Again, Bryn thought but didn’t say.
Lonnie accepted that and went back to the shiny object. “What movie are you making?”
Bryn made up something out of whole cloth, an alien invasion of San Francisco, and Lonnie was rapt. She cast the thing with big-name stars, just for the hell of it, and promised Lonnie a photo op with Johnny Depp.
As long as it kept him driving.
Joe was—probably not surprisingly—a qualified and licensed semitruck driver, so Lonnie let him take shifts while Lonnie crashed in the bunk. Dr. Thorpe, who’d so far been dangerously quiet, took the opportunity while Lonnie snored to say, “If you let me go at the next rest stop, I promise, I won’t say a word. I’ll just disappear.”
“Why would we want that, Doc?” Joe asked him. “We’re just getting to know you. And also, you claim to be able to stop Jane and the upgrades, and believe me, we need that right now. What is it, some kind of device? A shot?”
“I’m not telling you anything,” Thorpe said, and clenched his jaw in a way that he probably thought made him look determined. It actually made him look constipated. “You’ve got no reason to keep me alive if I show you what I know.”
“Actually,” Riley said in a low, silky voice, hanging right over his shoulder, “you’ve got that backward. We’ve got no reason to keep you alive if you don’t. Because if you’re not an ally, you’re a liability or an enemy. Which would you rather be?”
He flinched. “You wouldn’t hurt me. You’ve got no reason to—”
“I’ve got the same upgrades as Jane,” Riley said. “Try again.”
That shut him up, and made his face grow a shade or two more pale. He believed her. He would, Bryn thought, believe absolutely anything of someone like them—of the Revived. In any society, there are people accepting of difference—like Joe and Patrick—and people terrified of it, like Thorpe. That didn’t make her any more fond of him.
At least, until he said, with great reluctance, “I suppose I have to be an ally, then. You don’t give me much choice.”
“There’s always a choice,” Riley said. “Just not a very good one. What do you need to make it happen?”
He really didn’t want to tell them, that much was obvious, but after a long, long silence, he finally said, “I just need a phone.”
They all looked at him. Thorpe’s face reddened.
“I have it stored in a safe place,” he said. “And I can get it for you if you let me make a phone call.”
“How about we make it for you?” Riley asked, and readied her dialing finger. He shook his head.
“I’m not giving that up,” he said. “You buy me an untraceable phone at the next place we stop, I will make a call, arrange for delivery, and destroy the SIM card so you can’t trace where it’s being held. Understand?”
Joe shrugged. “I’m okay. Bryn?”
“Not until I know what it is that’s being delivered to him,” she said, and Riley nodded. “You understand, Riley and I have something of an investment in this mutual trust thing.”
Thorpe sighed, clearly frustrated, and considered for another torturously long moment before he said, “It’s a vaccine. It contains another strain of engineered nanites whose sole purpose is to attack and destroy their opposite numbers.”
“I thought that was impossible,” Riley said. “Since they’d have to be programmed with the exact sequence codes for the existing nanites, and those get rewritten based on genetic structure.”
“Yes, yes, that’s true, but the genius of it—if I may say so—is that it uses the exact same replication technology in writing its own code. It fills in the gaps, so to speak. But of course, the shot can only be used once, for one person. The cure for one can’t be passed along the way that the upgraded nanites can be. One shot, one cure.”
“And how many shots do you have?” Bryn asked.
“One,” he said. “Just one. I had three, but I used two in the testing process. I was saving this one for replication in a neutral growth medium.”
“One?” Joe shook his head and exchanged glances with Bryn and Riley. “Fucking useless. If you use it, how long to develop more?”
“Days,” Thorpe said in a precise, clipped voice. “At a minimum days, and that’s if you have all the right equipment in place. If I use the last dose as you suggest, on Jane, then I waste it by downing one insignificant part of the Fountain Group’s army. She might be a general, but generals can be replaced, if you take my meaning.”
“Then why did you use your other doses?”
“The first one, for proof of efficacy. The second because I had no choice,” he said, and—for the first time—bared his teeth in a humorless smile. It was surprisingly unsettling. “They’d turned my colleague, you see. And it was her job to destroy me and take the antidote to her superiors. They want a way to control their own creations; that was why they allowed me to develop it in the first place. I thought I was acting for myself, when in reality, I was just another of their pawns. Like all of you.”
