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“Three,” she said, and flashed me a self-satisfied smile. “Just like getting to the center of a Tootsie Pop.”

“Did you know they made that commercial in the 1970s?” I asked. There were no more infected in sight. The moaning in the distance continued. “How are you for bullets?”

“I did know that, yes. Three bullets left. You?”

“Four.”

“Great. Let’s hope this party isn’t strictly BYOB.” She turned and ran in the direction of the dead.

“We’re on our way, Mahir,” I said, and ran after her.

“Do they train you people to say stupid things when in mortal danger? I’m just curious, you understand, I’m not judging you.”

“Yes, you are.”

“Yes, I am.”

“There are classes.” I followed Becks around a corner, skidding to a halt. “Uh, Mahir? I’m going to need to call you back.”

“What are you—”

I reached up to tap my ear cuff, breaking the connection. Becks raised her hand, signaling for silence. I nodded understanding. And then we both just stood there, staring at the five-deep wall of zombies that was trying to claw its way through the door into Dr. Abbey’s office. They weren’t paying any attention to us yet. That was the good part. The bad part was that they would inevitably either break down that door or lose interest in what was behind, and either way, we’d eventually wind up on the menu.

“Here,” I mouthed, pressing my gun into Becks’s hand. I shook my head at her questioning expression, nodding back the way we’d come. Slow understanding bloomed in her face, and she nodded, pressing herself against the wall as I turned and crept quietly away. Once I was back in the main hall, out of sight of the infected, I broke into a run.

This floor’s armory was located at the far end of the building, in what used to be a bathroom. Dr. Abbey’s technicians couldn’t get the water working in the corroded old second-story pipes, and so the room had been converted to hold all the weapons of mass destruction that a bunch of geeks who insisted on playing with dead things could possibly need. I don’t know what science geeks were like before the Rising, but these days? After seeing the kind of armaments they pack, you couldn’t pay me to get on their bad side.

It was just too bad they hadn’t been carrying more of those armaments while they were “at home” in the lab. Maybe I wouldn’t have needed to shoot so many of them.

I passed the bodies of three dead technicians as I ran. Really dead—they’d been torn apart, practically shredded by the hungry infected. Their screams probably saved the lives of everyone who was now huddling behind a locked door. The people who ran toward the trouble—or toward the armory, wanting to get ready to face the trouble head-on—had been the second wave of victims. That was how it almost always went in an outbreak. The first wave dies. The second wave rises.

The last of the bodies was right in front of the armory door, fallen like he had almost reached it when they finally managed to run him down. I grimaced as I stepped over him, leaning into the armory to turn on the light.

The zombie that had been lurking there lunged, the moan escaping from its lipless mouth bare seconds before the startled shout of “Whoa!” escaped from mine. I managed to jerk my arm back before it could get its teeth into me, and they clacked shut on empty air. The zombie lunged again.

“Back off, ugly!” I grabbed it by the hair, using its own momentum as I shoved it past me, into the hallway. If Dr. Abbey was wrong about my being immune, I was going to regret that in a minute. I would have regretted it a hell of a lot more if the thing had managed to get its teeth into me.

The zombie stumbled as I released it, taking several steps forward before it could get its balance back and remember how to turn itself around. I took advantage of those precious seconds, darting into the armory and looking frantically around me. I didn’t use this room very often. We had our own equipment, and while Dr. Abbey was perfectly willing to be generous with the ammo, she usually didn’t want us fetching it ourselves. The grenades were—were—

“Over here, Shaun,” said George. I turned. She was standing in the far corner of the room, next to a stack of beautifully familiar olive-green boxes. “This what you were looking for?”

“Yeah. Thanks, George.”

“Not a problem. Now kill your friend.” She was abruptly gone, blinking out like she had never been there at all. That was reasonable. She hadn’t been there.

I grabbed the nearest pistol that looked like it might be loaded—bad gun safety, good zombie safety, it balances—and whirled, taking aim right at the place I estimated my dead friend’s head would be. “Bang, ugly,” I said, and pulled the trigger.

Thank God for paranoia and overpreparedness. The gun barked and a large chunk of the zombie’s skull vanished, transformed into red mist and a hail of bone fragments. I shoved the pistol into my belt and tapped my ear cuff, heading for the back of the room.

“Shaun?”

“Mahir, listen. If you can get a connection to Becks, tell her she needs to back up. I’m coming in with grenades.” I grabbed guns as I walked, dropping anything too light to be loaded and cramming the rest into my belt. If I was making a last stand, I was doing it so ridiculously overprepared that I’d rattle when I walked.

Mahir sighed deeply. “Of course you are. Couldn’t you try something a little less, I don’t know, insanely idiotic?”

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