“Have a good day, Paul.”
Paul Contera hugged his wife. “You too, Laurie. If you can.”
“It’s not so bad, mostly.”
“Yeah. I’ll be home as soon as I can. We have that Dairymen’s Association thing to finish, but maybe we’ll be done early.”
“Okay. Bye.” They ducked into the garage and Paul backed the Acura out, leaving Laurie to the day ahead.
Laurie sighed and looked over her equipment hanging on the back wall of the garage. They wouldn’t be moving much for another half hour, so she had time for her coffee and danish.
8:00. Time to get started. She put on her gear: headset video/audio, jacket, kit bag, cattle prod (which she never had to use, but got a verbal reprimand the one time she left it). She turned on the headset and faced the big QR square pasted up next to the gear hangers.
Robin’s Western accent twanged in her audio. “Laurie Contera, confirmed check-in. How’s the audio?”
“Sounds good, Robin,” she replied. “How about mine?”
“Great. You ready?”
“I guess so. Your other victims on line yet?”
“You’re the second. Swamy’s already in… whup, there’s Mike. Shirley’s always a little slow, and Marilyn called in sick. I’ll pop in to chat a little later, gotta check in Mike. But I’m watching.”
Laurie stepped outside, locking the door behind her. She stepped to the curb and looked down the street. They were already shambling this way, keeping to the yards on either side. A herd of forty, or close to it, calling to each other.
Bovine Behavior Syndrome victims, said that asshole Franklin inside her head. They are Americans, suffering from a dreadful malady. Our job is to help and protect them until we can cure them.
Funny how she used to worry about Paul’s job security. A year ago, she was in line for the CFO slot at Burger DeLuxe and expected to arrive there about now, while he worked in a struggling ad firm. Then that BBS bug got loose, and nobody was eating beef anymore, no matter how organic or upscale it might be. Meanwhile, Paul’s agency was swamped by dairy and poultry associations who wanted to tout the safety of their products. Working as a zombie wrangler — BBS Victim Scanner — was a huge letdown from upper management, even in a fancy-ass regional burger chain. But it paid well enough, and beat the hell out of trying to find another finance job with a third of the population gone zombie.
The bad part was, she had to be out here with them. Not that there was any danger, unless you were a blade of grass. Or a landscaper’s income, with grass-eating zombies cleaning up lawns for free. She could see them bending over, pulling up handfuls of grass and weeds as they approached. Laurie looked through the binoculars: they were mostly tagged already, and she recognized many of them. The zombies tended to herd together, working their way around a particular territory, occasionally swapping members when two herds met. She walked up the street to meet them.
They looked healthy enough — whatever the BBS virus did to their brains, it let them metabolize plant matter as well — and it was Laurie’s job to make sure they stayed healthy. She gave the herd a quick scan for runny noses and open sores, letting her scanner ID each one as she checked them over. Two of them had minor cuts that she disinfected and bandaged. All of them got vitamin supplements, soft plant matter soaked in nutrients. The zombies, as always, let her do her job as long as she walked with them.
“Mooooooo!” Some idiot leaned out of a red pickup truck and spotted Laurie. “Hey cowgirl! Wanna give me a ride?”
Laurie turned to face the truck, touching her headset to zoom her scanner in to record the driver’s face and license number. The truck took off, but she already had the ID. Franklin would send one of his drones, accompanied by a couple cops, to deliver a lecture (first offense) or take the moron in for mandatory sensitivity training (second offense). At least Franklin’s good for something, she thought, and went back to work. Only idiots bothered BBS scanners these days.
Several zombies had no ID badges, so they needed closer scrutiny. She ran the first woman’s fingerprints, and the database returned a match for a Carolyn DeJong. She pinned a new badge to the woman’s blouse and scanned her again, assigning the badge to her. The second woman was not listed among the BBS victims, and carried no ID on her. She badged, scanned, and fingerprinted the woman; ID’ing her was the department’s problem.
She turned to the un-badged man and caught her breath. “Steve?” If this wasn’t Steve Artinian — an accountant at DeLuxe, and her boy on the side a few years ago, until he’d quit his job and left her — it was his double. She managed to badge and scan him, then fished the wallet out of his back pocket.
“Laurie?” Robin’s voice came over the headset. “Your telemetry is showing stress. Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Laurie sighed. “I just ID’ed an old co-worker is all.”
“Ow. Can you stick with it?”
“Yeah.” Laurie scanned Steve’s driver’s license as positive ID, returned it and his wallet, and turned away. “Just need a couple minutes to get my wits together.”
“Right. You’re taking tomorrow off. I’ll schedule you a counseling session for the morning, but after that you can pamper yourself. Remember, we’re trying to cure them. Don’t give up.”
Laurie sighed again. “I won’t.”
“Good.” Robin clicked out and Laurie was on her own again. With Steve. She cleaned his face with a wet-wipe, then kissed him. He ignored her, chewing his vitamin stick.
“I won’t give up, Steve. I’ll get you back.” She took a few deep breaths and returned to work.