Terminated Page 1

Author: Rachel Caine

Series: Revivalist #3

Genres: Horror , Science Fiction

Chapter 1

The real problem with becoming a monster, Bryn thought, was that you didn’t know whom to trust.

Bryn Davis, monster, paced the floor in silence, surrounded by her friends and allies, and she didn’t dare trust a single one of them. Not fully, not now. Only one of them knew the truth of what she’d become . . . and even though Riley Block already shared the secret, and the curse, Bryn didn’t know whether she could, or should, trust her.

As for the rest of them, they would be torn between horror and fury and pity, but someone would make it a mission to see her dead, and someone else would defend her, and it would tear everything, and everyone, apart.

Some secrets just had to be kept in utter silence.

“Bryn?” her lover, Patrick McCallister, said in the kind of voice one uses when the first few tries don’t break through the haze. She stopped and looked up to focus on his face. He’s tired, she thought, and despite how conflicted she was about her own situation, she wanted to comfort him. She loved him. It came from someplace deep inside, a wellspring she couldn’t block even when she tried. “Bryn, did you get anything from the Pharmadene lab to tell us what they were working on in there?”

She felt a wild urge to laugh, but it was the same self-destructive impulse one might feel standing on the edge of a cliff. Tell them, something mad in her whispered. Tell them, jump, just let it all go.

Because she certainly had something: proof. The problem was it was coursing through her veins, twisting her into something that was even further from human than she’d been before. It was a far cry from being a dead woman, revived with a miracle nanotechnology drug and dependent on it for daily survival, to whatever she was now. Because her little life-mimicking machines had new programming.

Military programming.

Can’t tell him that, she thought, and shook her head instead. “Didn’t have time to do much exploring, since they were trying extremely hard to kill us,” she said. “It looked like what I saw at the nursing home—they were using innocent people for nanotech incubators. Breeding more of the nanites. This was probably some kind of . . . factory farm.” Not a lie, not quite. The nanotech was real, and they had been breeding it in the unconscious, drugged bodies. It was just the type of nanotech she was silent about.

“Riley—” McCallister turned toward the FBI agent sitting silently with her back to the wall of the small room. Bryn had rescued Riley Block from a hospital bed in that terrible lab, and as different as the two of them were, as fundamentally antagonistic in many ways, they had this secret in common. Riley didn’t look up, but then, there were people in the way. Too many people. It felt terribly, oppressively crowded—this cheap motel room they’d rented as their temporary safe house was meant for a sweaty couple with no interest in anything save the bed.

Bryn felt constantly short of breath, on the verge of violence and screams. She wondered whether Riley felt the same.

Riley finally raised her head, and beneath the signature black bob, she seemed far away. Thinking, just as Bryn was, about her circumstances.

Patrick wasn’t done trying to elicit information, and he pounced on the opportunity. “Riley, did you get anything from the lab?”

“No,” the woman said, which was an outright lie. “No idea what they were doing, but Bryn’s probably got it right. I was unconscious most of the time.” She lied beautifully, Bryn thought, with just the right amount of flat indifference and just the right amount of eye contact. “How long do we have to stay here?”

McCallister shot a glance toward his old friend Joe Fideli, who was stationed at the window, looking through the quarter-inch slit between the glass and the curtain without disturbing the fabric. Those two men, Bryn reflected, had never lost their Army Ranger alertness, even though they’d cashed out years back—but then, Joe made his living guarding people. Fideli shrugged. “No way to know,” he said. “We’re still good for now.”

Meaning it appeared that their enemies hadn’t traced them here. Yet. It had been a hell of an escape from Pharmadene, the government-run drug company, and the chaos had worked to their advantage, but that didn’t mean that their enemies wouldn’t be on the case and tracking them down. Oddly, that probably wasn’t the government itself—only a rogue body inside of it. So they weren’t totally screwed yet.

Then again . . . it was impossible to know, but Bryn suspected that the nanites coursing through her body—Version 2.0, these tiny life-supporting machines—were fully trackable if the Pharmadene team still had the tech online to do it. Riley had the same issue. They’d done plenty of damage there, but had it been to the right equipment?

Despite the risk of discovery, she wasn’t sure how much they dared tell her friends and allies . . . but she needn’t have worried, because Manny Glickman, their burly mad-scientist-for-hire, was on it already. How in the world Patrick had first met the man was a mystery to Bryn, but one thing was certain: Manny had skills.

