“We go through the parking garage to the covered motorway,” said Steve. “We may still get eaten, but we’ll have a better shot at getting out alive.”
President Ryman was starting to look distinctly unhappy. Poor guy. Leader of the free world—and unwilling tool of an international conspiracy—one minute, potential zombie-food the next. “How did this happen?” he demanded.
“Our extraction of your wife may have trigged some alarms,” said Gregory. “Between that and the situation here… the CDC is taking steps to resolve the matter. Congratulations. We are all expendable.”
“Cheer up, everybody,” said Shaun, and grinned—the grin of a manic Irwin getting ready to shove his way into danger. “This is going to be great for ratings. Let’s go.”
The past thirty years bear a startling resemblance to the Greek myth of Pandora when looked at clearly, in the light. A box that should not have been opened; a plague of pains and pestilences loosed upon the world; and, at the end, hope. Hope that we refused, for many years, to allow ourselves to look upon with unshadowed eyes. What were we afraid of? Were we afraid hope would prove another phantom, slipping through our hands like mist? Were we afraid something worse was hidden in its wake?
I think not. I think we were, quite simply, afraid to admit to hope because admitting to hope would mean admitting the world had changed forever. There is no return to the world we knew before the Rising. That world is dead. But as the Rising itself took such great pains to teach us…
Even after death, life still goes on.
—From Pandora’s Box: The Rising Reimagined, authored by Mahir Gowda, August 10, 2041.
Look, Ma! I’m abducting the president! Aren’t you proud of your baby girl now?
—From Charming Not Sincere, the blog of Rebecca Atherton, August 7, 2041. Unpublished.
We fell into a ragged formation with President Ryman at the center. Alaric was almost as well protected; he’d never passed his field certifications, and none of us was particularly enthused by the idea of him firing a gun in an enclosed space. The next ring was made up of Secret Servicemen—all of them except Steve, who was on the outer ring with me, Gregory, and the rest of my team… including Rick, who’d taken a pistol from one of the agents and was walking next to Becks. None of them objected to the vice president endangering himself. Either they were giving up, or they figured they’d be lucky if they managed to get any of us out alive, much less both of the elected officials.
“You people still know how to throw a party,” he said nervously.
“Practice. Alaric!” I didn’t turn to face him; my attention remained on the hall ahead of us. Steve was on point, since he was the one who actually knew the way, but I wasn’t going to let him hit the first wave—if there was a first wave—alone. “How are you doing with bouncing a signal out of this loony bin?”
“I’m still trying to get a clean connection!”
“Well, keep trying. We need to get this footage to Mahir before we get ripped to pieces by the living dead.”
“You’re always such an optimist,” muttered George.
I slanted a grin her way. “Like I said. Practice.”
“Is that also where you learned to be such an ass**le?”
“Yup. How’m I doing?”
The halls were eerily silent. That would have been a good thing—moaning usually means you’re about to become a snack food—but we didn’t know whether or not the zombies were inside. Eventually, even the nervous banter stopped. The only sounds were breathing, footsteps, and the occasional soft beep as Alaric tried and failed to make a connection with the outside world. I wanted to be comforted by the fact that George and I were walking into danger together, but I couldn’t manage it. I kept thinking about how fragile she was, how breakable… how easily killed. She might have gotten better the first time, but now? In a new body, with a new immune system that never learned to coexist with the virus? She’d die, and this time, the CDC wouldn’t be standing by to miraculously resurrect her. She’d stay gone.
“Fuck,” I muttered.
No one said anything. At a time like this, me talking to myself was the least of our worries.
Steve led us to a T-junction and paused. “We can’t take the elevator back up to the public garage; we’re going to need to use the private vehicle pool. It’s the only way to be sure we haven’t been compromised.”
“It’s too quiet,” said Rick.
George grimaced. “Why do people say that? Wouldn’t it be quicker to just ask if that noise was the wind?”
Something moaned down the corridor to our right. I sighed. “That wasn’t the wind.”
“No, it wasn’t,” said Steve tightly.
“But how—” began Alaric.
“Questions later, running now,” said Becks.
The Secret Servicemen fell back until they were running behind the rest of us, moving at that strange twisted half jog men use when they want to cover the ground behind them as they run. Becks and Rick moved to flank the noncombatants—Alaric was still frantically slapping his PDA, trying to get a solid connection even as we were fleeing for our lives—while George and I took the front, running close on Steve’s heels.
The moaning behind us continued, now getting louder. The zombies were fresh; they had to be, if they were gaining on us that fast. “I hate the f**king CDC,” I snarled.
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