One by one they stood, gathering themselves and beginning the long walk down the hallway through which they’d come.

McCarter lingered, his attention held by the body they’d found. For a moment he contemplated taking it, or at least part of it. He’d removed bones and artifacts from sites all around the world, but this felt different, as if he’d seen something never meant for his eyes. In a moment of unscientific emotion, he decided against it. He stood slowly and joined the group.

Thirty minutes later they had reached the top of the zigzagging tunnel. Once they had crawled across the narrow planks, Hawker knocked the brace from beneath the stone and the massive block of granite came down like a hammer, crushing the wooden planks and sending their splintered remains plummeting into the well down below.

They hoped that would keep whatever animals were still living in the cave trapped down there, but one look into the well told them that more needed to be done. It seemed likely that the acidic lake in the cave flowed into the acidic water at the bottom of the well, and having seen how the animals could climb, no one doubted that they could make their way up the chimney of stone. They made plans to put a motion sensor over the pit and to set up a trip wire with explosives as well. Whether it would be enough to secure the structure they didn’t know, but they didn’t want anything coming out unannounced.

A moment later they were out in the pungent jungle air, breathing freely and squinting against the blinding midday light. Brazos waited for them, guarding the prisoners with a rifle.

“Can we go now?” he asked.

Danielle looked at Hawker, then nodded. “We’re leaving.”

Devers and Eric stood up, but Kaufman remained on the ground, apparently uninterested in moving.

“We’re not going to carry you,” Hawker said. “So unless you want to get shot and left behind, get on your damn feet.”

Kaufman didn’t move. “If you walk out into that jungle, you’ll never see the other side; in fact, you’ll probably never see tomorrow. The animals from last night, they’ll hunt us in the forest. They’re already out there. You know that. The natives are as well. And in that place they have all the advantages.”

“Do you have a better option?” Danielle asked.

“I have help coming,” Kaufman replied, proudly.

“Of course,” Danielle said. “Your helicopter.”

“I was wondering when I’d see that bastard again,” Hawker said.

“Yes, the bastard who shot you down.” Kaufman said, smugly.

Hawker smiled at the veiled insult. “Wasn’t really a fair fight. But if we can fly out of here instead of walk, I’ll kiss the son of a bitch.”

“I’ll bring him in,” Kaufman said, “but I want something in return.”

“You’ll get your life in return,” Danielle responded. “That ought to be enough.”

Hawker smiled. “She’s the boss.”

Kaufman pursed his lips. He was in no position to bargain.

Hawker pointed to the shortwave radio. “Let’s get out of here before nightfall.”

“Yes,” Kaufman said, strangely. “That would be preferable. I only wish we could.”

“And why can’t we?”

“Try the radio,” the CEO said. “See what you get.”

Hawker switched the radio on and received a sharp squeal and then a painful burst of static. He switched frequencies, to no avail, and then shut it off. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Almost every electronic device we’ve brought in has malfunctioned,” Kaufman said. “Or is on the verge of doing so. Both shortwaves are down—ours and yours.”

“From what?” Hawker asked.

“The radiation in this area has an electromagnetic component to it,” Kaufman explained, “one that destroys transistors and other micro-electric circuitry. It’s similar to what the military calls EMP—Electro-Magnetic Pulse. The more compact the device is, or the more power that runs through it, the quicker it fails. That’s why the shortwaves went first. If we had an old-fashioned radio with vacuum tubes in it, it might still be working. But printed circuit boards die quickly out here.”

Danielle spoke up. “He’s right. Things were going down before they came. Including the satlink.”

“Well, some of the equipment is working,” Hawker said. “The defense grid, the walkie-talkies.”

Kaufman nodded. “Those items have a military pedigree. They’re hardened against this type of thing, because you find a giant electro-magnetic burst in any atomic explosion, and the military doesn’t want everything going down when the big war begins. But all the equipment will fail eventually, it’s just a matter of time. So, if you want me to make a call, you need to find a milspec radio, and soon.”

“Can we use this one?” McCarter asked, holding up the ELF radio.

“Sure,” Kaufman said, sarcastically. “If you want to be rescued by a submarine.”

“Normal radios won’t pick it up,” Hawker explained to McCarter, then turned back to Kaufman. “You have some type of contingency, I assume.”

“I do,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, my people have been operating silently, just like you. No calls in, no calls out. Without an early request to expedite the process, my pilot will return with supplies at a pre-arranged time, approximately seventy-two hours from now. He’ll fly into the area and wait for a signal. He’ll be expecting a specific flare pattern. Once he gets it, he’ll make a final approach and land. Then we can fly out of here, avoiding what I can only characterize as a most unpleasant walk.”

“What do you think?” Danielle asked Hawker. “Can it carry all of us?”

“Maybe,” Hawker said. “Weight might be a problem, but we should be able to off-load some fuel.” He turned back to Kaufman. “How far is your staging area?”

“I have a barge in the river about a hundred miles from here.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Brazos said.

“I agree,” McCarter added. “I was too quick to judge the merits of helicopter travel before, I should like to try it again.”

Hawker watched them grasping at the hope that the helicopter represented. It seemed a rational choice, far preferable to fighting their way through the jungle, but it would come with other dangers, not the least of which was trusting Kaufman. Still, hope was a powerful motivator and Hawker saw no reason to dash that spark. He looked at Danielle, who nodded.

“All right,” he said, “we’ll wait for your extraction. But if something goes wrong, if your bird comes back and tries to take us out, or if some friends of yours come crawling out of the jungle to challenge us, I promise you, you’ll be the one who regrets it. In other words: don’t fuck with us. It’ll end badly for you.”

At his most basic, Kaufman was a man of business, not given to emotion or sentiment. What he cared about was the bottom line, the end result. In this case, that was survival. Given the choice of dying in the jungle or going back to the States in chains, he’d gladly face justice, with his Armani-clad lawyers at his side and all the NRI’s abuses to bring to light. In truth, he doubted it would get that far. Deals had a way of being struck.

“I’m sure it would,” he said finally, then turned away from Hawker and studied Danielle. It was hard not to notice the disappointment etched on her face. He knew what the NRI was after. Mainly because he’d had access to their early data, and his people—Lang, primarily—had reached the same conclusions. They were all after the same thing: the cold-fusion machinery, which they believed had been left here. To go through all they had been through and end up with nothing … In his own way, he felt a sense of sympathy for Danielle.

“Is there nothing down there?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she replied. “Nothing but empty space and stone and death.”

Kaufman’s disappointment ran as deeply as hers, his regret just as real. “A great pity,” he said. “After all that’s happened, a greater shame.”

Black Rain