“Before you two start making small talk about rolfing, let’s get serious for a moment,” Patrick said. “We’re going to need more than just the four of us. Does Manny have any contacts he can touch?”
“Yes. But I’m almost certain they’ll all be tagged by now. Manny’s friends, on the other hand, will be much harder to identify, locate, and hopefully to sideline.”
“His friends like to be paid. They’re kind of, you know, mercenary.”
“We can do that,” Liam said. “For a short time, anyway. I’m presuming that this is not a long-term struggle.”
“If it is, we’ll lose,” Patrick said. “The Fountain Group is a very clear threat; they stepped in when Pharmadene folded, and they had enough influence and forward planning to infiltrate the FBI and take control of the research program—and make the upgrades. We don’t know what they’re planning, only that they have gone too far to stop, and they clearly don’t have any kind of moral limit. We’ll have the government backing us, at least the honest parts of it, for some of what we do. But if we can get to the people who run the Fountain Group, do it fast and surgically, we can break this down in a matter of days. That’s our goal. Days, not weeks.”
“Good, because I don’t want to have my wife and kids in hiding forever,” Joe said. Bryn felt a twinge of guilt for that, because it was her fault that his family had been drawn into all this, even tangentially; they were great kids, and Kylie was a lovely woman. Joe didn’t deserve to have his life destroyed, but now that they were all marked for destruction, there wasn’t any choice. It was fight and win, or lose everything.
Patrick caught Bryn’s eye, and held it, as he said, “We’re not giving up. Nobody here is giving up. It’s not in our natures.”
After that, it seemed as if a dark shadow had passed. Bryn and Riley finished their steaks; everybody else ate their dinners; Joe and Annie and Pansy traded friendly, snarky banter. Liam added in the occasional dry bon mot. It was . . . comfortable.
Bryn glanced up in the corner, and realized that there was a small camera installed there. She’d subconsciously been aware of it, she realized—and aware that Manny was almost certainly watching them.
She picked up her plate and silverware, walked to the sink, and washed everything before loading it in the dishwasher. Let him observe that the ravening, unpredictable zombie was being domestic. Maybe he’d change his mind, a little, if she didn’t do anything to freak him out again. Pansy often referred to “talking Manny off the ledge,” and sometimes she meant it literally—but his mood was more focused on homicide than suicide, Bryn thought.
She got herself a glass of wine from the common bottle, and touched Patrick on the shoulder as she passed him. “I’m going to my room,” she said. “We need to talk. Come see me.”
He shot her a glance, clearly assessing, and then nodded. In all the chaos and fury of their escape from Pharmadene, she hadn’t had time to address the big five-hundred-pound gorilla standing between them, but tonight . . . tonight that had to change.
Tonight, they had to talk about her new status as what amounted to a full-on zombie, if mercifully free of the rotting flesh . . . and, although it might be something selfish, they also had to talk about something Patrick had chosen to hide from her.
One way or another, whatever else the conversation brought . . . they were going to talk about Jane.
• • •
Bryn waited in her room sitting at the table; she’d found a stack of books on a small shelf in the corner, and was thumbing through a pretty interesting account of an Amazon explorer when the knock came at the door.
She opened it, nodded to Patrick, who nodded back, and shut the door behind him. She took the edge of the bed, and he didn’t try to sit beside her; one thing about Patrick, he’d never been colorblind to nuances. He took the office chair and rolled it close, sat, and put his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward. She didn’t think she’d seen him looking quite so lumberjack-casual before; the jeans and hiking boots suited him. So did the gray tee under the checked shirt. It made his late-day beard growth look comfortable and appropriate.
She had to admit it: she liked him scruffy. But she had to put that aside, in a mental closet, and lock the door on it, because this discussion wasn’t going there.
“So,” he said. “You’re . . . the new, improved model.”
“I’m still me, Pat. You know that I am. I’m just . . . tougher to hurt. Comes in handy, believe me.”
“I do,” he said. “But we didn’t even fully understand the fallout from the original version of the drug, Bryn. And now . . . now you’re carrying around something that’s first-trial experimental. You have to promise me that you’ll tell me if you feel something is . . . different. Anything.”
