“You keep asking that question,” Manny said. He sounded amused. “Ask the butler.”
“I am not a butler,” Liam said, but he sounded more resigned than offended. “I thought you might want to see him, Bryn. And I was a bit afraid that Jane . . . Well, you understand. The rest of the estate dogs were moved to a new kennel, but Mr. French seemed to be missing you quite a bit. I thought it was worth bringing him. He’ll stay on the plane, of course.”
“Did you have to put down a pet deposit?” she asked, and laughed through her tears. “Oh God, thank you, Liam. Thank you. I—I really needed him.” Because Mr. French’s unwavering love was one thing that hadn’t become complicated, although she knew that he could tell she was . . . different. But he was sensitive to her, and she knew that he was an excellent judge of character—her character. If she found him looking at her with doubt, she would need to check herself.
And if he growled . . . she’d need to stop.
“Stupid dog,” she whispered, and rubbed his ears. He made a contented sound in the back of his throat, almost like a purr, and flopped limply across her lap. “God, I missed you, mutt.”
He opened one eye to look at her, as if to say that he hadn’t missed her at all.
The takeoff was bumpy, but once the plane was in the air the ride was smooth as glass. Below, the late-summer landscape of Anchorage still looked clear, but as the plane moved north, snow appeared—patchy at first, and then solid, then hardpacked. Not winter yet, but winter was coming fast, and in this part of the world, coming with an iron, icy fist to smash all the unprepared fools who tried to cross it.
This will be fast, she told herself. We land; I find this scientist; I grab the stored sample; we’re gone and headed for San Francisco. She had no doubt that Manny was right that his trail was clear—he was a past master of evasion and misinformation—but they’d left Reynolds behind, and Reynolds could be a fatal problem.
“Patrick,” she said, “Dr. Reynolds . . . we should have brought him with us. Just in case. He’s a liability.”
He gave her a long, unreadable look, and then put his head back against the seat and sighed. “Do you want me to say it?” he asked. “All right. I gave the order. I didn’t want you to be responsible for it. You . . . bonded with him; I could see that. You felt sorry for him, and I understand that. But I couldn’t leave him there, with all the knowledge he’d gained from us along the way.”
She sat upright, pulling against the seat belt. Mr. French huffed in agitation and had to adjust his comfortable slouch on her lap. “What did you do? Patrick?”
“What you would have done if you’d been thinking straight,” he said. “The driver has what he needs.”
“You had him killed?” She didn’t know why that felt so wrong, or like such a betrayal; it shouldn’t have, really. She’d meant to do the same on returning; it was exactly what she knew Reynolds wanted. What he’d asked for. But somehow, having it taken out of her hands enraged her, and she glared at him with so much fury that she felt Mr. French stir in her lap and put his paw on her hand, clearly trying to get her attention. She patted him, and felt some of the fury recede. “Patrick, why didn’t you—”
“You think I had him killed? Why would you think that?” he asked her, and gave her a very strange look. “I made sure the driver had a supply of Returné and took him to a secured lockdown. Nobody’s going to hurt him. We might need his information about the San Francisco meeting. What I meant was that I arranged for him to live.”
He was right, of course, and in retrospect she couldn’t understand why she’d thought so intensely about ending his pain, instead of getting him a palliative treatment—another shot of Returné. It wasn’t a cure, but it would stop his suffering.
But she knew that just delayed it, and that was the problem. It felt . . . futile. Useless. Another day of staving off the inevitable.
“I just wanted it to be over,” she confessed, and concentrated on petting Mr. French’s warm, short fur. “For him.”
“Don’t you mean for you?” Patrick’s voice had turned gentle and soft, and was almost lost in the sound of the plane’s engines. He took her other hand. “Bryn . . .”
“Maybe,” she whispered. “Maybe I did mean that. I just—it’s so much. At first it’s adrenaline; it’s determination; then it just becomes adaptation, I suppose. But then you get this moment, this moment where you see it all clearly, your future, what you’re going to become, and . . . I don’t want to be that. I love you, but I can’t be that. We’re fooling ourselves that this is some kind of . . . disease that can be managed. Death isn’t a disease, Pat. It’s what cures it.”
He’d paled during that short speech, and his hand had tightened on hers. “Don’t,” he said. “Please don’t.”
