“My apartment.” I grabbed the rifle I’d taken from the closet, resting it against my shoulder. “I need to get something.”
Dave glanced away from his keyboard. “Shaun—”
“Don’t. Stay here, keep the network traffic moving, keep shifting the files we’re going to need later, and just don’t.” Kelly stepped out into the hall, following Alaric. I looked from Dave to Becks, shaking my head. “I’ll be right back.”
I don’t believe you just said that.
“I’ve been saying it all my life,” I muttered, and left the apartment.
The emergency lights were on all the way along the hall, bathing it in bloody red light that was supposed to “convey a feeling of urgency” while “reducing the mental trauma of possible biological contamination.” Government doublespeak for “red freaks people out so they move faster” and “it’s harder to see what you’re stepping in that way.” o make matters worse, the emergency shutters on our building had activated, at least in the public areas where we hadn’t bothered to install any overrides. The shutters blocked out the screaming. They also blocked out the daylight.
Leave it, Shaun. It’s not that important.
“Pretty sure me being the one with the body means I get to decide what’s important.” The stairs were clear. I took them two at a time, ready to start shooting if anything moved in a way I didn’t like. Nothing did.
“Shut up, George,” I said, and opened my apartment door.
Every blogger keeps a black box in case something goes wrong. No, that’s not right. Every good blogger keeps a black box in case something goes wrong. Every sane blogger keeps a black box in case something goes wrong. Every blogger you should be willing to work with keeps a black box, because every blogger you should be willing to work with understands that “things going wrong” isn’t an if. It’s a when.
Black boxes take a lot of forms. They’re named after the boxes the FAA puts on airplanes to record information in the event of a crash. The idea behind a blogger’s black box is basically the same: That’s where we record the information that we need to survive when nothing else does. George’s black box was built to withstand every known decontamination protocol, and a few that were still just theoretical. It was the first thing I got back from our van after she died. Becks and the others might think it wasn’t worth going out into the open for, but they’d be wrong. It was the only thing worth going out into the open for.
George and I basically grew up online. What with the Masons cheerfully exploiting our childhoods for ratings and our own eventual entry into the world of journalism, we never had many secrets. Everything we ever did wound up in somebody’s in-box. Almost everything, anyway. There were always the things we didn’t want to share, or didn’t know how to. That’s why we kept paper journals. It was the only way to steal ourselves a little privacy. That “we” is intentional, by the way; George was always the thinker, while I was always the doer, but we kept one diary between us for almost twenty years. We still do. I write my pages, and then I close my eyes and let her take care of hers.
I don’t read them anymore. It’s better if I just imagine that they’re real.
The black box contained our paper journals. Her medical records, her extra sunglasses, her first handheld MP3 recorder, and data files from the start of the campaign up until the point where she stopped recording. Her bottles of expired pain medication. All together, it was the most physical part of my sister that I had left, and there was no way I was going to run off and leave it behind.
Getting my shit together took less than five minutes. I crammed the black box into a duffel bag, along with all the weapons I could grab, and crammed extra ammo into the space remaining. There was a picture of us on my bedside table. I grabbed it and slipped it into the pocket of my jacket. Whenever you have to evacuate, there’s always the chance that you won’t be able to come back. Take whatever you’re not willing to live without.
I paused at the door, glancing back at the boxes and the barren walls. Everything I cared about could fit in one bag, the pockets of my coat, and my head. There was something tragic about that. Or there would be, if I let myself think about it.
Don’t, whispered George in the back of my head, almost too softly for me to hear.
It’s scary when she fades out like that. It reminds me that, technically, her presence makes me crazy, and sometimes, crazy people get sane again. “I won’t,” I said brusquely, and pulled the door shut as I hurried toward the stairs.
My headset connector started beeping angrily when I was only halfway there. I unsnapped it from my collar and jammed it into my ear, demanding, “What?”
“We’ve got a problem.” Dave sounded so calm that he might as well have been telling me to update the shopping list. “Alaric just got back from the roof.”
“That was fast.” I kept walking, stretching my legs until I was taking the stairs three at a time. It still didn’t feel fast enough. It was the best I could do.
“Well, it turns out that he’s had enough field training to know that when you open the roof door on a mass of the infected, you should stop and turn around.”
My toe caught on the lip of the stair I was stepping over, sending me tumbling forward. I grabbed the railing, banging my elbow in the process. “What?!” I barked, in almost perfect unison with George.