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Johannsen’s cabin was a holocaust of flames and billowing black smoke. Bryn could feel the unnatural heat on her back, even at this distance.

“You were saying?” Joe asked Riley. It was almost his usual, good-natured voice, but the muscles in his jaw were tight, and his eyes were narrow and cold. “About how you don’t work for the Federal Bureau of Corruption? I’m sorry, I might have lost the last of that in the giant fucking explosion that just killed an innocent woman.”

She didn’t answer. She didn’t move, except to shake her head. More denial, Bryn thought, than response. Her world had just been rocked . . . or shattered.

“Come on,” Patrick said, and tapped Joe’s shoulder. “We have to get the hell out of here. If they’ve got a drone, they’ll be coming back around for another pass.”

“Not much use in trying to outrun it,” Joe said, but he eased his weight off of Riley and yanked her up to her feet. While he held her, Patrick gave her a quick, competent pat down for weapons, then shoved her to the SUV. Joe took the backseat next to her, with his own recovered sidearm pointed at her for security. Bryn took the driver’s seat, brushing the broken glass away, and started up the engine. It took a few tries, but it finally caught just as Patrick slammed his door closed and clicked his seat belt in place.

“Any suggestions on how to do this?” she asked him.

“Considering we’re on flat, empty snow plains? Not a fucking clue,” he said. “Small-arms fire won’t help us, either. Just . . . drive. At least we’ll make them work for the privilege.”

It wasn’t a great plan, but Bryn had to agree, it was all they really had. And, some thought, if the drone dropped another missile on them, at least they’d never know it. Even upgrades like her and Riley would be incinerated in a blast of that magnitude. The skies had been clear before, but over the past hour they’d darkened as weather moved in; the low, gray clouds made it impossible to spot any approaching threats. The ruins of the Johannsen cabin smoldered behind them, still burning and sending sullen belches of smoke to the skies, but it fell behind quickly as she edged more speed out of the SUV on the slick, uneven road. Her neck began to hurt from the strain of driving, craning to look at the skies, and the bone-shaking bounce of the SUV on the rutted track.

She realized, about the same time as Joe and Patrick did, that they were worrying about a threat from the sky when they should have been looking out for one at ground level. As the SUV slithered over the top of a rise, and she caught a view of the town of Barrow in the distance, she also saw a glittering row of vehicles spread out in a semicircle below. Heavy SUVs, like the one she was driving. And in front of the SUVs were men, a lot of them, all armed with what looked like military assault rifles.

“Have I said we’re boned already?” Joe asked.

“Twice,” Patrick said. “Still true, though. Riley?”

“I wasn’t told there would be backup,” she said. “It was supposed to be simple. Get the formula, leave you at the cabin, and get back to Barrow.”

“I’m going to hazard a wild guess and say they intended all of the rest of us to go up with Dr. Johannsen,” Bryn said. “Then you’d run into this welcome party. They’d kill you, take the formula, and be out of here within the hour. Nice and clean.”

“Not government,” Joe said. “The drone was a time-share, probably, but these guys? No way they’re military.”

“No,” Patrick agreed flatly.

Bryn stopped the SUV. There was nowhere to go, really—heading out over the tundra wasn’t much of an option. There would likely be dips and ruts that would bury the truck fast, or break an axle . . . and a drone still circled overhead, most likely.

“They’re hers,” Patrick said. He sounded . . . empty, Bryn thought. Drained of emotion. She understood that; too many shocks, too little adrenaline left. Her body simply couldn’t be bothered to power up anymore.

Until she saw Jane.

Patrick’s ex was standing on the running board of one of the SUVs. Her parka’s hood was thrown back, and even at this distance, Bryn recognized her easily. It was something in her body language, really—a kind of infuriating confidence that made Bryn want to kick her ass, personally, never mind all the firepower.

“Well, shit,” Joe said. “Riley? You want to tell us again about the pure, holy intentions of the federal government? I’m all fucking ears.”

The men with rifles were closing them into a killbox. Even if the SUV had been hardened with bulletproof glass and reinforced steel, this would have been dark days, but it was a commercial model, and the blast back at the cabin had done for the glass, anyway. Freezing winds whipped blown snow through the openings and lashed at Bryn’s face. She couldn’t feel her ears, or her fingers. Frostbite could take hold fast, up here.

So could death.

“Options?” Joe asked.

“Don’t see much,” Patrick said, “unless you’ve got the cavalry on standby.”

