It opened on a plain concrete room with a door at the far end. It had no handle, no lock, and no visible hinges, and Bryn waited, tapping her heel impatiently, until it swung open.
“Hey,” Pansy Taylor said, and gave her a huge, delighted smile that lit up her round face. She’d changed her hair a bit, and it swung longer around her shoulders; she was trying out new eye shadow, too, but other than that, she was the same woman Bryn remembered. Fondly. “Get your ass inside before Manny hits some kind of countermeasure button and kills us all.”
“When are you going to admit he’s not boyfriend material?” Bryn asked her. Pansy winked and let the door swing closed with a boom behind her as she entered.
“When he stops being amazing. The crazy is just part of the attraction.…Come on, this way.”
The layout of this warehouse lab was eerily similar to the one she’d been in before, and it had been hours from here. Manny had a network of locations, most funded by his not-legitimate clients around the world, and he regularly hopped between them. In emergencies, he could pack up the contents of this place in crates kept in constant readiness and be out in a few hours. She’d seen it happen.
There was no sign of Manny around the rows of machinery, the testing tables, or in the clustered array of computers. No sign of him anywhere, in fact.
Until she heard his voice overhead and looked up to see him on a railing above. “Did you check her ID?” Manny asked Pansy. He had a rifle in one hand, held casually, but you never knew with him.
“I don’t need her ID. We both know her.”
“Check it anyway.”
Pansy rolled her eyes and held out her hand; Bryn pulled her wallet out of her purse, and Pansy gave it a glance before handing it back. “Bryn Davis,” she said. “Which you know, so please put the gun away and go back to what you were doing, sweetheart.”
He hesitated for a long moment, then said, “How are the side effects of the latest batch?” Manny, even foreshortened by the distance, was a big man, burly, with a truly impressive explosion of curly dark hair and eyes that had a Rasputin-quality crazy to them, at the worst of times. This luckily wasn’t one of them. It was more a garden-variety paranoid schizophrenic.
“It hurts,” she said. “I don’t know that it’s better or worse. Thanks.”
“For doing what you’re doing. Refining the drug.”
He shrugged. “I get paid.” With that, he turned and walked away down the metal gantry, and disappeared in a network of pipes beyond. Going to his man-cave, she assumed; she’d never seen it, but she was sure he had one, and it was probably booby-trapped six ways from Sunday.
“He’s charming today,” Bryn said, and turned to Pansy. “So you’re doing the work?”
“On this one, yes.” Pansy held out her hand, and Bryn gave her the thumb drive. “Where did you get it?” She led the way to the area where the computers were located—big, custom-built machines for the most part, but a couple of separate laptops that were running on their own.
“You heard about the explosion and fire today across town?”
“It’s all over the news. Seven dead.”
“Eight,” Bryn said, and pointed to herself. “But I got better, more or less. The other seven had been dead for days, and the whole place sanitized of data except for this.”
Pansy disconnected one of the laptops from its moorings. “In that case, let’s take some basic precautions. This is a burner laptop—basic system plus de-encryption programs, no data kept on it. It’s not connected to the network, and there’s no enabled Wi-Fi. If there’s any kind of malware on here, no harm done.” She slotted the thumb drive in place in the USB slot and waited for the disk image to appear on the screen. When it did, she opened it and studied the apparently random file names, then brought up a new screen of programs. She chose one, and started it running. “Let’s try this first. The pattern looks a little familiar.”
“I thought it’d be more difficult, somehow.”
“It depends on who encrypted it, and why. Obviously, the point of coding something is to make sure that nobody unauthorized can read it, but it’s no good if there’s no key. You just need the right formula. Most people don’t create their own encryption; they buy it. Low, medium, Cadillac plan.”
“Is this the Cadillac plan?”
“Nope. You said seven people are dead, so I don’t think they were paranoid enough, which means they weren’t on their encryption, either…Ahhhh.” Pansy made a pleased sound when the computer gave a little chime. “First file decrypted. Here we go.”
She brought up the file. It was tagged with a number, not text, and she double clicked it. It turned out to be a video file, and Bryn stayed very still as it played out. The sound was low, but it didn’t matter. It was loud and familiar inside her head.
She slowly sat down in the nearest chair.
