“You’re achy because you’re getting proper exercise, rather than the illusion of it,” she said, nodding. “That will fade as your body comes into alignment with your idea of what it’s capable of. I’d like to do a full physical, which there simply isn’t time for, but if that’s all you’re experiencing that seems out of the ordinary, I’d say that you’re entirely fine. Better than fine, really. You’re alive.”
“And she’s going to stay that way,” said Shaun.
Dr. Kimberley flashed a rueful smile his way. It was odd seeing her this emotive. Adjusting to her accent had been easier. “Let’s hope you’re the prophet in this scenario, rather than anyone with a more dire view of what’s to come.”
The hall ended at a pair of old-fashioned swinging doors. I frowned, studying them, but couldn’t see anything that looked even remotely like modern security upgrades. They were just doors, unsecured, with no scanners or test units installed beside them. We stopped in a ragged line, all of us looking at those doors—all of us looking for the catch. There had to be a catch.
There was always a catch.
Dr. Shoji didn’t seem to notice our dismay, and neither did Dr. Kimberley. They kept on walking, pushing those unsecured doors open to reveal an underground parking garage, and the big black SUV that was waiting at the curb.
There’s a certain shape of car that just screams “I belong to a private security force.” They’re always big and black and solid-looking, with run-flat tires and bulletproof glass in the windows. And then there are the cars that belong to the Secret Service. The differences are subtle, but you can see them if you know what to look for. Wireless relay webbing built into the rear window, for those times when cell service is compromised. Thin copper lines through the rest of the glass, ready to be turned on and cut off all service, cellular or otherwise. The glass in a Secret Service car isn’t just bulletproof, it’s damn near indestructible. A group of Irwins who modeled themselves after a pre-Rising TV show called MythBusters managed to get hold of a decommissioned Secret Service vehicle a few years ago. They set off six grenades inside the main cabin. The explosions didn’t even scratch the glass.
I once asked a member of Senator Ryman’s security crew whether the Secret Service had a sign on the wall somewhere counting off the number of years since a sitting president had been eaten on their watch. He laughed, but he didn’t look happy about it. I think I was right.
“I miss Steve,” I said quietly, looking at the car.
“Me, too,” said Shaun.
The passenger-side door of the SUV opened, and a big blond mountain of a man unfolded himself, straightening until his head and shoulders were higher than the car’s roof. “It’s good to be remembered,” he said. “Shaun. Georgia.”
Shaun’s mouth fell open as a grin spread across his face. “Steve, my man! What the f**k are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. Last time I saw you, you were in no condition to be causing this much trouble.” Steve turned his face toward me, expression unreadable behind his government-issue sunglasses. I hate it when people use my own tricks on me. “You, on the other hand, were in an urn. Because it was your funeral.” His tone telegraphed what his expression didn’t: He was deeply uncomfortable about my presence.
I shrugged. “Sorry. I guess I was just too stubborn to stay dead for long.”
“Mad science,” said Alaric. “What can’t it do?”
Shaun shook his head, snapping out of his delight over Steve’s appearance. “Sorry, man, I got distracted. Steve, this is Alaric Kwong, one of the site Newsies, and this is Rebecca Atherton, one of our Irwins.”
“Call me Becks,” said Becks. “Everyone else does.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” rumbled Steve. “If you’d all get in the car, please? I have instructions regarding your destination.”
“I’m afraid this is where we leave you,” said Dr. Shoji. “I’ll see you again, but I can’t arrive with you. That would be suspicious.”
“And I’m on house arrest,” said Dr. Kimberley. She smiled at Steve. “I couldn’t even have come this far if we hadn’t been sure of who was going to be coming to collect you.”
“Always glad to help, Dr. Kimberley,” said Steve. He opened the rear passenger door. “We need to get moving. The security changes at midnight, and it will be best if we’re past the checkpoints before that happens.”
“Where are we going?” asked Becks.
Steve didn’t answer. He just folded his arms, and waited.
“Come on,” I said, and started for the car. Working with Steve during the Ryman campaign taught me a lot of things about professional security. Chief among them was that once Steve made up his mind about something, that was the way things were going to go. He’d explain where we were going on the way.
Becks and Shaun followed me. Alaric stayed where he was, looking unsure. I waited until the others were in the car before turning on my heel and crossing back to him.
“This seems a bit… convenient, don’t you think?”
I surprised us both by laughing, a single, sharp expression of both amusement and regret. “This has all been ‘convenient,’ Alaric. They’ve been herding us since Seattle. Maybe before, I don’t know. I wasn’t with you to see the signs. At this point, what’s one more leap of faith between friends?”
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