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The blast came a few seconds later. There was no sound, only a sudden red rain as the detonation destroyed everything it came in contact with. There was nothing of Becks in that redness—there was everything of Becks in that redness—and so I let George pull me away from the flames that were beginning to consume the hall, leading me toward the motorcade idling in the middle of the parking garage. Alaric was standing next to the lead car. He was crying, silently but steadily, his eyes fixed on the flames now starting to show through the streaks of blood on the glass. The hall was burning. Depending on how many alarms had been disabled before the zombies were released, the whole building might go with it.

I put a hand on Alaric’s shoulder. “She got the news out,” I said.

He nodded. “I know.”

“Good.”

There was nothing else that anyone could say. We climbed into the waiting cars, pulled the doors shut, and drove away into the darkness.

This is where I’m supposed to say something mealymouthed and meaningless, like “we regret” or “we are sorry to say.” That’s what you do at a time like this. But the thing is, there was never anything meaningless about Becks. She was one of the most calculated people I ever knew—and I don’t mean that in a bad way. She always knew her angles; she always knew where the light was. I guess in another world, she was probably Miss America or something, one of those women who lived and died by the light. But we didn’t live in that world, and so she grew up to be something else.

Something better.

Rebecca Atherton was a reporter before she was anything else. She was a crack shot with any ranged weapon you’ve ever heard of, and a few you probably haven’t. She was honest and she was faithful and she was strong and she helped me kill a zombie bear.

She’s also dead. So this is where I say we’d better live up to her sacrifice, because there’s nothing in the world that can ever replace her. Good night, Becks.

You told the truth.

—From Adaptive Immunities, the blog of Shaun Mason, August 8, 2041.

GEORGIA: Forty-one

True to Steve’s word, the zombies came surging in as soon as the parking garage doors were open. Their grasping hands and gaping jaws were no match for an armored presidential motorcade. We mowed them down in droves, their viscera splattering the windshield until Steve activated the wipers and cleaned the gore away. It was surreal, like driving into a bloody red rain. The barrier between the front and back of the car remained down the whole time, which was a mixed blessing. We could see what was going on… but being able to see meant, in some way, that we couldn’t look away.

Alaric, Shaun, and I had been hustled into the same car, along with Steve and Rick. President Ryman, the rest of the Secret Service agents, and Gregory were in the other car. Presumably, Gregory was giving directions to the nearest EIS safehouse. Maybe, if we were lucky, we’d even make it there in one piece.

I wasn’t feeling lucky.

My phone rang shortly after we were clear of the parking garage and its signal-suppressing architecture. I clipped my ear cuff on and tapped it, saying tightly, “Georgia. Go.”

“Did you just blow up the bloody White House?” demanded Mahir, loudly enough that everyone in the back of the car turned and looked at me.

“Yeah, Mahir. We kind of did. Although technically, that’s not entirely true. Becks kind of did.”

There was a pause as he thought through that statement. Then, slowly, he asked, “Georgia, did Becks…?”

“Shaun was her immediate superior, so I believe he’ll be making the official announcement, but I am sorry to say that, as of August 7, 2041, Rebecca Atherton’s name has been added to The Wall.”

Mahir breathed out slowly. Several seconds passed in silence before he said, “Maggie is doing better. She’s taken to swearing at the nurses.”

“I’m sure everyone will be glad to hear that.”

“Georgia…?”

“Yes?”

“Did you kill the president?”

I glanced toward the red-streaked windshield. We were through the last line of zombies, and I could see President Ryman’s car ahead of ours. The whole back window was blocked out by blood and chunks of flesh. Decontamination of our vehicles was going to be a massive undertaking.

“No,” I said. “We just kidnapped him a little. Technically, I suppose he kidnapped himself. I guess that’s one for the courts.”

There was a long pause before Mahir said, “I’m suddenly glad to have remained in Seattle.”

“It’s conveniently close to the Canadian border, in case you need to make a run for it. Mahir, I need you to gather all the betas and moderators we have—wake people up if you need to—and get them online. We’re about to have a massive fire drill.”

“What’s that?”

“Hang on.” I turned to Alaric. “Where did you upload those files?”

“They were set to upload to my private folder. Mahir has the administrative password.” Alaric’s voice was dull, like all the life had been leeched out of it. He didn’t lift his head.

I relayed this to Mahir, adding, “I need you to download, listen, and sort through the data. Get as many of the Newsies on it as you can; start cutting the data into coherent chunks, minimal editing, no two files the same size or length. We’re going to need to get them out without making them easy to suppress. Do not post anything until you receive my next transmission. I need you to match my information.”

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