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—SHAUN MASON

There are three things in this world that I truly believe in. That the truth will set us free; that lies are the prisons we build for ourselves; and that Shaun loves me. Everything else is just details.

—GEORGIA MASON

Tomorrow morning, my boss and Becks will be heading to Berkeley to deal with his crazy parents. Why? So they can get a map to lead them past the government barricades between here and Florida. Maybe. If my boss’s crazy parents don’t sell them out for the ratings boost. And once they get there, they’ll have to deal with government patrols, rampaging zombies, killer mosquitoes, and God knows what else, all of which are going to try to kill them. Why are they doing all this?

To get my sister safely back to me. I don’t know whether to be grateful to them for going, or ashamed of the fact that I’m genuinely glad it’s not going to be me out there. I’m even glad I’m not going to Seattle with Maggie, and I think I’m about halfway in love with her.

I guess I’m a coward after all.

—From The Kwong Way of Things, the blog of Alaric Kwong, July 23, 2041. Unpublished.

Let us, who are the lost ones, go and kneel before the dead;

Let us beg them for their mercy over all we left unsaid,

And as the sun sinks slowly, the horizon bleeding red,

Perhaps they’ll show us kindness,

Grant forgiveness for our blindness,

Perhaps they’ll show us how to find the roads we need to tread.

Let us, who are the lost ones, ask the fallen where to turn,

When it seems that all the world is lost, and we can only burn,

For in dying they have learned the things that we have yet to learn.

Perhaps they’ll see our yearning,

And may help us in returning

To the lands where we were innocent, that we have yet to earn…

—From The Lost Ones, originally posted in Dandelion Mine, the blog of Magdalene Grace Garcia, July 23, 2041. Unpublished.

Eight

Becks slammed her back against the open door, keeping it pinned against the wall. That gave her a good vantage position on the rest of the room, while defending her against rear attacks. She held her pistol in front of her in a classic shooting stance that would have sold a thousand promotional posters for her blog if she’d been wearing something other than jeans and a bleach-spotted gray tank top.

I couldn’t admire the precision of her pose; I had issues of my own to worry about, like the screaming lab technicians running for the doors. Half a dozen of our previously captured zombies were shambling after the fleeing technicians. Three former technicians were shambling with them, only their increased speed and bloody lab coats distinguishing them from the rest of the mob. All the zombies were moaning in a pitch that made my bones itch. No one knows why zombies moan. They just do, and it’s enough to drive you crazy if you listen to it too long.

Mahir stopped behind me, managing only a startled “Oh dear Lord…” before I whirled and shoved him back.

“Get in the van,” I snapped. “Lock the doors, engage the security. If we don’t come back for you, drive. Drive until you get back to England, if you have to.”

“Shaun—”

“You’re not made for fieldwork! Now get back in there!”

“Don’t argue, Mahir,” said Becks. Her tone was calm, like she was asking us not to raise our voices during a business meeting. “I need his gun, and you’re not equipped for this.”

Mahir’s mouth set in a thin line, and for a moment, he looked like he was seriously pissed. Someone else screamed in the main room, the sound cutting off with a gurgle that told me the infected had stopped trying to spread the virus, and started trying to feed.

“Get the others on the com,” I said, more gently. “Make sure they’re safe, and that they’ve managed to get themselves under cover. I don’t want to lose anyone today.”

The line of Mahir’s mouth softened slightly as he nodded. “Be careful,” he said, and turned to walk toward the van. I watched him just long enough to be sure he was actually going to get inside.

“Any time now, Mason,” said Becks. The moaning was getting louder. So were the screams. The fact that we hadn’t been attacked yet was nothing short of a miracle—one we could probably attribute to the fact that we were standing relatively still in a room full of much more active targets. Faced with a choice between someone who isn’t moving and someone who is, a zombie almost always goes for the runner. It’s something in their psychology, or in what passes for psychology inside the virus-riddled sack of goo that used to be a human brain.

“On it,” I said, and turned to face the main room, bracing myself in the doorway. As long as we held our positions, we knew we had a clear line of retreat.

“About f**king time,” said Becks, tracking the progress of one of the infected with her gun. As soon as one of us fired a shot, they’d stop looking at us like furniture and start looking at us as potential meals. That would be bad. Even if I was immune, Becks wasn’t, and immunity wouldn’t stop them from tearing me apart. “Got any bright ideas?”

“Prayer would be good, if either of us believed in a higher power.”

Becks’s eyes widened, disrupting her carefully schooled expression. “I don’t say this often, but you’re a genius.”

“Because I don’t believe in God?” I trained my gun on another of the infected, one that was drawing a bit too close to our position for me to be comfortable. The screams seemed to be getting quieter. I had to hope that was because most of the technicians were out of danger, and not because most of them were dead.

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