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Flo, Mayhem, and the Zombie Apocalypse

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Part I: I Never Could Get the Hang of Thursdays

Flo's first warning that what had started out as a slow but otherwise typical Thursday at the Superstore was about to take a turn for the apocalyptic came in the form of the customer weaving his way down Aisle Three.

“Sir?” she asked, thinking she was looking at someone seeking a cheaper deductible on a suspended license. “Bit early for a martini lunch, isn't it? Can I call you a cab home?”

That was when she noticed the grayish cast to his skin, the gashes in his clothing, and the reddish-brown mats in his hair where something – or someone – had caved in the left side of his skull. Then she spotted the three similarly disheveled, unsteady figures trailing along behind him.

And that was when the rest of the customers began screaming.

While Jamie rounded up everyone who hadn't already made a beeline for the door and encouraged them to take cover behind the registers, Flo ran toward the secret panel concealing Progressive's ultimate weapon. Exactly what good a giant Name Your Own Price tool was going to do against the undead, she didn't yet know, but she hoped she'd figure something out by the time she got there.

Unfortunately, the pair of zombies blocking the end of the aisle seemed to have plans of their own. She pivoted, to find a third had snuck up on her, close enough to feel its putrid breath on her neck. Or whatever the stench emanating from its gaping mouth was more appropriately termed.

The shelf to her right began to wobble precariously. Sensing an oncoming cascade, Flo dodged the distracted zombie and raced back the way she had come. Only when she reached the comparative safety of the customer service desk, and the crashing had faded to a few isolated thuds and moans, did she dare to turn and catch her breath.

A lone straggler emerged from the wreckage of the aisle. It—he—sported a rumpled black suit, a shock of unruly brown hair to match his five o'clock shadow, a bandaid cocked rakishly above his left eye, and an unsettling degree of calm given what was happening around them.

Flo blinked. “Mayhem?”

Her savior held out a dust and cobweb-covered hand. “If you ever want to sell another policy, come with me.”

She looked skeptically from him to the collapsed shelves, then back again.

Mayhem didn't budge. “You have a better idea?”

“Run, Flo!” she heard Jamie urge her from somewhere under Register #5. “I'll hold down the fort. Uh, store.”

An object lying on the desk caught Flo's eye: her own personal Name Your Price Tool. She picked it up and holstered it in her pocket, then nodded once at Mayhem. “All right. Let's roll.”

Part II: It's Dangerous to Go Alone

If the store had transformed into something out of a nightmare, the parking lot could only be described as a hellscape. Flo looked desperately about for survivors, but other than a handful of cars racing away from the scene, she saw only zombies and misshapen remnants of corpses she could have gone her entire existence without seeing.

Mayhem scanned the horizon as well, but appeared to be seeking something entirely different. “You don't have employee parking?” he complained.

“I prefer to leave the spots up front for the customers,” said Flo defensively.

He let out a noise that could either have been a hmph or a short laugh. “Guess we're in for some fun, then. Where is your car?”

“There,” she pointed. Too late, she dropped her arm as the motion attracted the attention of a roving band of zombies. As one, they sniffed the air and picked up speed.

Without warning, Mayhem slung an arm over her shoulder and across her neck, putting her in a loose headlock. “Act terrified.”

“No problem,” Flo murmured, unsure whether she was better served keeping her eye on him or the approaching peril.

Mayhem took a deep breath, held out his free arm, curled his fingers into claws, and hunched his shoulders ever so slightly. “I'm a zombie,” he announced.

Flo's less-than-terrified snort trailed off into open-mouthed amazement as the zombies veered off and resumed their previous lurch in the direction of the store. Mostly. One particularly tenacious individual, either not convinced by the ruse or reluctant to let a tasty morsel like Flo go without a fight, broke off from the horde and shambled over to intercept them.

“I'm an even bigger zombie,” Mayhem snarled at it. The challenger stopped in its tracks, studied them for a second, let out a defeated groan, and went back to rejoin its peers.

Flo let out a sigh of relief. Before she could say “thank you,” though, a thought struck her. “Wait. Is this necessary? We're not exactly human. Maybe their bites won't affect us.”

Mayhem eased his arm off her neck just a little. “You want to test that hypothesis?”

