And then the scarf around her neck tightened once more, but the scarf was cold and hard and strong, and finally Roz came awake.
Slaughter had her hands around Roz’s throat, and Roz knew that they were thousands of feet above the ground.
Slaughter had flown straight up. In seconds they had passed through the clouds and now—as Roz’s vision finally began to clear—she realized she was looking up at the stars.
Slaughter was squeezing as hard as she could, and it was all Roz could do to keep up her telekinetic shield.
“Die!” Slaughter said. “Die, damn you!”
Roz clenched her fists and struck at the woman, but it was like punching a bronze statue.
“All right,” Slaughter said through gritted teeth. “I can’t strangle you, but I can hold you up here until you suffocate. Or maybe I’ll do
.” She let go of Roz’s neck with one hand and slammed her fist into Roz’s stomach. “Hurts, doesn’t it? Here’s another one.” She punched again.
Roz twisted aside, deflecting most of the force. “Why are you doing this?” Her voice was weak, barely audible even to herself.
Slaughter’s expression of fury faded into puzzlement, as though she had never encountered the question before. “What? Because you and your friends are in the way!”
“The Helotry—” Roz began.
Slaughter’s grip loosened. “How do you know that word?”
“We know everything,” Roz lied. “You’re trying to bring back the Fifth King.”
Slaughter stared at her.
“How do you know?”
she demanded. “You have no telepathic powers—and not even your brother is strong enough to read my mind!”
“Your plan is going to fail. The Fifth King is a myth. And even if he
real, he’s been dead for thousands of years. Nothing you do is going to change that.”
“Little girl, you are so wrong it’s almost funny. We
bringing him back.”
“What are you going to do? Clone him or something?”
Slaughter sneered. “Clone him? No, cloning technology is years away from being feasible. Besides, we’d need a sample of his DNA, and he was destroyed in a pillar of fire. Maybe there aren’t too many verifiable facts about the Fifth King, but that one we
know. His death was witnessed by thousands of people, and all their stories correlate. We know precisely where and when he died. And if you have that sort of information, and you’ve got the right sort of power source and the people smart enough to control it, you can do what we’re going to do.”
She paused, and Roz knew it was only for effect.
“And what’s that? What
The Helotry’s grand plan?”
“We’re going to tear open a hole in space and time. In the last second before the Fifth King dies, we’re going to snatch him out of the past.”
Abby knew she had no choice: She had to leave Thunder behind. He just wasn’t fast enough to keep up with her.
As she raced along the tree-lined avenue she tried to console herself that it hadn’t been her idea. When the armored men began to swarm after them, Thunder had told her to go on. She’d looked back, seen him standing in the road as the burning man approached, but his voice appeared next to her: “I’ll be OK. Just go. Get to the prison.”
That was only a few minutes ago, but now Abby felt like she’d never been so alone.
The Helotry’s men were on the ground; at least that was something in her favor. If they’d been in an aircraft, she wouldn’t have stood a chance of escaping them.
Now they were close behind, chasing her down in an eight-wheeled armored vehicle that wasn’t much smaller than a school bus.
The streetlights were still out, but some of the houses on each side had candles in their windows and the vehicle’s headlights behind her illuminated the road ahead. Abby chased her own shadow.
At least they’re not trying to kill us,
she thought, and then wondered why that was.
Probably Slaughter wants to kill us herself.
Abby spotted a church coming up on the left: She vaulted its closed gates and ran through the empty parking lot. Behind her, she heard the armored car’s brakes squeal, then its engine revved loudly, followed by a splintering crash as it rammed the gates.
There was a high wall at the back of the church. She quickly scaled it and found herself in someone’s backyard.
“Abby? Can you hear me?” a disembodied voice said.
“I hear you, Thunder.”
“Good. I’ve got that skinhead’s motorbike and I’m heading back out of the town the way we came in. I’ve got two Boxers after me.”
“Boxers?” Abby asked.
“Armored vehicles. Big, fast. Look like tanks but with wheels instead of tracks.”
“There’s one after me too.”
“I’ve stopped one of them already,” Thunder said. “Blasted it with sound waves.”
Abby vaulted over a fence into another backyard and a friendly German Shepherd bounded up to her. She said, “There’s a good boy!” and kept running.
“Uh. . . . Thanks, I think,” Thunder said.
She leaped onto a low shed, over the wall, and into nextdoor’s garden.
“You have to stop the Boxer, Abby. You’re a lot faster than they are on foot. Get to the—Oh
! That burning guy is behind me. He’s not chasing me, but he’s pointing this way—letting the others know where I am! Who
“I don’t know,” Abby said. “Dioxin, maybe. Doesn’t he burn?”
Lance would know,
He knows them all.
“Thunder, if we don’t make it . . .”
“If we don’t make it, then we’re going to take down as many of these guys as we can, all right?”
“That’s exactly what I was going to say. Good luck.”
A few minutes later, Abby splashed across a shallow ornamental pond, crashed through a hedge, and found herself back on the road. She slowed to a stop. She was standing at a crossroads, and there was no sign of the armored car.
Yes! Lost them! OK. . . . Town’s back that way, which means—
She smiled. Off to the left, on the far side of a wide field, there was a point of light through the trees.
The prison. Roz said it would have its own generators.
Abby left a long furrow in the high grass as she crossed the field, then she was standing in front of Oak Grove Prison.
Beyond a high razor-wire fence, its featureless stone walls were yellow-orange from lights placed just beneath the roof. The building was bigger than she’d expected: At least three hundred yards long, and maybe five stories high—though she couldn’t be sure, as there were no windows by which to judge.
