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“I’d just like to get our faces out of sight on the way out of town,” Riley said. “They’ve been all over us, and we need to break the trail clean.”

Bryn considered that for a few long seconds, watching the trucks, then nodded. “Follow me,” she said. “I think I’ve got this one.”

• • •

Joe wasn’t a fan of her plan, but he went along with it anyway. They cut across industrial lots and empty, weed-choked areas, down a couple of ditches, and came up near the access road leading from the busy shipping company. Bryn timed the trucks. They were leaving at the rate of one every ten minutes or so.

She positioned herself behind a scrub tree, and waited until she heard the grumble of an approaching engine. The truck was coming over a slight hill, coasting down to the stop sign, where it would turn right onto a road that led it to the nearest freeway.

She counted down, and at the last possible second, stepped out in front of him.

The visceral need to run was almost impossible to overcome, but somehow, she managed to root her feet to the pavement, and turn to face the onrushing grill of the truck. She had a two-second glimpse of the face of the driver, going from bored to shocked to horrified, and heard the chatter of the air brakes . . .

. . . And then the truck hit her hard enough to throw her twenty feet down the road. She landed with enough force to snap several bones, and smash the back of her skull against the tarred surface. Red-hot agony blitzed through her, knocking out sensation and sense alike, until she rolled to a stop in a limp, broken heap. A rush of heat flared, then, and she distantly recognized it. Her trusty little zombie invaders, rushing to her rescue . . . assessing the damage, knitting together smashed cells. It would all take time, but she’d live. Of course.

She might hate it, but the little bastards came in handy sometimes. Like now, as the truck slid to a stop, and the driver hastily dismounted and rushed to her, pulling out his cell along the way.

Joe stepped out from cover, calmly plucked the phone away, and said, “Please get back in the truck, sir. We’re going to be joining you.”

“But—she’s hurt! She needs—”

“She’ll be fine, believe me.” Joe pulled his sidearm and held it steadily on the driver. “In the truck. Please. Now.”

The driver did it without any further protests, though he did look scared to death—and even more frightened as Riley picked up Bryn (a process that was beyond painful, from Bryn’s broken perspective) and carried her to the cab of the truck, where Joe pulled her in and laid her down on the narrow bunk in the back. Riley sat in the back with her, along with Thorpe, and Joe took the literal shotgun seat, with his weapon held with casual competence on the driver. “What’s your name, sir?” Joe asked.

“Um—Lonnie. Lonnie Brinks.” He looked scared out of his mind. “Please don’t kill me, man, I got kids.”

“Me too. And I love them, just like you do,” Joe said. “Relax. We just need a ride. Nobody’s going to hurt you. Where you heading?”

“Long haul to San Francisco,” he said. “Where do you want to go?”

“San Francisco,” Joe said.

“Uh—that lady—she’s gonna die, man.”

“No,” Bryn said blearily. “I might look like it, but I won’t. Promise.”

Lonnie looked frankly shocked that she could talk at all, and when he looked back, she gave him a shaky thumbs-up. He stared at her blankly, then at the rest of them. “Who the hell are you people?”

“People who need your help, if we’re ever going to see our families again, Lonnie,” Joe said, and the sincerity and warmth that radiated out of him washed away whatever fear Lonnie still held. “I swear on my kids that you’re gonna walk away from this alive, and maybe with some cash, too. You don’t have to do anything except drive.”

He was bluffing about the cash, Bryn thought; she’d left the rest of it in that locker, in compensation for the stolen car. Pansy was right—life on the run was expensive. Joe sold it, though—sold it so well that the driver Lonnie sighed, nodded, and put the engine in gear. “Okay,” he said. “But don’t get me fired. I need this job.”

“Worst case, you’re under duress,” Joe said. “I figure either way you come out of this a winner—especially if you deliver your load on time, right?”

Lonnie looked considerably more cheerful after that. Joe had a way of making just about anybody relax and feel normal in the most abnormal of situations. It was one of the key reasons Bryn liked him so much.

He was just a genuinely nice guy.

Bryn’s healing continued, snaps and pops of pain as bones pulled into alignment and muscles knitted themselves together. She’d gotten used to the sensations, but that didn’t make them any less awful. I’m going to get PTSD, she thought. Maybe that was part of what made Jane who she was—the trauma. The unending prospect of pain. Eventually, though, the worst of it passed, and she was just raw and aching, and that didn’t matter as much. Riley helped her clean up from the bloody impact. Nothing to be done about the stains and rips on her clothes, but Riley assured her they made her look tough and travel-worn. Bryn had to laugh at that. Even wearing army fatigues, she’d never looked tough, exactly.

