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“You mean you don’t know?” He sounded genuinely surprised. “Georgia, somebody shot out my damn tires.”

“Shot? What do you mean, sh—” Shaun came blasting around the curve of the road and off the pavement, moving so fast that our hydraulically balanced and weighted van nearly rocked onto two tires. “Shaun’s here. We’ll be right there to get you. Georgia out.”

“Clear.” The connection clicked off.

I pulled my helmet back off and climbed to my feet, waving my hands in the air. Shaun spotted the motion and turned the van toward my location, screeching to a stop beside me. The doors unlocked, and Shaun was throwing himself out of the driver’s-side door, his heels slipping on the gravel-covered ground as he ran over to throw his arms around me. I let him crush me against his chest, taking a deep breath.

“You okay?” he asked, not letting go.

“You didn’t get a blood test before coming over here.”

“Don’t need one. If you were infected, I’d know,” Shaun said, and let me go. “I repeat, you okay?”

“I’m okay.” I climbed in the open van door, sliding over to settle in the passenger seat. Shaun got in behind me. “You okay?”

“Better now,” Shaun said, turning the engine back on and slamming his foot down on the gas. The van leapt forward into a wide curve, rocketing toward Rick’s car. “You hear the shots?”

“Bike was too loud. How many?”

“Eight. Two for each of us.” He glanced at me. For a brief moment, I saw the raw worry in his eyes. “If they’d nailed both your tires ”

“I’d be dead.” I leaned forward to open the glove compartment and pull out the .45 I keep there. Suddenly, being outside without a gun in my hand didn’t seem like a good idea. “If whoever did this had done their damn homework, you’d be dead, too, so let’s not dwell. Word from Buffy?”

“None.”

“Great.” I pulled back the slide, checking the chamber. Satisfied by my bullet count, I let the slide rack back into place. “So, is this enough excitement for you?”

“Maybe a bit much,” he said. For once in his life, he sounded like he meant it.

It was true, though. If our attackers had done their homework, Shaun wouldn’t have been driving; he’d have been dying. Normal tires blow when they take a bullet. Even armor plating won’t prevent that. But some vehicles are too damn valuable to lose just because you lose a tire, and most vehicles in that class are the sort likely to draw heavy gunfire. So scientists developed a type of tire that doesn’t give a damn about gunshots. They’re called run flats: You put a bullet in them, and they keep on rolling. I might have skipped them—I did skip them on my bike, where they made the ride unbearably choppy—but Shaun insisted. He bought a new set every year.

For the first time since we got the van, it didn’t seem like a waste of money.

Shaun focused on driving, and I focused on trying to page Buffy and Chuck, using every band and communications device we had. We knew communications weren’t being jammed; at least some of my messages should have made it through. There were no replies on any channel. I’d been terrified. That’s when I started to get numb.

Shaun pulled up next to Rick’s car. “Think there’s still a shooter out there?”

“Doubtful.” I slid the gun into my pocket. “This was a targeted operation. They only took out our cars. If they’d been sticking around to make sure they killed us, you’d have kept taking bullets. And I made a damn good target when I first stopped my bike.”

“Hope you’re right,” said Shaun, and opened his door.

Rick watched our approach through the car window, waving his arms to show that he was still alive. He was half-pinned by the air bag and blood was dripping into his hair from a small cut on his forehead, but other than that he looked fine. Lois and her carrier were strapped into the seat next to his. I didn’t want to be the one to let that cat out of the box.

I knocked on the glass, calling, “Rick? Can you open the door?” Despite the urgency of the situation, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the structural integrity of his little car. It had to have rolled at least once before coming to a stop on its roof, and yet it wasn’t showing any dents: just scratches and a crack in the passenger-side window. The folks at VW really knew what they were doing.

“I think so!” he called back. “Can you get me out?”

Mirthlessly, I echoed, “I think so!”

“Not the most encouraging answer,” he said, and twisted in the seat, movements constrained by seat belt and air bag, until he could kick the door. On his second kick, I grabbed the handle and pulled. I didn’t have to pull that hard; despite the car’s inverted position and the beating it had taken, the door swung open easily, leaving Rick’s foot dangling in the air. He pulled it back into the car, saying, “Now what?”

“Now I get your belt, and you get ready to fall.” I leaned into the car.

“Hurry up, George,” said Shaun. “I don’t like this.”

“No one does,” I said, and unsnapped Rick’s belt. Gravity took over from there, sending Rick thumping against the roof of the car.

“Thanks,” he said, reaching over to unhook Lois’s carrier before climbing out. The cat hissed and snarled inside the box, expressing her displeasure. Straightening, Rick eyed his car. “How are we supposed to flip that back over?”

“Triple A is our friend,” I said. “Get in the van. We need to check on Buffy.”

Paling, Rick nodded and climbed in. Shaun and I were only a few feet behind him. I noted without surprise that Shaun had his own pistol—substantially larger than my emergencies-only .45—with specially modified ammo that did enough damage to human or posthuman tissue that it was illegal without a disturbing number of licenses, all of which Shaun obtained before he turned sixteen—out and at the ready. He wasn’t buying my glib assurances of our safety. That was fine. Neither was I.


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