“Seems like it might be a long f**king way to the bottom,” he said.
“So what?” I shrugged. “If we’re going to fall, let’s do it with style. Now come on. That’s an order.”
He blinked, and then smiled. “You’re not my boss anymore, you know.”
“Alaric Kwong, I will always be your boss. Now get in the damn car.”
I followed Alaric to the SUV. He climbed in ahead of me, and I paused to wave to Dr. Shoji and Dr. Kimberley before getting in. Steve closed the door as soon as I was inside, and the locks engaged automatically. There were no handles inside. We wouldn’t be getting out unless someone decided to let us out. Becks and Alaric had gravitated to the far back, leaving Shaun and me closer to the partition that separated us from the driver’s cabin.
“Isn’t this cozy?” said Becks. “If they fill this thing with gas and kill us before we know what’s happening, I swear, the first thing my reanimated corpse eats will be your face, Mason.”
“I’m pretty sure I could kick your ass even if we were all dead,” said Shaun.
Becks shrugged. “You won’t reanimate. It won’t be a contest.”
The two of them continued teasing each other, using sharp comments and verbal barbs as a way to keep calm. Irwins. They all have a few basic personality traits in common, and one of them is a strong dislike for being pinned in small spaces that they don’t control. That sort of thing is a death trap most of the time, and Shaun and Becks were both well trained enough to know it. I ignored the bickering as much as I could, squinting at the black glass divider between us and the front of the car.
If I had still had retinal Kellis-Amberlee, I would have been able to see through that glass and tell who was driving the car. I would have had at least a little more information to use in determining whether or not we were being driven to our deaths. If you’d asked me before I died whether I liked my eyes, I would have looked at you like you were insane. Now that I was someone different, I missed their familiar limits and capabilities. Maybe it was just a matter of firsthand experience—Georgia Mason had it, and I didn’t. Regardless of what it was, or wasn’t, I kept squinting at the glass, wishing I could see what was on the other side.
I was still squinting at the glass when it slid smoothly downward, revealing the shoulders of Steve and our driver. Shaun and Becks immediately stopped sniping at each other, straightening. My shoulders locked, going so tense that it hurt. Shaun grabbed my hand where it was resting against the seat, squeezing until my fingers hurt worse than my shoulders did.
Steve twisted to look at us. “We’re almost there,” he said. There was an odd tightness in his voice, like he wanted to say something, but knew he couldn’t get away with it. That tightness hadn’t been there before, when we were at the EIS—when we weren’t in the car.
Lowering my sunglasses enough to let him see where I was looking, I glanced toward the window. He shook his head. I tried again, this time slanting my gaze toward the dome covering the overhead light. Steve nodded marginally. We were bugged. I looked to Shaun, and saw him nodding, too. Everyone who’d come with me was a trained journalist. They all knew what that exchange had meant.
“Going to tell us where ‘there’ is, big guy, or do we get to try and guess?” Listening to Shaun trying to pretend that he was still the careless thrill seeker who’d signed up to follow the Ryman campaign was almost painful. That man was dead. As dead as the real Georgia Mason.
We were both pretending. We were just doing it in different ways.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” said Steve. “There are a few ground rules I need you to understand. I advise listening closely. Anyone violating the terms will be shot. Your bodies will never be found.”
“Wow. That’s… direct,” said Becks. “What are they?”
“First, you will not broadcast or record anything that happens after leaving this car.”
Yeah, right. “Will there be an EMP shield up to prevent it?”
“Yes, for broadcast, but we’re trusting you on the recording.” He smirked a little. “I managed to convince my superiors that you didn’t need to be searched for recording devices, mostly by showing them the list of what we never managed to take off you when we were on the campaign trail. I suppose they don’t want to be here taking your transmitters off until dawn.”
“Got it, no recording,” said Shaun. “What else?”
“Second, you will not in any way initiate physical contact with anyone who does not initiate physical contact with you.”
“Shake a hand, get shot?” asked Alaric. When Steve nodded, he looked faintly ill. “This gets better and better with every day that passes.”
From the look that crossed Steve’s face, Alaric had no idea just how bad things had gotten. I filed the expression away for later. Whatever was happening here, Steve didn’t like it. That could be useful.
“Third, you will ask questions only when given permission to do so.”
We all stared at him. Telling a carload of reporters not to ask questions was like telling a volcano not to erupt; not only was it pointless, it was likely to end with someone getting hurt. Steve sighed heavily.
“These rules weren’t my idea. I know better. Then again, you coming here wasn’t my idea.” He shook his head. “This is going to end badly. Please try to postpone that as long as possible.” Steve pulled back, and the divider slid upward again, blocking the cabin from view.
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