The table sailed through the air as if on wings, hit the glass with one of those sharp edges forward, and thick as it was, the glass frosted with cracks and then shattered in a mighty crash. The end table sailed out into the void and took a comet-trail of glass shards with it. But that didn’t clear the window fully; there were still jagged blades sticking out. Bryn grabbed the fireplace poker on the fly and held it like a sword as she leaped closer; she broke the worst of it out and turned as Patrick joined her.
“This is crazy,” he told her. “That’s a hell of a drop. One of us isn’t really up to it. By that I mean me.”
Shit. In her rush, she’d somehow forgotten—forgotten!—that Patrick wasn’t capable of the same feats she was. Reynolds was Revived; he hardly mattered. But Patrick . . .
Bryn took hold of Reynolds and pulled him from Patrick’s grip. “How’s the arm?” she asked him. There would be flash-bangs deployed behind them in seconds, and then Jane’s shock troops would be inside, spraying the house with bullets and taking down anything that moved.
“Hurts,” he said.
“Good.” She threw him out the window, just like the table.
Then she wrapped her arms around Patrick and pulled him out held tight to her body.
She landed awkwardly and very painfully on her back. That was what she’d meant to do, and it served to take the brunt of the bare-rock impact away from Patrick, whom she held in a rock-hard grip against her chest all the way down. His body weight was solid and muscular, and it did the rest of the job that her own momentum hadn’t. She felt a lot of bones cracking, a few more shattering, and if she’d been normal and human, she’d have been concussed and probably dying from skull fractures. The concussion still occurred, but though she felt woozy and unfocused, her little nanite helpers kept her moving. That was the military upgrade. Damage was registered, but it mostly wouldn’t keep her down, or not for long.
God, she hated the busy little bastards. But she also had to admit that at moments like these, they were all that kept her alive. Her, and Patrick, too.
Patrick grunted in pain and rolled off of her. He shook his head to clear it, and then took a good look at her. “Bryn?” His expression went grim and furious. “What the hell was that?”
“Got you out, didn’t it?” she shot back breathlessly. It was hard to talk. Shattered ribs stabbed at her with every move. If she’d been standard human normal, she’d have been terrified that she’d have shredded her lungs and drowned in her own blood. Amazing how free you could feel when you just no longer worried about those kinds of considerations. “Come on, we’re clear targets.” She got up—with his help—and tried a step. At least she hadn’t landed feetfirst; that would have resulted in disabling damage that would have taken time to heal. This was all heal-on-the-move stuff.
But . . . Reynolds hadn’t been so lucky. They found him off to the right, crawling for the trees. His right leg was folded the wrong way, and if his arm had been broken before, it was worse now. He was sobbing and babbling under his breath, and under most circumstances Bryn would have been stricken with guilt for what she’d done to him. But then, Reynolds would heal up, and a little pain, for what he’d done, for what he thought was right to do . . . that didn’t bother her much at all.
“Let me go,” he panted as she grabbed him by the unbroken arm and hauled him up. He hopped on his one good leg, and groaned and almost dropped from the pain. “Oh God, oh God . . .”
“Suck it up, Doctor,” Bryn said. “Pat, can you—?” He took the doctor’s other side, and together they half pulled, half led Reynolds into the woods.
Just in time, too, because she heard shouting behind them, and peering back, she saw Jane’s men at the window, looking for them. One of them decided to try a random spray of bullets, which ended up hitting well away from them, but it was proof that they didn’t much care about hitting Dr. Reynolds if it meant stopping the two of them.
“We have to make it to the river,” Bryn said. “It’s too deserted up here, and we’re at a disadvantage.”
“Agreed,” Patrick said. He checked his clip and extra ammo, and shared some with her. “He’s going to take some time to heal. About, what, a couple of hours to get that leg straight again?”
The one time it might have been useful to be contagious, Bryn thought . . . But her upgraded nanites had a cooking time, and they weren’t done yet. Even if she bit Reynolds, all she’d leave was bite marks.
Which reminded her, forcefully, that she was hungry. Seriously, awfully hungry, a sudden emptiness in the pit of her stomach that made her wince and stagger a little—enough that Patrick put a hand on her shoulder.
She heard him ask if she was okay, but all she could see, all she could focus on was his hand. On the thin skin of his wrist. On the blood and veins and muscle and protein that represented.
She closed her eyes in a sudden, sane fit of nausea, and said, “I’m fine. Gotta move, now.”
