“I’m out of ideas,” Rosin said hoarsely. “Decker?”
Decker looked out at the desert around them, straining his eyes for a glimpse of a tall figure in a turtleneck. The last thing any of them would see.
Or maybe they wouldn’t see it–it would strike from behind or above, and Jenni’s bomb would rip through them, and they would all die together.
But he was pretty sure he’d see it first. It would want him to. He knew, just remembering the way it smiled. It wanted him to die with that smile burning into his visual cortex, mocking his weakness.
Wasn’t any good to pretend it might not come. Those sightings on the road, its appearance, luring them away, the attack on Tyler–they weren’t random happenings driven by an infected mind. They were pieces of a plan. This thing was coming for him.
“You might not have thought about this, but not everybody in here has a death wish.” Rosin’s voice cracked with exhaustion and rage. “You got us where we are right now, boss, you might work on a way to get us out.”
Decker exhaled. “Get calm, Rosin.”
Rosin laughed shakily. “Not much to be calm about. If you haven’t noticed, there’s an invisible desert monster around.” His voice raised a notch. “Speaking of, tell me why I feel like you know more about that then the rest of us. Can you at least do that?”
Fire ants danced across Decker’s skin. He mashed his back teeth together, trying to focus more on the pain from Jenni’s beating and less on the withdrawal. “Like I told you, that thing was an Infect. It killed Alice.”
Stunned silence for a few seconds. Just a few.
“So that thing’s not just a random killer, it knows you. It’s coming after you.”
“Yeah, probably,” Decker said between his teeth.
“Who’s that girl?” Shonda said.
Decker scanned again, squinting. Someone had come into view, jogging across the sand, looking back and forth nervously. A girl. Long ponytail. Holding a big pistol out in front of her in a way that said she’d probably shot one before.
Recognition hit. Kaity. The girl whose father he’d beaten three ways to death last night.
And she was carrying his gun. What in the world.
When Kaity was about fifty feet away, Rosin yelled at her. “Hey! Watch it, there’s a bomb over here!”
Kaity froze, ponytail bobbing. Then her mouth bent in annoyance, and she started walking toward them. “I know there’s a bomb. That’s kind of Jenni’s thing, bombs. Everybody in Bowzerville’s watching the sky for when you people blow up.”
She wore a brown sweater and faded skirt, little bit of a contrast from the provocative outfit she’d had on last night. From what Decker could remember.
“Kaity, go on back,” Decker said.
She grinned. “You remembered my name. Wasn’t sure if you would, you were pretty out of it last night.”
She didn’t need to be out here. Didn’t need to be just another casualty of whatever was getting ready to happen. Decker’s jaw stiffened. “I don’t even know you, kid. Turn around.”
“Saving your butt first.” Kaity slowed and craned her neck, trying to see into the jeep. “So what is it, does she have you wired to the bomb? That’s her favorite, she overuses it a tad.”
“Crying out loud, Decker, if she wants to help, let her help,” Rosin said. “Hey girl, you have anything that cuts wire?”
Kaity reached around her back and pulled a pair of rusty cutters out of her skirt band. “I brought these.”
“That’ll work,” Rosin said, relief searing his voice.
“No,” Decker said. “No that won’t work, because as soon as you start clipping stuff it’s going off.” He exhaled. “There’s something really bad out here that’s killed a lot of people already, you need to take that gun and head back while you’ve still got time.”
Her eyes flickered across the bodies scattered around the jeep, and her throat bobbed in a hard swallow. But she shook her head. “You know how hard it was for me to get this stuff? There’s got to be some way for me to get you out of there.”
Frustration boiled through him, stoking the fire ants under his skin to a mad frenzy. “That thing will kill you. Not joking here.”
Fear twitched in her face, along with hard obstinency. “Well then I’d better get you out of there, so you can take care of it.”
Movement in the corner of his vision. He breathed hard, burning a stare across the sand. Had he seen a figure, or was it just his brain playing tricks?
If the Infect was coming, it was probably too late for Kaity. He couldn’t send her back by herself. They were all getting out of this, or no one was.
Sweat stung the corners of his eyes. He squeezed them shut and fought to focus his thinking energy. “You’re going to have to shoot the bomb.”
“Shoot the bomb?” Rosin rasped. “Bombs blow up, you don’t shoot them when you’re sitting on top of them.”
Decker ignored him. “Kaity, look under there and tell me what the bomb looks like.”
He heard her footsteps crunching on the sand, taking tentative steps forward. A grunt as she knelt down to peer under the jeep.
“It’s just a box,” she said. “It has this big mess of wires on one end, and that’s where the wires tied to you guys are connected.”
“Okay.” Decker nodded. “Take my gun, you’re going to want to aim as far away from the wires as possible. That’s where the blasting cap is, as long as you don’t hit that the bomb won’t explode.”
Hopefully. And then the EMP round would fry the circuitry and disable the bomb further. Also hopefully.
He waited for Rosin to protest further, but the back seat stayed silent, for once.
Decker opened his eyes and looked over the side of the jeep. Kaity crouched there, staring up him, wide-eyed.
“I don’t want you to,” Decker said. “I’d rather you just got out as fast as you can. But if you’re going to be an idiot and try to save us, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Kaity lowered to her stomach, and pushed the gun out in front of her, aiming under the jeep. “Well you don’t have to be mean about it.”
Decker closed his eyes again. Behind him, Rosin muttered breathless curses.
The pistol cracked. Silence burned. Decker let his breath out.
“You hit it?” he asked.
“Yes.” Adrenaline shook Kaity’s voice.
“Okay. Two more times.”
More silence. A bullet of sweat tracked its way down Decker’s jawline.
Two more shots tore the air. Still no blistering heat, no bone-tearing explosion.
If the bomb wasn’t dead at this point, it never would be. Decker gritted his teeth, gathered his strength, and threw his momentum forward, standing up. The wire tugged on his bound hands, and then gave.
“Sweet Lord,” Shonda said.
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