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She spent the next two hours catnapping, and she suspected that Joe did as well, while Riley stayed awake and alert to any moves that Thorpe might have dared to try. He played nice, though, and Lonnie seemed cheerful. She was even getting used to his choice of music—he veered between funky jazz and a strange kind of wired-up country. It seemed oddly soothing, after a while, and the road vibration was a constant, gentle massage up and down her spine. Massage. That was a fantasy life, right there, ever being able to look forward to something so simple and sensual as having an hour when people weren’t trying to destroy her. An hour to let her guard down, utterly, and put herself in the healing hands of someone else.

Yeah, that was fantasy. This—half sleeping, always tense somewhere underneath, ready for anything—this was real life now.

But the fantasy of that massage was so real, it almost made her weep with longing.

“Wakey wakey,” Joe said, and touched her shoulder, bringing her out of what she supposed must have been a wary doze, instantly and painfully alert. “We’re here. Gear up—we’ll need the guns.”

She shot an alarmed look at Lonnie, but Lonnie gave her a broad smile. “Yeah, I kind of figured out you weren’t just regular folks about two hundred miles ago,” he said. “Spies, right? Some kind of black ops thing? That’s cool. I won’t blow your cover. Most excitement I’ve had in years.”

That was . . . worrying. But Bryn didn’t see any way around it; Lonnie was bound to make assumptions, and there was no way they wouldn’t end up confirming them, or besting them. So she threw a shrug to Joe, who said, “Yeah, man, busted. What we’re doing is eyes only clearance, so I can’t tell you much, but I promise you, what you’re doing is vital to our national security.”

“Cool,” Lonnie said. “Are you going to give me a gun, then?”

“No,” Riley said. She was already checking her ammunition, looking competent and deadly as ever, and Bryn quickly followed suit. “You do exactly what we say, when we say it, and keep your head down, Lonnie. Let the professionals work.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He sketched a sloppy salute that didn’t go with the eager smile.

God, Bryn hoped they didn’t get him killed.

“Getting close,” Joe said. Lonnie slowed the truck down, and Joe turned toward Thorpe. “What exactly are we looking for?”

“There’s a billboard to the right. What we’re looking for will be duct-taped to one of the posts.”

“Anybody waiting?”

“No. It’s a dead drop.”

Bryn knew it was a technical term, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t ominous. Out of the truck they were exposed and vulnerable.

“Thorpe,” she said. He looked at her with a frown grooved into his brow, and there was fright in his eyes, as well as distaste. “You’ll go out with me to retrieve it. Riley and Joe stay here to cover us and make sure Lonnie is safe.” What she really meant was make sure Lonnie doesn’t run out on us, but the other way sounded better.

Thorpe looked momentarily very unhappy with this proposal, but she thought it was mainly because he was being paired up with her. He preferred to hang out with Joe Fideli. She understood that. Hell, she preferred to hang out with Joe, too. But he was going to have to suck up his prejudices and deal with it for five minutes. God only knew, she’d had to put her own preferences on hold for . . . what seemed like forever.

“Don’t I get a weapon?” he asked plaintively, as she checked her sidearm. She gave him a lifted eyebrow for answer, and threw open the door to jump down to the ground. Solid, unmoving ground. That was a cell-deep relief, just to be still for a moment, after that eternity of driving, but she couldn’t stand in place, either. She grabbed Thorpe and pulled him next to her, then thrust him toward the billboard that gently swayed and creaked in the breeze. The air felt clean and fresh to her, with the scent of sage mixed in with the hot metal and grease of the truck. As they stepped away from the cab, the industrial stench faded, and left the much nicer smell of blooming herbs and brush.

Thorpe must have decided he didn’t like being exposed, because he rushed forward toward the billboard’s base. There were four heavy posts driven into the ground, and between them were drifts of trash and tangled spiderwebs.

But the one on the end was cleaned of all that. There was a dried-up stack of weeds packed in there, but it looked constructed, not natural.

Thorpe shoved at the weeds, and revealed a shiny gray oblong of duct tape, lumpy in the middle. He stepped forward and reached out for it . . . and Bryn heard a very clear, crisp click. A sound she knew all too well. It sent a bolt of cold through her, and as Thorpe looked down, probably wondering if he’d stepped on a twig, she grabbed him and said, “Hold still.”

