CHAPTER TWENTY

A movement at the door caught both their attention. A figure rushed into the room and flew at Ambecrombe.

Even for his age, Ambecrombe was unusually fast. He was several feet from the door as the figure rushed in. He turned and fired the pistol twice at the figure.

Peter didn't hesitate a minute. He launched himself at Ambecrombe just as the second shot fired. He hit Ambecrombe square on, sending the older man colliding with the wall. The gun dropped to the floor and slid under the desk.

Peter looked at Ambecrombe and saw that the man was unconscious. He then turned and looked at the figure that now lay on the floor.

Marissa lay on the floor, her hand clutched to her chest. Peter rushed to her side and carefully moved her hand to inspect the damage.

Ambecrombe's aim had been better than Peter would have imagined. Two bullet holes could be seen in Marissa's chest and the front of her clothes were covered in blood. Peter cradled Marissa in his arms.

"It's okay, Peter," Marissa gasped. "I should have died in the fire of '66. You can't worry about me. Those shots will alert the guards. I've disabled the security system so that they won't be able to fix it for several days. Get out while you still can."

"How did you know I was in trouble?" asked Peter.

"After I turned off the security cameras," said Marissa, "I turned the one in this room back on. When I saw Ambecrombe come in, I figured you would need help. I got here as quickly as I could."

"I'm not leaving you," said Peter. "We leave together or we don't leave at all."

"Peter," said Marissa, taking his hand, "this involves more than you and me. You have to get the information back to Bill and Sharon. This whole thing has to be exposed. If you don't get out with the information, GenCo will go on with its work. You have to get the information out."

Peter was torn. He knew that Marissa was right. But he also knew that she was dying and it was his fault. He couldn't just leave here her. To bleed to death alone.

"Peter," said Marissa, "if you don't get the information out then my death will have no meaning. I'll have died for nothing. There's nothing you can do for me. But you can see to it that my death isn't in vain. Get the information out. That's your duty now."

Peter walked back over to the desk and picked up the files he had been looking at. He knelt down beside Marissa once more.

"Don't worry," he said. "I'll get it out. I'll expose GenCo and stop what they're doing. I promise."

Then he gingerly bent down and kissed Marissa.

Peter glanced over where Ambecrombe had fallen. The doctor was nowhere to be seen. Apparently he had come to and sneaked out of the room while Peter was busy with Marissa.

Peter couldn't worry about that now. He shoved the files into his shirt, and then picked up the pistol that Ambecrombe had dropped. Then turned and left the room. He stopped at the door and looked back at Marissa before he left.

"Take care of yourself, Peter Silver," said Marissa.

Peter produced a weak smile then turned and left the room.

Getting out of the building was going to be harder than getting in. Security would almost certainly have been alerted to the presence of an intruder by now. And they would have discovered the sabotaged security systems. Every guard in the complex would be out looking for him.

He decided against the escape route that he and Marissa had agreed upon. That would take him through almost the entire building and then across several dozen feet of exposed ground.

Instead, he headed up. He gained the top floor of the building without encountering a single guard. He reasoned that the guards would begin searching on the ground floor and work their way up. He would gain precious minutes by heading for the roof.

As he emerged on the roof of the building he took several minutes to get his bearings. The southeast corner of the building was the closest to the fence. If he remembered the layout from the blueprints, it was only about forty feet from the edge of the building to the fence.

His plan was simple. Get a running start and hope that he could jump far enough to clear the fence. It wouldn't take the guards long to make their way to the roof and he would be trapped there if he hesitated. He began to work his way to the southeast corner of the building.

Peter looked over the corner of the building. Four stories straight down and nearly forty feet away was the fence. He saw several guards patrolling the perimeter of the fence, but none seemed to be overly excited. No one was running around shouting, no guard dogs sniffing around the grounds, no alarms blaring in the distance.

