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My own place in the driving order was a little less predictable since I was on my bike and unconstrained by the shape of the road. I kept my cameras running the whole time, privately hoping I’d find a shambler for Shaun to amuse himself with. That was all he’d need to bring his spirits up. We’d been driving for two days, with another two still ahead of us, and the silence was starting to wear on me.

My helmet speaker crackled. “On,” I said to activate the connection, following it with, “Georgia here.”

“It’s Rick. What do you think about dinner?”

“The sun went down an hour ago, and dinner is traditionally the evening meal, so I think dinner is logically our next stop. What are we looking at?”

“GPS says there’s a truck stop about two hours up the road that has a pretty decent diner.”

“Any record on their screening protocols?” We’d run into multiple truck stops where the security agents wouldn’t let us eat because their blood tests weren’t good enough to guarantee we wouldn’t have to worry about an outbreak between the coffee and the pie. I’d been driving all day. If we stopped, I wanted it to be for more than fifteen minutes and an argument.

“They’re government certified. All their licenses up to date, all their inspection scores posted.”

“Sounds good to me. I’ll see if I can rouse Shaun and let him know what the plan is. You call Steve and the guys, give them the address, and tell them we’ll meet there.”

“Deal.”

“Coffee’s on me. Georgia out.”

“Rick out.”

“Great.” I followed it with, “Disconnect and redial Shaun Mason.” The speaker beeped acknowledgment, and began to ring as it signaled my brother.

He never picked up the call. He didn’t have the time.

I didn’t hear the gunshots until I went back to review the tapes and turned the low-level frequencies up enough to undo the work of the silencers. Eight shots were fired. The first two trucks, the ones containing the campaign guards and lower-level personnel, passed by unmolested. They were rolling ahead of the rest of the crew and passed out of the shallow valley without incident. The gun didn’t start going off until Rick’s car pulled into the ideal position, halfway between the valley’s entrance and its exit.

Two shots were fired at Rick’s little blue armadillo, two more were fired at the van, and the two after that were fired at my bike. The last two shots were fired at the equipment truck at the back of the caravan, the one Chuck was driving, with Buffy riding shotgun. The shots were very methodical, one following the other as fast as the skill of the shooter would allow. I’d have been impressed if they hadn’t been aimed so effectively at me and mine.

The first shot fired at my bike punched a hole in my front tire, sending me weaving out of control. I screamed and swore, fighting with the handlebars as I tried to steady my trajectory enough to keep me from becoming a stain on the side of the road. Even with my body armor, falling wrong would kill me. I was focusing so hard on not toppling over that my driving became impossible to predict, and the second shot went wide. Maybe that’s why I was able to believe I’d blown a tire as I let momentum carry me off the edge of the road, rolling onto the uneven ground beyond the shoulder.

I finished steadying myself, dumped speed, and wrenched the bike to a stop twenty yards after I left the road. Panting, I kicked the stand down and unsealed my helmet before turning to stare at the carnage that had overwhelmed the road.

Rick’s car was still at the front of the pack, but now it was lying stranded on its back, wheels spinning in the air. The tires on the right-hand side were nothing but shredded rubber stretched over bent steel. The equipment truck was on its side fifty or so yards behind him, smoke oozing from its shattered cabin.

There was no sign of the van.

Suddenly frantic, I fumbled my ear cuff from my pocket and shoved it onto my ear with enough force to leave a bruise that I wouldn’t feel until later. “Shaun? Shaun? Pick up your goddamn phone, Shaun!”

“Georgia?” The connection was poor enough that his voice crackled in and out, but the relief was unmistakable; it would have been unmistakable even if the connection had been worse. He never called me by my full name unless he was angry, scared, or both. “Georgia, are you okay? Where are you?”

“Twenty yards off the road on the left-hand side, near some big rocks. I’m between the car and the equipment truck. There’s smoke, Shaun, has anyone else tried to—”

“Don’t make any more calls. I don’t know if they can trace them. You stay right there, Georgia. Don’t you f**king dare move!” The connection cut with a sharp, final click. In the distance, I heard tires squealing against the road.

Shaun had sounded panicked. Rick and Buffy were out of communication, the truck was on fire, my bike was down, and Shaun was panicking. That could only mean one thing: It was time to take cover.

Slamming my helmet back over my head, I ducked behind my bike and started surveying the surrounding hills. Short of a rocket launcher, there wasn’t much that stood a viable chance of killing me in my body armor. Hurting me, yes, but killing me, not really.

There was nothing. No lights, no signs of motion; nothing.

“—ia? Come in, Georgia?”

“Rick?” I nodded to the right, confirming the connection. “Rick, is that you? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine. Air bag stopped me from hitting the roof.” He coughed. “Chest’s a little banged up, and Lois is pissed as hell, but otherwise, we’re okay. You?”

“Didn’t dump the bike. I’m fine. Any word from Buffy?”

There was a pause. Finally, he said, “No. I was hoping she’d called you.”

“Did you try to call her?”

“No word.”

“Damn. Rick, what happened?”


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