“It’s where we keep what’s important to us,” Pansy said; she sounded more serious than Bryn had ever heard her. “It’s our last stand. So yes. Home.”
The upgrades to the facility must have been made in the late sixties or early seventies . . . It had that vaguely futuristic, sterile, spaceship feel to the design, including the oddly shaped doorways. Everything had, no doubt, started off sleek and white, but the plastic hadn’t aged well . . . most of it looked yellowed now.
“Yeah, I can see why you love it,” Joe said. “Comfy.”
That made Pansy finally smile, a little. “This way.”
She took a turn to the right, down another weirdly curving hall, and then opened up a door on the left.
The room was circular, midcentury modern in style, and finished out the same way, with a round bed and vaguely futuristic chairs and desks. A wall-mounted flat TV didn’t look out of place in all that.
Neither did Annie, who was lying on her stomach on the bed, watching Star Wars unfold on the plasma screen. Her wavy hair cascaded over her back, and she was wearing pale pink shorts and a white tank top, and Bryn had a flashback to seeing her in exactly this position, even to the crossed ankles and her fists wedged under her chin.
She’d been fourteen then. She looked just as young now.
“Bryn!” Annie exploded off the bed in a rush, grabbed hold, and danced Bryn around in a dizzying whirl. “Oh God God God, I knew you weren’t dead, they told me you had to be, but I knew it, you bitch, how could you do that to me. . . .” Annie ran out of words and just hugged her, and Bryn hugged back.
Mr. French came charging out from under the bed, barking excitedly, jumping at their feet and shins.
It felt that way.
“She’s fine,” Pansy said. “I told you she was.”
Bryn pushed her sister back and held her at arm’s length. She looked . . . great. Not a scratch. “They haven’t experimented on you?”
“Manny? No way. He just gives me the shots I need—that’s it. I talked to the fam a week ago—well, Mom and Grace, but they’ll tell everybody else. I lied. I said we were together, and we were fine. Had to keep it short, you know? But they’re not worrying. And they’re all safe. Brick has people watching.” Annie studied her face, and Bryn saw the worry in her eyes. “You look bad, honey. What happened to you?”
“Later,” Bryn said. “As long as you’re okay, I’m okay.” She turned to Pansy, who was leaning against the door. “I assume Manny wants us.”
“Manny is chewing through the straps on his straitjacket in his eagerness,” Manny’s voice said. It came from inset speakers in the slick plastic ceiling. “Pansy, quit playing happy families and get them up here. Now.”
“Yes, o master,” she said, and flipped him off.
“I saw that,” he said.
“He didn’t,” she told them. “No cameras in the rooms. I insisted. But come on. He needs to talk to you.”
“Annie comes, too,” Bryn said.
Pansy sighed. “Fine. But leave the dog.”
Bryn ignored that, too. Mr. French was too excited to be left behind, and she let him trail along after them.
There was, it seemed, an elevator after all, in the central core; it whisked them up a couple of floors, and Pansy got them past more security doors, into what seemed to be . . . an office.
He had a big white desk, chair, a shocking red rug, and a few guest chairs that matched the bloody color. Modern art on the walls that seemed weirdly avant-garde for someone like him, but Bryn had learned not to assume anything, by now.
Liam was standing next to the desk, reading a report from a file folder. He put it down as they filed in, and greeted them all with a nod and smile—but no handshakes or backslaps, not now.
Manny glanced up. He was wearing the square reading glasses again, punching keys on a laptop as if they’d done him personal wrong, and he kept typing as he said, “Never thought I’d see any of you again.”
“Glad to see you, too, Manny,” Patrick said. He offered Bryn a chair, but she shook her head. Annie slipped into it instead and crossed her legs; she seemed completely at ease, but if she was, Bryn thought she was the only one. Even Mr. French couldn’t settle down, weaving around her legs and pressing close to emphasize how much he’d missed her. “Guess Bryn told you that Jane’s dead.”
That merited another uplift of the man’s attention, and raised brows. “You can verify it?”
“I was there,” Patrick said. “If the cure worked, she’s gone. But that hasn’t solved anything, has it?”
“No,” Manny said. “There’s a reason we’re in the fucking last-stand bunker. You remember your friend Major Plummer? The one with the shiny helicopters who ran to your rescue? Plummer reports that there’s a new inoculation program being implemented in select branches of service. I think we can all guess what that might be.”