Peter backed away from the corner. Apparently the shots that Ambecrombe had fired hadn't alerted the guards. He toyed with the idea of going back for Marissa, but almost immediately decided against it. No one would have survived long with wounds like she had suffered. And she was right. He had to get the files back to Bill.

"Peter, give it up," sounded Ambecrombe's voice from behind Peter.

Peter turned and saw Ambecrombe and two guards standing about fifty feet away. The guards had M-16s pointed at Peter. He looked around and saw an air conditioning vent to his left. It was big enough to hide a man.

"It's over," said Ambecrombe. "Someone has already gone to alert the rest of the guards. Within minutes the entire complex will be sealed. You won't be able to get away."

"How did you know I was here?" asked Peter, stalling for time.

"A calculated chance," said Ambecrombe. "I figured you'd do something unexpected. Going to the roof seemed the least likely choice. So I figured you'd head up here."

"You expect me to just give up and let you kill me?" asked Peter.

"Oh, I don't think that will be necessary," said Ambecrombe. "You see, we can erase your memory. You won't remember anything at all. Then, you can be reprogrammed. I've decided you're much too valuable to just kill. There's so much you can tell us and help us with."

Peter didn't believe Ambecrombe. He knew that Ambecrombe would kill him the minute he had the files in his hands. The pistol Peter had picked up was shoved in his belt behind his back. Even though the guards had automatic weapons, Peter judged that there was enough distance between them for him to safely dive behind the vent to his left.

"Suppose I agree to this," said Peter, trying to buy some time. "Would you guarantee my safety out of here?"

"Absolutely," said Ambecrombe. "You have my word on it."

His word, thought Peter. The word of a murderer. Somehow that didn't make Peter feel any better.

"Okay," said Peter. "Just tell your men to hold their fire."

"They won't shoot unless I give the word," said Ambecrombe.

Peter looked around then took a step towards the trio. Suddenly he launched himself to the left. As he landed safely behind the vent, the two guards opened up with their weapons.

Bullets ricocheted off the vent. Peter removed the pistol from his belt and waited. Nothing happened for several minutes. Apparently none of the men were willing to simply walk up and take him.

That gave Peter some solace. They were afraid of him. That meant they weren't sure exactly what he was capable of. He peered around the side of the vent.

The three men had taken positions behind vents similar to the one which Peter was behind. Peter could see the barrels of the rifles pointed in his direction. Ambecrombe peered out from behind a vent.

"Peter, this is ridiculous," said Ambecrombe. "You have nowhere to go. And other guards are heading up here right now. Within a few minutes they'll be enough men up here to take you no matter how fast or strong you are. Don't make this any harder than it has to be."

Somehow Peter knew that Ambecrombe was lying. He kept insisting that other guards were running to the roof at that very instant. But there was a line from a Shakespeare play that kept running through Peter's mind.

Me thinks thou dost protest too much.

Ambecrombe was trying desperately to convince Peter that the situation was hopeless. Maybe it wasn't as hopeless as Ambecrombe was saying. He still couldn't let knowledge of his unauthorized experiment get out. Which meant that he couldn't tell anyone about it.

The guards with him were probably involved in the experiment from the very beginning. And Ambecrombe wouldn't inform anyone else unless he had no chance. If he could convince Peter that the situation was hopeless, and if Peter surrendered, he wouldn't need to let anyone else in on his secret.

Peter lay prone on the roof. He peered around the edge of the vent. From here he had a clear shot at the two guards. Ambecrombe kept looking around the vent, then pulling his head back behind it. Which meant that he wasn't used to being in a gun battle.

Peter knew he had no choice. It was either the guards or him. Carefully he leveled the pistol towards one of the guards. He took careful aim through the sights of the gun. Even in the dark he could see the guards clearly. He squeezed off a round from the pistol.

The bullet impacted with the guard and the man was sent sprawling backward. The M-16 clattered to the roof and the guard lay on the roof, blood covering his head.

