It took a surprisingly small time to process each of them through the security system—a palm scan, an ocular scan, and reading a short phrase into a microphone. Pansy was efficient and calm about it, though she was obviously bone-tired; she handed them each ID cards with clips when the process was done. “We’ve got extra clothing, too,” she said, no doubt because Bryn’s were messily ruined. “There’s a wardrobe room on level two. Pretty much like a store, sorted by men’s, women’s, and children’s wear, into sizes. Plain stuff, but it ought to work. Raid it as you need it.”
She took a pair of wire cutters out of a drawer and snapped the plastic zip-ties securing Manny where he’d been deposited on a plastic chair, and then walked to the other door. Another palm scan to open it. “This way to the mansion,” she said. “Oh, and wear your ID cards at all times. You can open the doors with palm scans or eye scans, but you need the ID card on you or the facility goes into lockdown. You don’t want to be in the shower when that happens, by the way. I speak from experience. Um . . . Patrick, could you . . . ?” She gestured to Manny, and Patrick picked him up and carried him through the door. Bryn followed . . . and realized that Pansy had been dead-on descriptive in calling this the mansion.
Either Manny or Pansy or both had taken a forbidding room and turned it into a beautiful, soaring living space—the floors were treated, subtly colored concrete, covered with expensive rugs and groupings of lush sofas and chairs. It was modern but comfortable, and vast impressionist and abstract canvases—almost certainly all real, and all insanely expensive—were mounted on the walls. The plasma screen TV was a vast size, but it looked small in the space, comparatively.
And they had books. Lots of books, with shelves that stretched up two stories—a library with its own system of movable wooden ladders.
“Wow,” Riley said. “I guess being a mad scientist for hire pays pretty well. Because I guarantee you he didn’t earn this working at the FBI lab all those years.”
Pansy gave her a cool, unreadable look, and said, “Thanks, Patrick, you can put him down here on the couch. Maybe you should all go get yourselves some rooms, showers, whatever. Just take the hallways going either right or left. Guest rooms have signs. You can write your names on the boards on the doors.”
“Pansy—” Bryn wanted to hug her, but she knew it wasn’t the time, and besides, she felt sticky and filthy. “Thank you. Thank you for doing this for us.”
“You’re probably worth the risk,” Pansy said, and gave her a fleeting wink. “Manny’s going to be a grumpy, angry bear, and I mean grizzly angry, but he’ll come around eventually. Just . . . let me handle it. Oh, and guys? Weapons stay here in this room, with us. All of them. For our safety.”
They all exchanged looks, especially Joe and Patrick; they didn’t like disarming, but there was no threat here, especially nothing they could shoot their way out of. So with a shrug, Joe put down his converted AR-15, unholstered his handgun, and removed a couple of combat knives. Patrick added to the pile. Each of them did in turn. When the last person disarmed, Pansy nodded her thanks. “You’ll get it all back,” she promised. “We have an armory on level two. It takes a special code, which Manny and I have. Once he’s sure you’re all okay, he’ll probably share it with you, but it’s not for me to do. I’ve done enough already. Oh, I almost forgot, one more thing. Arm, Bryn. You too, Riley.”
She produced two syringes. Riley frowned and shook her head. “We don’t need that. The upgrade means no daily shots.”
“I know,” Pansy said. “The shot I gave you earlier canceled out the tracking frequencies for your nanites, but these will deactivate the tracking functionality altogether. Otherwise, they’ll be colonizing bones and making you a living GPS, and we can’t keep giving you the neutralizer shots. So be quiet and take your medicine, ladies.”
Bryn couldn’t object, and neither did Riley; they knew the risks, and also knew how big a gift they’d been given.
Although Manny might end up stuffing them back in the van and out the gate just as quickly. She supposed that she ought to get a shower, new clothes, and as much rest as possible before he woke up, so after the burn of the shot that Pansy administered had subsided, she joined Patrick as he left the main living area and took the door into the hallway to the right. “I can’t quite believe this,” Bryn said, and ran her fingers over the smooth, cool concrete of the walls as they walked. “How the hell does he afford all this?”
“You really want to know?” Patrick asked.