“Returné,” Patrick said.
“They’ve manufactured enough in military labs to take care of the key areas. As far as I can tell, they’re implementing the upgrades on the elites, like the Rangers, SEAL teams, and such. CIA’s probably got its own programs running. Ditto every other wannabe badass agency with initials out there. And it’s spreading. Other countries are trying to grab samples for replication.”
“What is the Fountain Group doing?”
“What they always do—profit from it,” Manny said sourly. “I know who they are. Hell, I know where they are. They’re the same people at the heart of everything that cuts money out of the world and stuffs it into their pockets. They own the factories. Right now, it’s covert, but they’re protected now. The government’s on board and in bed, and making sweet nanite love. They get what they’ve always gotten—power, and money. And it’s done. They’ve won.”
Bryn regretted giving up her chair to Annie, because her knees felt suddenly watery. She gripped Patrick’s arm tight enough to leave a mark. “They can’t. They can’t win, Manny. We can’t just—give up.”
He studied her in silence for a moment. Studied them all. And she got the very distinct, unpleasant feeling that there was something he wasn’t telling them.
“You have the solution,” Patrick said. “The cure works. You said it works.”
“Thorpe’s cure works,” Manny agreed, “but it’s a losing game. No way we can get enough out there, fast enough. Worse, nobody’s going to cooperate in giving it. We can’t stealth-inject a hundred, or a thousand, or a million. Or a billion. And that’s where it’s going. Exponential growth, like a virus. Nobody wants to die, Pat. Not you, not me. It’s the Achilles’ heel of the human race. Our survival instinct.”
“Parents will infect their children to save them,” Pansy said. “Why not? Who can stand to see their children die? Or their parents, or relatives, or friends? It doesn’t stop. It can’t stop until we stop it.” And they all knew that was true—Joe, standing there recently infected, was proof enough of that.
“You just—you just said it can’t be stopped,” Annie said. “Pansy? You’re scaring me.”
“Good,” Manny said. “Because what I’m about to show you is fucking terrifying.”
Nobody said anything to that. Liam looked down; he already knew, Bryn saw. Pansy did, too, but she just stared straight at Manny.
He said, “I didn’t want this burden. You brought it to me, Pat. You made me part of this. I’m not going to make the last decision. One of you—one of you needs to do that. Because whatever you do, me and Pansy, we’re going to be safe.”
“Will you?” Liam asked him. “What happens when Pansy falls ill? She will. It’s the human condition. She’ll develop some flaw, some disease, something that will start her on a path toward the end. What will you do? Let her go?”
“Yes,” Pansy said. “He’ll let me go. Because he knows—he knows that it’s the right thing to do.”
“So we’re all wrong, is that it?” Joe asked. “Wrong to want to fight to live?”
She shook her head to that. “I don’t know. I can’t answer for you, or for anybody else. Just me. And I say—I say I’d rather not be part of the next phase of humanity. I’m opting out.”
“You say you can stop this,” Patrick said to Manny. “Show us how.”
Manny pressed keys on his computer, and behind him, the blank white wall slid aside, revealing thick, floor-to-ceiling observation glass. Beyond it was a huge array of computer servers. “The room was originally built to house those big sons of bitches they used back in the sixties,” he said. “Punch cards and tape drives. It was upgraded with Crays in the eighties. What’s in there now is enough computing power to make Google envious. It’s running silent, but it’s hooked into every single broadcast tower in the cellular networks. Every commercial television tower and satellite. Every GPS network. I’ve spent the time you were gone working with every major infoterrorist group in the world to get this done, so I’m not just a criminal; I’m probably on everybody’s most-wanted list right now—or would be, if they knew who I was. See, Thorpe was right, but he was a doctor. He thought like a doctor, one-to-one relationship. I thought like a technician.”
“Nanites are machines,” Liam said. “Incredibly small, yes. Incredibly limited in some ways. But they are sensitive to certain very specific transmission signals. Thorpe’s cure was the key. . . . It didn’t destroy the machines; it turned them off using a code sequence.”
Bryn felt cold, now, but she said what they were all thinking. “You have a remote kill code and the means to deliver it. You don’t need the serum, or needles. You can kill it all, simultaneously.”