“Why? What in the world—”

“Just don’t move,” she said, and dropped to her knees next to him. The dry, sandy soil had blown away a little and revealed the curved dull gray side of the top plate of the bomb. She blew away more of the sand, careful not to touch anything. It wasn’t military-issue, more of an IED-type device, though she couldn’t be sure of anything without a better look at it.

A look she wasn’t likely to get, considering that Thorpe was resting his full weight on it. But she had dealt with enough of these types of bombs, and bomb makers, to know that the point wouldn’t be flash and show—not like a movie explosion, all flame and smoke. This would be a dirty, hard sort of bomb, one packed with shrapnel that would rip Thorpe and her apart, and probably severely injure everybody in the truck, too. Shrapnel was cheap and easy and utterly, horribly effective.

It was all going to depend on the structure, and there was simply no way, and no time, to do an effective analysis of it. Thorpe was screwed. He didn’t have the discipline to hold perfectly still for hours on end, and even if he did, they couldn’t possibly stay here. The very existence of the trap meant they were blown.

He knew all that, too. She saw it go over his face in waves of emotion that finally settled into a pale, still mask.

“Listen,” Thorpe said. He licked his lips, and his eyelids fluttered shut briefly, and then he looked straight into her eyes. “If you use this on Jane, you won’t have anything left to use on anyone else—nothing to backward engineer. A weapon doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have the ability to reproduce it.”

“We may not have a choice. If she comes at us before we can get the cure to our scientists . . . I promise, we won’t use it unless we have to.”

“Not good enough,” he said. “Redundancy is everything, Bryn. I lied to you. There’s one more dose, the prototype. I sent it as far away as I could with someone I trusted. You—you might need it. More than that, you need to keep it out of her hands.”

“Who has it? Thorpe, you’re out of time!”

“I know.” He smiled sadly, palely, and nodded just a little. “Her name is Kiera Johannsen, and she’s a climatologist living in a remote research station outside of Barrow, Alaska. She doesn’t know what she has. I told her it was just a failed formula I wanted to keep on hand for research purposes, and asked her to store it for me. She agreed. Try to protect her, if you can.”

“I will,” Bryn said. Suddenly, all his bullshit and prejudice and annoying little quirks didn’t seem to matter all that much. This was a man on the edge of eternity, and he knew it. “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.” He took in another deep breath. “The person I called sold us out. It probably doesn’t matter now, but it’s my brother-in-law, Jason Grant. Jane probably got to him, and he’s probably dead. Everyone I knew is probably dead, but they might not know about Kiera. Not yet.” He gave her a sudden, cynical grin. “You ever been blown up?”

“No,” she said. “Shot, stabbed, fallen from a height, several inventive things that Jane cooked up, but not completely blown up. Are you asking if it will hurt?”

“I’m fairly sure I won’t feel much,” he said. “Please ask them to move the truck back.”

Bryn nodded, opened her phone, and called Joe. He answered before it even rang. “The fuck?”

“IED,” she said. “Get the truck back. Way back. It’s going to go off.”

“Then get your ass back here and we’ll go.”

She took a step back, and then hesitated. “No,” Bryn said, without taking her eyes from Thorpe’s. “No, I think there’s something I can do here that’s more useful.”


“We both know it won’t kill me.”

“How the hell do you know?”

“It’s worth the risk,” she said. “Just do it, Joe.”

He cursed some, but then he hung up, and in the next ten seconds Lonnie was backing the truck up the road, over the curve of the hill. Putting solid earth between them and the explosion.

When Bryn couldn’t see it anymore, she tossed the phone on the other side of the road, into the ditch, and then nodded to Dr. Thorpe.

“Here goes nothing,” he said. “You know what I want you to do?”

“Yes,” she said. “Good luck, Calvin.”

“My friends call me Cal,” he said. “See you.”

Then he took a deep breath, reached out, and ripped the duct-taped item from the rough board of the billboard’s supporting column.

Bryn saw it in high-definition slow motion—him turning, tossing the silvery mass of tape toward her, her hand grabbing it from the air. She was already turning away from him by that time, with the grace and efficiency of a dancer, not a motion or muscle wasted, and then she was running, great long leaps powered by adrenaline and the extra boost of the nanites, and she made it almost halfway across the road before the wave of the blast hit her.

It picked her up in a shimmer of superheated air and threw her, ripped her, punched through her in a nail of white-hot shrapnel, and she rolled, shredded, into the ditch with just enough instinct left to clutch the duct-tape ball to the core of her body. She screwed her eyes shut against a flare of intense bright light.