Decker’s lungs wouldn’t work. The unending scream in his mind surfaced and dwarfed every other thought, froze his muscles in place.
His vision blurred and swirled around the Infect’s face–the face that had been lurking in the back of his mind ever since that last assignment with Alice. Except now it was here, looking back at him, smiling just like it had when it tossed her lifeless body to the pavement.
He had the crazy urge to shut his eyes, but that wouldn’t work, because the face was inside, it was outside, it was everywhere.
Words scraped together in his throat and hurled at the thing, but they weren’t the right ones, the things he’d always thought he’d say when this moment came.
“WHY ARE YOU HERE?” he screamed. “WHY ARE YOU FOLLOWING ME?”
The Infect’s face went still, as if it was pondering his question. It slid its hands into its pockets, standing like it had when he’d first seen it outside the post office.
Seconds dragged by, the words hanging in the air between them, and then something cold swept through Decker, raging and calm at the same time. He stopped shaking.
For Alice. Those were his words, what he was supposed to be saying, not screaming nonsense like a terrified kid. That’s what was supposed to be coming out of his mouth as he shot that thing between the eyes.
Chill turned to fire and swept through his arteries, turning his muscles hard and taut, sweeping away motionlessness. It was better than the drugs. Smooth and sure, he brought his pistol up, not aiming, just knowing that the bullet would drill a hard line through the air, right into that thing’s gray skin and infected brain.
But then, somehow, in the millisecond before his finger pressed the trigger, he knew something else with sickening certainty. It was probably the weight of the gun, he just knew.
He was empty. There was nothing in the chamber.
The trigger clicked back. The sound of nothing snapped in the air, and the Infect’s smile returned.
It flashed toward him, faster than anything was supposed to. Slapped his hand, and his gun went spinning away. Then it grabbed his shoulders and flung him into the street.
Decker tucked his chin toward his chest before he hit the ground. Gravel tore into his hip, his shoulder, and he tried to roll to his feet, but his knees collapsed and he wallowed on his stomach like a baby learning to crawl.
Gulping air through his throat, he strained his eyes up. Right in front of his face, Shonda’s shotgun. Like the Infect wanted him to have it.
He seized the gun and fought to his feet, swaying like a drunk. The Infect strode toward him, washed in muddy multicolored light. Its jaw hung open in a silent laugh, revealing blunt metal teeth.
Decker fired from the hip. The blast raked the Infect’s left side, it turned sideways with the impact but kept walking.
He had to get to cover. The thought was futile, desperate, but it spurred his muscles into action and he broke into a lurching run down the street.
He could hear it coming behind him. Even, mechanical footsteps. Decker hobbled faster, cursing his battered body.
His legs gave out on him again, right before he reached the truck. He collapsed to his side and screamed in frustration, pounding his fist into the gravel.
Worming onto his back, he aimed at the approaching Infect and pulled the trigger.
The distance was too great, he was too rushed–a few stray pellets might have hit their target, but the Infect didn’t even slow.
He couldn’t freak out now, he couldn’t lose his head. He couldn’t die right here, with this thing still alive.
He wasn’t letting Alice down like that. Not one more time.
Decker screamed again, hurling raw wordless defiance at the approaching creature. Then he felt something hard and thin against his leg, in his pocket.
The EMP grenade, the one Kaity had given him.
Breathing quick and ragged through his mouth, he wriggled his hand into his pocket. His fingers touched the metal rod and scrabbled uselessly, slick with sweat.
The Infect strode toward him, grin gaping.
Decker managed to get his fingers around the grenade, and yanked it out of his pocket. He hurled it, and his mind gibbered prayers to the universe, to the Firewall, to God.
Please. Please. For Alice.
The Infect took a skipping step forward to meet the arc of the grenade as it sliced the air. Its arm snapped out and snatched it from the air.
Its eyes met his, and it held the grenade up like a trophy.
The EMP blast cracked, and the Infect’s head snapped back. Its limbs contorted and the grenade dropped from its fingers.
It dropped to its knees, then to its stomach, writhing. But then lifted its head, holding Decker’s gaze, and smiled through its chattering teeth.
Decker’s stomach went cold. Thoughts tumbled through his head, memories of that day. It was happening again. Hopelessness dragged his head back onto the concrete.
It wouldn’t die. He couldn’t kill it. Maybe he wasn’t meant to. He had been supposed to die that day–maybe this was just the universe correcting itself.
When you really thought about it, it didn’t make sense–him being alive so long when Alice was gone. It wasn’t right.
He thought of Alice, and tried to whisper something to her, some words of apology, but they wouldn’t come.
And then he waited for the Infect’s face to appear above him, for its blades to come ripping down one last time.
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