“I will. And you, stay out of trouble. Do what Manny and Pansy tell you.” Bryn kissed her cheek and hugged her again. “I love you, brat.”
“Love you, too.” Annie forced a smile, though tears shone in her eyes. “Some reunion we’ve had, huh?”
“I don’t know. We’ve had worse. Remember that time at Cousin Bernard’s, and the stories about the aunt with four thumbs?”
“And the roadkill stew,” Annie said. “Oh yeah, I remember. You’re right. This doesn’t really even make the top five.”
Patrick tapped Bryn on the shoulder, and it was definitely time to go. Like it or not. One more hug, and Annie stepped back, crossing her arms across her chest. Not defensively, but in a way that suggested she wanted to hold that last hug very, very close.
The elevator doors opened, and Bryn stepped in, followed by the others. They arranged themselves at equal distances, the way people did in elevators, and so Bryn had a clear view of Annie standing there in her disheveled, just-out-of-bed glory one more time.
Annie raised her hand and waved.
Bryn waved back, and then the doors shut, and they left the security of what might have passed for normal life.
“Before we hit the surface, let’s make sure we all understand procedure,” Patrick said. “Pansy’s given us a hardened SUV from the motor pool; it’s registered to a shell company out of Belize, so it shouldn’t trip any alerts. We get on the road, and Pansy’s going to feed us intel as we drive. Within a few hours, she says she will break down the firewalls on their servers and start feeding us names and locations of people in the top ranks of the Fountain Group, or near it. We take out as many as we can, as fast as we can. If we run into trouble while we’re out of the vehicle, we run and stay in contact. Burner phones are in your packs. Do not engage in a firefight unless you’ve got no choice, understand?”
“Yep,” Bryn said. “And stay off the police radar.”
“They’ll probably have some kind of alerts out for us, and we can’t always avoid facial recognition; too many street cameras. But we should try to stay out of metro areas as much as possible. Anything else?”
Riley said, “I’ve got a friend who can help us. His name is Jonas. He’s retired Bureau—honest as they come. And he runs his own show now, mostly doing contract work in war zones.”
“I’ve heard of him,” Joe said. “Good man, by all accounts.”
“No,” Patrick said. “Nobody else unless we get in over our heads. We’ve dragged down enough good people.”
He wasn’t wrong, Bryn thought, but neither was Riley; it was good to have options, and there would inevitably come a time when they’d need someone to help who wasn’t already flagged. Maybe Patrick was thinking it, too, but the expression on his face said that there wouldn’t be any discussion on the subject.
Riley shrugged and let it go as the doors opened on the ground floor level. This exit had four security stops, and they passed through them all. As they entered the last room, a light flashed red and Manny’s voice came over an invisible intercom.
“As of now, your security creds are burned here,” he said. “Try to get in, and you’ll trigger the countermeasures. Trust me—you won’t like the countermeasures, and you won’t survive them. From this point on, it’s one way only: straight out the door. Understand me?”
“Don’t, Patrick. You screwed me, you and your little girlfriend. I want the Zombie Apocalypse outside, not in here. Get it? So don’t come back. Ever.”
“What about my sister?” Bryn asked. “What about Liam?”
Silence, and then finally Manny said, “I’ll look out for them, because they had no choice. But not for you. As of right now, the store’s closed.”
The thick blast-proof outer door buzzed and winched itself open, and strobe lights flashed yellow. A recorded voice came on, advising them that they had thirty seconds to exit the room before countermeasures were employed.
They got out, and watched the blast door swing shut. Then, with a heavy crunch of gears, it locked.
“Right,” Patrick said. He sounded resigned, and a little bit bleak. “Let’s get moving.”
Info came in an hour down the road, in the form of a text to Patrick’s phone from Pansy. It didn’t say much, but it did give them an address in Kansas City. Bryn sighed when she saw it, because it meant a long, boring drive . . . if they were lucky, of course. And for the first few hours, they were; they managed to stay at a constant, legal speed, and no one seemed to notice them. “It’s a little late to ask, but are we sure the anti-tracking shot worked?” she said. Riley glanced up from whatever she was doing on her phone, and nodded.
“I double-checked,” she said. “We’re dead air. Nobody’s tracking us.”
