Their noise echoed through the underground lab from cage to cage while monkeys clung to their metal bars and mice raced in blind circles. The dogs dumped their water dishes and slammed against metal walls insulated to cover both threats and screams.
The only man in the room watched with eyes like ice.
Gabriel Enrique Cruz savored the disorder, arrogant even now. With the bearing of a born leader, he measured the activity around him, calculating his next tactical move.
Once—before the drugs and the lapses—he had been called a hero. Now Cruz was simply another lab animal, entirely expendable, valued only for research data in a secret government report. One glance told him that both surveillance cameras were running. A security team would be here within four minutes. Whenever something went wrong, they always came looking for him.
This time he would be ready.
He tossed his shredded blanket over the nearest camera. While the monkeys howled and four Rottweilers banged against their metal cages, he checked the clock on the opposite wall. Ninety seconds until the armed response team hit the double doors to the lab.
Locked inside a six-by-three-foot cage, Cruz ignored the restless animals, the boxes of experimental medicine, and the rows of top-secret equipment.
Sixty seconds.
He shaped his thoughts to stillness and power, becoming the deadly weapon he was trained to be.
An owl flew from its perch near the door and slammed full force into the camera above his head, cracking the glass. The other animals froze.
Watching Cruz. Waiting for his next command.
Forty-five seconds.
As he stared at the Rottweilers, the dogs began to tremble. Working together, they nosed the heavy steel bar off its hook at the front of their cage. Under the force of Cruz's mental commands, their muscles jerked and strained while the bar climbed slowly—then crashed to the floor.
Thirty seconds.
One silent command brought the dogs hard against their doors. The biggest Rottweiler raced to a crowded desk and nudged an electronic key card from a pile of papers. With the card between his teeth, the dog raced back, and Cruz grabbed the plastic from his jaws. He waved it at the scanning unit on the wall. A green light flashed.
His cage door slid open.
The animals were silent now, twisting with excitement. Ruthlessly, Cruz crushed all feelings of pleasure. He couldn't afford emotion until he was miles away from the underground military base that appeared on no map.
As he stepped out of the cage that had held him for months, the Rottweilers raced through the lab, lifting the bars, cage by cage, to free the other animals. Two black howler monkeys leaped onto the keys of the big mainframe computer on the far wall. Cruz scattered them with a silent command and brought the databases online. When the computer screen queried him for a password, he smiled, prepared for this, too.
His fingers raced through a carefully memorized string of numbers and a file opened. Quickly he scanned the highlighted data, noting birth, military training, and current residence of the Navy SEAL he sought. Then he pulled up another password-protected file and scanned its contents. A bullet cracked behind him, ricocheting off metal cabinets. Snapping silent orders to the Rottweilers, Cruz closed the file and hit the escape key. The computer screen went dark just as a uniformed figure staggered through the doorway.
Instantly, the two dogs lunged at his throat. Blood sprayed the floor as the soldier fell, jerked once, and lay still in a crimson pool.
The big dogs turned. Their ears pricked forward as they stepped delicately over the body on the tile. Awaiting Cruz's next command.
The din grew, every cage open and every animal freed. A gorilla shuffled past, his eyes sullen and watchful. Cruz's silent command was sent and received. The animal lurched forward, unaware that he was about to face a wall of bullets. The second he cleared the double doors, shouts exploded in the hallway, drowned out by gunfire.
More animals poured out after the gorilla.
Quickly, Cruz flipped off the lights and crawled inside a red bin with a warning logo stenciled on the lid. The underground facility's medical waste was collected like clockwork. Like everything here, routines were followed precisely.
And for once the well-oiled procedures would work in Cruz's favor. The worker in charge of transporting medical waste had negotiated hard: thirty thousand dollars for the initial transfer—with ten times more to come as soon as his hidden passenger was safely delivered outside the grounds.
The irony didn't escape Cruz. In the government's eyes, he was no more than medical waste, the end product of an expensive and highly experimental program using human genetics to shape superior tactical capabilities.
Cruz had gone rogue.
And though his captors didn't yet realize it, their experiment had been a stunning success.