They were both silent for a long, long second, and then Pansy, gone very pale, said, “What the hell is this?”
“Dangerous,” Bryn said. She felt…numb. And terrified, suddenly. “Very, very dangerous.”
The second file was decrypted. It, too, was a number, and Pansy hesitated, then double clicked.
Like the first file, it was surveillance video, shot from the exact same angle as the first images. Two men in the plain coveralls of janitors rolled a gurney into view. On it, struggling against the restraints, was a man in his fifties, wearing some kind of jumpsuit.
Bryn knew him. “That’s Jason Drake. Former Pharmadene VP of marketing, hooked on Returné in the last days of the push to get everyone aboard. He was having problems coping with the change. He was in my…group.”
“Support group, kind of. It’s informal—people drop in and out a couple of times a month. He hasn’t been around since…” She thought back. “Jesus, two months ago. I haven’t heard from him, either, but he said he was going to focus on work. I assumed he’d come to terms with things. He’d signed up for the counseling the FBI was offering.”
She’d seen the first video, so she knew what was coming and didn’t flinch in surprise, only in horror. Jason was awake, fighting to get free, asking the same questions she would have been asking. What are you doing? What do you want? There was a horrible edge of panic and dread in his voice, as if he knew all too well what was going to happen.
The two uniformed men ignored him. One went to the wall just at the edge of the camera’s view and hit some buttons on a control panel, and a low rumble sounded. It was hard to see details on the video, but Bryn could see a gauge light up, and an indicator begin to climb.
The second man pulled out a silenced semiautomatic pistol and put three bullets straight into Jason’s forehead. It killed him, of course. Temporarily. Bryn held still for that part. She knew how it felt, dying from a head wound. It wasn’t so painful. Stay dead, Jason. Just stay dead.
But of course he wouldn’t. Fifteen minutes or so, and he’d be back.
It took ten for the gauge on the wall to rise far enough that the man operating the controls nodded, and then he and his companion unstrapped Jason’s limp form, hit another button, and a small, square door opened in the wall. A metal drawer slid out from it, and the two men dumped Jason sloppily on it, then pushed it into the square opening.
Before it closed, fire began to roar inside as the incinerator started its work.
Bryn took in a deep breath as the first screams began. Through a small glass window, she could see Jason thrashing and fighting his death.
Pansy stopped the video with a single, fast punch of the space bar and sat back, still staring at the screen. She said, “It goes on as long as the last one.”
It took twelve minutes for one of the Revived to die in that incinerator, then. Five minutes of screaming that grew softer and softer, and then seven minutes of…noise. Random and desperate noise, until finally the body just couldn’t hold itself together enough to fight.
Bryn had no idea if the brain was conscious through all that, or if, mercifully, awareness was the first thing that was burned away. She hoped so.
“How many files?” she asked.
Pansy couldn’t tear herself away from the still image on the screen for a few long seconds, and then she minimized the window and checked. Another soft ding reported a file decrypted. “Three,” she whispered. “If they’re all like this…”
“At least three of the Revived have been murdered,” Bryn said. “By fire.”
Bryn was shaking as she got back in her car, with an unencrypted copy of the thumb drive tucked in her purse.…She felt cold, icy cold, even though the air was still warm and moist. As she drove toward Davis Funeral Home, she couldn’t seem to get warm even with the heater blasting on full. Her skin felt cool, pallid, and damp.
Of course you’re feeling bad, she told herself. It’s horrible. What’s on the video is horrible.
But she couldn’t help the feeling that it wasn’t just the idea of the death of those three people.…It was more. It was something shifting inside her, tectonic plates moving, friction building energy that had to release somewhere, somehow.
Bad things. Very bad things. Pharmadene employees were disappearing.
She knew where three of them had ended up.
Her nerves seemed all on edge now, the bright edges of things as sharp as blades. She had to fight not to flinch when someone blew a car horn at a light; she had an unreasoning, trembling impulse to get out, find whoever had done it, and beat him—or her—to a bloody pulp. Stop. Stop pushing me.
A sudden, tuneless noise startled her into hitting the brakes with a screech, almost causing the car behind to rear-end her. It was her phone. Had it always been that loud? That annoying?
“What?” she snapped as she hit the hands-free call button on the steering wheel. “What is it?”