Gray came to us without a name. She arrived at Grantham Barracks riding in the back seat of a nondescript black Lincoln Continental. Her car was the second, or "principal" vehicle, in a three-car security detail. I watched it enter our underground parking lot accompanied by the whisper of engines and the shish of tires. A gleaming black Chevy Suburban had the blocking position in front; the chase vehicle, a Tahoe, followed close enough behind to have nursed on the principal's bumper.
I stood outside Grantham's underground entrance with a team of orderlies, Gray's admission papers and commitment orders in hand.
The vehicles rolled to a stop; armed agents wearing black tactical gear burst from the doors. After they established a defensive perimeter, a uniformed captain stepped out from the Lincoln's passenger door. He looked around warily before opening the sedan's rear coach door.
I thought it all a bit overly dramatic for a patient transfer.
The way the tall woman swung her legs out and emerged from the back seat, she might have been some exotic lotus. She wore a blaze- orange jumpsuit and white athletic shoes. Her wrists were manacled and chained, as were her ankles. The baggy prison garb barely disguised her supple body, high bust, and broad shoulders.
I'd never seen a woman with such presence. Reaching her full height, she shook her tawny hair back. The effect was electric. She paused—a queen casting her curious gaze about a new but unbecoming kingdom. Then she fixed the most incredible eyes on mine: a piercing laser-blue like I'd never seen.
Rather than beautiful, I would have called her mesmerizing. She looked patrician, with a high brow, straight and proportioned nose, sculpted cheeks, and delicate jaw. The slight crow's-feet at the corners of her eyes didn't match the youthful tone of her bronzed skin; the lushness in her lips contrasted with the maturity in her gaze. My guess placed her around thirty.
Ignoring the captain, she walked toward me with a dancer's practiced grace. Each step measured precisely to the length of the confining chain at her ankles.
She stopped a pace short and fixed me with an imperious gaze.
The captain offered me a clipboard. Disturbed by the woman's magnetism, I concentrated on the paperwork. Age, date of birth, and place of birth had "unknown" written in each box. Then I glanced at the line where it said "Name." Her identity seemed to be "Prisoner Alpha."
The way my orderlies were gaping, Aphrodite might have sprung magically to life before their very eyes. I glanced sidelong at the woman, the skin on that side of my body almost prickling from her curious aura. "Do you have a name?"
She was studying me with those intense blue eyes. "Medicus eras?"
Her words were thick with an unfamiliar accent.
"A psychiatrist," I told her. "Both a PhD and MD. My name is Colonel Timothy Ryan. Retired. I'm in charge of Grantham Barracks. I'll be responsible for your care and evaluation here."
"What...is?" She jerked her head by way of indicating the concrete pillars, the parking lot, and the glass doorway that led to the interior of Grantham's Ward Six.
"It's a military psychiatric hospital," I replied. "I've reviewed the transcripts of your arrest and interrogation. They've labeled you a threat to national security and think you're either autistic or a very clever liar. I'm to find out."
I was watching for the tells, the slight dilation of the pupils, the tensing of an eyelid, or a quiver at the corner of the mouth. All I read was incomprehension. Fugue state? No, she was too alert and responsive, the eyes clear and much too intelligent.
"Mistake," she whispered. Then broke into a sorrowful string of incomprehensible utterances. When people speak in tongues, they follow the rules of pronunciation in their own language. English speakers don't make up nonsense words beginning with ng, unvocalized L, or glottal clicks. She wasn't a native speaker.
"Sign here, sir." The captain indicated the places on the forms. The name tag pinned to his chest said STANWICK
I scrawled my name on the appropriate lines.
"She's all yours, Colonel." He saluted even though I'm retired and technically a civilian contractor according to the Department of Defense.
Captain Stanwick turned on his heel and marched back to the gleaming Lincoln. At his signal, the security team broke for the vehicles.
I heard the hollow pop! Felt a weird tingling on my skin, my hair prickling, and the world seemed to wobble as if a wave had passed through it.