Mind if I quote you on that? asked Mr. Stahl, with a sudden predatory intensity that I recognized quite well from my peers.
I smiled. Go right ahead. Just make sure to give your readers a link to our site, if you would be so kind?
The three of us chatted for a bit longer, eventually exchanging pleasantries and going our separate ways. I resumed moving from group to group, now mostly listening, and was amused to see that Carlno last name given or requestedcontinually moved away from me, as if afraid that Id taint his ranting with more of my unfortunate facts. Ive encountered his type before, usually at political protests. Theyre the sort who would rather we paved the world and shot the sick, instead of risking life being unpredictable and potentially risky. In another time, they were anti-Semitic, antiblack, antiwomens liberation, anti-gay, or all of the above. Now, theyre antizombie in the most extreme ways possible, and they use their extremity to claim that the rest of us are somehow supporting the undead agenda. Ive met a lot of zombies. Not as many as Shaun and Mom have, but Im not as suicidal as they are. In my experience, the only undead agenda involves eating you, not worming their way into public acceptance and support. There will always be people for whom hate is easier when its not backed up by anything but fear. And I will always do my best to hoist them by their own petards.
The hallway lights dimmed once before returning to their original brightness, a sign that moving along was requested by the management. I glanced at my watch. It was a quarter to ten. Most zombie attacks occur between the hours of ten and two. Allowing people to gather during the high risk period can triple your insurance rate, especially if you live in an area with recently documented outbreaks. That includes much of the Midwest, where coyotes, feral dogs, and farm animals create a constant low-grade threat.
It doesnt take much to get most people moving after they realize theyve managed to stay out past the unspoken world curfew. The conversational groups broke up as people grabbed their coats, bags, and traveling companions and turned to head for the doors. All of them had someone to walk with, even Carl. We are a nation equally afraid of gathering together and being alone. Is it any wonder that the average American is in therapy by the age of sixteen?
My ear cuff beeped, signaling a call. I reached up and tapped it on. Georgia.
You coming to join the party soon, or should I drink this beer by myself? I could hear laughter in the background. The senators entourage was celebrating another series of political minefields navigated with grace and charm. They were right to celebrate. If the numbers wed been getting were anything to go by, Senator Ryman was a shoo-in for the Republican Party nomination once the convention rolled around.
Just finishing out here, Shaun, I said. The hall lights began coming up from their ambient event setting, heading for the blazing fluorescents that would keep things lit for the cleaning crew. I squinted my eyes closed, turning to walk toward the stage exit. Let folks know Im coming through?
On it, he said. My ear cuff beeped again, signaling disconnection. Im not much for jewelry, but disguised cellular phones are another matter. Theyre more convenient than walkie-talkies and have a longer battery life, with an average talk time of fifty hours before the battery gives out. Once the batteries go, its cheaper to buy a new phone than it is to pay to have the case cracked and a new battery installed, but we all have to pay the price of progress. I have at least three phones on me at any given time, and only Shaun has all the numbers.
Two of the senators security guards were waiting by the door, dressed in identical black suits, with sunglasses covering their eyes and blotting out most of their expressions. I nodded to them. They nodded back.
Steve, Tyrone, I said.
Georgia, said Tyrone. He produced a portable blood testing unit from his pocket. If you would?
I sighed. You know theyre just going to test me again before they let me into the convoy.
And you know that a clean result now would be a clean result after the five-minute walk to the buses.
But youre still going to make me prick my damn finger, arent you?
I hate protocol. My ritual grumbling finished, I extended my hand, pressing my index finger against the contact pad. The lights on the top of the box flashed in the familiar red-green pattern, settling on a steady, uninfected green. Happy?
Overjoyed, Tyrone replied, a faint smile on his lips as he withdrew a biohazard bag from his other pocket and dropped the test kit into it. Right this way.
How gracious, I said. Steve smothered a wider smile, and I smiled back, starting across the parking lot toward the distant lights of the convoy. The bodyguards fell into step beside me, flanking me as we walked. Being escorted through every open area we encountered had been a little annoying at first, but I was getting used to it.
The senators crewShaun, Buffy, and I includedhad been traveling in a convoy consisting of five luxury RVs, two buses, our van, and three converted military transport Jeeps, which were ostensibly for scouting runs before entering open territory but were mostly used for off-road rallies in whatever fields presented themselves. There were several smaller vehicles, ranging from my bike to the more substantially armored motorcycles favored by the bodyguards. With as much equipment as we need to carry to meet legal safety standards, it wouldnt make sense to break camp and check into hotels for anything less than a four-day stay, and so we often found ourselves spending a lot of nights roughing it in mobile homes that were better outfitted than my room back home.