We were crossing a bridge that actually floated on the surface of a lake—thankfully, the Monkey hadn’t requested we do anything stupid, like drive into the lake; I would have refused, and then I might have had a mutiny on my hands—when Mahir looked up, eyes wide. “Shaun?”
“What?” I asked. “Are we being followed?”
“No. The directions…” He cleared his throat, looked at the screen, and read, “ ‘Turn on your jamming unit. Tune it to channel eight, or these instructions will cease.’ We don’t have a jamming unit, do we?”
“Actually, funny story—hey, Becks!” I looked at the rearview mirror. She turned, the reflection of her eyes meeting mine. “Put the jammer’s batteries back in and turn it on, will you? The text-based adventure wants us to get scrambled.”
“On it, Boss,” Becks called, and put down her gun.
I hadn’t wanted us to kill the jammer in the Agora parking garage—no matter how upper-crust they were, there were bound to be some things that would upset them. We’d settled for checking it for obvious bugs and removing the battery pack before heading into the hotel. Now I was glad we’d taken that approach. If the Monkey knew we had the jammer, he would probably have been pissed if we’d killed it.
“This guy must think he’s the goddamn Wizard of Oz,” I muttered. “I don’t like being spied on.”
“We’re off to see the Wizard,” chanted Maggie, in a gleeful singsong voice.
“Before you start killing people with joyous abandon, you might like to know that the next batch of directions has arrived,” said Mahir dryly. “Maggie, please don’t antagonize him; he’s had a hard week, and he’s liable to bite.”
“Spoilsport,” said Maggie.
“Thank you,” I said. “Where are we going?”
“At the end of the bridge, turn right,” said Mahir.
There was no joking around after that. Whatever test we’d been taking, we’d apparently passed, because the directions sent us along a straightforward series of increasingly smaller streets, until we were driving down a poorly maintained residential road in one of the oldest parts of Seattle. This was a million miles from the cultivated opulence of the Agora, or even from the reasonably well-maintained Berkeley streets where I grew up. This was a neighborhood where half the houses burned years ago and were never rebuilt, and where the remaining homes were surrounded by the kind of ludicrous fencing that was popular immediately after the Rising, when people were frantically trying to protect themselves from the next attack.
“People still live in places like this?” asked Maggie. Her levity was gone. She stared out the window with wide eyes, looking baffled and horrified at the same time.
I shrugged. “Where else are they gonna go?” The question sounded rhetorical. It wasn’t. There were patches like this in almost every city, tolerated despite their sketchy adherence to the safety requirements, because there was nowhere else to put the people who lived in those slowly collapsing houses. Eventually, they’d all be condemned and razed to the ground. Until that day came, people would do what they always had. They would survive.
“Take the next driveway on the right,” said Mahir. “To be more specific, it says ‘Turn right at the serial killer van.’ ”
“You mean the big white one that looks like it was set on fire at some point?”
“One right turn, coming up.” I leaned on the wheel, sending us bumping down a driveway that was, if anything, even less well maintained than the street. It felt like my nuts were going to bounce all the way up to my shoulders. I gritted my teeth, clenching my hands on the wheel as I steered us to a stop in front of the one house on the cul-de-sac that looked like it might still be capable of sustaining life. “Now what?”
“Erm.” Mahir looked up. “Now you and I are to put our hands on the dashboard, and Maggie and Rebecca are to put their hands behind their heads.”
“What?” demanded Becks.
“That’s what it says—oh, wait, there’s another line. ‘Do it, or else Foxy will shoot you until you are very, very, very, exceedingly dead.’ ” He frowned. “That sounds unpleasant.”
“Yeah, and it’ll hurt, too,” said a chipper female voice. It sounded like it was coming from the speaker on Mahir’s tablet. He and I exchanged an alarmed look. The tablet chirped, “Hi! Look in front of you!”
We all looked toward the windshield.
There was a short, slim woman standing in front of the van. The top of her head probably wouldn’t have come higher than my shoulder. That didn’t really matter. The assault rifle she was aiming at the windshield more than made up for any lack of size.
“Ah,” said Mahir. “I believe we’ve found the right place.”
“That, or we’ve found the local loony bin.” I put my hands on the dashboard. “Everybody do what she says. We’re going to go along with this for now.”
“Good call!” chirped the tablet.
“Mason—” said Becks.
“Just chill, okay? They knew we were coming. Let’s do things their way and see what happens.”
One by one, the rest of my team did as we’d been told. Becks was the last to move, sullenly putting her gun down and lacing her fingers behind her head. She glared at me in the rearview mirror the entire time.
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