Page 46

She was alone, in an empty room. No windows. It was smooth concrete, with inset lighting far above protected by thick mesh. One door with no interior handle, and no hinges visible.

The only design feature was a drain about three inches across. That was chilling. She remembered being in one of these types of rooms before when she faced decomposition; the drain represented easy cleanup when all the screaming was over. The only difference was that where the Pharmadene death chambers had been white, and fitted with observation windows, this was more like . . . a tomb.

It terrified her that she didn’t know where they’d taken Patrick, or Joe, or Riley. Dying was something she’d long ago accepted—however long and painfully it might come. But losing people . . . That was something she couldn’t reconcile. She’d lost a sister when she was young, and had never known what had become of her. She’d lost plenty of friends and people she trusted, since all this had turned her life into a nightmare.

But she couldn’t become used to it. The idea of never seeing Patrick again made her black and hollow inside. The idea that Jane would be the last face he ever saw . . .

I have to kill her, Bryn thought, with razor-sharp clarity. If I do nothing else ever again, I have to find a way to kill her.

There weren’t any weapons here. They’d stripped her and put her into a cheap paper coverall, in a deeply unflattering blue. Bare feet in paper slippers.

She stared hard at the drain. It wasn’t just a hole in the ground; there was a brass perforated plate over it, probably to discourage rats from using it as a freeway entrance. No visible screws. She tried pulling it up, but got nowhere. Nails broke off, leaving her fingers bloody, but she finally managed to pry up one end, and work two fingertips beneath for leverage.

The cover snapped off. It wasn’t a lot of help, even then, because it was smooth and round. The screw had broken off cleanly, and there was no digging it out of the fastening in the drain.

Bryn stared at the round shape for a few long moments, then licked the blood from her fingers, took a firm grip, and began methodically working it back and forth against the concrete floor. It would take hours to make any kind of dent in it.

She had all the time in the world.

Hours did pass, long ones; she kept grinding the drain cover down, and once she had a straight edge, she began to strop it back and forth in brisk scrapes. Her dad had favored a straight razor, and she’d often watched him sharpen the blade on the leather strop that had hung in the bathroom against the pale green tile. The same strop he’d used to whip them when they misbehaved, or when they’d gotten in trouble in school, or brought home bad grades, or . . .

All this time, Bryn had never thought about her father much. He was a hole, a shape without a face, but the action of sharpening that makeshift blade filled things in for her. He’d had Annie’s eyes, the same clear color; he’d liked close shaves and sharply astringent aftershave. Clean white T-shirts under his work shirts.

The strop. The strop had disappeared, at some point. Bryn remembered that, remembered hearing an argument between her parents. It was about the same time that her sister Sharon had vanished into thin air at nineteen . . . and about the same time that Grace, then sixteen, had gotten pregnant.

It was all significant, somehow. The strop. Sharon. Grace’s pregnancy. Bryn had just tried to block it all out; her father and brothers had been an angry bunch, though Tate, then just eleven, had stayed close to her.

It had been the strop that was significant, but Bryn didn’t remember why. Just the argument, the indistinct screaming voices. Grace, weeping. Slamming doors.

And Sharon, just . . . gone. Gone and never coming back.

Bryn froze in the act of sharpening as she heard a sound at the door—the distinct click of a lock coming open. She sat against the far wall, knees drawn up, with the drain cover concealed in her right palm. She tested the edge with her pinkie fingertip. Not razor-sharp, but sharp enough to cut, with enough force behind it.

She knew it would be Jane, and it was.

The woman walked in and shut the door behind her, leaned against it, and crossed her arms. “Well,” she said. “Look at you. Feeling better?”

“Sure,” Bryn said. “Love what you’ve done with the place, Jane. You have such a flair for decorating.”

“I do,” Jane said, and gave her a slow, cat-in-the-cream smile. “You’re going to die here, so I’m glad you like the accommodations. Of course, given your upgrades, it’ll take . . . well, a really long time. No food, no water—that will starve them out. But our best estimates are that you’ll probably last at least three or four weeks before you start losing limbs. That’s how it happens, you know. The nanites begin to jettison excess baggage to preserve core systems, so they shut off the extremities. Legs first, one at a time. Then arms. Of course, at that point, you’re just a torso and a head rolling around on the floor, screaming. I really don’t know what comes after that, though; we haven’t done a whole lot of research.”

