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Riley was looking at her, too. As if she knew what Bryn was thinking. She gave Bryn a small shake of her head. Don’t.

“I need—” Bryn said, but Riley spoke at the same time, louder.

“We need some food,” she said, and that was true; it woke an instant and uncomfortable surge of hunger inside of Bryn that shocked and horrified her. Because what she craved wasn’t just food. The nanites powering her now—these nanites needed protein. Meat. A lot of it. And they weren’t picky about its source. The scientists had been hideously practical in their design of the little monsters . . . because one thing you could always find on a battlefield was meat.

“We’ll eat once we’re safe,” Joe Fideli said, still staring out the window. “Can’t exactly call out for pizza right now.”

The prospect of having to wait to satisfy that craving was, frankly, terrifying. Bryn tried to ignore the hunger clawing at her, but she knew what it signified: the nanites needed power. And sooner or later, the nanites would take her conscious decision making out of the equation and simply find food—and look, there was a whole room of meat on the bone right here. Between her and Riley, it could be a bloodbath.

“Bathroom,” Bryn said, and lunged for the door. She slammed and locked it, and dry-heaved into the sink, then raised her head and looked at her chalk-pale face. Her mouth felt dry, and she drank a few handfuls of water from the sink. Cold and fresh. It wasn’t much, but it might help. She sank down on the toilet seat and put her head in her hands, shaking now. Trying not to think too hard about what her life had become.

Dead Girl Walking. That had described her before. But what was she now? A supercharged, meat-craving freak capable of passing on her sickness.

Say it.

Okay, then.

She was now a fucking zombie.

The worst thing about it was that she couldn’t even really make a choice to end her own threat; the nanites that had kept her together before had made her mostly invulnerable, but these—these were military grade. She couldn’t even count on killing herself if things got worse.

She was pretty sure the nanites wouldn’t let her.

And she was pretty sure it would definitely get worse.

There was a soft knock on the door, and Patrick’s voice. “Bryn? You okay?”

“Sure,” she said. She wiped her face, although she was sure she hadn’t shed any tears, took a deep breath, and stood up to unlock the door. He blocked the exit for a second, studying her, and she met his gaze without flinching. “I’m just exhausted.”

“Do you need a shot? You look pale.”

“I’m okay for now,” she said. God, the shots. If she didn’t own up to her new condition, she’d have to figure out how to explain to him about the shots. “It’s just been—a lot to handle.”

“I know,” he said, and stepped in to give her a hug. “I’m sorry.”

He felt so good, so warm, so solid . . . and she felt herself relax against him, just a little. He smelled good, too, as unbelievable as that might have been, after the day’s fighting. He smelled like . . .



He smelled like food.

Bryn broke free and stepped back, suddenly cold again, and said, “Sorry, I need a minute.” She slammed the door on him and locked it again, and took another look around the bathroom. I can’t do this. I can’t handle this. I can’t be around people I like, people I love . . .

Because it wasn’t safe.

The bathroom had a small frosted-glass window, but there were bars on the outside. The motel hadn’t heard of fire regulations, evidently, because there was no quick-release on the bars, either.

It didn’t matter.

Bryn smashed the window, pushed the bars out from their moorings with one hard shove, and slithered out through the narrow opening. Her hips fit, though the concrete bricks scraped them raw, and the rest was easy enough. She thumped to the weedy, trash-strewn ground, took a second to get her bearings, and then headed for the eight-foot concrete wall a few strides away. A single leap took her to the top, right about the time she heard the door breaking down inside the motel room. She looked back in time to see Patrick at the broken window. He looked stunned.

Then he looked worried.

“Bryn, don’t!” he called. “What are you doing? Don’t!”

“I have to,” she said. “I’m sorry. I can’t explain right now, but please. Just let me go.”

She dropped down on the other side, into a four-foot ditch below the wall’s level, and then scrambled up and across the road. Not a lot out here in the country, but the road did have relatively brisk traffic with lots of long-haul trucks. Most truckers were wise enough not to stop for hitchhikers, but that wasn’t what she was looking for.

She started jogging along the gravel edge, picking up speed to a flat-out run—and then, as the front of an eighteen-wheeler passed her, she leaped sideways.

Her timing was almost perfect. She landed on the hydraulic connectors for the trailer behind the cab and immediately slipped off, having miscalculated her momentum—then caught herself just before she slid underneath the wheels.

