Red's on the phone, finding out where our friends are, when the aquarium explodes in bloody red light and abyssal black smoke. A moment later the noise of it roars over us like a hungry dragon. Red slams on the brakes, instinctively I think, and I am thrown forwards. I halt, my nose inches from the windscreen, caught by my seatbelt. A dull ache starts in my breastbone, and my thigh twinges in sympathy where I was shot. I gasp, a harsh, pained sound, and sit back slowly.
Red says something, but I can't understand him. It's like he's talking underwater, all the words are distorted and coming from a long way away. He reaches over when I don't respond and shakes my shoulder, and a brightness of pain shoots up my neck. I gasp again and fold in on myself, trying for the foetal position despite the solid seat and the restraining seatbelt. Red says something else that makes no sense, and then the ambulance starts to move again.
I look towards the aquarium, now a tower of smoke laced with red and yellow flames, and catch my breath. Can anyone have survived? What will we find when we get ther--. I stare, amazed as the aquarium swings out of view, and painfully slowly, I realise that we are driving away from it. Away from our friends.
"blah blah blah blan't go there right now, they'll be looking out for us," says Red.
"What? We can't leave them! We can't leave Q... again..."
"Emma, you have to listen to me. We can't go there right now. The Bear said on the phone that he had visitors coming, he saw them. That means it wasn't a bomb. It was a rocket."
A rocket! What party have we invited ourselves to that Grozny can launch rockets where he thinks we're hiding and not worry about the police getting involved?
"Emma, do you understand me?" Red sounds worried, but he's trying to be patient. I want to scream at him and seize the wheel and turn us back, go and rescue Q and the Bear and maybe even Puppy if she was back already, but maybe I can be patient too.
"I understand you." It sounds snappish even to me, so I try harder. "I'm sorry, I... I... we've left Q. Again. He'll never forgive me this time."
I look at him, and I can see the conflict in his face as he tries to find the words. I find them for him.
"I know, Jeremy. I know. He's dead; they're all dead. The Bear was on the phone to you when the rocket struck. But it's still my fault that Q was in there to be killed like that, so you have to let me believe that he might have survived it. For now. Just until there's time to deal with the guilt properly."
His mouth moves, no words come out. I reach over and lay a shaking hand on his lips, silencing him. I feel the truck slow a little, and the warmth of his breath through my fingers, and I pull my hand back, slowly, gently.
"Where are we going?" I uncurl myself and rub my breastbone, wincing.
"Wilkerson's house," he says, his voice a little rough. "We've nowhere to hide now, so we may as well go and collect the CD while we try and figure out where to run to next."
I can see his logic, his faultless, flawless, male logic, just as I can see why it's wrong. We can't trust Wilkerson, and we need a place to hide in first. Out in the open we have to keep running and sooner or later we won't be fast enough. But he won't listen unless I have somewhere to suggest, somewhere to go first. And I don't.
It takes less time than I'd expected to find Wilkerson's house, but when I spot a slight smugness tucked in with the worry on Red's face I know that he's got there using shortcuts he thinks other people wouldn't have thought of. I almost smile, I think that's cute. But there are dead people pushing the corners of my mouth down, keeping me somber. As we drive past, checking it out before committing ourselves, it's all quiet and dark. We drive past twice more anyway, with no changes, and Jeremy would have driven past some more until I point out that ambulances don't usually circle the block, waiting for an accident to happen. We park three streets away, and get out of the ambulance. Red starts walking, and I hobble after him, trying hard to hide my limp. I'm not being left behind now. Something about the street makes me pause though, and I look up and down it, trying to put my finger on what seems familiar.
Oh yes. Joel has a flat on this street, where he'd stay when I was out of town, before I gave him a key to mine.
Red turns back to me, questioning why I've stopped, and I tell him. He looks almost as unhappy as I feel.