“Glad I can help,” Bryn said. Her throat felt dry, but she still managed a smile almost as cynical as Jane’s.

“Did you want to ask me anything?” Jane said.

Bryn shrugged. “Not really.”

“Not even about Patrick?”

Bryn stayed quiet, eyes focused somewhere beyond Jane. It was important not to flinch just now. Not to show anything that Jane could feed from, because Jane was a bone-deep sadist.

“You’ll be happy to know he was reluctant about starting things up with me again,” Jane said. “Of course, that’s the amazing thing about medical science. Those little blue pills don’t really give a shit whether you find your partner attractive.”

Bitch. She was talking about rape, Patrick’s rape, and Bryn tried not to react to that in any way. “You know, I might be the first to explain this to you, but it isn’t the dick that’s important,” she said. “It’s the man.”

“Wow. You’re such a Girl Scout. I kind of admire that. You’re not even going to ask if he’s still alive?”

“Why would I make you happy?”

Jane laughed a little and shook her head. “You’ve certainly grown a pair since the last time we played together, Bryn. I have to give it up to you. I thought you’d go down easy. I really did. But . . . you’ve surprised me, and that’s something I value. I hope you’ll continue to be just as entertaining when you’re down to a head on a torso.”

Open the door, you bitch. Open it.

“We found the cure, right where you hid it,” Jane said. “Just thought you should know.”

The shock hit Bryn hard, and she flinched and looked up, without meaning to. Jane’s smile was rich with triumph.

“So the cure still exists,” she said. “Thought so. Poor Patrick spent all this time trying to sell me on the idea that it went up with the cabin, and you undid all that hard work in just one careless look. I’ll let him know you fucked him. Then I’ll fuck him, and then I’ll come back. We’ll spend some quality time while you decide to tell me where you’ve hidden it.”

She turned and tapped on the door. The lock clicked.

Bryn tightened her grip on the brass makeshift knife she held, and watched Jane leave.

Watched the door shut again.

Killing Jane right now would feel fantastic, but it wouldn’t do any good. The bitch had told her something significant, even if she didn’t realize it. They’d stripped her naked and searched her—probably cavity searched them all, too. Gone over every inch of the SUV. Probably sifted through the snow near the cabin and road.

But Jane hadn’t found the cure.

Bryn took in a deep breath, let it out, and unsnapped her coveralls, stepped out of them, and sat down against the wall, naked.

This was going to hurt.

She pressed the sharpened edge of the brass knife to the trembling flesh of her stomach, prayed that the nanites were still strong enough to keep her going.

Then she began to cut.

Chapter 24

Bryn passed out three times before she managed to dig the bottle out of her upper intestines. Packing her guts back in was horrifying, and she had to hold the wound closed, lying on her side, until the flesh began to knit together enough to ensure it all held together properly. She passed out with the bottle—still sealed, amazingly, though the seal showed signs of pitting from her stomach acids—clutched tight in her other hand.

Cleaning up was a challenge she decided to skip, for the most part; after the blood was dry, she put the coverall back on to disguise the worst, and spit-bathed her hands and the splashes on her visible skin. That was harder than she’d thought, simply because she’d been a long time without water, and her saliva was starting to dry up. She emptied her bladder and used the contents to scrub the blood from the floor. It was still stained, but not recognizably. If Jane asked—which she doubted—she’d tell her she’d lost control of her bowels.

Jane would find that funny.

It took another three days before her nemesis came for another gloat. Bryn had chosen her spot carefully—a corner, angled so that she could push off from the wall and reach Jane with the shortest possible path.

Jane came in with two guards—uniformed, wearing surplus military fatigues. Bryn hadn’t expected that, and felt a cold chill; she didn’t think she could take both armed men and still do to Jane what she’d planned. It would be too chaotic, and give Jane too much time.

But Jane had decided to up the stakes, and behind the two men came Patrick. Pale, unshaven, bruised, he walked with his gaze focused on the floor, and the curve of his shoulders . . . He looked utterly different in the way he carried himself.

He looked . . . broken.

“I brought you a friend,” Jane said. “Patrick said he’d like to see you through this time of . . . challenge.”

She pushed him forward, into the center of the cell. Bryn couldn’t breathe, and couldn’t look away from him. His hair had grown about half an inch, and it looked lank and unwashed.