I should have run right there, Lyan thought as soon as the guy with the gun hit the pavement. He could have broken for the elevator, maybe made it inside.
The creature stared at him with pale, red-rimmed eyes that narrowed into slits, searing the air between them. Lyan gulped.
Weedly’s friend, Demo. It had to be. He looked like an Infect, but more haphazard. Like a metal fungus had grown on a human body, twisting it from the inside.
Demo took a step forward, shoulders hunching, and a gravelly rumble came from his chest. Panic seeped up Lyan’s ankles and locked his knees. His finger twitched on the trigger. There was no way he could run from this thing. It was so freaking fast.
It crouched, just slightly, and then blurred forward.
Lyan fell backward. Without thinking, he lashed out with his cerebrals.
The world darkened. His thoughts cooled, snapped back into lucidity. He could see Demo shooting toward him, a fireworks display of Grid energy.
A dark swirl of code wound itself through the fireworks, a shifting amorophous mass Lyan recognized. Weedly.
But there was another energy, separate from the Weedly code, partitioned somehow. Almost hidden. Quieter, vibrating in the predictable patterns he was used to.
Demo was almost on him. Lyan focused his cerebral energy and speared it into the smaller partition and grabbed on.
Demo slammed to a halt.
Lyan pushed harder. Demo took a heavy step back, then another.
And than the Weedly code erupted, grabbing Lyan’s cerebrals in an invisible fist and yanking them away.
Lyan struggled to maintain his hold. He heard his own voice screaming, distant and muffled.
And then he heard another voice. Like someone speaking in his ear, but even closer. Words in his mind.
“The big ugly dude’s not bluffing, he’s gonna rip your insides out. You really want to go out like that?”
A face appeared in the corner of his vision, narrowed eyes, an annoyed frown. Sideburns. Quint?
Weedly’s grip shot agony through his brain. Lyan strained every fiber of his mind, but slowly, like peeling up the fingers of a desperate cliff-dangler, Weedly worked away the last tendrils of Lyan’s hold.
“Seriously? Seriously.” Quint growled irritation in Lyan’s ear. “Here, it’s like this.”
Another vine of energy lashed out, wrapping around Lyan’s cerebrals and shoving them forward. Weedly’s hold gave way. Once again, Lyan crashed into the soft portion of Demo’s code, like a man clinging for dear life to the front of a train.
He heard himself scream again, felt his knees give way and strike floor, somewhere through the fog. Demo’s code shuddered, and a portion of the fireworks sputtered and went out.
A distant howl of rage shivered through the darkness, and Weedly’s energy hurled Lyan’s cerebrals back.
The world crashed back into color and solidness. Lyan was on his hands and knees, bile in his throat, gagging.
Demo crashed full-length onto the floor in front of him, limbs spasming.
Lyan shoved to his feet. Dizzyness washed through him, and his vision skewed sideways.
“Hey, come on, run.” Quint’s voice rasped in his mind. “He’s not gonna stay down. Get out of here!”
Lyan gulped air and ran for the shattered front doors, toward the night. The doors warped like a mirage, and his legs felt like they were following suit.
Glass crunched under his shoes as he wobble-ran out of the tower. Lights from above illuminated the thick night with eye-scorching whiteness. The guy who Demo had thrown was struggling to his feet, blood smeared across his cheekbone. He stretched out a hand. “Hey, wait!”
“DO NOT,” Quint thundered.
Lyan looked past the man, and choked on his throat. A hundred stiff-armed figures ran the gray stretch of ground toward him, throwing long black shadows. More swarmed out of the residential buildings beyond.
He swiveled, staggering, and ran to the side. His heart threw itself repeatedly against his ribs. He didn’t even know what he was doing, where he was going.
His legs gave out, and he sprawled on the concrete. The world blurred and spun, and slipped into the fog that usually came when he used his cerebrals.
Quint crouched in front of him, yelling into his face. “Get off your stomach! You’re going to die, stupid!”
Lyan wrestled himself back upright. The world stuttered into color, then back into cerebral vision, Quint’s glaring face.
Crap. Crap. He couldn’t see. They were going to be on him any second, like all those videos he’d seen in the Grid.
Hands grabbed his shoulders, yanked him up. Panic sliced his chest like hot knives. They shoved him, something hard hit his legs and his feet flew up and he fell backward.
His vision cleared. Night sky stared down at him. Then a motor roared, and the earth shot forward, taking him with it.
Lyan scrambled upright. He was in some kind of cart, racing away from the running tide of Infects. Connected to the cart on both sides were a couple of motorcycles, shivering with speed. Black-helmeted drivers bent over the handlebars.
The cart rattled, and Lyan bounced, and grabbed white-knuckled onto the sides of the cart. His thoughts jarred together. He didn’t know who these guys were, but they were driving him away from the horde of Infects and that was probably a good thing.
And then they turned, motors wailing in crescendo, and headed straight toward the horde.
They soared over the ground to meet the dead-eyed runners, and Lyan’s cry of protest fizzled weakly out through his throat. Then, maybe fifteen feet away from the first Infects, the drivers slammed into another turn, sweeping toward the city buildings.
The driver on the right reached down slowly, drew a stubby black shotgun from a holster on his bike and held it tight against his side.
They broke the first row of buildings, shot down the street. The buildings whipped past, along with Infects leaping at them from the side, flesh-colored blurs. One jumped in front of them. The driver with the shotgun blasted it center mass. It dropped, disappeared, and the cart rattled over it.
The shotgun blasted a few more Infects, turning them to bumps in the road, and then they were out of the city, veering toward the giant metal gate.
Lyan was opening his mouth to yell for them to stop, the gate wouldn’t open for them, but then the gate disappeared in an orange-black explosion.
A roar clapped the air, along with a heat that rammed down his throat and seared his eyes shut. When he opened them again, the night was darker, cut into two swaths by the motorcycle headlights. He caught glimpses of road, trees, the husk of a burned-out vehicle.
He was out of the Firewall. He’d never been out of the Firewall.
Then they crashed off the road, jostling and bumping, and he had to hold on with gritted teeth store away all semi-lucid thoughts for later.
And then they jolted to a stop. The drivers slid off the motorcycles, ran around behind the cart, and hoisted Lyan out by his armpits.
He stumbled between them. They dragged him up and ran him on. Another explosion came from behind them, illuminating their surroundings for a split-second in brilliant white. The motorcycles, he thought for a scattered second.
A blocky silhouette waited in front of them. A vehicle of some kind. The motorcycle drivers shoved him up to it, and a door swung open, and more hands dragged him up into it.
He landed on a seat, and bodies pressed warm against him on either side, and an engine rattled to life.
“Go, go,” said someone. “They’ll have cars out looking for us.”
Movement hummed through the floor of the vehicle. Dull lights in the ceiling illuminated two figures in the front seat, one driving, one a bald man looking back at Lyan through wire-frame glasses.
“Well, he’s just a kid,” the bald man said.
The motorcycle driver sitting against Lyan’s left hip pulled off his helmet. He had a gaunt face, sharp nose, longish hair which he brushed back with his gloved hands. “And still conscious. Bryce, please take care of that.”
“Hold still,” said a voice in Lyan’s other ear.
He started to recoil, but a sharp pain stabbed the side of his neck, and then his head felt fuzzy, and started to grow light, and he thought maybe he was rising out of his seat and right through the roof of the truck.
He chuckled, although nothing was really funny. The noises around him grew murky and then faded out.
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