Erin returned quickly enough that I figured she must have dog-trotted through the complex to the med quarters, where Sully slept. The man in question looked remarkably well put-together for such an early visit, but then I realized that he would have been up before dawn.
“What is it?” He asked, all brisk business in his role as Councilman. I squashed a memory of him as a gap-toothed, skinned-knee kid asking me if he could touch my gun. He was Sulaiman to the people of the complex, not Sully. Which is why I was always careful to keep that nickname to myself.
“I want to take a closer look at that zombie out there,” I said, and gave Erin a look that indicated she should offer up her rifle so Sully could take a closer look. She did so, and so did he.
“Those marks aren’t natural,” he said, almost immediately.
“Nothing about zombies is natural,” I grinned, and he looked at me long enough to roll his eyes.
“I mean they’re not indicative of any disease I’ve studied, nor do they look like any sort of organism that might grow on decaying flesh.”
“So you’re saying I can catch it?”
He gave me an appalled look. “Catch it? No, I’m absolutely not saying that. I’m saying we can shoot it in the head and you can study the remains in the field, should you so desire.”
“There are markings on the head,” I protested. “I want to look at them first, maybe do some sketches, and then I’ll put it down, promise.”
“Absolutely not. We’re not taking a chance like that for something as puerile as curiosity.”
I arched a brow at him and said, “Erin, will you give us a moment?” Eyes wide, she nodded and carefully traced her steps back towards the stairs.
“Since when is curiosity puerile?” I hissed as soon as I was sure she was out of earshot. “Your father would turn in his grave to hear you spout such anti-intellectual bullshit.”
Sully’s face flushed. “I didn’t intend-”
“I don’t care what you did or didn’t intend. I’m older and meaner than you, and I’m just as familiar with the risk of a live zombie, even one that’s obviously starving and half-frozen. I won’t bring it inside the walls, but I want to take a closer look at it before I blow the back of it’s head off. Which I will. You know I will, Sully.”
Sully looked away. He did indeed know I would. Anyone who could put down their own newly-infected best friend wasn’t going to hesitate to put down a stranger’s corpse- not even an intriguing, mark-covered stranger. He stared out at the zombie and sighed.
“The rest of the Council-”
“The rest of the Council is also younger and less mean than I am,” I countered. “And they aren’t here. I only asked for your input- your input, mind you, not your permission- because you’re better with disease than I am. You confirmed that it’s not diseased, and that’s all I needed. But then you had to tell me ‘no’ in front of a youngling. And what did I always tell you about giving orders?”
“Not to give ones you know won’t be obeyed,” he said grudgingly.
“Right. Now, I’ll forgive your momentary lapse of judgment because you’re young yet,” Sully snorted at this, as well he should: 55 was considered well-seasoned in this cruel new world of ours. “But we need to call Erin back up here so you can publicly give me the permission that I don’t actually need.”
“You’re a pain in my ass, old-timer, you know that?” He muttered. I smiled.
“Well maybe you’ll get lucky and it’ll bite me.”
Sully shuddered. “Don’t say that. Not even in jest. If you turned so close-”
I placed a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Sully, if it bites me, I’ll blow my own head off before any of the rest of you can blink. I swear it on your father’s grave.”