Between Decker and the Core 2 tower, two Infects stood over the bloody body of a Downgrade. Their backs were to him.
As he ran toward them, they started to turn. Decker whipped the rifle to his shoulder, planted his feet, and popped the Infect on the left in the head. A quick shift, slicing the rifle barrel an inch through the air, and he did the same for the other one.
They hit the ground almost simultaneously. They hadn’t seen him.
Decker sprinted over the bodies toward the tower, gritting his teeth. He was small and exposed on the concrete—all it would take was one Infect looking his way. Gunfire continued to spatter from deeper inside the city.
He skidded to a halt to one side of the giant glass door, panting, his shoulder against the side of the tower. Forcing slow, careful movements, Decker leaned forward just enough to see into the tower lobby, scope it out—
The glass partition slid into the tower with a sharp hiss. Decker recoiled with a curse. Not much point in stealth now, though, so he spun around the corner and into the lobby, sighting down his rifle barrel.
As far as he could see, the room was empty between the curved desks and ornamental plants. One potted synthetic shrub lay tipped over, spilling the dirt it didn’t need across the white tile floor.
Decker’s lungs burned, and he breathed out slowly. He’d expected at least a few Infects. The silence scratched on his nerves.
He stepped further in, swiveling slowly to take in the entire room.
In the corner of his vision, smooth chrome flashed. He turned back, the tip of his finger tracing his gun’s trigger. In a wall alcove, the cylinder of an elevator wall retracted into the floor, leaving behind a passenger.
A boy—sixteen, maybe seventeen. Not infected. He wore a green jumpsuit a tad too small. Dark hair, scared face. He held a pistol like he knew what he was doing with it. His eyes wandered the room for a moment, and then he saw Decker. His face tightened and his shoulders came forward, and he brought the pistol up.
Decker kept his own rifle pointed at the floor, just enough that he could swing it up and shoot if he had to. “Ease off, now. I’m a friend.”
“I’ve heard that before,” the boy said. His voice was taut, cracking slightly. “Just let me by.”
Was this kid the secret weapon he was after? Decker chewed his cheek, trying to remember Dio 11’s exact words, before he got infected. “You aren’t Lyan, by any chance?”
The boy didn’t answer, just took a step sideways toward the door. His eyes burned at Decker over the pistol’s barrel.
“Look. If your name’s Lyan, I’m here to help you.” Decker shrugged slowly. “If it’s not, you’re still better off sticking with me. The city’s full of monsters, you don’t want to just walk out there.”
The boy made an impressive attempt at a mocking laugh and kept sidestepping toward the door.
Decker’s grip tightened on the rifle. Maybe he could wing the kid in the kneecap or something, make him listen to reason. But he didn’t know how fast this guy was, what he was capable of.
He wasn’t just letting him walk away. He’d come too far for that.
Again, something in his peripheral moved, a dark blur outside the glass doors. The boy saw it too, he was whirling to face it, eyes widening in shock.
Decker turned just as the doors blew in.
Fragments of glass flew inward. A hulking figure flew with them, spread-eagled, toes inches off the floor, eyes glaring baleful over a seamless metal jaw.
Decker backpedaled, whipping his gun to his shoulder. He remembered this big guy, the way he’d slaughtered those Firewall soldiers back in Core 3. The thing must have followed him. He swallowed, and he could hear his throat constricting.
Then he realized the monster wasn’t after him. It landed crouched on the blanket of broken glass, staring at the boy. The boy stood frozen, clutching his pistol.
Decker ran sideways, angling between the boy and the monster, and fired a burst at the monster’s head. A wordless yell tore out of his mouth.
His shots went wide, peppering the wall behind the creature. Its head swiveled toward him, and it studied him. Is hot glare faded to a perplexed, almost apologetic look.
Decker fired again, but the monster blurred to the side. Too fast. It was on him before he could squeeze the trigger again, ripping the rifle out of his hands. He saw the the gun sailing through the air toward the opposite wall, and then a giant hand clamped over his shoulder and metal fingers dug into his arm and slung his feet off the ground.
Then he was airborn, flying through the broken glass teeth of the tower doors, and he got his arms up around his head right before he hit the concrete.
Air exploded out of his lungs, and his vision shattered into red stars. He lay under the stars making futile attempts to breathe, the world silent except a buzzing between his ears.
His surroundings faded back in, a movie without sound. The buildings of the residential district hung upside-down in his vision—he tried to fix it by rolling over, but his body wouldn’t move. The back of his head stayed glued to the ground.
Infects stepped out from between the buildings, stiff and straight-backed. They came toward him like an ever-growing column of ants across a ceiling, and for a few fuzzy moments it didn’t seem strange that leading them, a tiny figure with her hands in her pockets, was Alice.
And then realization crashed into him: It was Alice.
She walked out between the residential district and the Core towers, then stopped. The Infects continued on past her. She just stood there, watching him.
She was too far away, and Infects kept walking in front of her. But it was her—the way she stood, the way her head was slightly cocked to one side. Decker stared at her, wanting to scream and ask if anyone else was seeing this, or was he just crazy.
He opened his mouth trying to call her, but there wasn’t enough air in his lungs, and he couldn’t get past the L in her name. The effort brought dizziness crashing down on his paralyzed body, blurring his vision again.
When it cleared, she was gone.
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