They did, in grim silence, except for Reynolds; she’d have loved to have silenced him, but a dead (if healing) body would have been even less use than a half-cooperative one. They just kept moving. The hill was granite, with pines stubbornly clinging to the rock and shedding dry needles as they moved beneath them. It smelled lush, but the drought had hit hard up here, and these pines were far from healthy.
If Jane was awake and in charge, Bryn had a terrible premonition of how she’d handle this situation. And she would be awake and back in charge, soon. They’d de-knife her first thing, and while the brain would be a few minutes healing, it wouldn’t keep her unconscious for long.
Jane was a practical sort of ruthless, and she’d want to drive Bryn and Patrick out in the open, out of the trees. She could do that by a huge, expensive deployment of her troops, and risk them being picked off in the dimness, or . . .
. . . Or, she could just use nature to do it for her.
“Faster,” Bryn said breathlessly. Patrick nodded. He didn’t even have the wind to reply, at this point. His head wound was still steadily bleeding, but he wasn’t making a big deal out of it at all. His footing was sure, and he was holding up Reynolds just as solidly as ever—but she didn’t like the tense set of his jaw, or the blank look in his eyes. He was tapping reserves that no one should go for unless they’re down to empty.
They were halfway down the slope, with the glitter of the river distantly in sight, when a five-point buck burst from the trees, running fast. It almost crashed into them, but it veered hard and just brushed Bryn on the way by—graceful and fast and undeniably panicked.
Because behind it, the trees were burning.
A whole row of pines behind the house was on fire—tall, surreal matchsticks burning with an unholy glow even in the afternoon sun. As Bryn watched, the flames jumped from one dry branch to another, creating a solid line of fury.
And it was moving with the wind.
The smell was, incongruously, like warm memories of home, logs on the fire, warm cocoa, safety.
“Jesus,” Patrick said, and dragged Reynolds faster. “Move it!”
The smoke flooded them maybe two minutes later. It wasn’t a gradual thing, though the smell of the fire was already strong. The smoke came in a thick, choking blanket, rolling like fog down the slope, and in seconds their visibility was reduced to hazy, indistinct outlines. Patrick coughed as the ash began to swirl around them. It was hot already, but Bryn felt pinpricks of hellfire where the cinders began to settle on her.
Still at least half a mile to the river. It was impossible to make good time on the rocky, jagged ground, especially with the decreased field of vision, and she began to realize, horribly, that Jane had outmaneuvered her, again. They weren’t going to make it.
She’d died a lot of ways in the past few months—enough to earn herself permanent psych ward status, anyway—but burning . . . burning had a special horror to it. That was how they disposed of the Revived in the end—burning long enough, hot enough would disable the nanites and ultimately end all their lives, even the upgraded ones.
Patrick didn’t even have that to look forward to. He would suffocate in the smoke.
“Go!” Bryn yelled at him. She took all of Reynolds’ weight. “Just run, Patrick—go! You can make it! I’ll follow!”
He was coughing too hard to argue, and she shoved him, hard, in the direction of the downslope. At least they wouldn’t get too far lost. . . . It was obvious which way was down, if nothing else.
Patrick disappeared ahead of them, gone in three steps.
She could hear the roar of the trees behind them now, like rabid animals on their heels. The world shrank to steps, fast and deliberate. Her muscles screamed in pain, her still-healing bones shifted and ripped and pierced, but she didn’t care, didn’t care at all.
Reynolds screamed, snapping her from her trance, and she realized that his shirt was smoking. So was hers.
But they were close. She could see the water. A hundred yards, maybe a hundred and fifty.
All they had to do was make it just a little farther.
She saw Patrick at the edge of the tree line, and he spotted them; he started to run toward them, but she shouted at him to get back, get back, and as Reynolds stumbled and dragged her down, his shirt bursting into open flame, she let him go. She kicked him into a rolling, messy tumble down the slope toward where Patrick anxiously waited. Stop, drop and roll, she thought, and an insane giggle tickled the back of her throat. She swallowed it, because there were things to do. Serious things.
She risked a look at the fire, and froze.
It was . . . terrifying. And beautiful. A monster the size of a building, moving with easy grace and fluid speed. Trees were combusting so fast that their trunks exploded as sap boiled. Animals raced around her—mice, rabbits, what looked like a fox but it was hard to spot in the thick, curling smoke.
Her shirt was on fire now. So was her hair.
No. God. The nanites would keep her hideously alive, of course—hideously alive as the flames burned through skin and muscle and fat. At some point, there wouldn’t be enough of them left, and they’d shut down, but the last of them, the very last, would keep her brain sending and receiving signals while the rest of her burned away. She’d know. She’d know every single second of the agony.