“I’m not going to get better, Pat,” she said. “I wish I could, but we both know how this will end. It isn’t just the PTSD that accumulates from all this . . . resurrection. It’s more. It’s worse. It . . . twists what I am, inside. Like it did Jane. Promise me—”
“Promise me that if—”
“I said no, Bryn. I mean it.” He did. She could see the haunted look even in her peripheral vision, feel his distress like heat against her skin.
She never, ever wanted to hurt him, but she knew . . . she knew that she would. Eventually. Just like Jane. She could remember that cold, detached feeling inside her—the sense that she was standing apart from the world, from people. That none of it really meant anything.
That detachment wasn’t distance, it was sociopathy, and she was slowly, surely contracting it. What would happen when she couldn’t connect anymore? When Patrick’s feelings didn’t matter? When even the trusting sweetness of Mr. French no longer had any impact? It would mean the end of her as a person. Worse, it would be the beginning of her as a monster. She already ate flesh, when desperate. If she tipped over the edge, lost everything that had ever mattered . . . then hunger would be all that was left. Not Bryn.
He didn’t understand that being that . . . being so empty . . . would be worse than dying.
Fine. She couldn’t ask Patrick to do it, then, but Manny wouldn’t hesitate. He was ruthless enough, and he’d understand why she asked. He’d seen all this as an abomination from the beginning—a great scientific achievement, but nonetheless, something to be feared, not praised. Pansy might object, but in the end . . . in the end, she’d understand, too. Even Joe would.
Not Annie, though. Even now, not her sister.
Bryn closed her eyes against a sudden shudder of turbulence, and concentrated on the gentle, warm weight of Mr. French in her lap until she drifted off to sleep.
She woke up with the extremely sharp-edged alertness that comes with too many crises, and found, to her shock, that what she’d felt was the plane touching down on the icy runway.
They’d made it to Barrow.
And now she had to find Thorpe’s mysterious scientist and grab that last sample of the cure . . . before Jane got it first.
A public access computer terminal in the airport’s private lounge turned up a Kiera Johannsen’s blog. She had about fifty followers, and she generally talked about dense science that Bryn didn’t even attempt to follow. The photo on the blog showed a fortysomething woman with close-cropped red hair and a ready smile; she had the tan of someone who enjoyed the outdoors, and a hiker’s lean build. Not pretty, but she had an attractive strength in her face. Compelling, Bryn thought.
She didn’t look like someone who’d give up without a fight.
Kiera Johannsen’s research station was more of a cabin, and global positioning showed it was pretty much out on the fringes of everything . . . which was evidently where she liked to live. Getting out there was going to be a challenge; roads weren’t a priority out that far, though there must have been some kind of rudimentary trail leading up to the research station. Johannsen did come into town from time to time, according to the blog; she had an addiction to mint chocolate chip ice cream, and the store in town ordered it special for her by the gallon. Couldn’t be lucky enough to be a day the woman made an ice-cream run, though—and sure enough, when Bryn dropped into the small shop, asking casually after Kiera yielded a fountain of mostly useless info about the woman’s habits and schedules. Mostly useless because she’d been in four days before to pick up her monthly order, and wasn’t due back for a while. The clerk did point out the best way to get to the research station, though, and marked it on the map.
Back at the airport, Bryn showed it to the others, and Joe and Patrick and Riley all geared up to accompany her. “I don’t think we need SEAL Team Six,” she protested. “C’mon, she’s a scientist. Manny could take her.”
“Probably,” Manny agreed. He was working another crossword—and, she realized, that was probably to deal with general anxiety. This was hard for him, being on the move without any good way to seek solid cover. Even the plane probably gave him bad feelings of exposure. But he was hanging in there, and playing it as cool as she’d ever seen him, except in the middle of a crisis. Pansy was being a helicopter girlfriend, though—hovering. Obviously worried about him, and just as obviously hoping nobody would notice.
Manny looked up over his glasses, straight at Bryn, and said, “Take the firepower, you idiot. We’re not playing for pickup sticks. You know what’s at stake.”
She did, and she bowed her head to acknowledge it. “I rented a truck,” she said. “It should get us out there and back in about two hours, maybe less. Keep the pilot close, we might have to leave fast.”
“We’ll be ready,” Liam promised. He, she noticed, was conspicuously armed with what looked like a nine millimeter pistol tucked snugly in a shoulder harness. It gave him a dangerously piratical edge. Annie, on the other hand, was looking stormy; she was sitting on the edge of her seat, elbows on the table, and frowning. Liam, not too subtly, had his hand on her shoulder, pinning her in place. He smiled and said, “Don’t worry, we won’t eat all the snacks before you return.”