He also had a big backpack of stuff, and he’d unzipped it and handed his girlfriend, Pansy Taylor, a syringe from its depths. “Better safe than sorry,” he said. “That’s a frequency blocker for the nanites. Bryn, you and Riley had better take it. I’m not sure they can lock on you anymore, but I’d rather assume they were smart and we are smarter.”

Of all the people Bryn didn’t want knowing about her involuntary nanite upgrade, Manny was at the top of the list. Manny was brilliant, but he was also paranoid as hell, and although she wasn’t sure he could kill her by himself, he’d damn well try, and he’d have something hidden in that bag that would be a nasty, premeditated surprise. Manny didn’t like being at anyone’s mercy and he didn’t trust anyone, except possibly Pansy and Patrick McCallister.

Pansy herself was a bit of a puzzle, because she seemed so . . . damn normal. Forthright, sweet, and yet fully capable of handling herself in a fight if necessary. She eased past Patrick and Joe, and stepped around Riley’s outstretched legs to crouch next to the woman and give her an apologetic smile. “Large-gauge needle,” she said. “You’ll feel it—sorry.”

“I wish that was the worst thing that’s happened to me today,” Riley said, and rolled up her sleeve. Pansy administered the shot into Riley’s bicep, then safety-capped the needle and approached Bryn with the same needle—no point in worrying about infection with the nanites on the job. Bryn took it without comment. It did sting, and then it burned, but as Riley had said, it wasn’t the worst thing in her day. Not by a long shot.

“Excuse me, but can we discuss our resources?” That question, diffidently offered, came from the tall older man, Liam, standing near the bathroom . . . and Bryn realized she had no context for Liam now. Before today, she’d known him as the urbane administrator/butler at Patrick’s family estate—an Alfred to Patrick’s uncostumed Batman, in a way. But since she’d seen him firing an automatic weapon while coming to her rescue, and looking as calm doing that as greeting guests at the front door, she wasn’t sure she had any handle on him at all.

“Go ahead, Liam,” Patrick said. “Let’s get all the bad news out now.”

“I can get us funds from the black account, but they’ll cut us off soon enough. I initiated transfers to dump cash into various offshore accounts before I joined you today. They’ll find some of it, of course, but not all. I estimate we may be able to count on a few million, no more—at least until this is resolved.”

That sounded like a lot of money to Bryn, who’d grown up poorer than most, but she guessed that when you were expected to support a group of this size of fugitives on the run, and fight along the way, what seemed like a fortune might dwindle quickly. But then, Patrick’s family had been insanely wealthy, in a way that made most of the legendary one percent look comfortably middle class. Oddly, Patrick didn’t control the cash; his parents had put it all into a foundation administered by Liam. For being disinherited with prejudice, though, Patrick still did well for himself. Thankfully. The only thing worse than running for your life was doing it flat broke.

Bryn’s sister Annalie had been uncharacteristically silent, huddled in the corner near Liam, but now she said, “Where are we going to go? Where can we go? They’re going to find us, aren’t they?” She sounded scared, but more together than Bryn would have expected her to be. Annie had never been tough—she was the flighty, impractical sister, the kindhearted one who constantly picked up good causes and dropped them in favor of even better causes. Never quite doing the right thing but trying for the right reasons.

And also, she was terrible with money. Terrible.

But none of that mattered anymore, because Annie, like Bryn—and Riley—was effectively Dead Girl Walking. The nanites—originally developed as a pharmaceutical called Returné, with the ambitious aim of reviving the recently dead on the battlefield—did their programmed job and kept them all breathing and talking and having a simulation of life, but something in their bodies was . . . broken. What kept them going wasn’t resuscitation; it was life support. Annie still needed daily shots of the drug to keep going.

And Bryn and Riley had needed them, too . . . until the newly upgraded nanites had taken over back in the Pharmadene secret lab. Before they’d gotten away, Riley had claimed that these new, improved bugs powered, repaired, and reproduced themselves without any supporting shots at all.

She’d also said they were infectious. And Bryn supposed she had firsthand proof of that, because God only knew, someone had infected her with the stuff.

Now she had about thirty days to find a way to stop it or she’d pass on the nanites to some other poor bastard who was susceptible, once they’d matured within her. She’d infect someone. Spread the . . . the disease. Increase the army of nearly invincible soldiers for their enemies—at least, that was supposed to be the goal of the whole twisted program.

The implications of her condition were only just beginning to take hold . . . and the dangers. I need to tell them, she thought, and looked at Riley.

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