The world was gold and misty, wrapping itself softly around her as the long grey road stretched out endlessly ahead. Riley had just started to relax into the gold when a horn sounded behind her. She awoke with a jerk, heart pounding as she realized she'd drifted sideways and was heading straight for an abandoned car. Her hands tightened on the steering wheel as she guided the SUV back into the lane, just missing the car. On her left, a truck--presumably the one that had just woken her--roared past before she could thank the driver.
"You okay?" Gabriel asked softly.
"I'm fine," she said. "Go back to sleep." She scanned the horizon automatically as she tried to remember how long it had been since she last slept. Forty hours? Maybe forty-five? Nearly two days now since the world fell apart. It felt longer.
"I've been sleeping for the fifty miles. Why don't you let me drive for a while? Get some shut eye?"
She gave a quick glance sideways, assessing. He did look better rested than her. Just as long as...
"I'm fine," he said impatiently. "I promise I won't tear my sutures driving. Unless you'd rather stop and take a nap."
"We can't do that," she said quickly. Just because nothing was moving out there now didn't mean nothing would. Besides, they were on the clock. Sixty to eighty hours, Cassidy had said. After that, it would be irreversible. Riley tried not to think about what that would mean. About what the world would look like then.
She pulled over to the side of the road and handed Gabriel the keys. She was asleep almost as soon as they were moving again, world once again wrapped in fast-fading gold.
She woke just as Gabriel was pulling the car off the highway.
She rubbed at her eyes as she straightened up and looked around as Gabriel steered the SUV through the rest stop parking lot.
"What are you doing?"
"We need fuel," he said. "And food. This seemed like the place to get it."
Riley glanced down at the gas gauge. The needle was floating just above empty. "Yeah," she agreed. She checked the gun on her hip, then reached for the shotgun. "I wonder if they still have power here?"
"Only one way to find out," Gabriel said. He grabbed his own shotgun and stepped out of the SUV, head turning as he watched for movement.
Riley waited until he'd come around to her side before moving forward. "Food first?" she asked.
Her last meal--her last real meal--had been pancakes at the diner Gabriel had dragged her out to the morning they'd arrived in Colorado Springs. He'd told her he'd heard about it from an Air Force Buddy, and she'd teased him about crossing service lines.
It seemed like a lifetime ago.
The service center didn't have power, but there was plenty of wrapped pastries and chocolate there, and Gabriel found them some fruit.
"Might be the last banana you ever have," he teased as he handed it to her. "Better enjoy it."
Riley started to reply when she caught a shadow moving from the corner of her eye. She dropped the banana and spun, raising her shotgun. Gabriel did the same, turning so his back was against hers.
Zombies, they'd already discovered, rarely travelled alone.
It was a short fight, but a messy one. Gabriel stood in silently outside the restroom door afterward while Riley washed herself down with bottled water and checked for injuries. She made him let her check his sutures too, though there wasn't really anything she could do about the bleeding except slap a fresh bandage on and hope.
They were only twelve hours out, she reminded herself. And they still had fifteen, minimum, before they had to worry.
Assuming Cassidy was right. And assuming the cure worked.
"At least they're the slow-moving kind," Gabriel said as he pulled his sleeve down over the fresh bandage. "Can you imagine what would happen if these suckers could move?"
Riley thought back to their first fight, zombies in Air Force cadet uniforms pouring in on all sides. "I'd rather not," she said.
They filled bags as fast as they could, not wanting to take the time to eat here. Not now. Riley took the lead as they left the building, shotgun reloaded and ready. They were a couple of cars still in the parking lot. Presumably the property of the zombies inside. She considered, and nudged Gabriel, nodding toward the.
"Might be faster to take one of them than to try and refuel," she suggested.
He nodded and headed toward a nearby sedan.
"More leg room in the mini-van," Riley said.
"Yeah, it doesn't have a trunk."
"Why--" she began, and then stopped as she realized what he was suggesting.
He glanced over his shoulder at her. "Only if we have to," he said.
She nodded and helped him load the sedan with their newly acquired food, and the ammo from the SUV. Gabriel once again claiming the driver's seat.
The next sixty miles passed in silence, before Riley decided she couldn't take it any more.
"It wasn't your fault," she said. "Nobody could have caught that."
"I could have," Gabriel said. "It was all in their system. On their computer. If I'd just found it sooner..."
"There was nothing you could have done," she said again. "And you found what you needed for the cure. That's what matters."
Gabriel nodded, clearly unbelieving.
Riley hoped she was right.
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