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“There’s a mob up there. Kelly says twenty, Alaric says eleven, I’d say the real number is somewhere in the middle.” Dave paused. “He got a positive ID on Mrs. Hagar before he slammed and barred the door. The rest didn’t come from this building.”

“Meaning what?” I asked, picking myself up and resuming the trek toward the third floor.

Meaning this “outbreak” is somebody’s idea of cleaning house.

“Somebody had to put them there,” said Dave, unknowingly supporting George’s statement. “There’s no way our building is generating spontaneous zombies.”

Swearing steadily now, I took the last of the steps in four long strides, kicking open the door to the apartment. Kelly jumped, staggering back against Alaric. She was as white as a sheet. Alaric’s complexion was too dark to let him pull the same trick; he was settling for turning a jaundiced yellow-tan. Dave didn’t even turn around. He just kept typing, hands moving across his conjoined keyboards like he was conducting the world’s biggest orchestra.

“Prep for evac,” I snapped. “We’re out of here as soon as Becks gets back.”

“Why don’t we go meet her?” demanded Kelly, a thin edge of hysteria slicing through her voice. “Why do we have to wait up here? There’s a live outbreak on the roof! Those people, they’re infected!” The hysterical undertones were getting louder, like she wasn’t sure we understood that this was supposed to be a big deal

Deep breaths, counseled George. Count to ten if you have to.

I actually had to count to thirteen before I felt calm enough to speak without shouting. “We’re aware of outbreak protocol, Dr. Connolly,” I said. My tone was cold enough to make Dave glance away from his screen and shake his head before going back to work. “Rebecca is currently confirming whether it’s safe for us to proceed, or whether we need to find an alternate route. The rooftop door is locked, and the front of the building is sealed. We’re safer sitting here than we would be rushing blindly toward what we think might be an exit.”

“The building design makes that tunnel a perfect kill-chute,” added Dave. “If there’s anything down there, Becks is probably clearing it out before she reports back. If not, she’s confirming that we can get out of the garage without dying.”

“Actually, she’s right behind you.”

We all turned toward the sound of Becks’s voice. She was standing in the doorway, smelling of gunpowder, with a grim set to her expression. I raised my eyebrows in silent question. Becks held up a bagged blood testing kit, lights flashing green, and tossed it to the floor next to the biohazard bin. That was an answer in and of itself: She wouldn’t have ignored proper biological waste disposal protocols if she thought there was any chance we’d be staying.

“Three guards and two civilians who had no good reason to be there, all infected. None of them made it within ten feet of me. The rest of the garage is clear, and our transport’s prepped and ready.”

“Excellent.” I glanced around the apartment one last time, looking for things we might have missed. Our outbreak kits have always been well-maintained and ready for something to go wrong. That doesn’t stop the feeling that something major has been forgotten. “Everyone, grab your masks and goggles. We’re out of here.”

Suiting up for a run through a tunnel that might or might not fill with bleach while we were inside it took only a few minutes—God bless panic, the best motivator mankind has ever discovered. Kelly looked oddly calmer once she had her goggles on and a gas mask bumping against her collarbone, waiting to be secured over her nose and mouth. Maybe it reminded her of being back at the CDC, where all the “outbreaks” were carefully staged and even more carefully controlled. She’d need to get over that eventually. Now wasn’t the time. If pretending this was all a drill would keep her calm, I was all for it.

We left the apartment in a tight diamond formation. I was on point and Becks was at the rear, with Dave and Alaric flanking Kelly in the center. If there were any other people in the building, they didn’t show themselves as we descended. That’s the right thing to do when you’re caught in an outbreak and don’t have an evacuation route: stay put, stay quiet, and wait for the nice men with guns to come and save you. Sometimes they’ll even show up in time.

We were halfway down the last flight of stairs when the sirens changed, going from a continuous shriek to a rising series of piercing air-horn blasts, like a car alarm with rabies. Alaric stumbled, knocking Kelly into Becks and nearly sending all three of them sprawling. I took two more steps and a get out of the way, and then turned, looking back toward the others.

That’s not a good sound.

“I know,” I muttered, before saying, more loudly, “Dave? What’s going on?”

Dave might as well have been a statue. He was standing frozen, eyes gone wide in a suddenly pale face. My question startled him back into the moment. He blinked at me twice, shook his head, and whipped his PDA out of his pocket, fingers shaking as he tapped the screen.

“We should be moving,” said Becks.

“We should be waiting,” I replied.

“We should be praying,” said Dave, glancing up. “This block has been declared a loss.”

Alaric closed his eyes. Becks started swearing steadily in a mixture of English, French, and what sounded like German. Even George got into the action, uttering some choice oaths at the back of my head. Only Kelly didn’t seem to share the group’s sudden distress. Sweet ignorance.

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