Black Lightning

PROLOGUE

Five Years Ago—

Experiment Number Forty-Seven

It was a ballet the man had danced so many times before that the first steps had become familiar enough to be performed automatically, with little if any thought at all. If he’d been asked, he couldn’t have said exactly what it was about this particular subject that first caught his attention, what particularly had piqued his interest in including her in his study. Certainly not age—he’d never been interested in the relative youth of any of his subjects.

Nor did sex matter. There were nearly as many men as women among his subjects; whatever gender imbalances existed in his study group were purely a matter of chance, and, he was certain, statistically insignificant. Not that his critics would ignore whatever imbalances existed when they began analyzing his work—he was all too aware that every possible nuance of his study would be minutely examined, that every possible interpretation, no matter how outlandish, would be applied to his choice of subjects.

But the fact was that he really hadn’t come up with any standard criteria for selecting participants in the experiments. Neither race nor gender, age nor sexual orientation, had counted.

Nor had he ever been particularly concerned about whether he invited the subject to join his study, or whether the subject was the one to make the first contact.

His current subject had made the first contact herself, as it happened, and he had almost rejected her on the basis that she seemed somehow familiar to him, that he knew her from somewhere. Familiarity was the single grounds for automatic ineligibility for the project, for he could never be certain of his own objectivity if he had previously existing feelings for the subject, whether positive or negative.

He’d first become aware of the woman a couple of weeks ago, when he’d happened into a shop near the university for a cup of coffee. He’d briefly noticed her when he’d come in, sitting near the door alone, a copy of the Seattle Herald spread out on the table before her. He’d paid little attention to her until he bought his own coffee and settled into a chair several tables away.

Had he subconsciously known even then that he would include her in the project? He would have to consider that.

It had been she who first smiled at him, then come over and asked if she could join him. As he recalled it now, she said something she seemed to consider witty, about them not taking up any more room on the planet than they absolutely had to, and he produced the expected smile for her. But instead of inviting her to sit down, he pleaded work, and she left.

For the next ten minutes he’d tried to figure out why she looked familiar, but it hadn’t finally come to him until he opened his own paper to the editorial section and his eye had been caught by one of the columns:

How Much Longer?

Police Fiddle While Seattle Dies

Another week has passed, and the Special Task Force set up by the Seattle Police Department in cooperation with the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol seems no closer than ever to an arrest in connection with the series of bodies that has turned up in the foothills of the Cascades over the past five years. Indeed, thus far all the police seem to have determined is that all the victims appear to have been killed by the same person, a conclusion anyone who has seen the bodies couldn’t easily have missed.

Yet when I talked to several members of the task force this week …

It hadn’t