But at least she’d been tough. And still was.

The beef in the bag was thawed, but it’d be edible for a while yet—and Bryn had to admit, she wasn’t sure that her nanites wouldn’t find rotting meat just as attractive. The thought took away her appetite for it, and she choked down two protein bars to help satisfy the nanites’ cravings. Thorpe ate in silence; he was watching them all with wary attention. He found a dog-eared paperback that Lonnie must have been reading, and contented himself with that.

As Joe and Lonnie—increasingly the best of friends—chatted away the miles, Bryn and Riley rested silently. Slept. Ate.

Thorpe kept to his corner, reading and rereading the battered novel with single-minded intensity. He clearly didn’t want to get to know any of them, and Bryn decided she was perfectly fine with that.

It was a surprisingly restorative journey. For the first time in days, Bryn felt free of the oppressive burden of being hunted, tracked, watched.

And by the time the sun had fallen below the horizon, and the road was a space-black ribbon lit by the headlights of fellow travelers, Bryn’s phone rang.

It wasn’t Pansy’s number.

Bryn felt a surge of paranoid fear that shattered the fragile bubble of well-being, and exchanged a look with Riley, then Joe, before she answered. “Hello?”

“I’ll keep it short,” said Brick, on the other end. “Hope you’re doing all right. Just wanted to report that your friend’s head wound wasn’t serious, so he checked himself out against my people’s medical advice. I guess he’s out there looking for you.”

Patrick. Bryn felt a surge of mixed relief and guilt. She hadn’t tried to find out how he was doing, for his own protection, but she ought to have been worrying more, she realized now. “You let him leave.”

“Hit the brakes, he didn’t exactly ask me nicely. He pulled a gun from one of my guys and told the med team he was going, and they decided they didn’t want to see how far he’d take it. They get paid to take damage from the enemies of the clients, not the clients. That’s just screwed up.” Brick sounded calm and amused. “He’s all right, and since he stole one of our best trucks, he’s mobile and well equipped, if you know what I mean. So I’d be on the lookout.”

“We will,” Bryn said. “Thanks. I mean it. Especially for taking care of him; I know that was above and beyond.”

“I get the feeling you folks are going to be repeat customers,” he said. “And you know what they say—the customer’s always right.”

“I thought you said never to call you again.”

“Well, your friend Pansy airlifted me a pallet full of money, so I’m rethinking it. Also, took a look at your folks. They seem okay. We’ll keep watch. Take care.”

“You too.” She hung up and tried to dial Patrick’s phone, but got nothing but voice mail. Her own device was dangerously low on charge, and she didn’t have anything to power it with—but Joe did, stuffed in one of his many pockets.

He also didn’t think Patrick not answering was a problem. “If he got separated from his power supply, then he’s out of juice,” Joe pointed out. “Pat’s been in lots worse situations—trust me. He’ll get us a message, and he’ll rendezvous down the road with us. Good to know his head’s in one piece, though.”

Lonnie was, by this time, studying Bryn in the rearview mirror. “Why is hers?” he asked. “I saw how hard I hit her, man. She ought to be dead.”

“Stuntwoman,” Joe said. “Trained professional at bouncing off of moving vehicles.”

Lonnie considered that, and seemed to accept it—mainly, Bryn thought, because it was too weird to accept the alternative. “How does that pay, anyway? You work on movies and shit?”

“Yeah, we do,” she lied smoothly. “And yeah, it does. See, you’re doing us a huge favor. You’re helping us get to a gig—we’re working on a film with Spielberg.”

“Really?” His eyes rounded, and his face lit up. “I love the movies, man. Hey, why didn’t you just fly?”

Joe stuck a thumb at Riley. “She’s on a no-fly list.” She did, Bryn had to admit, look it, with her shag-cut punk-spiked hair and dog collar. Riley shot him the finger, just to sell it.

“Could have rented a car, right?”

“Yeah, if we’d had a credit card,” Joe said. He’d long ago put the gun away. “We got robbed, man. Suitcases, clothes, wallets, everything. We’ve got some cash, but that’s it. So it was stop you, or steal somebody’s car.”