Shaun and I exchanged a look, his expression making it clear that he understood what was going on about as well as I did—which was to say, not at all. Somehow, that didn’t make me feel any better.
The Monkey and the Cat joined us at the closet, both of them taking weapons of their own. The Cat glared at us the whole time, like this was somehow our fault.
“This is what’s going to happen now.” The Fox was suddenly calm, like having a group of armed men firing on her house was what it took to bring out her saner side. “We’re going to go out the back door. We’re going to circle around the side of the house. And then we’re going to shoot those f**kers until they stop squirming. Any questions? No? Good. Follow me.”
“I’m not sure which is worse,” muttered Shaun. “The fact that we’re following the crazy girl, or the fact that she sounds so damn happy about it.”
“I’m going to go with ‘the fact that we don’t have a choice,’ ” said Becks. “Maggie, you’re in the middle.”
“Yes, I am,” said Maggie, putting herself behind Becks and Shaun, and in front of me and Mahir. We followed the Fox, with the Cat and the Monkey bringing up the rear. I had the distinct feeling we were being used as human shields. Not that it mattered. There were men with guns outside, and as long as the Cat and the Monkey weren’t shooting us in the back, I didn’t care where they walked. I already knew we couldn’t count on them.
We reached the Fox as she was prying the last sheets of plywood off the back door. Shaun stepped in and helped her finish, revealing a pre-Rising sliding glass door that had been boarded over for good reason.
“This place was a death trap,” I muttered.
Mahir shot me a half-amused glance. “Was?” he asked.
It felt odd to be laughing during a firefight. Then again, if you can’t laugh when you’re about to die, when can you? The sound of gunfire covered any noises we might make, at least until we left the house.
The back porch had been reinforced at some point, more structural improvement concealed by a veil of cosmetic decay. The seemingly rotten wooden steps had no give to them at all. The Fox slunk through the knee-high grass as quietly as her namesake. I tried to emulate her, failing utterly as the gravel beneath the grass bit into my already injured feet. The best I could manage was not making any more noise than was absolutely necessary as I followed the rest of the group to the corner.
Once we were there, the Fox turned, smiled at the rest of us, sketched a curtsey clumsy enough to seem entirely sincere, and bolted back the way we’d come.
The Monkey realized what she was doing before the rest of us did—he knew her better than anyone, except for maybe the Cat, who had already locked her free hand around his elbow. He tried to run after the Fox as she pelted up the porch steps and back into the house. The Cat held him back.
“No,” she hissed. “Do that, and this was for nothing.”
He turned to look at her, a cold anger burning in her eyes. “Don’t think I’ll forgive you.”
The Cat didn’t say anything.
The sound of gunshots from the front of the house suddenly took on a new, more frantic timbre, accompanied by the distant but recognizable sound of the Fox’s laughter. At least someone was having a good day. Shaun looked back to me.
“There’s no plan B,” he said.
I nodded. “I know.”
There was no one left for us to run to, and nowhere to run except the van. That meant we had to take the opportunity the Fox had created for us, no matter how insane that opportunity seemed. Shaun looked to Becks, making a complex gesture with one hand. She nodded, picking up on his unspoken command. I felt a flush of jealousy. Just how close had they gotten while I was dead, anyway?
I forced the feeling away. It was none of my business, and even if it was, this wasn’t the time. The Fox was still laughing, but it had a pained edge to it, like she was running out of steam. It was now or never. Being occasionally suicidal, but not stupid, we chose now.
It wasn’t until we were running around to the front of the house that I realized the Cat was no longer with us. The Monkey was running alongside Mahir, but his… whatever she was… was gone. The Fox was still shooting from the kitchen window, keeping the majority of the team in the driveway occupied through sheer dint of being impossible to ignore. Either her aim was incredibly good or she was using armor-piercing bullets; five of them were already down, leaving another nine standing. Part of me was pleased to see that they’d considered a bunch of journalists enough of a threat to send fourteen armed CDC guards to take us down. The rest of me wished they’d been willing to settle for a sternly worded cease- and desist-letter.
Journalism must have been very different before people resolved so many of their conflicts with bullets.
The men from the CDC were so busy shooting at the house that we made it halfway to the van before they noticed us. Three more of them went down in the interim. I was starting to think we might make it when the Fox screamed, a gasping, quickly cut-off sound, and the gunfire from the house stopped. The Monkey froze, face going white. Then he screamed and rushed toward the driveway, opening fire as he ran.
The guards who were still standing turned toward the sound of gunfire. “Oh, sh—” began Shaun, and then they were firing on us, and there was no time left for conversation.
Maggie and Mahir hit the ground, leaving Becks, Shaun, and I to return fire. Fortunately for us, the guards were distracted by the Monkey’s suicide charge; he took down two of the six remaining men before going down in a hail of blood and bullets. That left four standing, all with more firepower and better armor than we had. Our next step didn’t need to be discussed. We stopped firing, raising hands and weapons toward the sky. If we were lucky, they’d want prisoners they could question even more than they’d want bodies they could bury.
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