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“Save your breath!” George advised.

We ran.

The hall seemed like it might be endless, right up until the moment where we turned a corner, and it ended, terminating in a set of clear glass doors leading into an airlock. There was a red light on above the door.

“It’s gone into security lockdown,” shouted Steve. “We’re going to have to check out clean one at a time.”

One of the Secret Servicemen moved through the group to slap his palm against the testing panel. The other agents were close behind him, dragging a protesting President Ryman in their wake. His safety was their job; ours wasn’t. And the moaning was getting louder.

The light turned green. The first agent took his hand off the testing panel and stepped through the now-open door, letting the airlock cycle around him as he stepped out into the parking garage. Nothing attacked him immediately. He turned back to the rest of us, signaling for the second agent to send the president through.

“Got it!” said Alaric, his delight sounding almost obscene, considering the circumstances. The rest of us stared at him. He held up his PDA. “Upload established. I’m transmitting.”

“Finally,” breathed George, a certain tension slipping out of her shoulders. “Get those files up as fast as you can.”

“Working on it.”

“Even death doesn’t change your priorities, does it?” asked Rick, tiredly amused.

“Not really, no,” said George. She grinned at him, gun still aimed toward the unseen zombies.

I could have kissed her. It would probably have been a good thing, since we were all about to be zombie-chow. Instead, I adjusted my position, calling over my shoulder, “A little speed in the carpool lane would be appreciated, guys. We’ve got incoming, and I didn’t bring enough limbs to share with everybody.”

“The system’s cycling as fast as it can,” said Steve reproachfully.

“Don’t really give a f**k how fast the system is cycling. Just don’t want to get eaten by zombies right after uncovering a mass conspiracy to deceive the American public. Seems a little anticlimactic, you know what I mean? Like getting empty boxes on Christmas morning.”

“You got empty boxes?” asked Becks. “Lucky bastard. I always got dresses.”

Alaric glanced up. “Dresses?”

“Frilly dresses,” she said with disgust. “Lacy frilly dresses.”

“Are all journalists insane, or did I just hit the mother lode?” asked Gregory.

“Yes,” said Rick and George, in unison.

We were still laughing—the anxious laughter of people who know they’re about to die horribly—when the first zombies came around the corner, and laughter ceased to be an option.

At least the sight of the zombies answered the question of where they came from. They were wearing White House ID badges, dressed in respectable suits and sensible shoes. Someone must have trigged an outbreak inside the building, opened the right doors, and let the feeding frenzy commence. Anyone who hadn’t been caught by the initial infection would have been taken out by the first wave of actual infected.

I’ll give my companions this: No one screamed. Instead, everyone but Alaric and Gregory braced themselves and opened fire, giving the people at the airlock time to cycle through. Alaric moved to put himself behind Becks and out of the line of fire, attention still focused primarily on the device in his hands.

“Forty percent uploaded!” he called.

“Not enough,” muttered George, and fired. Her shot went wild. With a wordless sound of frustration, she shifted the gun to her left hand and used her right to pull off her sunglasses and throw them aside. She resumed her stance and fired again. This time, she didn’t miss.

“Mr. Vice President!” Steve’s voice was anxious. “Sir, you need to go through the lock!”

Rick didn’t move.

“Go on, Rick,” I said, firing twice more into the seemingly endless tide of zombies. “Get out of here. Go be important. If we don’t get out, somebody who understands the news is going to need to interpret what Alaric’s putting online.”

Rick still didn’t move. He fired again; another zombie went down.

“Go on, Rick,” said George. “Mahir gets left behind, and you leave when we need someone to make it off the battlefield. That’s how this story goes.” She never looked at him. She just kept shooting.

Rick shot her a stricken look, and he went, turning and retreating toward the airlock. I stepped a little closer to her, closing a bit more of the distance between us, and kept shooting. We were all falling back now, just a little bit, just a few steps. There are people who’ll tell you the worst place to be in an outbreak is a narrow tunnel with a limited number of exits. They’re probably right. But a narrow tunnel with a limited number of exits is also the best place to be in an outbreak, because the zombies can only come at you so fast.

The airlock hissed. Rick was through. “Dr. Lake!” called Steve. “Come on!”

Gregory didn’t need to be told twice. He turned and ran, vanishing from my range of sight. My clip clicked on empty. I ejected it and slapped a new one into place, twisting the stock until I felt the clip snap home. George repeated the process two bullets later. By then, I was firing again, covering the hole she made. We still worked together well, even if neither of us was really the person we used to be. Even if neither of us was ever going to be that person—those people—again.


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