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“He said he’d meet you at the ranch.” Buffy offered me the camera. “Here. This whole generation is on its last legs. We’re gonna need new ones sooner than later.”

“I’ll get it into the budget,” I said. Peeling off my shirt, I dropped it to the floor and took the camera, eyeing Buffy over my glasses. “Something on your mind, Buff?”

“No. Yes. Maybe.” She sat back on the counter, her gaze dropping to her hands. “You’re going to the ranch.”


“It’s ”

“The area’s been downgraded. We have the licenses to enter, as long as we’re armed.”

Buffy’s head snapped up. “It’s disrespectful.”

Ah. The crux of the problem. “Disrespectful to whom, Buffy? To the dead?” She gave a small, almost imperceptible nod. “Buffy, the dead aren’t there. They’ve been buried.” After they were cremated to prevent their corpses from coming back to life and doing disrespectful things to the living.

“They died there,” she said, fiercely. “They died there, and now you’re going to turn it into more news.”

“We aired the attack.”

“That was different. That was something dangerous. This is just ghosts. Souls trying to sleep.” Her expression turned pleading. “Can’t we let them sleep? Please?”

“We’re not going to disturb them. If anything, we’re going so that they can sleep. The Rymans trust us to be respectful, and we will be, and by showing that there’s nothing of any interest in those buildings, we’ll keep less respectful journalists from breaking in looking for an ‘exposé.’ ” I might be wrong—journalists seeking a scoop will break into almost anything—but I needed to get in there, and I needed Buffy to stay calm. Without her to enhance any footage we got, we might well come up with less than nothing.

She sniffled. “You swear you’re not intending to upset their ghosts?”

“I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, but I swear we won’t do anything to disturb any spirits that might be resting there.” I put down the camera she’d handed me and shook my head as I opened the van closet and pulled out the rest of my field gear. I always keep a few pairs of thick denim jeans on hand, the kind with steel fibers woven into the fabric. “Be prepared” isn’t just the Boy Scouts’ marching song anymore. “Zombies are enough. I don’t need to add poltergeists to the ranks of ‘things that want to kill me.’ ”

She studied me for a moment before she nodded, offering a small smile. “All right. It just seems ghoulish to go there on the day of the funeral.”

“I know, but time is sort of important right now,” I said. A horn honked outside. I glanced over my shoulder toward the door. “Sounds like your ride’s here.”

“That didn’t take long.” Buffy slid off the counter. “Your kits are packed. I didn’t review the auxiliary batteries, but you’d only need those if everything else failed. Technically, they’re not even required.”

“I know,” I said. “Get out of here. Have a nice evening with Chuck, and I’ll see you at the hotel at nine for editing and data consolidation.”

“Work, work, work,” she complained, but she was almost laughing as she stepped outside. I caught a glimpse of Chuck waving from his rental car before the van door banged shut, blocking them from view.

“Have a nice date, Buffy,” I said to the closed door and pulled on my jacket before moving to assess the field kits.

Normally, Buffy would have done all the checks before she went anywhere. Normally, where she was going was “back to the van” or “home to her room,” not out with her boyfriend. It’s not like she’s never dated; she’s had at least six boyfriends since we met, and unlike a large percentage of our generation, they’ve all been face-to-facers, not virtuals. She doesn’t date people she meets online unless they live locally and are willing to meet in the flesh, with all the security checks and blood tests that entails, and even then, she likes to keep her romantic relationships as off-line as possible. Partly because she likes the interaction—it’s a change from the amount of time she spends online—but I think it’s partly been to keep them untraceable. She’s never been comfortable with the fact that Shaun and I won’t talk about why we don’t date. She eventually gave up trying to hook us up with people she knew, but Chuck is still the first of her boyfriends who we’ve been allowed to spend any real time around, and I suspect it’s only because they met on the campaign trail.

Everyone has their own little quirks. My brother and I avoid romantic entanglements, and Buffy runs hers like acts of international espionage.

Checking the field kits took about five minutes. Shaun emerged from the front of the van carrying a crossbow and moving with a slight stiffness that signaled how much body armor he was wearing. Straightening, I tossed him his pack.

“Light,” he said, hefting it. “Did we decide to skip the cameras this time?”

“Actually, I decided to skip the weapons.” Picking up the other two kits, I brushed past him on my way up front. “If we meet any zombies, we’ll pacify them with Hostess snack cakes.”

“Even the living dead love Hostess snack cakes.”

“Precisely.” I hooked open the door between the sections of the van with my foot and tossed Rick’s field kit back to Shaun. “I’m driving.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said, with a mock annoyed look. Following me, he settled in the passenger seat and asked, “So what are we really doing?”

“Really doing? We’re really visiting the scene of a tragic accident to determine whether it was caused by gross human negligence or a simple series of unavoidable events.” I sat and pulled my seat belt across my lap. “Buckle up.”

He did. “You aren’t implying what I think you’re implying.”

“What am I not implying, Shaun?”

“They had to torch and burn the infection. Don’t you think someone would have noticed if things weren’t right?”