“He holds the patent on at least three major lifestyle drugs developed in the past fifteen years, and he does independent consulting work for dozens of research labs—that’s his clean income. He gets much more from sources that aren’t quite as . . . aboveboard. Insanely rich people wanting a special drug developed for their own use, for instance—a safe, special, legal high. Private forensic work for corporations that don’t necessarily want to involve law enforcement. That sort of thing. He holds a lot of secrets, Manny does, and all that just feeds his native paranoid tendencies. Add to that a certain agoraphobia, and . . . you end up here, in a missile bunker.”
“But one with great amenities.”
“Exactly.” He smiled, but it was weary and small, and she took his hand in hers. “Ah. I guess this is one of the guest rooms.”
It was labeled that way, with a simple black nameplate, and a write-on/wipe-off board below that. Bryn wrote her name on the board and opened the door. She was expecting the basics—a plain bed, maybe a desk, a simple shower. But the room was lushly carpeted, with a broad king-sized bed, nightstand, work desk, art . . . and a modern full-sized bath. Suddenly, Bryn craved every single bit of that with an intensity that made her shake.
She looked wordlessly at Patrick, and he read it in her. He leaned in and kissed her gently. “Go catch a shower and rest,” he said. “We can talk later.”
What he wasn’t saying was that they needed to talk later, but she understood. It didn’t matter just now. She was far too sore, too exhausted, too dirty to care, and she closed and thumb-locked the door, stripped off her bloody clothes down to the skin, and was in the shower and shampooing her hair before she remembered she hadn’t thought to go to the wardrobe room. Damn.
That, she decided, was a problem she’d face later. Half an hour of hot water later, she toweled her hair dry and crawled naked between the sheets, and was asleep within seconds of hitting the dimmer switch by the bed.
• • •
She probably could have slept the clock round, but six hours later, a doorbell she didn’t know she had rang a soft chime, and the room’s lights automatically brightened themselves to a soft shimmer, enough to let her make her way to the door. She remembered she was naked about two seconds before opening it, and hunted in the closet to find—yes!—a fluffy white bathrobe that enveloped her in sandalwood-scented luxury.
She found Liam standing on the other side of the door when she opened it. He was holding a set of hangers, and bowed slightly as he handed them over. “I took the liberty,” he said. “Patrick thought you might need something, considering how damaged your clothing was. He didn’t think you had the energy to go shopping.”
Liam had also freshened up; the jeans and checked shirt he wore weren’t his usual dapper style, but he still looked starched, somehow. She took the clothes and smiled back at him. “Thanks, Liam. Um . . . I didn’t have time to ask, but . . . are the dogs okay . . . ?” Because one thing the two of them shared was a love of dogs. His were the various hounds that lived at the McCallister estate; hers was a bulldog that had gotten caught up in the recent chaos. And she’d missed him badly.
“I made sure we recovered them outside of Pharmadene, including Mr. French,” he said. “I had the opportunity to board them before we came for you. I’m afraid anything we left in the estate is probably going to be seized, at best, and I was afraid to leave the dogs to their tender mercies.”
It hurt her to think of her adorable bulldog, Mr. French, in some boarding cage, but she couldn’t do anything for him just now—and besides, knowing Liam, it would be the cushiest pet spa of all, and Mr. French wouldn’t want for a thing. Right now, she needed her dog’s unquestioning love more than he needed hers.
Her world had narrowed down into the single goal of kill or be killed, and her sweet pet didn’t have any place in that. And she wasn’t cruel enough to pretend he did.
Even if she wanted to.
“May I ask you something?” he said, and she blinked and focused back on Liam. “Your . . . new biological status. How dangerous are you, Bryn? Really?”
“Not dangerous to you or Patrick,” she said. “Maybe a little, to my sister, because she’s already got the nanites. These upgrades can’t infect regular people, only those brought back with Returné.”
His smile didn’t waver as he said, “You wouldn’t be lying to me about that, would you?”
“I wouldn’t, Liam.”
“I’d fully understand if you felt the need,” he said. “But it would be a rather massive mistake to give in to the temptation.”
She nodded, just a little, and didn’t break eye contact. “You’d kill to protect him,” she said. “I know that.”
“Specifically, I would kill you to protect him,” Liam said. “If you posed a clear and present danger. But I will take your word for it that you don’t.” The unspoken part of that was for now, and Bryn clearly understood it, and acknowledged it. “Dinner is being served. I thought you might be hungry.”
She was, she realized. Very. Which was upsetting and worrisome. Bryn clutched the clothes to her chest, closed the door and dressed very quickly; it all fit, more or less, and as she came out of the room she saw her sister waiting in the hallway.