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I sat with my face toward the sun, ignoring the way my head was throbbing, and waited for Buffy to tell me that the time had come to begin.


Dancing with the Dead

You tell the truth as you see it, and you let the people decide whether to believe you. That’s responsible reporting. That’s playing fair. Didn’t your parents teach you anything?


Darwin was right. Death doesn’t play fair.


To explain my feelings for Senator Peter Ryman, I must first note that I am a naturally suspicious soul: that which seems too good to be true, in my experience, generally is. It is thus with the natural cynicism that is my hallmark that I make the following statement:

Peter Ryman, Wisconsin’s political golden boy, is too good to be true.

As a lifelong member of the Republican party in an era when half the party has embraced the idea that the living dead are a punishment from God and we poor sinners must do “penance” before we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven, it would be easy for him to be a bitter man, and yet he shows no signs of it. He is friendly, cordial, intelligent, and sincere enough to convince this reporter, even at three in the morning when the convoy has broken down in the middle of Kentucky for the third time and the language has turned saltier than the Pacific tide. Rather than preaching damnation, he counsels tolerance. Rather than calling for a “war on the undead,” he recommends improving our defenses and the quality of life in the still-inhabited zones.

He is, in short, a politician who understands that the dead are the dead, the living are the living, and we need to treat both with equal care.

Ladies and gentlemen, unless this man has some truly awe-inspiring skeletons in his closet, it is my present and considered belief that he would make an excellent President of the United States of America, and might actually begin to repair the social, economic, and political damage that has been done by the events of these past thirty years. Of course, that can only mean that he won’t win.

But a girl can dream.

—From Images May Disturb You,

the blog of Georgia Mason, February 5, 2040


The civic center had been prepared for Senator Ryman’s visit with row upon row of folding chairs and video screens angled to broadcast his image all the way to the rear of the cavernous room. Speakers were mounted every fifth row to make sure his words remained crystal clear as they fell upon the ears of the twenty or so brave souls who had actually dared to come hear him speak. The attendees were clustered in the front four rows, leaving the back of the room for the senator’s entourage, security folks, and, of course, the three of us. Put together, we outnumbered the voting public almost two to one.

Not that this was a unique occurrence. We’d seen this scene play out in nearly two dozen states and more than three times as many locations in the six weeks since we had left California. People don’t come out to “press the flesh” the way they used to, not even for the primaries that determine which candidates will be making it all the way to the presidential elections. They’re too worried about contagion and too afraid that the weird guy who keeps muttering to himself isn’t actually insane—there’s always a chance that he’s going through massive viral amplification and will take a chunk out of someone at any moment. The only safe people are the ones you know so well that they can’t surprise you with the personality changes the virus causes during replication. Since few people have enough close personal friends to fill an auditorium, most folks don’t come out.

That doesn’t mean that things have been going unobserved. Judging by the ratings, page hits, and downloads, the campaign has been maintaining some of the highest viewer numbers since Cruise versus Gore in 2018. People want to know how it’s going to turn out. There’s a lot riding on this election. Including, incidentally, our careers.

Shaun’s always said that I take things too seriously; since the start of the campaign, he’d started saying my sense of humor had been surgically removed to make room for more anal-retentiveness. Anyone else who said that would probably have gotten slapped, but from Shaun, I had to admit to an element of truth. Still, if I left things up to him, we’d be living with our parents and pretending we didn’t mind the lack of privacy until we died. Someone has to watch the bottom line, and someone has pretty much always been me.

Glancing to Buffy, I stage-whispered, “How do our numbers look?”

She didn’t look up from the text scrolling rapidly across her phone. The data feed was moving so fast I didn’t have a prayer of following it, but it obviously meant something to Buffy because she nodded, with a small smile on her lips as she said, “We’re looking at a sixty percent local audience on the video feed, and we just hit top six percent on the Web. The only candidate getting a higher feed ratio is Congresswoman Wagman, and she’s lagging in the actual polls.”

“And we know why she’s getting the feeds, now, don’t we children?” drawled Shaun, continuing to test the links in his favorite chain-mail shirt with a pair of lightweight pliers.

I snorted. Word on the blog circuit is that Kirsten “Knockers” Wagman had serious breast augmentation surgery before she went into politics, acting under the assumption that in today’s largely Internet-based demographic, looking good is more important than sounding like you have two brain cells to knock together. That worked for a while—it got her a seat in Congress, partially because people enjoy looking at her—but it isn’t going to get her very far in a presidential race. Especially not now that she’s up against folks who understand the issues.

Senator Ryman didn’t appear to have noticed the emptiness of the hall or the nervous expressions on his few actual, physical attendees. Most were probably local politicians coming out to show that they believed in the safety of their community, since several of them looked like they’d explode if you snuck up behind them and said “boo” in a commanding tone of voice. Most, not all. There was one little old lady, at least seventy years old, sitting dead center in the front row. She held her purse primly in her lap, lips set into a thin, hard line as she watched Senator Ryman go through his paces. She didn’t look nervous at all. If any zombies tried to invade this political event, she’d probably wind up giving them what-for and driving them back outside to wait their turn.