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While he was busy with containment, I tipped the contents of the gas can into the tank. I’d been running close enough to empty that the can drained completely, which was scary. If we’d run out of gas during the chase

Best not to think about it. I put the gas cap back on and shoved the empty can into the saddlebag. Shaun was starting to climb onto the back of the bike. I turned toward him, raising a warning finger. “What are we forgetting?”

He paused. “Uh to go back to Santa Cruz for postcards?”

“Helmet.”

“We’re on a flat stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. We’re not going to have an accident.”

“Helmet.”

“You didn’t make me wear a helmet before.”

“We were being chased by zombies before. Since there are no zombies now, you’ll wear a helmet. Or you’ll walk the rest of the way to Watsonville.”

Rolling his eyes, Shaun unstrapped his helmet from the left-hand saddlebag and crammed it over his head. “Happy now?” he asked, voice muffled by the face shield.

“Ecstatic.” I put my own helmet back on. “Let’s go.”

The roads were clean the rest of the way to Watsonville. We didn’t see any other vehicles, which wasn’t surprising. More important, we didn’t see any of the infected. Call me dull, but I’d seen enough zombies for one day.

Our van was parked at the edge of town, a good twenty yards from any standing structures. Standard safety precautions; lack of cover makes it harder for things to sneak up on you. I pulled up in front of it and cut the engine. Shaun didn’t wait for the bike to come to a complete stop before he was leaping down and bounding for the door, yanking his helmet off as he shouted, “Buffy! How’s the footage?”

Ah, the enthusiasm of the young. Not that I’m much older than he is—neither of us came with an original birth certificate when we were adopted, but the doctors estimated me as being at least three weeks ahead of him. From the way he acts sometimes, you’d think it was a matter of years, not just an accident of birth order. I removed my helmet and gloves and slung them over the handlebars, before following at a more sedate pace.

The inside of our van is a testament to what you can do with a lot of time, a reasonable amount of money, and three years of night classes in electronics. And help from the Internet, of course; we’d never have figured out the wiring without people chiming in from places ranging from Oregon to Australia. Mom did the structural reinforcements and security upgrades, supposedly as a favor, but really to give her an excuse to try building back doors into our systems. Buffy disabled them all as quickly as they were installed. That hasn’t stopped Mom from trying.

After five years of work, we’ve managed to convert a mostly gutted Channel 7 news van into a state-of-the-art traveling blog center, with camera feeds, its own wireless tower, a self-sustaining homing device, and so many backup storage arrays that it makes my head hurt when I think about them too hard. So I don’t think about them at all. That’s Buffy’s job, along with being the perkiest, blondest, outwardly flakiest member of the team. And she does all four parts of her job very, very well.

Buffy herself was cross-legged in one of the three chairs crammed into the van’s remaining floor space, looking thoughtful as she held a headset up to one ear. Shaun was standing behind her, nearly jigging up and down in his excitement.

She didn’t seem to register my presence as I stepped into the van, but spoke as soon as the door was closed, saying, “Hey, Georgia,” in a dreamy, detached tone.

“Hey, Buffy,” I said, heading for the minifridge and pulling out a can of Coke. Shaun takes his caffeine hot, and I take mine cold. Call it our way of rebelling against similarity. “How’re we looking?”

Buffy flashed a quick thumbs-up, actually animated for a moment. “We’re looking good.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” I said.

Buffy’s real name is Georgette Meissonier. Like Shaun and me, she was born after the zombies became a fact of life, during the period when Georgia, Georgette, and Barbara were the three most common girl’s names in America. We are the Jennifers of our generation. Most of us just rolled over and took it. After all, George Romero is considered one of the accidental saviors of the human race, and it’s not like being named after him is uncool. It’s just, well, common. And Buffy has never been willing to be common when she can help it.

She was all cool professionalism when Shaun and I found her at an online job fair. That lasted about five minutes after we met in person. She introduced herself, then grinned and said, “I’m cute, blonde, and living in a world full of zombies. What do you think I should call myself?”

We looked at her blankly. She muttered something about a pre-Rising TV show and let it drop. Not that it matters, since as far as I’m concerned, as long as she keeps our equipment in working order, she can call herself whatever she damn well wants. Plus, having her on the team grants us an air of the exotic: She was born in Alaska, the last, lost frontier. Her family moved after the government declared the state impossible to secure and ceded it to the infected.

“Got it,” she announced, disconnecting the headset and leaning over to flick on the nearest video feedback screen. The image of Shaun holding back his decaying pal with the hockey stick flickered into view. No sound came from the van’s main speakers. A single moan can attract zombies from a mile away if you’re unlucky with your acoustics, and it’s not safe to soundproof in the field. Soundproofing works both ways, and zombies tend to surround structures on the off chance they might contain things to eat or infect. Opening the van doors to find ourselves surrounded by a pack we didn’t hear coming didn’t particularly appeal to any of us.

“The image is a little fuzzy, but I’ve filtered out most of the visual artifacts, and I can clean it further once I’ve had the chance to hit the source files. Georgia, thanks for remembering to put your helmet on before you started driving. The front-mount camera worked like a charm.”


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