“How exactly are we pawns, genius?” Riley asked, and shoved him back against the shivering steel wall of the truck. “We’re the ones who found you. We’re the ones the Fountain Group has been moving heaven and earth to stop.”
“You think so? Then you’re more stupid than I thought. If they really wanted you dead, you’d already be buried in a ditch. Well, not the two of you. You’d be cremated like the rest of their failed experiments. But they’ve let you run. And that means you serve their purposes, somehow. I hate to explain this to you, but you’re nothing but meat puppets, and just because you can’t feel the strings doesn’t mean someone isn’t pulling them.”
“He’s insane,” Riley said to Bryn, and Bryn was inclined to agree. There was a deeply weird glow in the man’s eyes, a paranoia dialed up to eleven. But still, the old saying was right: you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you. “If he’s our best hope, then in my professional opinion . . .”
“We’re screwed,” Joe finished flatly. “Well, hell, been there so often I ought to have my mail forwarded. C’mon, Riley. Buck up.”
She shot him an entirely unhappy grin. “Look, if he’s right, we’re done. If he’s wrong, then we’re stuck with a paranoid—”
“Genius who may or may not help us? I’d say we’re familiar with that scenario, too,” Bryn said. She looked straight at Riley. “Stop at the next truck stop and buy the phone.”
“No,” Riley shot back. “I’m telling you, it’s too big a risk.”
Maybe it was, but after considering for a few silent moments, Joe nodded. “Maybe risky, but we’re not exactly in the business of safe choices right now,” he said. “Yo, Lonnie, up and at ’em. Need you to take the wheel. Pull in at the next convenience store you spot.”
It took a while longer, but they found a store and a disposable cell. Once it was acquired and activated, Lonnie got the truck moving again, and Bryn got in the back with Thorpe. “Dial,” she said, and handed over the phone. She pulled her sidearm and held it loosely at her side, and lowered her voice to a level Lonnie wouldn’t overhear. “Say one word I think is questionable, and I’ll kill you. No negotiation.”
He stared at her for a second, expressionless, and then nodded. He dialed, held the phone to his ear, and waited. Then he said two words.
“That’s it?” Bryn asked as he cut the call and handed back the device.
“You didn’t tell them where to bring it.”
“I told them which drop site to use,” he said. “We have to go get it.”
“How far is it?”
“From here?” He shrugged. “Couple of hundred miles across the border in California. I chose the one in the direction you’re heading.”
Bryn signaled to Joe, and he joined them in the back, switching seats with Riley. She repeated the information, and Joe sighed. “I hate this cloak-and-dagger bullshit,” he said. “Just give me the fucking address already.”
Thorpe did. It didn’t mean anything to Bryn, so she left Joe to work it out. Bryn broke down the cell phone, pulled out the chip, and smashed it, then threw all the pieces out the window; she was thorough about it, just for safety’s sake. With nothing left to do, she stretched out on the small, thin bed that Lonnie used for his home away from home. It smelled like a man, with a dark tint of sweat and body odor. He’d taped up a centerfold on the ceiling, staring down at him with inviting eyes and open legs. Great. Now she needed a shower. Again.
God, she missed Patrick. I left him. We all left him. He’s all alone out there. It made her short of breath, the idea that he was wandering out there, potentially at Jane’s mercy, and wounded. I should have stayed with him. Protected him.
“Still worried about Pat?”
She opened her eyes to see Joe watching her, with a gentle concern on his face, and she forced a smile. “Brick said he checked out against medical advice, so he’s not—not at a hundred percent. He’s out there, trying to catch up, but I have no idea how he’s going to do that. He’s on his own, Joe. Against Jane.”
He shifted a little, looked away, and said, “Yeah, about that. He can find us.”
That got absolutely everyone’s attention, including Riley’s, who went very still. “Excuse me?”
“Burst transmitter,” Joe said. “One use only, untraceable. I send, he receives. It gives him the GPS locator. We’ve done this before, Bryn; it ain’t our first rodeo. He’s okay. He’ll keep his head down, and make his way to us on his own.”
She blinked at him, unable to process it for a few seconds, and then relief spread sweet and warm through her veins. He’s okay. He’ll be okay. She couldn’t bear the thought of Jane on his trail, but this—this was much better. If Joe had faith, then she could, too.