That was a relief, because Bryn was fairly sure that without Pansy’s countermeasure they’d have already been under attack. Jane wouldn’t be messing around, and she’d be investigating any avenue to finding them. Including, of course, going after their friends and family.
Her own family, in fact. The only saving grace to that was her family, with the exception of Annie, who’d gotten caught up in the madness, had no idea what was going on. Sometimes, dysfunction was good for something after all. She didn’t know about Riley, but she hoped Joe’s family was somewhere very, very safe. He had a lot of precious people he could lose.
It was too late to warn them or try to get them to safety—not that her family, never all that close, would have listened to what she had to say in any case. Certainly not to the extent of pulling up stakes and running away. It would be far, far better just to stay away from them. Any contact could put them in greater danger.
“We’re staying on I-40 all the way to Oklahoma City,” Joe said, “and then switching to 35. I figure we’ll need a gas and rest break in about thirty minutes. Sound okay?”
“Find someplace with lots of traffic,” Patrick said. “The more people that pass through, the better; major truck stop, preferably. Crowds are good cover. If that looks iffy, go for someplace off the beaten path with old pumps. If they haven’t upgraded those, chances are they won’t have state-of-the-art surveillance, either.”
“You’re really worried, aren’t you?” Bryn asked him. Patrick looked at her for a few seconds, and then nodded.
“I’m worried,” he agreed. “The Fountain Group hasn’t exactly been idle this whole time while we thought the government was in charge of Pharmadene’s research programs; they’ve been carrying things forward, and they’ve got Jane on their payroll. I know Jane. We both understand what she’s capable of doing, but more than that, I understand how tactical she is. She’ll be casting as wide a net as possible. For all I know, she might have already pinpointed every one of Manny’s secured bolt-holes, which means she might be satellite-tracking us right now; I don’t doubt the Fountain Group has that capability, or can buy it from those who do. So any stops we make are risky, and potentially deadly. We need to bear it in mind.”
“And I was looking forward to scoring some beef jerky and beer for the road,” Joe said. “You really know how to kill a good time, man.”
“Let’s hope I’m wrong.”
He seemed to be, at least for the first portion of the trip. Joe picked a huge truck stop, one with at least fifty cars, trucks, and vans crowding the lot, and dozens more giant tractor trailers. Joe pulled up to a pump, and the other three bailed out to head inside to the store. Even if they’d been willing to forego the magic lure of beef jerky and candy bars, Bryn needed to pee, and she knew she’d better grab the chance while it was available. The line was—inevitably—longer than she would have liked, and she felt tremendously vulnerable standing in one place . . . but the bathroom break passed without incident, other than a squalling two-year-old throwing a fit at the counter.
She bought a not-entirely-unflattering hat to shade her face from the cameras, and some candy bars, and was in the van before anyone else except Joe.
Odd. She’d thought Riley would have made it back first, since she’d been ahead of her in the bathroom line. Or Patrick. He didn’t strike her as much of a convenience store browser.
Bryn passed Joe a Snickers bar, and he unwrapped it and ate half. She had taken over the shotgun passenger seat, and they sat in chocolate-medicated silence for a full minute, but she didn’t stop watching their surroundings, and neither did Joe.
Patrick returned, bearing bottles of water and a ridiculously large coffee, which explained his delay.
But Riley was missing.
Joe finished his candy and said, “Bryn.”
“I’m on it,” she said, and bailed out to go back inside. The ever-shifting crowd had a certain weird sameness . . . mostly overweight bodies not flattered by baggy cargo shorts and overly patriotic T-shirts, with a few holding-their-noses sleek-looking elites scattered in for diversity, getting their chic diet water before climbing back into their high-dollar cars. She wasn’t sure how she fit in here, or anywhere. But one thing was certain: Riley wasn’t anywhere in sight.
Bryn checked the restroom. Nothing. She was on the point of calling an alert when she finally spotted Riley outside the windows, pacing back and forth at the side of the building. She was on the phone, and she closed the call just as Bryn headed toward her.
“What are you doing?”
“Hedging our bets,” the other woman said. She’d also invested in a hat, a khaki boonie-style thing that was oddly cute on her. “It isn’t that I don’t trust Pansy, but I want to be sure we have some options and backup.”
“You called your friend Jonas, didn’t you? Patrick said—”
“Nobody elected him Commander in Chief,” Riley said. “And trust me, we’re going to need help.”