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Senator Ryman’s voice came through the receiver, made sharp and tight by panic: “Georgia, what’s this I’m getting on the scanner about an accident? Is everyone all right out there?”

“Senator.” I nodded to Shaun. He put Rick’s testing kit down next to him, and the two of us popped the lids off our respective kits in comforting unison. Routine is the most reassuring thing there is. “I’m afraid I have to answer in the negative, sir, but the CDC is dispatching a biohazard team to our location. Once we have an all-clear, we’re going to need a fresh truck and a team to move the equipment.” I hesitated before adding, “We’re also going to need a new driver. Rick doesn’t have his Class A license, and I don’t want to leave my bike behind.”

There was a long pause, during which I tucked my PDA between my shoulder and my ear, freeing my hand, and mouthed a silent “one, two” at Shaun. On two, we both rammed our forefingers down on the unit the other held. The prick of the needle puncturing my thumb made me wince, nearly dislodging the PDA.

Finally, while the lights were blinking red to green and back again, the senator said, “Georgia is Chuck ?”

I closed my eyes, blocking those ever-hateful lights, and said, “I’m sorry, Senator.”

He paused again. “Georgia ”

“Yes, Senator?”

“Buffy. Wasn’t she ”

“I’m afraid that when the truck rolled, we were unable to save either of the occupants.”

“Oh, Christ, Georgia, I’m sorry.”

“So am I, sir; so am I. Can you arrange for another truck and driver to be sent to our location, and alert the rest of the convoy that we’re being unavoidably delayed? We’re just outside Memphis. You should be able to pull us up on the team GPS.”

“I’ll have someone on the way inside the next ten minutes.” The third pause was longer than the other two, and when he spoke again, he sounded more exhausted than I’d ever heard him, even after we received the news of Rebecca’s death. “Georgia, have the rest of you have you ”

“The tests are running now. If anything changes, we’ll call you.”

“Thank you. I suppose I should let you get to it.”

“That would be best.”

“God save you, Georgia Mason,” he said, and ended the call before I could say good-bye.

Lowering the PDA, I opened my eyes, looking to Shaun’s face and avoiding the lights entirely. “He’s sending help,” I said.

“Good,” he replied. “We’re not infected.”

I allowed myself to glance down to the field kits, whose lights had settled on a steady green. I took a single shallow breath, followed by another deeper one, and nodded. “Better.” Turning, I looked at Rick. “Rick, we need a blood test.”

“What?” He raised his head, eyes wide and blank.

“A blood test. The field kit is next to you. The biohazard team won’t approach until we’re either checked out clean or dead.” I pulled my finger free, feeling the antiseptic tingle in the pinprick wound, and shook my hand briskly before depressing the signal button at the base of the kit. That would activate the built-in wireless transmitter, uploading the results into the CDC mainframe. A manual upload is only necessary in the event of a negative; the CDC doesn’t care, under normal circumstances, about the fact that someone isn’t about to turn into a zombie. Buffy’s results uploaded themselves the second the lights settled on red. Once you’ve tested positive, the CDC knows. Disabling the upload functionality of a blood testing unit is a federal offense.

Shaun mirrored my actions. He held out his hand and I passed him his test kit, which he dropped into one of the plastic bags he pulled from his belt. My test kit went into a separate bag, which he handed to me. Again in semi-unison, we pressed down the pressure seals, leaving our respective thumbprints on the corners of our bags. If they were tampered with in any way, the seals would turn scarlet and the kits inside would become worse than useless; they would become suspect.

“I I’m not sure I can,” said Rick, swallowing. “Buffy ”

“Buffy’s dead, and so is Chuck. We need to know if you’re clean.” I handed the bag back to Shaun and moved to crouch next to Rick, picking up his test unit and popping off the plastic cover to reveal the pressure pad and needle inside. “Come on. You know the drill. It’s just a little pinprick.”

“What if the lights go red?”

“Then we’ll sit with you until the CDC gets here; they have better units than we do, and they’re on their way,” I said, keeping my voice as reasonable as I could. I felt like crying. I didn’t dare. Rick looked like he was barely holding himself together; if I started to cry, his control might shatter. “Unless you actually start to convert, we’ll take no actions.”

“If the lights go red, you’ll take action immediately,” he said, and his voice was suddenly cold, devoid of hesitation. “I want that bullet in my brain before I know what’s going on.”


He leaned forward, jamming his thumb down on the needle’s point. “I’m not upset that you shot her, Georgia. I’m upset that she had to go that far before you could.” He tilted his face upward, looking to Shaun, then to me. “My son converted before he died. Please do me the great kindness of letting me die while I remember his name.”

“Of course,” I said and straightened, stepping back to my customary place beside Shaun. He raised his right hand, placing it against the middle of my back, while his left hand moved to rest, ever so lightly, on the holster of his pistol. If we lost a second teammate today, the bullet wouldn’t be mine. Sometimes you have to spread the guilt around.

“I didn’t know you had a kid, Ricky-boy,” said Shaun, his tone almost jovial. “What else haven’t you been telling us?”

“I wear women’s underwear,” Rick said. Then, very slightly, he smiled. “I’ll show you his picture sometime. He just he’s the reason I left print media. Too many people there remembered him, and too many of them had known his mother. Too many people looked at me differently after I lost them. I still loved the news. But I didn’t want to be the news. So I found another way to get the story out there.”

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