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There was blood around his mouth. Blood around his mouth, and blood on the seat belt, and blood on the seat where Buffy had been sitting.

“Cause of death?” I asked, as analytically as I could.

“Impact trauma,” said Shaun. The creature that had been Chuck hissed at him, opening its mouth and beginning to moan. Unconcerned, Shaun raised his pistol and fired. The bullet hit the zombie square between the eyes, and it stopped trying to reach us, going limp as the message of its second, final death was transmitted throughout the body. Continuing as if he’d never paused, Shaun said, “It must have been instantaneous. Chuck was a small guy. Amplification would have been over in minutes.”

“Source of the blood?”

Shaun looked toward me, and then back to Buffy, who was still down on her knees in the broken glass, hugging herself and coughing. “He didn’t have time to bleed.”

I stayed where I was for a seemingly endless moment, staring into the cab of the truck. Chuck remained slumped and unmoving. I wanted to find something, anything, I could use to explain the blood away. A scalp wound, maybe, or a nosebleed that started when he hit his head and didn’t stop until he reanimated. There was nothing. Just one small, sad body, and bloodstains on the passenger seat that didn’t match to any visible wounds.

I turned to Buffy, numbly unsurprised to see that Shaun had his pistol out. My feet crunched on the glass as I walked over to her. “Buffy? Can you hear me?”

“I’m dead, not deaf,” she said, and lifted her head. Tears had left clean trails through the soot staining her cheeks. “I hear you just fine. Hi, Georgia. Is everyone all right? Is is Chuck ?”

“Chuck’s resting now,” I said, crouching down. “Shaun, radio Rick. Tell him to come back here, and to bring a field kit.”

“George—”

“Do it.” I kept my eyes on Buffy and felt, rather than saw, Shaun’s angry stare. I was too close to her. Her body weight was too low, and I was too close; if she was undergoing amplification, I might not be able to move back fast enough. And I didn’t care. “Buffy, are you hurt at all? There’s some blood we can’t identify. I need you to show me if you’re hurt.”

Buffy smiled. It was a small, utterly resigned expression, one that turned wry as she rolled up her right sleeve and turned her arm toward me, showing the place where a chunk had been bitten out of her forearm. Bone showed through the red. “You mean like this? I must’ve hit my head on the roof when the truck rolled, because I woke up when Chuck bit me.”

The bleeding was already starting to slow. Rapid coagulation of blood; one of the first, classic signs of the Kellis-Amberlee virus going into amplification. I swallowed, saying in a soft, sickened tone, “That would probably account for it.”

“I heard the gunshot, you know. If Chuck’s ‘resting,’ it’s the sort of rest you don’t get better from.” Buffy rolled her sleeve primly back down. “You should shoot me now. Take care of things while they can still be tidy.”

“Rick’s on his way with the field kit,” said Shaun, stepping up next to me. He had his gun trained on Buffy the whole way. “She’s right, you know.”

“He’d just turned when he bit her. There’s a chance his saliva hadn’t gone live yet,” I said, glancing at him over my shoulder. I was lying, to no one more than to myself, but he’d let me. Just for a few minutes, he’d let me. “We wait for the test.”

“I was never any good at tests,” said Buffy. She shifted on the ground, pulling her knees up against her chest in an unconsciously childlike gesture. “I always failed them in school. Hi, Shaun. Sorry about this.”

“Not your fault,” he said. His tone was gruff; anyone who didn’t know him as well as I do might not have realized how upset he was. “You’re taking this pretty well. Considering, y’know. The circumstances.”

“Not much we can do about it now, is there?” Her tone was light, but her eyes were beginning to brim with tears. One escaped, running down the channel already cleaned by its peers. “I’m not happy about this. But I’m not going to take it out on you. I have faith that God will reward me for my forbearance.”

“I hope you’re right,” I said, softly. The Catholic church declared all victims of zombie attack martyrs fifteen years ago, to deal with the messy little issue of last rites; it’s hard to conduct them when death is fast, unexpected, and filled with teeth.

“I’ve got the kit!” shouted Rick, jogging up to the three of us. He had the shotgun tucked underneath his arm and a standard blood testing kit in his left hand. He came to a stop as he spotted Buffy, paling. “Please, please, tell me this isn’t for you, Buffy.”

“Sorry,” she said and held up her hands. “Toss it here.”

Eyes gone wide in his bloodless face, he tossed her the kit. She caught it with ease, sliding her right hand, the one nearest the bite, into the kit’s opening. Then she closed her eyes, not watching the lights as they cycled green to red, green to red.

“You need to read my notes,” she said, in a voice so tightly controlled as to be a model of reasonableness and calm. “They’re stored on the server under my private directory. Log-in ID is the one I use for my poetry uploads, password is ‘February dash four dash twenty-nine,’ capital ‘F’ in ‘February.’ I don’t have time to explain everything, so just read them.”

February 4, 2029, was the day the United States government finally acknowledged that Alaska was too well-suited to the undead and would never be able to come below a Level 2 hazard zone. As that made it illegal for anyone without a very special and difficult to obtain license to even enter Alaska, much less live there, that was the day they began evacuating the last of the state’s residents. Including Buffy’s family. Like a lot of the displaced, they never got over losing Alaska.


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