She closed her mouth and played soon-to-be dead in silence until they came across a lone figure in the distance, apparently huddled in prayer under a lamppost. As the zombies circled around him, though, his repetitive, curiously familiar hymn grew louder and more frantic: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is--aaagh!

Flo lunged in the direction of the scream, but Mayhem lowered his arm, blocking both her path and her line of sight. “Nothing we can do now.”

“You're not just saying that because he's not one of yours, are you?” she demanded.

“Look, just because we don't offer price comparisons doesn't mean we don't care,” he snapped back. “Also, do you think you could hold the questions until we're out of here? I know damsel in distress isn't your style, but I'm having enough trouble keeping up my half of the act for more than a minute without additional distractions.”

Half a dozen rejoinders about the role not being that much of a stretch sprang to mind, but Flo held them back. Wisecracks not being any way to repay a compliment aside, he had a point. Especially when she could hear more zombies heading toward them.

It took a few more near-encounters with wandering packs for them to find an unoccupied car that hadn't been trashed. The Flomobile, alas, numbered among the casualties. How Mayhem had arrived, she didn't know, and per instructions, didn't ask.

Finally, they settled on a sensible sedan with good gas mileage. Once Mayhem got the vehicle running (“I'm a car thief”), Flo shooed him over to the passenger's side (“I'm driving”), locked the doors, and put on the windshield wipers as a temporary zombie buffer while she pulled out her cellphone.

Less surprised than disheartened to see she had no reception, she fought back thoughts of Todd, Janice, and her parents, and turned instead to Mayhem. “All right. How did this start?”

“Dunno,” Mayhem shrugged as he buckled his seatbelt.

She raised an eyebrow. “Really.”

“What, you think I'm responsible?” Mayhem looked as though he couldn't decide whether to be offended or flattered. “I specialize in minor damage. Broken windows. Fender benders. Sprained ankles. The occasional roof crushed by a tree, tops. This is Act of God level.”

Flo had to concede the point. “Then what are you doing here?”

“The Big Guy sent me out to gather reinforcements.” His voice, which had deepened in imitation of the man in question, returned to its normal register. “Or possibly just keep me out of the way while he and the President talked, but I figured it was worth trying.”

“Still seems remarkably out of character for you.”

He scowled. “Like I said, I might be valuable property's worst nightmare, but I'm no monster when it comes to people. Besides, you might be right about us making lousy zombie chow, but I know one thing that'll finish us off for sure.” He nodded at her cellphone. “What do you think'll happen when there's no one left to watch?”

A shiver ran from the top of Flo's hairband all the way down to her shoes. “So is there a plan beyond gathering reinforcements?”

“As a matter of fact, there is.” Not bothering to unfasten his seatbelt first, Mayhem fumbled a stained, badly creased map out of his pocket and unfolded it. “Sure you don't want me to drive? We might be better off with you navigating.”

“I'll take my chances.” She stowed the phone, switched off the windshield wipers, disengaged the parking brake, and positioned her hands precisely at ten and two. “Where are we going?”

Mayhem jabbed a spot near the center of the map, poking a small hole through it in the process. “The University of Farmers.”

Part III: We're Off to See the Professor

“Sorry, guys,” insisted the caveman on guard duty, “but I can't let you in without ID.”

Really, Maurice?” Mayhem asked, while Flo glanced nervously back down the service road. They'd shaken the last zombie over a mile back, but she wasn't sure she'd hit so much as grazed him.

“Just a minute,” crackled an avuncular voice from the caveman's walkie-talkie. “How many uninsured drivers were there in the United States in 2012?”

“29.7 million,” Flo and Mayhem recited in unison, with Maurice barely restraining himself from answering in time.

“Down from how many in 2009?”

“29.9 million.”

“It's them,” the voice confirmed. “Power down the fence.”

“Sounds like the Professor's expecting you,” said Maurice. He punched a few buttons on the keypad beside him, and the gate swung open. “I'll radio someone to escort you to his office. You can leave the car inside.”

Sure enough, a young woman wearing a university blazer was waiting for them almost as soon as they parked. “Follow me,” she instructed.

“Have you ever met Professor Burke in person?” Flo whispered to Mayhem as they walked.

“Once or twice. I'm surprised he let me back in here after the marmoset incident, to be honest. You?”

“No. He seems nice enough in the commercials, but...I don't know. I always get this weird feeling he's just a second or two from snapping and throwing a chair leg at someone's head.”