“Well,” she said, “I have this totally unsettling need to overeat. You know how when you’re pregnant, they say you’re eating for two? Well, I’m eating for about a hundred billion of these little bastards.” She tried to make it sound flippant, but it scared her, and she knew he saw it.
But it was okay. It was okay to be scared, with him.
“Don’t keep it from me if anything changes,” he said. “Promise me.”
“Yeah, speaking of that, you should have told me that your ex-wife was a psychopathic sadist killer for hire,” she said. “Or, failing that, you could have at least told me you’d been married before.”
“It was—” He stopped and shook his head, looking down at his boots for a moment before meeting her gaze again. “It was not something I want to look back on very much, Bryn. I was hoping you’d get that.”
“You must have loved her.”
“I did,” he said softly. “We were young and we shared the same ideals, the same goals. I met her in the military. It’s a hothouse environment, and it breeds obsessions . . . and we obsessed on each other. I admit that. But I truly thought we could make it work once we’d shipped home, and we did, for a while. But she had a dark side, darker than mine, and it just kept . . . growing. By the time she volunteered for the Pharmadene trial, when they were first testing the nanites . . . she was already a little unstable. I tried to stop her from signing up, but she just wouldn’t let me.”
“Jane was one of the first, then. One of the first Returné experiments.”
“Yes. And she was a success. A brilliant success. She adapted so well, so quickly to the nanites that it seemed to prove everything that they’d been hoping . . . until she turned violent. It was the dark side, the one I’d been worried about. She started . . . hurting people—small stuff, at first. Then, the second mission they sent her on, she killed someone. Not just . . . killed. She killed him unnecessarily hard.” He looked away. “You know what she’s like now—she wasn’t quite that bad then. They asked me to—to try to reach her. Bring her back from the edge. But she tried to kill me, too, Bryn. And I had to . . . I had to try to stop her. I thought she was dead—I really did. They told me she was dead. And the worst part of that was that I was really glad, because I knew she’d have only gotten worse.”
“And she did,” Bryn said. “A hell of a lot worse. I should know, Patrick. She had me strapped down at her mercy for hours. And she liked to hurt me. She enjoyed it as much as any serial killer ever did.”
He flinched, then. “I’m sorry.” He reached out for her hand, but she kept both in her lap, and he finally sat back. “You’re right. I should have told you about her, but—I really thought that she was dead. I thought she was the past. I was hoping—”
“When you met me, and I was newly Revived, you thought you’d try to keep me from becoming Jane. I get that. You transferred what you felt for her to me.” God, this hurt; it boiled in her guts like liquid nitrogen, achingly cold. “I can’t be Jane for you, Patrick.”
“You’re not. God, Bryn, you are not. I don’t know how to make you believe that, but—”
“You can’t,” she said. “Not right now. You should have told me. Maybe with that in the open between us, we could have found a way around it, but right now . . . right now I believe in my heart that I was a replacement, and I don’t want to be a replacement. Not for her. She tortured me, Pat, but finding out she was your wife . . . that really cut me, in ways I can’t even explain.”
He took in a sharp breath, and almost spoke, but then he stood up and rolled the office chair back to the desk. He held on to it with both hands, facing away from her, as he said, “Can you trust me enough to have your back when we leave here? Because right now, that’s the most important thing. Trust. Everything else . . . everything else will take time, but we need trust now.”
“I know you will do the right thing,” she said. “I’ve always trusted you for that. You’re my ally and my friend and my colleague. But that’s all right now. That’s all I can handle. There’s too much—too much chaos. Because the upgrade I was given—it’s what Jane had, too. It might take me down, just like it destroyed her from the inside.”
“Not you,” he said, and turned to face her. “I told you, Jane had a dark streak, something that the nanites just enhanced. You . . . you’re different, Bryn. You’re not cruel. And it won’t change you, not like it changed her. I believe that.”
Bryn wished she could believe it herself; she wished that with a passion that seemed all out of balance. But she understood the madness and malice in Jane in a way that she feared she’d see in herself, in the mirror; there was something about being so capable of violence that made it almost inevitable. When violence was such an easy answer, so effortless . . . it quickly became the only answer.
“Thank you,” she said, and meant it. “I’m sorry. I wish I could—I wish I could be what you want right now. But I can’t.”