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The first cluster was discussing Senator Ryman’s stance on the death penalty. That’s one that’s been going around since the dead first started getting up and walking. If you’re killing someone for the crime of killing people, doesn’t it sort of contradict the spirit of the thing if their corpse is going to get up and immediately start killing more people? Most death-row inmates stay there until they die of natural causes, at which point the government seizes their shambling corpses and adds them to the ongoing research on the cure. Everybody wins, except for the unlucky prisoners who get eaten by the newly deceased before they can be recovered.

The next group was talking about the potential candidates. Senator Ryman was definitely getting a favorable reception, since they were calling his closest competition respectively “a cheap show-biz whore”—that would be Congresswoman Wagman—and “an arrogant tool of the religious right”—that would be Governor Tate, originally of Texas, and currently the single loudest voice claiming the zombies would only stop eating good American men and women when the country got back to its moral and ethical roots. Whether this would stop the zombies from eating people of different national backgrounds never seemed to come up, which was a pity, since I liked the idea of zombies checking your passport before they decided whether or not they were allowed to bite down.

Satisfied that I wasn’t likely to hear anything new in this crowd, I started casting around for a conversation worth joining. The one nearest the doors looked promising; there was a lot of scowling going on, and that’s usually a sign that interest is warranted. I turned, walking close enough to hear what was going on.

“The real question is whether he can keep his promises,” one man was saying. He looked to be in his late fifties, old enough to have been an adult during the Rising and part of the generation that embraced quarantine as the only true route to safety. “Can we trust another president who won’t commit to an all-out purge of the zombie population of the national parks?”

“Be reasonable,” said one of the women. “We can’t simply wipe out endangered species because they might undergo amplification. That kind of rash action isn’t going to do anything to make the average man safer.”

“No, but it might keep another mother from burying her children after they get attacked by a zombie deer,” countered the man.

“Actually, it was a moose, and the ‘children’ were a group of college students who crossed a proscribed stretch of the Canadian border looking for cheap weed,” I interjected. All heads turned my way. I shrugged. “That’s a Level 1 hazard zone. It’s forbidden to almost everyone outside the armed forces and certain branches of the scientific community. Assuming you’re talking about the incident last August and I didn’t somehow miss an ungulate attack?” I knew I hadn’t. I religiously follow animal attacks on humans, filing them under one of two categories: “We need stricter laws” and “Darwin was right.” I don’t think people should be allowed to keep animals large enough to undergo amplification, but I also don’t believe wiping out the rest of the large mammals in the world is the answer. If you want to go foraging into the wilds of Canada without proper gear, you deserve what you get, even if that happens to include being attacked by an undead moose.

The man reddened. “I don’t think I was talking to you, miss.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Still, the facts of the event are pretty well documented. Again, assuming I didn’t miss something.”

Looking mildly amused, one of the other men said, “Well, come on, Carl, did the young lady miss an attack, or are you referring to the incident with the moose?”

He didn’t need to answer; his glare was answer enough. Turning his back pointedly on the three of us, he moved to join a vigorous condemnation of the senator’s stance on the death penalty that was going on just a few feet away.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him deflated with facts before,” said the woman, and offered her hand. “I’ll have to remember that. Rachel Green. I’m with the local SPCA.”

“Dennis Stahl, Eakly Times,” said the remaining man, flashing his press pass in a brief show of solidarity.

Relieved that my sunglasses would cover the more subtle points of my expression, I took Ms. Green’s hand, shook once, and said, “Georgia Mason. I’m one of the bloggers covering Senator Ryman’s campaign.”

“Mason,” said Ms. Green. “As in ?”

I nodded.

She winced. “Oh, dear. Is this going to be unpleasant?”

“Not unless you’re in the mood for a debate. I’m here to record reactions to the senator’s agenda, not forward my own. Besides,” I nodded to Carl’s back, “I’m not as hard-line as some. I just have strong opinions about large animals being kept in urban areas, and I think we can agree to disagree on that point, don’t you?”

“Fair enough,” she said, looking relieved.

Mr. Stahl laughed. “Rachel gets a lot of flack from the local media for what she does,” he said. “How’s the campaign trail treating you?”

“Are you saying you haven’t been reading our reports?” I asked the question lightly, but I wanted to hear the answer. Journalistic acceptance is one of the last things any blog gets. We may be accepted inside the community, but it’s not until the traditional news media starts to take our reports seriously that a new feed can honestly be said to have established itself.

“I have,” he said. “They’re good. A little rough, but good. You care about what you’re reporting, and it shows.”

“Thanks,” I replied, and glanced to Ms. Green. “Did you enjoy the presentation?”

“Is he as sincere as he seems?”

“I haven’t seen any signs that he’s not,” I said, and shrugged. “Illusions of journalistic objectivity aside? He’s a nice guy. He has good ideas, and he presents them well. Either he’s the best liar I’ve ever met, or he’s going to be our next President. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but still.”


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