Mayhem grinned. “Me, too. I like that about him.”

The Professor stood awaiting them, natty as ever in tweed and horned rim spectacles. As they entered, he strode forward and shook her hand warmly. “Flo, welcome. It's a pleasure to officially make your acquaintance. I only wish it were under better circumstances.” His more distant nod to her companion suggested the marmoset incident was not entirely forgotten. “Mayhem. Have a seat, both of you.”

Mayhem took this as an invitation to hop on the Professor's desk, sending several fragile-looking objects flying in the process. To his credit, the Professor took this with barely a twitch.

“Thank you for having us, Professor,” said Flo with an extra soupçon of politeness as she sank into her own chair.

“Please, call me Nathaniel.” He dismissed their guide with a gesture, and shut the door. “I apologize for the security measures. The truth is, we welcome just about anyone who still possesses more than a one word vocabulary. But only those with special competencies get the full briefing.”

“Then you know what's causing the zombies?” Flo asked.

“Sadly, no. From the few specimens we've managed to study, we've been able to determine that it's most likely viral rather than supernatural in origin. But isolating the virus and synthesizing a vaccine or a cure is another matter entirely, let alone enough of it to help everyone. We're insurance reps, not doctors.”

“I'm a doctor,” Mayhem offered.

Both Nathaniel and Flo turned long, level gazes on him.

“...of general studies,” he admitted. “From an unaccredited online school.”

“And of course,” Nathaniel continued as though he'd never stopped talking, “until we confirm the source of Patient Zero, we have no way to be sure the outbreak's been fully contained.”

Flo absorbed this information. “What can we do to help?”

“I hope you'll consider joining Gecko in coordinating civilian support, or Ron and Jimmy in keeping up morale. But if you'd prefer a more active field role, I'm sure my agents would welcome the extra pair of hands. Even counting the non-students who've been willing to volunteer, we're still only about thirty-five thousand strong at last count.”

“That's it?” She fought not to sound utterly distraught, but was afraid she might be losing. “What about State Farm?”

Nathaniel's expression turned from businesslike to sepulchral. “We haven't seen or heard from them since the first reports started coming in. And believe me, we've tried.”

Almost without thinking, Flo gripped the pocket where her phone currently rested. “You're saying something's happened to them?”

Nathaniel sighed. “I'm afraid there are more...troubling possibilities.”

“What he means is,” said Mayhem darkly, in response to her bewildered stare, “maybe they're not on our side.”

Part IV: Sudden Yet Inevitable Betrayal

“I know, it's a dreadful thing to contemplate,” Nathaniel tried to soothe her, after a fashion. “But morality aside, the logic is sound. You see...”

“Let me break it down for you, Little Miss Sunshine,” Mayhem interrupted. He vaulted off the desk, sending the rest of Nathaniel's knicknacks crashing to the floor, and gestured expansively at the two of them as he made his way over to her. “His agents, your salespeople? They've got lives. Hell, you've got a life, even if 99% of it is insurance.”

“You say that like it's a bad thing,” grumbled Flo, temporarily roused from her distress.

Mayhem ignored the interjection. “As for me, I'm not responsible to anyone. But State Farm? They're always on call. Always having to perform miracles.” He leaned in uncomfortably close, daring her to look away from his piercing gray eyes. “After a while, wouldn't even you get a little desperate for a break? Wouldn't you start to wonder what it might be like if only there weren't so many people in the world?”

“And it would explain the sudden, simultaneous emergence of the virus,” pointed out Nathaniel. “Dispatch agents in strategic locations, have them summon the zombies...voila. The perfect recipe for instant apocalypse.”

Flo pushed Mayhem back gently so that she could stand, even as she clung to her denial. “But what about what you said in the car? If there are no viewers left, they'll be just as dead as the rest of us.”

“Not if they keep a pool of regular agents to watch the commercials, or make new ones as needed,” Nathaniel answered on Mayhem's behalf. “And for breeding purposes, of course. I daresay within two or three generations, they wouldn't be brand spokespeople any more. They'd be gods.”

A long, tense silence ensued.

“So what you're saying is that to stop the zombie apocalypse, we need to find State Farm first,” Flo clarified at last.

