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“No. Because there is a higher power at work here.” Becks removed one hand from her gun long enough to tap her ear cuff, saying in a calm, clear voice, “Open general connection, main lab.” There was a single loud beep.

Too loud. The nearest of the infected looked up from her meal—the torso of a technician whose name had either been Jimmy or Johnny; I wasn’t sure, and it didn’t matter now. Her eyes searched the area, looking for new prey, and settled on Becks. With a low moan, she stood.

“Becks, whatever you’re doing, do it fast,” I muttered, adjusting my stance so that I was aiming directly at the standing infected. “Once the shooting starts, this is going to turn into one hell of a duck hunt.”

“I can handle myself,” she said. More of the infected were turning to face us, their attention attracted by the strange silence of the one nearest our position.

Steady, cautioned George. I thought I felt her fingers ghost across the back of my neck, and that was more frightening than anything else about our situation. If I started hallucinating during combat, there was no telling who I’d shoot, or what I’d let get past me.

“Not now,” I whispered. “Please, not now.”

Becks’s ear cuff beeped again, and Dr. Abbey’s voice said loudly, “A little busy right now, children! Maybe you could do something to help with that?” Joe—her English mastiff—was barking in the background, almost drowning out the sound of moaning.

“Working on it,” said Becks. She must have realized there was no way we could fade back out of sight. The sound of Joe barking would have guaranteed that, even if nothing else could. “Mahir’s secure, but the lab’s in chaos. What’s your twenty?”

Dr. Abbey’s answer was drowned out by the local infected, all of whom started moaning at the top of their lungs as they lunged, shambled, and even ran toward us. “Less talky more shooty!” I snapped, and started firing.

“We’ll be there,” said Becks. She tilted her head, studying our onrushing attackers, and chose her first two shots with an almost languid care. Two of the infected went down, each with a hole in the middle of its forehead.

“Show-off,” I muttered, and kept firing, trying to assess the tactical options presented by the room. I counted eight active infected in closing range; five of those were old, probably from the most recent batch of catches, while the other three wore lab coats and scrubs that identified them as former members of Dr. Abbey’s staff. I recognized one of them as the tech I’d yelled at the day before for being careless around the infected.

Guess he’d learned his lesson, even if it hadn’t done him any good. Anyway, those three would be the fastest movers, and the slowest to react. The virus that drove their bodies was still adjusting to being in control. Even the smartest zombie is pretty damn stupid, but new zombies are the dumbest, nastiest of them all.

I don’t think they’ve got the density to start reasoning, said George.

I nodded, acknowledging her words, and stepped forward as I kept firing. “Becks! Fall in, and tell me where we’re going!”

“On it, Boss!” She moved to flank me, our shoulders almost touching as we began to make our way forward. The door, freed from her weight, swung shut, slamming with an ominous bang. “Dr. Abbey’s in her office on the second floor! They’re holding the line, but they can’t do it forever!”

“Got it!” I took aim and fired again, silently counting my bullets. There were two of us; that was good. That meant we might have time to reload, assuming we didn’t both run out at the same time. I had a second pistol on my belt, for emergencies—and this qualified—but I didn’t have my cattle prod, or anything as convenient as, say, a brace of grenades. That would teach me not to stay fully armed at all times.

“Look at it this way.” Becks shot a former technician in the throat, sending the man backward. We continued to advance, moving in smooth, long-practiced tandem. “If we run out of bullets, we can just let them chew on you for a little while.”

“I feel much better.” I fired again. One of the older infected went down. “Any idea how many of these things we’re dealing with?”

“Not a f**king clue!”

“My favorite kind of duck hunt.” My breathing was starting to settle, the adrenaline in my bloodstream slipping away. The endorphins that replaced it were soothing, my old, familiar drug of choice. This was the feeling that used to drive me into the field with a baseball bat and a cocky grin, this floating, flying, nothing-can-hurt-me feeling. Georgia’s death clipped my wings. In moments like this, I could almost forget that. There were no voices in my head that shouldn’t be there, but they were replaced by contentment, and not the yawning void that usually opened when George stopped talking. This used to be what I lived for. I couldn’t live for it anymore. But oh, God, I missed it.

Fire. Step forward. Fire. Becks ducked behind me, letting me cover her while she reloaded her gun. I pulled my second pistol, buying us a few more steps before she needed to repeat the favor.

“This is not cool,” I muttered. “Becks? You got another reload on you?”

“No,” she said grimly.

“Didn’t think so. On my signal, we’re going to run.”

I didn’t need to see her face to know what her expression looked like. “That’s a terrible idea.”

“So is staying here! Either Dr. Abbey’s been doing independent collections, or the locals called for friends. Either way,” I aimed, fired, and took down another zombie, “we’re going to run out of bullets before we run out of walking corpses. We run or we die. Got a preference?”


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