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The silence supplied her answer: Ecstatic.

The sound of beeping intruded on my contemplation of the bloody ceiling some ten minutes later. The fight outside was winding down. Bemused, I looked toward my shattered phone. Still broken. There were countless things in the van that could be beeping like that, about half of them on George’s side. Hoping whatever it was happened to be voice activated, I said, “Answer.”

One of the wall-mounted monitors rolled, the body of a dead security guard and the two infected feasting on his torso being replaced by the worried face of Mahir, my sister’s longtime second and our secret weapon against government shut-down. Guess that cat didn’t need to stay in the bag any longer. His eyes were wide and terrified, the whites showing all the way around, and his hair was disheveled, like he’d just gotten out of bed.

“Huh,” I said, distantly pleased. “Guess it was voice activated after all. Hey, Mahir.”

His focus shifted down, settling on where I sat against the wall. It wasn’t possible for his eyes to get any wider, but they tried when he saw the gun in my hand. Still, his voice struggled to stay level as he said, with great and anxious seriousness, “Tell me this is a joke, Shaun. Please, tell me this is the most tasteless joke in a long history of tasteless jokes, and I will forgive you, happily, for having pulled it on me.”

“Sorry, no can do,” I said, closing my eyes rather than continuing to look at his worry-stricken face. Was this how it felt to be George? To have people looking at you, expecting you to have the answers about things that didn’t involve shooting the thing that was about to chew your face off? Jesus, no wonder she was tired all the time. “The exact time and cause of death for Georgia Carolyn Mason has been registered with the Centers for Disease Control. You can access it in the public database. I understand there’s been a statement confirming it. I’m gonna have to get that framed.”

“Oh, dear God—”

“Pretty sure God’s not here just now. Leave a message. Maybe He’ll get back to you.” It was nice, looking at the inside of my eyelids. Dark. Comfortable. Like all those hotel rooms I fixed up for her, because her eyes got hurt so easy

“Shaun, where are you?” Horror was overwhelming the anxiety in his tone. He’d seen the van wall. He’d seen the gun. Mahir wasn’t an idiot—he could never have worked for George if he’d been stupid—and he knew what my surroundings meant.

“I’m in the van.” I nodded, still letting myself take comfort in the dark. I couldn’t see his face. I couldn’t see the blood drying on the walls. The dark was my friend. “George is here, too, but you can’t really say hi just now. She’s indisposed. Also, I blew her brains out all over the wall.” The giggle escaped before I could bite it back, high and shrill in the confined air.

“Oh, my God.” Now there was nothing but horror in his tone, wiping everything else away. “Have you activated your emergency beacon? Have you tested yourself? Shaun—”

“Not yet.” I found myself beginning to get interested against my better judgment. “Do you think I should?”

“Don’t you want to live, man?!”

“That’s an interesting question.” I opened my eyes and stood, testing my legs and finding them good. There was a moment of dizziness, but it passed. Mahir was watching me from the screen, his dark complexion gone pale with panic. “Do you think I should? I wasn’t supposed to. George was supposed to. There’s been a clerical error.”

“Turn on your beacon, Shaun.” His voice was firm now. “She wouldn’t want it this way.”

“Pretty sure she wouldn’t want any of this. Especially not the part where she’s dead. That would be the part she liked the least.” My head was starting to clear as the shock faded, replaced by something cleaner and a lot more familiar: anger. I was furiously angry because it wasn’t supposed to be this way; it was never supposed to be this way. Georgia would attend my funeral, give my eulogy, and I would never live in a world she wasn’t a part of. We agreed on that when we were kids, and this this was just plain wrong.

“Regardless, now that she’s gone and you’re not? She’d want you to make at least a small effort to stay that way.”

“You Newsies. Always bringing the facts into things.” I crossed the van, keeping my eyes away from the mess at my sister’s terminal and the surrounding walls. The beacon—a button that would trigger a broadcast loop to let any local CDC or law enforcement agents know that someone in the van had been infected, and that someone else was alive—was a switch on the wall next to what had been Buffy’s primary terminal, before she went and died on us.

First Buffy, now George. Two down, one to go, and the more I forced myself out of the comfort of my shock, the more I realized that the story wasn’t over. It didn’t have an ending. George would have hated that.

“It is, as you might say, our job,” Mahir said.

“Yeah, about that.” I flipped the switch. A distant, steady beeping began, the beacon’s signal being picked up and relayed by the illegal police scanner in the sealed-off front seat. “Who are you working for right now?”

“Ah no one. I suppose I’m a free agent.”

“Good, ’cause I want to hire you.”

Mahir’s surprise was entirely unfeigned as he demanded, “What?”

“This day can’t be good for your blood pressure,” I said, crossing to the weapons locker. The revolver wasn’t going to cut it. For one thing, it was probably contaminated, and they’d take it away when they let me out of the van. For another, it lacked class. You can’t go hunting United States governors with a generic revolver. It simply isn’t done. “After the End Times has found itself with a sudden opening for a new Head of our Factual Reporting Department. I mean, I could hire Rick, but I don’t think he’s gonna have the guts for the job. He’s one of nature’s seconds. Besides, Georgia would’ve wanted me to give it to you.” We’d never discussed it—the topic of her dying was so ludicrous that it never came up—but I was sure of what I was saying. She would’ve hired him if she had any say in the matter. She would’ve hired him, and she would’ve trusted him to take over the site if my death followed hers. So that was all right.