself. Find a place of comfort and peace.”




Safia took deep breaths. After years of panic attacks, she had learned methods for centering herself. But it seemed too small, a pittance against the pressure around her.




“You must have faith,” the hodja said. “In yourself. In your blood.” Safia inhaled deeply. She glanced back to the palace, to Omaha and Painter. In the men’s eyes, she saw their need to help her. But this was her path. To walk alone. She knew this in places beyond where her heart beat.




She turned forward, resolved but scared. So much blood had been shed in the past. In Tel Aviv…at the museum…on the long road here. She had brought all of these folks here. She could no longer hide. She had to walk this path.




Safia closed her eyes and let all doubt flow from her.




This was her path.




She evened her breathing, releasing control to a more natural rhythm.




“Very good, child. Now take my hand.”




Safia reached over and gripped the old woman’s palm, gratefully, surprised at the strength there. She continued to relax. Fingers squeezed, reassuring her. She recognized the touch from long ago. It was her mother’s hand. Warmth flowed from this connection. It swelled through her.




“Step forward,” the hodja whispered. “Trust me.”




It was her mother’s voice. Calm, reassuring, firm.




Safia obeyed. Bare feet moved from sand to glass. One foot, then the other. She moved off the path, her arm behind her, holding her mother’s hand.




“Open your eyes.”




She did, breathing evenly, keeping the warmth of maternal love deep inside her. But eventually one had to let go. She slipped her fingers free and took another step. The warmth stayed with her. Her mother was gone, but her love lived on, in her, in her blood, in her heart.




She walked on as the storm raged in flame and glass.




At peace.




Sandstorm




Omaha was on his knees. He didn’t even know when he fell. He watched Safia walk away, shimmering, still present, but ethereal. As she brushed through the shadow under the courtyard archway, she completely vanished for a moment.




He held his breath.




Then, beyond the palace grounds, she reappeared, a wisp, moving steadily downward, limned in storm light.




Tears brimmed in his eyes.




Her face, caught in silhouette, was so contented. If given the chance, he would spend the rest of his life making sure she never lost that look.




Painter shifted, moving back, as silent as a tomb.




Sandstorm




Painter climbed the stairs to the second level, leaving Omaha alone. He crossed to where the entire group gathered. All eyes watched Safia’s progress down through the lower city.




Coral glanced to him, her expression worried.




And with good reason.




The swirling vortex of charges neared the lake’s surface. Below it, the lake continued its own whirling churn, and in the center, lit by the fires above, a water spout was rising upward, a reverse whirlpool. The energies above and the antimatter below were stretching to join.