Which reminded him of everything in a flare of panic.

“Bryson!” he yelled, quickly checking his side to make sure Weber’s bag was still there, the strap across his chest. He felt the bulk of the Lance, the sharp, hard edges giving him a small dose of relief. “Sarah! Wake up!”

Michael’s friends groaned, rubbed their eyes. Blinked and squinted as much as he had. But soon they were all on their feet, the ordeal of the Squeeze in the past, become a mere memory more quickly than Michael would’ve guessed.

“This place is fantastic,” Sarah said, turning in a circle as if she’d landed on another planet. “It’s so … real.” She reached out and touched the rough cement of the closest building, which towered dozens of stories above them. “You can barely tell we’re in the Sleep.”

“Tell me about it,” Michael muttered absently. Images of his family filled his head, but they needed to get moving, no time to waste. No matter what Agent Weber had said about their Hider codes, he’d never again make the mistake of thinking Kaine couldn’t find them. “Let’s get this over with.” Bryson had his eyes closed but opened them when Michael stopped talking. “Just like the last time she sent us in. No code. Her programs are stronger than ever.”

“I’ve got all the info loaded,” Sarah replied. “Just a sec.” A quick squeeze of her EarCuff and the green NetScreen projected in front of her. She made a few swipes and taps. “Wow. Weber’s good. Squeezed us in really close. It’s less than half a mile from here.”

Michael looked down at the bag again. He wanted to get rid of the Lance as soon as possible. “Let’s go, then.” It seemed like he should’ve said something a little more pep-talky, but that was all he had.

Bryson cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Kaine! We’re coming to get you!”

Sarah slapped him on the shoulder. “What’re you doing?”

“Yeah,” Michael added. “That might be the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.”

Bryson shrugged. “I hate that piece of rat-trash.” And it was hard to blame him.

The three of them ran down the alley toward Kaine.

Plenty of pedestrians walked the sidewalks in front of the building they wanted. It looked just like it had on the huge map Agent Weber had pulled up back in the VNS War Room. Wedged between two tall buildings, three stories, a few small windows, made of an ugly mixture of steel and cement—the thing was an eyesore, and Michael couldn’t guess what possible historical significance it had. Maybe as one of the most hideous, nondescript, useless buildings ever constructed?

“Huh,” Bryson said. “I would’ve thought he’d live in a palace or a castle.” The three friends studied Kaine’s home from a block or so away.

“Too obvious,” Sarah replied.

Bryson spit on the sidewalk. “I can’t wait for this to be over.”

“I get to do it,” Michael said, anger rising in him like a red sun.

“What?” Bryson and Sarah said at the same time.

Michael broke his gaze from the building. “I get to place the Lance. And trigger it.” He paused, trying to find the best way to say it. “I’m glad I get to kill him.”

His friends didn’t say anything. Bryson nodded; Sarah looked down at the ground, as if she was worried about him. Or thinking about her own mom and dad. But Michael had to do this. Kaine had taken away his family, his life, Helga. It didn’t matter that Michael was a fake, that he was nothing but a program. He’d loved his parents; he’d loved Helga. He’d been happy. Getting a bag of real flesh and bones to wrap around his intelligence would never make up for that.

He was going to kill Kaine, even if the Lance’s effects were as messy as Weber predicted. Even if every last KillSim in the Sleep came at him, he’d set the thing off before going down.

“We ready for this?” Bryson asked. “Time’s a-wastin.’ ”

“I’m ready,” Michael said.

Sarah looked firm again. “Me too. I just wish we had a better plan. It’s going to be so hard doing this without swimming in the code.” She flicked a hand up by her EarCuff, as if disgusted by it. “I guess this stupid old thing will have to do.”

“Yep,” Michael said. “It will.” He had no doubt they could get inside that building and get the job done. The part that worried him was getting back out—Kaine would have his creatures swarming the building as soon as he realized there were intruders. “The skyscraper next to it has a sunken alcove in front of the doors. We can hide there while we work on Kaine’s security system.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Bryson said. “Try to look like goofy Deep tourists while we walk up to it. And don’t stare at the building we wanna get into.”

“And don’t walk fast,” Sarah added. “Or slow.”

“And—” Bryson started to say, but Michael had already started walking.

“Just come on,” he said, unable to wait a second longer.

They made it to the alcove of the neighboring building without incident, and no one seemed to give them more than a passing glance. Teenagers, one with a bag strapped across his chest, Sarah with her NetScreen already blazing—they looked like students, and sitting down to work only added to the appearance. Michael wondered about all the people around him—weirdly envious that they’d all worked their way inside Lifeblood Deep somehow. Of course, a lot of them were Tangents, programmed to make the world seem as real as possible.

They’d divvied up the jobs, and Michael’s was to shut down any alarm systems—both the audible kind, which might bring guards and curious people running, and the communications kind, which would bring Kaine’s army of who-knew-what this time around. Sarah worked away at the firewalls, trying to find ways to slip past them. Bryson went at the cameras and locking systems.

As he worked, Michael kept thinking back to when they’d tried to break into Ronika’s Black and Blue Club. It seemed like a million years ago. He longed for the day when they were able to break by doing something as simple as tricking a couple of idiot bouncers.

“This is … weird,” Sarah said after they’d all been working for a while.

Michael knew what she meant. The systems were unlike anything he’d ever come across—very basic, and despite being multilayered and heavily fortified, there was hardly any of the usual sophistication.