“Forgot to ship in the horses. My bad. Guess we’re—”

“Giving up?” Patrick asked, and grinned. It was a manic, slightly insane expression, and Bryn’s guts twisted with sudden worry. “You really think I’m giving up to that bitch? I’d rather die in a hail of bullets, wouldn’t you?”

“Some of us don’t have that option,” Riley said quietly. “I’m sorry. This is—”

“Your fault? Yeah. It is. Fuck your apology,” Joe said. “Okay. Plans?”

“Kill ’em,” Patrick said. “What else?”

He grabbed Bryn suddenly, pulled her over, and kissed her. It was a frantic, hot, desperate kind of thing, and she knew, horribly, that it was good-bye.

That they would not walk away from this.

Then Patrick twisted away from her, raised his sidearm, and began calmly, precisely shooting the men who were advancing on the car. Bryn grabbed her own sidearm and fired through her window, counting as men fell. Her hands were shaking, from the cold and the fear, and she was dropping one only every two bullets. In the seat behind her, Joe must have armed Riley, because she, too, was shooting.

Jane’s people weren’t shooting back.

Fuck, she thought, in a cold moment of clarity. They want us alive. They were going to get the cure. One way or another, they’d get it . . . unless she hid it, fast.

She stopped shooting, unzipped her parka’s inner pocket, and unrolled the small glass vial. It wasn’t very big, but it was big enough to scare her.

No choice.

She put the vial in her mouth, shoved it back with her tongue, and forced herself to swallow.

The vial filled her throat, an unyielding, burning obstruction, and she panicked, thrashing. Swallow, you stupid bitch, swallow! She kept trying, and finally, on the fourth convulsive gulp, the glassy weight slid down.

She felt it hit her stomach, and almost vomited it up. Almost.

Jane gave a shouted order, and Patrick yelled, “Incoming!” and grabbed Bryn to yank her down under the cover of the dash—but it wasn’t full grenades, it was flash-bangs that left her weak, blinded, and dizzy. She choked on what must have been tear gas, delivered along with the flash-bangs, and retched up bile and drool as it burned in her lungs.

Her instincts were to get out, fast, and she managed to claw her way free of the truck, somehow, and rolled into the cold snow. It burned on her face, but it felt good, too. So did the relatively clear air.

The stunning effects of the flash-bangs faded, but not before she felt the bite of handcuffs on her wrists, and zip-ties binding her booted ankles. She twisted and writhed, trying to break free, and as she rolled over on her back, she looked up to see Jane’s smiling, hated face.

Jane wiped snot and drool from her mouth and nose with a gloved hand and said, “Oh, Bryn. We are going to have such fun again, you and I. After I finish saying hello to my husband.”

Bryn’s voice came out ragged and rough. “Ex,” she panted, and coughed from deep in her chest. “You fucking psychopath.”

“It’s good to get these feelings out. Feel free to cry if you need to. This is the end, Bryn. I win. We win. From now on, everything changes.” Jane gave her a calm, crazy, saintly sort of smile, and moved on to the others. Sharing her gloating in equal measures.

Please, Bryn thought. Her stomach churned, and her brain was flashing feedback, images of the last time Jane had held her prisoner. She didn’t need that. She needed to think. Liam and Annie, they were with Manny and Pansy. Still free. Manny’s paranoia would have triggered by now, and they’d be heading for safety. He had the cure. It wasn’t over.

It couldn’t be over.

But, as Bryn was picked up and carried like a still-struggling corpse to Jane’s truck, she had to admit that it felt that way.

The glass vial she’d swallowed sat heavy in her stomach. It was sealed, but the stomach acids could eat through the stopper. . . . And if they did, what then? If Thorpe was right, she’d just . . . die. Shut down.

It might not even hurt.

The guard with her was a square-jawed Hispanic man with a shaved head. He seemed too young to be doing this, but his eyes were ancient, and utterly cold as he shoved her into place in the back. She struggled, vainly. He ignored her until he’d filled a syringe from a bottle, and plunged the needle home. She felt warmth and chemical bliss spreading rapidly through her body, and tried to fight it.


She felt cozy and calm by the time Joe was loaded in next to her, equally drugged. Then Patrick. Riley was last, dumped across their laps in a mumbling daze.

And then Bryn faded off into a sunset distance that wasn’t quite unconsciousness.

She never even felt the SUV drive away.

Chapter 23

Coming out of it was bad—nausea and a pounding headache, ashy taste in her mouth. A general feeling of overwhelming despair. That was partly chemical, of course, the despair, but the situation certainly didn’t call for optimism.