Revulsion swept over Peter. Killing another human being wasn't the glorious, thrill experience that was depicted in the movies. It only made Peter sick.

The other guard quickly dodged behind the vent he was hiding behind. Well, at least Peter had made his point. He wouldn't be taken without a fight.

"Peter, this is not going to work," shouted Ambecrombe. "And now you're a murderer as well."

"Not really," responded Peter, checking the clip. Seven rounds remained in the clip. With one in the chamber, that meant that he had eight shots left. "I'm defending myself. There's a difference. I don't want to kill anyone, but I won't just walk to the slaughter like so many of your lab animals."

Peter peered around the vent again but was unable to get a clear shot at the other guard. He glanced at the vent behind which Ambecrombe hid. Ambecrombe couldn't make it to the M-16 lying on the roof without affording Peter a clear shot of him.

"There doesn't have to be any more killing," shouted Peter. "Get off the roof. Let me walk out of here and no one else will die."

"I'm afraid I can't do that," said Ambecrombe. "The files you have can put an end to our research. I can't let you leave with those files."

"Okay," said Peter. "If I leave the files on the roof, will you let me go then?"

There were several moments of silence. Ambecrombe must be considering the proposal. Peter knew that Ambecrombe realized that things had gotten out of hand. He had been waiting for Peter at the Institute. He had expected to kill Peter and end the entire affair quickly.

But now Peter was still alive and had the information that could destroy Ambecrombe. Without the files, Peter couldn't prove anything.

"Very well," said Ambecrombe. "Leave all the files on the roof and we'll let you go."

Peter knew that would never happen. As long as he had the files, he had something to bargain with. They were going to kill him in any case.

But he had to do something they wouldn't expect. To catch them off guard. The longer this went on the more likely that Ambecrombe was to call for backup. He'd have to risk letting his secret out.

He peered around the side of the vent. Ambecrombe wasn't in view, but he could see the rifle from the other guard pointed at him. He gauged the distance to the guard he had killed and decided that it was worth the risk. He aimed his pistol at the still living guard and squeezed off four rounds. Then he got up and ran as fast as he could towards the guard that lay dead on the roof.

The other guard ducked behind the vent to avoid the shots fired at him but when the shots subsided he looked out around his vent. Seeing Peter running across the roof he took aim and began to fire.

"Kill him, you fool," shouted Ambecrombe.

Several shots struck the roof near Peter's feet. But he was already more than half-way to the vent. Suddenly a bullet struck Peter in the left arm and the impact sent him sprawling to the roof. He landed with a heavy "thud" and the files inside his shirt were scattered to the wind.

Peter didn't hesitate. Ignoring the pain in his arm, he regained his footing and ran the last few feet to the vent. Safely behind the vent, he picked up the M-16, and then inspected his wound.

It wasn't serious. The bullet had only grazed him, but it still bled. He pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket and tied it around the wound.

"This foolishness is at an end," shouted Ambecrombe. "You've been too much trouble. You can't get off the roof and it's only a matter of time before the rest of the guards get here. I can afford to wait."

Peter looked at the papers being scattered by the wind. There was no way to retrieve them without exposing himself to the other gunman. The M-16 he held had almost a full clip, but that wouldn't be enough to hold off all the security forces of the installation.

Peter crept to the side of the building. Four stories straight down. He really didn't see any choice. There was no way he'd make it to the stairs, and he'd probably meet guards on their way up if he did. If he tried to reach the southwest corner of the building, the waiting gunman would probably cut him down before he was half-way there.

Peter shoved the pistol into his belt and slung the rifle across his back. Then he lifted himself over the side of the building and let himself down as far as his arms could reach.

"Doctor," said the other gunman, "he's going over the side of the building. I can't get a clear shot at him."

"Notify the rest of the security forces," said Ambecrombe. "He's not to leave this complex alive. Order them to shoot to kill."

"Yes sir," said the guard, and Peter heard a radio being activated. Silently he dropped to the ground below.