Buffys 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 wont come off without someone intentionally disengaging them. I would have been tempted to invest in a pair if they werent expensive enough to require decontamination and reuse.
The suns going down; you could wear your contacts, Dad said, sounding amused. Hes good at sounding amused. Hes 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 couldve 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 brothers fashion sense, which, cargo pants aside, is more advanced than mine will ever be.
I called Bronsons. They have a table for us on the patio, Mom said, smiling beatifically. Its 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.
Bronsons is the last open-air restaurant in Berkeley. More, theyre 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 cant even get in without a basic field license, and they require blood tests before they let you leave. Not that theres any real danger: Its 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. Thats 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.
Thats 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 havent brushed it in years. I prefer the short version.
Shauns 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 were 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 youre 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. Hes 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. Its 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 dont try to answer any questions with actual content.
Whereas I dont 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 hearts content about the poetic potential of traveling around the country with a bunch of political yahoos who think were 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. Weve thought about this as much as you have.
Maybe more, Shaun added.
Dad laughed. Face it, Stacy, theyve got it covered. Kids, just in case there isnt another chance for me to tell you this, your mother and I are very proud of you. Very proud of you, indeed.
Liar. Were pretty proud of us, too, I said.
Well, then, Shaun said, clapping his hands together. This is touching and all, but come onlets go eat.
Getting out of the house is easier with our parents in tow, largely because Moms 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 wed be fine. Except for the part where wed 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 its not going to let us down. Mom just grabs her keys.