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She dismissed him as unimportant, at least for now, and focused herself on more important things. Who the fuck are these people? She was shaken, she had to admit it. Somehow, while they’d been driving, the Fountain Group had found out who Thorpe was, tracked down his allegedly foolproof contact, and probably tortured and killed him. . . . Then, instead of sending an assault force (since the last overwhelming onslaught hadn’t gone so well for them) they’d done something incredibly smart—they’d gone unmanned low-tech. There’d been some surveillance, most likely remote-piloted, but they’d thought that they’d be able to take out Thorpe, his weapon, and (as a bonus) at least one of them, too.

And they nearly had, with something as simple as a pressure bomb. Something you could build from plans on the fucking Internet.

Whoever was running this—and Bryn was now sure it wasn’t Jane, Jane wasn’t sane enough, or flexible enough, to plan this way—it was someone capable of making cold-bloodedly rational decisions. Losses and gains, offset by risks. Varying tactics. That wasn’t Jane; she was smart, and brutal, but she wasn’t a fantastic tactician.

Bypassing Jane and getting to the brains of the operation would stop this, stop it dead and cold. Then she could destroy Jane, but it was important just now to learn something from her enemy—to change tactics.

“We need to get out,” Bryn said.

Lonnie sent her a startled, scared look, and then Joe turned and frowned at her. “What?”

“Just trust me on this,” she said. “We get the hell out of this truck, and head out on foot. Then we split up, and you give me Patrick’s burst transmitter. You and Riley, you get back to whatever hole Manny is hiding in. Please, Joe. You know me. You know I’m right.”

“Right about what?” Riley asked sharply. “We’re two hours from our goal. If we ditch our transportation, we add a day of hard hiking. Besides, do you think you can run off on your own, without backup, and get anything accomplished? Jane is out there. And she can call on half the military and, for all we know, half the law enforcement in this country. She’s rich in resources, and we’re not. Don’t throw away what little we’ve got.”

Joe was watching her without replying. She felt closer to him than to Riley, even now—even after both of them had experienced the infection of the nanite upgrades. Joe was basic version 1.0 human, and he had always had her back. Always. Even when he couldn’t trust her not to turn flesh-eating monster on him, which was . . . quite a lot of trust.

“Yeah, I get it,” he said after a long moment. “Lonnie, stop the truck.”

Lonnie clearly didn’t want to, but he hit the air brakes, and the truck sighed to a halt on the road’s shoulder.

“You can’t let her do this,” Riley said, and put a hand on Bryn’s shoulder as she tried to get up. “No. Just—no, Bryn. This is the wrong move; I know it. I’m telling you, just stay. We need to stay in the truck.”

Bryn looked at her for a long moment, and then shook her head. “We can’t,” she said, and moved Riley’s hand away. “I see something. You don’t. You take that vaccine to Manny and get him to start making more. I think we’re going to need it. Badly. We have no idea how far the Fountain Group has taken this—how many upgraded foot soldiers they have besides Jane.” She nodded at the duct taped syringe.

Riley pulled her sidearm. She did it in a motion so fast Bryn hardly even saw it; the muzzle of the gun stopped with perfect precision in line with Bryn’s eyes. Close range. Messy. “I have no idea what you think you’re doing, but you’re going to get yourself killed,” Riley said. “Stay with us, and help us get this to Manny. This is precious. It’s more important than you or me or any of us or all of us. It can stop them.”

“Riley—we don’t even know if it works,” Bryn said. “The Fountain Group had access to that syringe before we did; they could have swapped out the drug with saline, for all we know. If they did, if they’ve got the genuine cure and we don’t . . . they can take us out, and we’ve got nothing. Thorpe told me something important, and I need to follow it up.”

Riley didn’t move, and didn’t holster her weapon, either. “So you want to leave our transportation and just . . . go. Where?”

“We have the lead Pansy gave me.”

“What, somewhere in Northern California? In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a big area. That’s insane. You’re just asking Jane to kill you.”

“Maybe,” Bryn said. “But if you don’t make it back to Manny, or if that syringe is useless, we might lose our only solid lead. So we need to follow both tracks, don’t we? I’ll go. You two go the other way. I’ll see you again.”

“Are you sure?” Joe asked her.


“Good enough for me,” Joe said. “Ease off, Riley.”


“Jesus,” Joe sighed, annoyed, and drew his own gun. He wasn’t as fast a draw as Riley, but he didn’t need to be, because they both knew he was probably just as good a shot. He aimed straight for her, two-handed. “Back the fuck off. Bryn’s right. We get out now, and split up. Lonnie, you’re welcome to come with us if you want.”