Her sword cut a vertical slash in the fence, and she climbed through, expecting alarms to break out at any moment. She darted up to the wall, pressed her back flat against it, started shuffling sideways. She’d seen characters do this in prison-break movies, but she wasn’t entirely sure whether it would make any difference.
There didn’t seem to be any guards.
How many of them have been hit by the plague?
She reached a corner and, keeping her back to the wall, Abby cautiously peered around it.
If Pyrokine is the only one who’s not an adult, then they could all be—Aw no!
Abby stepped out. The side wall of the prison had been split open from the ground to the roof. The courtyard was almost hidden under tons of dust, bricks, and concrete debris. Nearby, protruding from the rubble, was a man’s boot.
She stared at it for almost a minute, afraid to check whether there was a leg attached. If there was, then she was only two yards from a dead man.
She looked away.
Whoever he is, I can’t help him now.
Climbing cautiously over the rubble, Abby made her way inside the prison building, into a large open room lined on two sides with barred cells. The only sound was a faint drip of water from somewhere to her right. Overhead, neon lights blinked on and off in an irregular pattern, allowing Abby to half-see the carnage within.
The floor was strewn with bodies, most of them wearing dark orange jumpsuits.
The one nearest Abby—a gray-bearded man who looked to be in his fifties—twitched and moaned loudly. The noise set off a chorus of groans and weak cries from some of the others. The man’s eyes flickered open, turned to Abby. “Sick... Help me...”
She moved a little closer—but kept herself out of his reach. His eyes, mouth, and nose were coated with drying mucus and saliva. Beneath a tear-streaked layer of brick dust his skin was a yellowish-gray, shot through with red and blue veins.
“Who did this?” Abby whispered.
The man groaned again, and his eyes closed. “Men . . . Woman in red. Strong . . . Help me, please.”
“There’s nothing I can do right now,” Abby said. “But help
on the way,” she lied. “It won’t be long.”
She stood up.
The woman in red. Slaughter.
She moved farther into the building, carefully stepping over and around the fallen prisoners and guards. A few of them made weak attempts to reach out to her.
In one of the cells Abby saw a man she knew for certain was dead. He was lying on the floor, a ragged hole in his throat big enough to fit a fist. His silver armor marked him as one of The Helotry’s men.
They weren’t tracking us,
They’d already been here and were on the way back. So why
they come here? What was here that could be of any use to them?
She ascended a metal staircase to the next level. Many of the cells’ doors were open, but they all appeared to be empty.
They must have come for someone in particular. But the plague . . . No, they would have found a way to immunize him against it. Unless he was
No . . .
“Hey!” she shouted. “Can anyone hear me? Anyone not sick?”
There was no response.
Abby knew now who Slaughter had come to find. An unbelievably powerful superhuman. Someone who didn’t need to be immunized against the plague because it wouldn’t affect him.
And she’d already seen him back in the town. The burning man. Pyrokine.
A key turned in the lock, then the door creaked open.
Tied arm and leg to a chair, Lance heard heavy footsteps approach, then the canvas bag was removed from his head. He felt a rough hand grab his chin while another pulled the strip of duct tape from his mouth. He gasped, taking in deep lungfuls of warm, fetid air. “Who’s there?”
A voice said, “He’s not faking the blindness, then?”
There was a rustle of cloth, and a second voice said, “Didn’t even flinch. He’s not faking it.”
“Look, what do you want from me?” Lance said. “I honestly don’t know what’s going on here or who you think I am!”
There was a slight sharp hiss from one of the men. “Not too convincing, kid. We already know you’re not Jason Myers, so give it a rest.”
“What have you done with Dylan?”
“The little girl? Gave her a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk. Brought her home.”
“I wouldn’t say no to a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk myself,” Lance said. “I’m starving.”
“Maybe if you tell us the truth. How about it, kid? Ready to spill the beans?”
“No beans for me, thanks—they give me gas. Look, who
Someone slapped him hard across the face, and he almost toppled to the side.
“This is how it works,” one of the voices said. “We ask. You answer. Comprende? Now. Tell us everything. From the car crash in Fairview onward. You found Marcus’s briefcase. You opened it. You found the address of the warehouse. Marcus was dumb enough to write down the alarm code, so you went in, you took the jetpack. Am I missing anything?”
“Not so far,” Lance said. “Carry on.”
Another slap, much harder than the last. Lance tasted blood in his mouth.
“He doesn’t know anything else, Mr. Remington,” the first voice said. “Just finish him.”
“I know all about the Fifth King,” Lance said.
There was a pause, and Lance pictured the two men exchanging a look.
“That’s right,” Lance said. “One of your guys from the power plant talked. Told the FBI everything. Names, dates, places . . .” Then he forced a smile. “They know all about Windfield, and they know about the virus. They’re already working on a vaccine.”
“Well, good luck to them,” one of the men said. “A vaccine is useful only for people who aren’t already infected, and by now
is. The whole planet.”
A third slap. Lance’s face stung from the pain. He shook his head to try and clear it. “I forgot. I’m not supposed to ask questions.”
“Who else knows about the Fifth King?”
Lance did his best to shrug. “Everyone, I think.” His arms had been secured behind his back with cable ties. Ropes wouldn’t have been much of a problem—Lance was sure he knew enough about knots to get out of any rope, but cable ties were made from plastic, almost unbreakable, and couldn’t easily be opened once they were fastened—they had to be cut. It didn’t help that he still couldn’t see. For all he knew, there was someone standing silently behind him.