Excerpt: 'The Regime'

That was his typical response, but it jangled even in his own ears today. He was anything but bored now. He used to say that to indicate he was not at all yet satisfied with his prodigious accomplishments. There was so much more on the horizon, so many more battles to wage and win.

But to have the world at his feet and know it beyond doubt? Nicolae Carpathia was anything but bored. Drunk with intrigue was more like it.

The only reason he had not summoned the physician to his own home was that the clinic had all the equipment necessary for the complete physical assessment he coveted. So far the spirit had not revealed any timetable for his ascendancy, but his entire life had aimed at this. Nicolae had assumed he would have to do it on his own, and perhaps he could have. But with these new resources, what chance did anyone else have?

Rayford told Irene all about his new First Officer, the engine oil light, the maintenance record that showed metal shavings, the seeming innocuousness of it all, and how he was fully confident he could get the craft safely down in Los Angeles.

There had been no problem, even when he lost one engine. That wasn't common, but he had flown heavies that way before. The problem was the weather -- not being able to see until they broke through a low cloud cover, committed to landing -- combined with miscommunication between a U.S. Air jet on the ground that thought it had been cleared for takeoff.

"I had to pull up and go around," Rayford said. "And I still can't believe I didn't hit that plane. It's likely we'd have lost everybody on board both craft."

Irene sat shaking her head. "I pray for your safety, you know," she said. "Well, it worked this time. I prayed too."

She took a breath as if to speak, but hesitated.

"I did," he said. "I did everything I knew to do, but I was still sure we were going to collide, and I found myself calling out, out loud, in front of this new guy, 'God, help me!'"

"And He did, Rafe."

"He must have. The promises though, they were silent. Think they still count?"

She smiled. "The promises? What did you promise?"

"Church every Sunday and prayer every day."

Irene embraced him and laughed. "And you a straight arrow who always follows through on his commitments."

She released him and sat back. "I can tell you're shaken and exhausted, but I've got something to tell you too. Maybe I'll save it until tomorrow when you're up to it." "I'm a little wired. I'll hear it now."

The female nurses and even some of the males seemed unable to take their eyes off Nicolae Carpathia as he made his way to the changing room at the clinic. He was used to that. Enough people had told him how attractive he was, how he had a matinee idol's look. He was less concerned with that just now than he was with how the forty-day fast in the wilderness had affected his health.

"Remind me," the doctor said as he prepared a stress test, "what made this exam so urgent."

"I got lost hiking and my people did not find me for forty days."

"I heard nothing of that. You'd think it would have made the news."

Nicolae smiled. "I could not have my competition so encouraged. My staff would not report my death until months after it occurred."

The doctor measured and weighed him. "Do you have a problem with fibbing, Mr. Nicolae?"

"Me? No. Why?"

"What did you eat when you were stranded?"

"Precious little."

"What?"

"Virtually nothing."

"Please. No small animals, plants, berries, other fruit?"

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