Bryn scrambled to a balance point and braced her back against the cold corrugated metal of the trailer, then settled herself against the bumps. It wouldn’t be necessary to stay with the truck for long—in fact, it might be counterproductive, since Patrick would be dedicated in his search. She tried not to think about what might happen if her perch shook her loose—it probably wouldn’t kill her, but it’d be unpleasant for sure.

When the truck slowed down at a crossroads twenty minutes later, she jumped, landed and rolled into the low ditch next to the pavement, then stalked another truck and did the same jump-on maneuver. This one was easier, or she’d perfected the maneuver; either way, she settled in comfortably for a fifty-mile ride west. No particular destination in mind, because she had no idea what her plan was going to be, but putting space between herself and Patrick seemed like the only thing she could think about. She needed to know herself better before she took the risk of hurting him, or Annie, or any of the others.

But what about Riley? Isn’t she just as dangerous? That worryingly practical part of her brain nudged at her, but the truth was, she didn’t think Riley was as much of a threat. For one thing, Riley seemed to thoroughly understand her new condition, and she’d learned how to manage it. She’d been dealing with it longer and had made some kind of mental accommodation.

But Bryn didn’t trust herself. Not yet.

Not when she was hungry.

She hopped off when the truck paused at a rest stop, one of the big complexes that catered to long-haulers; the luck of it was that it was like a shopping mall, full of clothes to replace the stained things she was wearing, and after she’d showered in the bathroom facilities and changed, she took the rest of her limited bankroll to the restaurant.

“What’s your biggest steak?” she asked the waitress—a faded American beauty rose with gray streaks in her blond hair and a friendly smile.

“Well, that’d be the Big Tex, seventy-two ounces, but it’s a stunt, honey; we serve it to those big-boy truckers and drunk frat boys, free if they finish it, which they hardly ever do. Otherwise, it’s a cool forty bucks. Most don’t even make it to the parking lot before they throw it all up. Maybe something like a porterhouse. How does that sound?”

“No,” Bryn said. “I’ll take the Big Tex. Rare as you can make it and not get closed down by the health department.”

The waitress waited for the punch line. When Bryn didn’t deliver one, she shook her head and wrote it down on her order pad. “Your ambulance ride, honey. Want any sides with it?”

“Just water,” Bryn said. She tried for a charming smile, but the waitress had probably seen it all, and tilted a skeptical eyebrow before heading for the kitchen window. She and the cook had a conversation, and a balding man in stained whites leaned out to give Bryn a look. He, too, shook his head, but in a couple of minutes she heard the steak sizzling, and the hunger she’d tried to leash began to snarl with real ferocity.

Bryn squeezed her eyes shut. Just wait. Wait. It’s coming.

She didn’t know how long she sat there, struggling for control, but it snapped when a plate landed with a thump on the table in front of her—and there it was, seventy-two ounces of pure meat, drenched in watery blood. Just cooked enough to be legal, as she’d ordered. The waitress put down a glass of ice water and stepped back. “Okay, now, when you start feeling full, you just tell me and—”

Bryn didn’t even use the knife and fork.

She grabbed the steak off the plate and held it in both hands, and bit into it. The waitress made a startled sound and took a bigger step back, but that hardly registered at all, because Bryn gnawed at the beef, tore at it, chewed and swallowed without even registering the taste except as blood and salt and flesh, and she didn’t pause until she’d teethed the last threads of gristle from the bone. Then she broke the bone open with her hands and sucked out the marrow.

Something in her brain registered then—that refueling had been accomplished—and she dropped the fragments to the plate, sat back, wiped her mouth and chin with the napkin, and drank the entire glass of water in one long, convulsive gulp.

The silence got to her in the next few seconds, and she looked up to see the waitress standing ten feet away, back pressed to a wall, mouth open. The cook was leaning out the window with an identically shocked expression. Other diners were completely still, and every set of eyes in the place was fixed on Bryn.

One kid had his cell phone out and was recording. He stopped, put it down, and slow-clapped. “That was awesome.”

“I—” Bryn swallowed, tried again. “I really love a good steak.”

Someone laughed. But not the cook, and not the waitress. They’d seen a steady parade of tough guys in here trying to eat this steak, and Bryn imagined that most of them had left half on the plate.