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“Buffy’s going to be ready in fifteen,” I said, pushing my sunglasses more solidly up the bridge of my nose. Some of the newer models have magnetic clamps instead of earpieces. They won’t come off without someone intentionally disengaging them. I would have been tempted to invest in a pair if they weren’t expensive enough to require decontamination and reuse.

“The sun’s going down; you could wear your contacts,” Dad said, sounding amused. He’s good at sounding amused. He’s been sounding professionally amused since before the Rising, back when he used his campus webcast to keep biology students around the Berkeley area paying attention and doing their homework. Eventually, that same webcast let him coordinate pockets of survivors, moving them from place to place while reporting on the movement of the local zombie mobs. A lot of people owe their lives to that warm, professional-sounding voice. He could’ve become a news anchor with any network in the world after the dust cleared. He stayed at Berkeley instead, and became one of the pioneers of the evolving blogger society.

“I could also stick a fork in my eye, but where would be the fun in that?” I walked over to Shaun, offering a thin smile. He studied my skirt and then flashed me a thumbs-up sign. I had passed the all-judging court of my brother’s fashion sense, which, cargo pants aside, is more advanced than mine will ever be.

“I called Bronson’s. They have a table for us on the patio,” Mom said, smiling beatifically. “It’s a beautiful night. We should be able to see the entire city.”

Shaun glanced at me, murmuring, “We let Mom pick the restaurant.”

I smirked. “I can see that.”

Bronson’s is the last open-air restaurant in Berkeley. More, they’re the last open-air restaurant in the entire Bay Area to be located on a hillside and surrounded by trees. Eating there is what I imagine it was like to go out to dinner before the constant threat of the infected drove most people away from the wilderness. The entire place is considered a Level 6 hazard zone. You can’t even get in without a basic field license, and they require blood tests before they let you leave. Not that there’s any real danger: It’s surrounded by an electric fence too high for the local deer to jump over, and floodlights click on if anything larger than a rabbit moves in the woods. The only serious threat comes from the chance that an abnormally large raccoon might go into conversion, make it over the fence before it lost the coordination to climb trees, and drop down inside. That’s never happened.

Not that this stops Mom from hoping to be there when it near-inevitably does. She was one of the first true Irwins, and old habits die hard, when they die at all. Shouldering her purse, she gave me a disapproving look. “Could you at least pretend to comb your hair?” she asked. “It looks like you have a hedgehog nesting on your head.”

“That’s the look I was going for,” I said. Mom is blessed with sleek, well-behaved ash blonde hair that started silvering gracefully when Shaun and I were ten. Dad has practically no hair left, but when he had it, it was a muted Irish red. I, on the other hand, have thick, dark brown hair that comes in two settings: long enough to tangle, and short enough to look like I haven’t brushed it in years. I prefer the short version.

Shaun’s hair is a little lighter than mine, but still brown, and when he keeps it short, no one can tell that his is straight and mine wants to curl. It helps us get away with just saying we’re twins, rather than going into the whole messy explanation.

Mom sighed. “You two realize the odds are good that someone already knows you got the assignment, and you’re going to get swarmed tonight, yes?”

“Mmm-hmmm,” I said. “Someone” probably received a quick phone call from one or both of our parents, and “someone” was probably already waiting at the restaurant. We grew up with the ratings game.

“Looking forward to it,” said Shaun. He’s better at playing nice with our parents than I am. “Every site that runs my picture tonight is five more foxy ladies around the country realizing that they want to hit the road with me.”

“Pig,” I said, and punched him in the arm.

“Oink,” he said. “It’s all right, we know the drill. Smile pretty for the cameras, show off my scars, let George and Dad look wise and trustworthy, pose for anyone who asks, and don’t try to answer any questions with actual content.”

“Whereas I don’t smile unless forced, stay behind my sunglasses, and make a point of how incisive and hard-hitting every report I approve for release is going to be,” I said, dryly. “We let Buffy babble to her heart’s content about the poetic potential of traveling around the country with a bunch of political yahoos who think we’re idiots.”

“And we make the front page of every alpha site in the country, and our ratings go up nine points overnight,” Shaun said.

“Thus allowing us to announce the formation of our own site early next week, just before heading out on the campaign trail.” I slid my sunglasses down my nose, ignoring the way the light stung as I offered a brief smile. “We’ve thought about this as much as you have.”

“Maybe more,” Shaun added.

Dad laughed. “Face it, Stacy, they’ve got it covered. Kids, just in case there isn’t another chance for me to tell you this, your mother and I are very proud of you. Very proud of you, indeed.”

Liar. “We’re pretty proud of us, too,” I said.

“Well, then,” Shaun said, clapping his hands together. “This is touching and all, but come on—let’s go eat.”

Getting out of the house is easier with our parents in tow, largely because Mom’s minivan is kept ready at all times. Food, water, a CDC-certified biohazard containment unit for temperature-sensitive medications, a coffeemaker, steel-reinforced windows We could be trapped inside that thing for a week, and we’d be fine. Except for the part where we’d go crazy from stress and confinement and kill each other before rescue came. When Shaun and I go into the field, we need to check our gear, sometimes twice, to make sure it’s not going to let us down. Mom just grabs her keys.


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