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“I bet we would have, too,” said Steve, watching as I dropped the testing unit into a biohazard bag. He was holding his sunglasses loosely in one hand, and his eyes were the eyes of a man who’s looked into hell and found he couldn’t cope with what he was seeing. I wouldn’t have been willing to bet that my eyes were any better. “You got a plan from here?”

“Oh, the usual. Get a vehicle, head for whatever site they have the candidates under lockdown at—”

“Right where you left them,” Steve interjected.

“Well, that’s convenient. I know the security layout there. Anyway, head back to the candidates and have a chat with Governor Tate.” I shrugged. “Maybe blow his brains out. I don’t know. The plan is still in the formative stage.”

“Need a ride?”

I grinned, the expression feeling foreign on my face. “I’d love one.”

“Good. Because my boys and I—what’s left of my boys—wouldn’t like to see you get hurt just because you felt like being stupid and going it alone.”

The ludicrousness of it all was enough to make me laugh. “Wait, you mean this was all I had to do to get myself a bigger security detail?”

“Guess so.”

“Get your boys.” The laughter faded as I looked at him. “It’s time we got on the road.”

Sometimes we leave the connecting door between our rooms open all night. We’d still share a room if they’d let us, turn the other room into an office and have done with it. Because both of us hate to be alone, and both of us hate to have other people—people outside the country we’ve made together—around when we’re defenseless. We’re always defenseless when we’re asleep.

We leave the connecting door open, and I wake up in the night to the sound of him snoring, and I wonder how the hell I’m going to stay alive after he finally slips up. He’ll die first, we both know it, but I don’t know I really don’t know how long I’ll stay alive without him. That’s the part Shaun doesn’t know. I don’t intend to be an only child for long.

—From Postcards from the Wall,

the unpublished files of Georgia Mason, June 19, 2040


The outbreak was still going strong. The infected weren’t actually everywhere; it just seemed that way, as they lurched and ran out of the shadows, following whatever weird radar signals the virus uses to tell the active hosts from the ones where the potential for infection is still just that, potential, sleeping and waiting for a wake-up. The scientists have been trying to figure out that little trick for twenty years, and as far as I know, they’re no closer than they were the day Romero movies stopped being trashy horror and started being guides to staying alive. I should have been thrilled—it’s not every day I get to walk through the center of an actual outbreak—but I was too busy being angry to really give a damn. Zombies didn’t kill George. People did. Living, breathing, uninfected people.

I recognized a lot of faces among the infected. Interns from the campaign; a few security staffers, one long-faced man with thinning red hair who’d been traveling with us for about six weeks writing speeches for the senator. No more speeches for you, buddy, I thought, and put a bullet through the center of his forehead. He fell soundlessly, robbed of menace, and I turned away, nauseated.

“If I get out of this alive, I may need to look for another line of work.”

“What’s that?” asked Steve, between breathless radio calls to his surviving men. He was pulling them back to the motor pool. Several were moving slowly due to the need to herd less-well-armed survivors, going against the recommended survival strategies for an outbreak as they responded like human beings. You want to stay alive in a zombie swarm? You go alone or in a small group where everyone is of similar physical condition and weapons training. You never stop, you never hesitate, and you never show any mercy for the people that would slow you down. That’s what the military says we should do, and if I ever meet anybody who listens to that particular set of commands, I may shoot them myself just to improve the gene pool. When you can help people stay alive, you help them. We’re all we’ve got.

“Nothing,” I said, with a shake of my head. “How’re we looking for support?”

His mouth drew down in something between a wince and a scowl before he said, “Our last call from Andres came while I was on my way to get you. He was backed against a wall with half a dozen of the aides. I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again. Carlos and Heidi are at the motor pool; that zone’s relatively clear. Mike I haven’t heard from Mike. Not Susan or Paolo, either. Everyone else is either on the way to meet with us or holding fast in a safe zone.”

“Andres—crap, man, I’m sorry.”

Steve shook his head. “I never was very good at partners.” He turned and fired into the shadows at the side of a portable office. Something gurgled and fell. I gave him a sidelong look, and he actually smiled. “You thought we wore these sunglasses for our health?”

“I have got to get a pair of those.”

We kept walking. What started as a pleasant, well-configured camp for visiting politicians had become a killing ground, full of cul-de-sacs and blind alleys that could hold almost anything. Complacency had long since destroyed the functionality of the layout. I couldn’t blame them—there hadn’t been an outbreak in Sacramento in years—but I didn’t appreciate it, either. Luck was on our side: With the senator and most of his senior staff off the grounds for the keynote speech, we had fewer bodies to deal with than we might have otherwise. Our chances of survival had gotten better with every person who left the compound. “Just wish we hadn’t come back,” I muttered.

“What’s that?” asked Steve.

I started to answer but was cut off as something hit me from behind, the momentum forcing me to the ground as hands clawed at my shoulders. Steve shouted. I was too occupied with trying to shake the zombie off to understand what he was saying. It was tearing at my back, trying to bite through the Kevlar. It would move up before too much longer, and my scalp was unprotected. The idea of having my brain literally eaten was really failing to appeal.