“Uh . . . no, thanks. I’ll . . . stay here,” Lonnie said. He looked rigid, hands locked to the steering wheel, and his eyes were about to bug right out of his sockets. His blood pressure must have been through the roof. “Thanks . . . ?” That last came faintly, almost as a question.

Joe didn’t take his eyes off of Riley as he said, “Okay then. Sorry, man. About everything. You didn’t deserve any of this, and I wish I could change it.”

“No, it’s okay, it’s okay. I won’t say a thing, really.”

Lonnie thought Joe was going to shoot him, and Bryn thought he was probably right. . . . But then Joe shook his head, opened the passenger door, and descended from the truck. “Bryn,” he said. “You next.”

She cocked an eyebrow at Riley. “You going to shoot me?”

“Probably not.”

Bryn took her at her word, and eased backward out the door, hopping down onto the pavement and standing next to Joe. Riley followed, smooth as a snake, landing flat-footed and absolutely steady with her aim on Joe. “Are we done with this bullshit?” she asked.

“Guess so,” he said, and holstered his sidearm, apparently unconcerned with what she would do. Bryn watched her—not the eyes, because it wasn’t the eyes that betrayed people, it was the micro-twitches in the hands.

But Riley simply put her gun away, too, and the standoff was over. “Hold this, Joe,” she said, and gave him the syringe. “I’m going back for supplies before Lonnie rabbits it out of here.” She disappeared back into the truck, and emerged about fifteen seconds later with backpacks, which she tossed to each of them. Bryn strapped hers on, and the weight settled in nicely. One thing about being in the infantry, you never forgot the feel of a kit on your back. Like riding a bike. Or at least, like going on twenty-mile hikes carrying half your weight.

By unspoken consent, they moved away from the truck and into the shelter of a big, low-spreading tree—the kind of landscape people called trash trees, Bryn recalled, short-lived and strong-willed. Lonnie wasted no time in laying the hammer down, and he was over the horizon in less time than it took Bryn to get her directional bearings.

“You’re sure about splitting up?” Joe asked. “Because I get where you’re going, but I’m not sure you’ll make it.”

“Riley’s right about the formula,” Bryn said. “It needs to get back to Manny; that’s vital. If this is the answer, he’s the only one we can trust to analyze and—hopefully—reproduce it.”

“You really think he’s going to let us back inside? He seemed a little, I don’t know, paranoid.”

“Pansy will make him.” Bryn tried to sound sure of that, but in truth, she wasn’t sure; no one could be sure of what Manny would do. But she hoped she was right, anyway. “And this plays into his paranoia, because he’ll be the only one with the cure. Then it’ll be up to you to pry it out of his hands, of course, but one step at a time. I love the guy, but he’s definitely Handle With Care.” She turned her attention on Riley. “Unless you think you’re going to take it and give it to your bosses.”

Riley cocked an eyebrow. “I never made any secret of the fact that I work for the FBI. I never said I quit. And it doesn’t matter, because in this, the federal government and our little rogue op have exactly the same goals: stop the spread of infection, and stop the Fountain Group. Manny’s our best option.”

“Are you under orders right now?” Joe asked. It sounded like a casual question, and it would have been easy to mistake him for relaxed, standing here under the gently rustling leaves of the trash tree, with the sun beating down. But he wasn’t.

“Not as such,” Riley said, and tilted her head just a little. Her eyes narrowed. “You think they surveilled us. Satellite?”

“Wouldn’t put that shit past them,” Joe said. “We already know they’re into the air force’s command and control; all it would really take would be a drone flyover. Could have been slipped in without anybody noticing at all. But yeah, if they were sharp enough to set the trap, they’re sharp enough to watch and see who walks away from it. We stay in the truck, we’re marked, at best. Or we’re—”

“Dead,” Bryn finished softly. She looked after the truck, but it was lost to view now, heading fast down the road. “You made the offer, Joe. Whatever happens now, you made the offer to him.”

“Look, let’s not kid ourselves, the best thing that guy has to look forward to now is torture and death, or—if he’s really damn lucky—they’ll just bomb the shit out of the truck and kill him that way. But he’s not walking away unscathed. We all know that.” Joe was expressionless, but there was a glitter in his eyes, something sharp and angry. “We owe it to him to not fail, you understand. We don’t owe Thorpe; he started this—fuck him. We owe Lonnie. We owe the Lonnies of this world who get caught in the middle.”