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The sound of Rick retching snapped me out of my fugue. I leaned back against Shaun’s arm, sliding my sunglasses back on and feeling their familiar weight settle against my face before I lowered my gun and turned toward the other surviving member of our team. “Rick, what’s your status?” He made more retching noises. I nodded. “About what I figured. Shaun, head for the van and get three more field kits.”

“And you’ll be doing what, exactly, as I leave you alone in the middle of nowhere with the dead things and Captain Vomit?”

I unzipped the pocket of my jacket and pulled out my PDA, holding it up. “I’ll be standing here, keeping an eye on Captain Vomit and calling for help. We’ll need to provide clean test results before they’ll approach us with anything more useful than bullets. We’re going to need a full biohazard squad out here; we have two corpses, we have a contaminated truck, we have Buffy’s blood on the ground—”

Shaun froze, going white as he looked from the slivers of glass embedded in the knees of my jeans to my hands, which were red and raw from where the door handle had stripped the skin from my palms. “And we need clean test results,” he said, in a voice that bordered on numb.

“Exactly,” I said. He looked scared. I distantly wished I could find it in me to be scared, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t making it past that damned numbness. “Go.”

“Going,” he said, and wheeled, breaking into a run as he headed for the van.

Rick was still on his hands and knees making soft retching sounds, but the actual vomiting had stopped. I moved to stand beside him, attempting to comfort with my presence as I tapped in an emergency channel call on my PDA. Opening a broad emergency channel while standing near a state highway would broadcast my message to every police scanner, hospital hazmat department, and federal agency within the receiving range. If there was help to be had, we’d have it.

“This is Georgia Carolyn Mason, license number ABF dash one-seven-five-eight-nine-three, currently located between mile markers seventy-seven and seventy-eight on southbound Interstate 55 with a hazard zone upgrade for the vicinity and a priority-A distress call. Status is stable, awaiting test results on surviving party members. Request acknowledgment.”

The reply was immediate. “This is the Memphis CDC. A biohazard team is being dispatched to your location. Please explain your presence in the hazard zone.”

It isn’t technically illegal to drive the federally maintained highways—people still have to get from place to place—but it’s unusual unless you’re a trucker, and even they have to file routes stating exactly where they expect to be at each step along the way. Caravans are held to many of the same restrictions. When the rulings first went into effect, some people complained that the government was limiting personal freedom, but they quieted when it was pointed out, rather harshly, that this wasn’t as much a matter of tracking the movements of individuals as it was a matter of charting the mobility of potential outbreaks. Most people shut up as soon as “we just want to know where the zombies are going to be” came into the equation.

“Route registry forty-seven dash A, designation Ryman/Tate equipment caravan, registered drivers present at the scene are Georgia Carolyn Mason, Class M license; Shaun Phillip Mason, Class A license; Richard Cousins, Class C license; Charles Li Wong, Class A license. Registered passengers Georgette Marie Meissonier, Class C license. Purpose of trip registered as movement of heavy equipment from Parrish, Wisconsin, to Houston, Texas. Registered duration, four days, allowing for reasonable rest stops and sleeping periods for the available drivers. Two of our trucks are still on the road; I’m not sure of their status. If you give me your network key, I can transmit our precise route.”

The man’s tone was gentler when he spoke again; my information had been fed into his computer and was checking out clean. “That won’t be necessary, Ms. Mason. Why are y’all calling for a hazard team?”

“Someone shot out the tires on three of our vehicles. We’re down a car, with possible injuries to the driver. The rear equipment truck flipped. The driver, Charles Wong, was killed in the impact and reanimated before we were able to reach the vehicle. He infected his passenger, Georgette Meissonier. Her test results are recorded in a standard field test unit, manufacturer Sony, model number V dash fifteen dash eleven dash A, and were registered via wireless upload with the CDC mainframe at the time of confirmation. Due to the possibility of inaccurate positive with that model number, we did not take immediate action but maintained a safe distance until Ms. Meissonier began to experience pupil dilation and memory loss. Once her infection was confirmed, she was put down honorably.” There was the grief and outrage, at last, beginning to chip away at the edges of my numbness. “We have hot blood in the cab of the truck and on the ground outside the truck, as well as two hot corpses in need of removal and disposal.”

“The team will not approach until preliminary test results for the surviving members of your party have been uploaded, and they will not offer direct physical assistance until you’ve been tested again on the CDC field units they provide,” the man cautioned, some of the warmth leeching from his tone. Two bodies and a lot of hot blood on the road outside Memphis could spell an outbreak much larger than our little team. We both knew it. Now we had to contain it.

“Understood.” My PDA started beeping, signaling an incoming call. “Sir, may I ask, what is your name?”

“Joseph Wynne, Ms. Mason. Stand tight; our team will be there soon.”

“Thank you, Joe,” I said.

“God be with you,” he said. The line clicked off.

Shifting my PDA to my other hand, I pressed the Receive button. “Georgia.” Shaun was running toward me, the field kits clutched against his chest. I raised my free hand, and he lobbed one at me. It was more than a simple game of catch; there are a hundred small tests and checks for infection that don’t depend on medical science. If he could throw, and I could catch, the odds were better that we were both clean. I saw him relax when I caught the kit, even though he didn’t slow down.