What was known was that the Vice President, now the new President, had survived with some of the Cabinet and a few members of Congress. They had all been on a hunting trip in East Texas during the initial outbreak.

These people of power had taken refuge with what remained of the army in their area and were now firmly ensconced in a city eight hours east of Madison. The city was heavily fortified and had managed to seize most of the resources in the area.

Once Central was secure, they had began broadcasting via military channels to any surviving rescue centers. It was now known there were also four surviving rescue centers across the state that were still manned by the remnants of the military, the Madison Mall being one of those. The other three were closer to Central and ran supplies to it. Madison was not considered an asset to Central and was informed they were on their own.

Because of the large mobs of zombies in the big cities and the risk of cross state travel, it had been deemed unnecessary to open supply lines with the mall on the edge of the Texas Hill Country. Bruce knew, that essentially, they were left on their own to die.

This was not acceptable to the Senator. She originally wanted out of the mall to join her cohorts at Central. It was difficult for her to understand that Central saw them as expendable despite her presence. She had been one of the big movers and shakers just before the zombies rose. As far as she was concerned, her star was still rising. She just had to find a different way to ascend Now, she was working on making her case to Central that her area of the state was a viable resource to them and worth establishing a trade route. Under the guise of “protecting the American people” she had persuaded the Major General to bring in all surviving pockets around the area to the mall. Once her labor force was large enough, the Senator planned to offer them all to Central. Bruce had seen a rough draft of her proposal. It talked of “labor force” and “breeding stock.”

It had been a flimsy case and the Senator knew that. But the fort changed that. Photos taken of the fort showed those inside tilling the earth getting ready for planting season. It showed a good, solid fortified structure with the possibility of expansion. Generators, fuel, and building supplies had been seen secured within the walls. Now the Senator was keen on taking over the fort and offering up its resources to Central as well. She was enthralled with the idea of establishing a major human colony under her control to vie for a position of power within Central’s new government.

Always a power player, the Senator was positive that providing both a work force and breeding stock to the new government was just the right ticket.

Bruce thought it was all ridiculous. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about what was going on in East Texas. The world was over. The old governments had fallen. The enclave in East Texas had power only because people allowed it to claim power. His opinion was fuck them, fuck that, and keep fucking moving. If he had his way, they would just move to the fort and be done with the damned mall.

But the Senator and Major General seemed determined to be a part of whatever the Vice President and remains of the government were doing out in East Texas.

Finally, he spotted the correct store and entered. People were getting ready to bunk down for a nap and a few greeted him as he headed toward the newcomers. After a little chitchat, he finally managed to reach the two people sitting on their cots.

“Excuse me,” he said in a soft voice, his nerves almost getting the best of him.

Both the man and the woman looked up. The man was a big guy and the girl was stunning with huge black eyes.

“Can we help you?” The man stood up and stood slightly in front of the woman.

“My name is Bruce Kiel. I want to know if Katie Kiel is at your fort,” he said, trying to keep his hands from shaking.

The man glanced at the woman then back up at Bruce. “Why do you want to know?”

The woman stood up sharply, then grabbed her head, wincing. “The Police Chief?”

“Yes,” he answered. “You know my daughter?”

“I spoke to you that first day! I was in the truck with Katie! We escaped the city together!”

Bruce sat down sharply on the cot nearest him. “She’s alive then? She made it to the fort and she’s still alive?”

The woman grinned. “Yeah! And married and pregnant!”

“My Katie? She was married to Lydia,” he stuttered in shock. It was too much to comprehend. He had allowed himself to hope his daughter was alive, but to hear she was in the motherly way was a shock.

“Yeah, but Lydia died the first day. You knew that, right?” The woman sat next to him, her hand resting on his.

“Yes. Yes. Katie said she didn’t make it.” Bruce nodded. “I told her to run into the hills.”

“And we did! And we made it to this town where they had built a wall.

And she met this guy named Travis. It was rough for her at first, but they fell for each other. They got hitched up and pregnant. They’re very happy together. Oh, my God! She’s going to be so happy you’re alive!”

Bruce felt his body trembling and he lowered his head. With a sob of relief, the big man let his tears flow. “My Katie-girl is alive! Dear God, it’s a miracle.”

He had to get out of this gawddamn mall.

It was nearly 5 AM when Travis finally climbed into bed beside Katie. She was curled up on the bed with Jack. The German Shepherd gave him a petulant look as Travis scooted him to the end of the bed. Spooning his wife, Travis kissed her shoulder and sighed into her blond curls.

“Are they back?” Her voice was thick with sleep and emotion.

“No. They’re not. Nerit is taking a team out soon,” Travis answered.

Katie rolled over slowly, her green eyes scanning his face. Tears were glimmering along the edges of her lashes. “You think they’re dead, don’t you?”

“No,” Travis answered slowly. “No I don’t. I don’t believe that. I think there is a good chance they’re out there and that they’re okay. We’ll find them.”

“I don’t want her to be gone,” Katie said in a low voice. “I keep thinking about her. How I found her that morning in that ugly pink nightgown and robe, nearly catatonic, and how she changed into someone that was amazing and fierce. That morning, when I saved her, she saved me, too.

She gave me a reason to go on. To live.”

“I just don’t want her to not be a part of my life anymore. I don’t want her to be lost.” Katie sniffled loudly and rubbed her eyes. “I know we never would have been friends if not for all of this going down. We never would have met and if we had, we would have had nothing in common. Our lives were so different until that morning. And I keep thinking of her, sitting next to me in the truck, and how I knew she was important. That I had saved her for a reason.”

“Baby, don’t work yourself up. We don’t know anything yet. You can’t flip out.” Travis gently tucked her hair back from her face and kissed her brow.

“I should have been there with her. Helping her. We are always better as a team,” Katie declared.

“You got the baby to worry about. And like you told me along with everyone else, you have a job to do here.”

“Keeping me sane,” Travis said and smiled wryly.

Despite her tears, Katie laughed. She rubbed her eyes again, wiping away her tears and vestiges of her makeup. “That’s a pretty rough job. Between you and Jenni, it’s amazing that I’m sane.”

Travis yawned and laughed at the same time, making an odd sound.

“Didn’t sleep, did you? Are you just coming to bed?”

“I didn’t mean to wake you.” Travis pulled the covers over him, kicking off his boots as he did so. They hit the floor with a resounding thud.

Jack again gave him a disapproving look.

“I had trouble sleeping anyway. Jason told Jack to stay with me. He figured you would be up half the night anyway.”

“How is Juan?” Katie’s voice was hesitant, as if she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear the answer.

“Stable. For now. Charlotte is doing the best she can.”

“Thank God, he’s still alive.” Katie wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him lightly.

He sighed with weariness and contentment as she snuggled against his side. He could feel her rounded tummy pressing against him and the gentle movement of their baby inside her. “I felt wired, so I stayed up working on some ideas. Plus, Ed made me feel like a shit for not taking the situation about Blanche to the fort.”

“You mean dumping her at home?”

“Yeah. With a gun with one bullet.” He looked at her, expecting her to be angry, but she just frowned a little. “I was pissed. I was done with her.

We had dead people and my best friend was dying. All over that damn Hummer. Nerit, Curtis, Katarina, Bill and I just decided to ditch her out there.”