“It appears that way,” agreed Nathaniel. “Unfortunately, it also appears we have no leads, and no idea where to start looking.”

Flo took a deep breath. “What I'm about to share,” she said slowly, “could finish me. And I'm not just talking forced retirement. I mean poof, all traces of my existence wiped from Progressive's official history.” She choked up at the thought. “But if it means preventing the end of the world...”

She pulled out her phone, and was relieved to see that the signal here worked. A few more swipes, and she held up the “Contacts” display.

“You remember Jake, from State Farm? The one with the khakis?” she told a nonplussed Mayhem and Nathaniel. “This is his personal number.”

“And how did you come by this valuable piece of intel?”

Nathaniel's question was phrased in a completely neutral tone, but Flo could feel her the back of her neck beginning to burn at Mayhem's quirked eyebrow. “My sister Janice set us up on a blind date. It was supposed to be a practical joke. But we hit it off, and, well, uh...”

“Engaged in a bit of unauthorized cross-brand collaboration?” Nathaniel suggested.

Flo's blush deepened. “That's one way of putting it, yes.”

“Never would've taken you for the type,” said Mayhem, with an appraising look. Flo knew she should've been offended, but the emotion that seemed to be springing most readily to mind was a strange combination of intrigue and flattery that left her even more disturbed.

“Are you still an item?” asked Nathaniel, mercifully interrupting the moment.

Flo shook her head. “It only lasted a few months. Mutual decision. The secrecy, the long hours, the strange women wanting to know what he was wearing: it just got to be too much. We still talk occasionally.” She combed through her memories of their conversations, looking for clues. “He's mentioned wishing things could be different a few times, but I never thought it might mean anything until now.”

“So, in other words, if you were to call him seeking comfort...”

“...I think he might answer, yes.”

Mayhem snorted.

“Don't think I can do it?” she rounded on him.

His snort turned into an outright guffaw. “You? You can't even lie when your competitors have a better rate than you do. Your ex may be part of a plot to destroy all civilization, and you're going to convince him you want in on that?”

“Surely the needs of the many...” Nathaniel offered in her defense, when she paused just a bit too long in her response.

“No, he's right,” Flo admitted. “I'm not sure I can. But maybe I don't have to.” It was her turn to stare appraisingly at Mayhem. “At least not by myself.”

He, in turn, blinked uncomprehendingly for a moment until realization dawned, and he held up his hands in protest. “Oh, no. My powers of persuasion don't work on us, remember?”

“You heard the Professor. If State Farm is behind this, they're not us any more,” she pressed. “Are you really going to pass up the chance to ruin a would-be god's best day ever?”

Mayhem's dismissive expression blossomed into a delighted smirk. “You certainly do know the way to a man's heart,” he drawled.

“Well, it seems we have a plan.” Nathaniel clapped them both on the shoulders, sparing Flo from trying to figure out an appropriate response. “I'll leave you two to practice while I go make some calls.”

He walked out, leaving the room too empty and too crowded all at once.

“Okay!” said Flo, breaking the silence with an extra-cheerful smile. She'd gotten through two hours in a car and the beginning of the end of the world with Mayhem; surely she could get through this without incident. Especially when it was her idea. “Where do we start?”

Mayhem's face was a blank slate. “Just...stand there. Eyes on me.”

She did. He took a few steps forward: close enough to touch, but far enough away to get a good look at her. His gaze met hers, and connected in a way that she could only describe as intimate. Which was not a word she wanted to be thinking under current circumstances, except that there was nothing uncomfortable or prurient about the sensation. It was what she'd felt the moment she'd first opened her eyes and found herself behind a register at the Superstore: an unassailable sense of purpose, and a joy in knowing that purpose. Knowing that her core, her entire reason for being, was to help people.

Mayhem finished his examination and closed his eyes. “I'm Flo,” he said, as he opened them, radiating optimism and determination to a degree that would've overwhelmed her if it hadn't felt so reassuringly familiar. “And I'm gonna save the world.”

Part V: I'm Mayhem, and I Know Kung Fu

“Ready?”

Mayhem nodded, once. “Ready. Got the location tracker turned off?”

“Of course.” Flo set her phone down on the desk between them. “Sure you don't need another minute?”

“I'm good. Nathaniel?”

“We're recording,” Nathaniel confirmed from the back of the room, waving his own phone. “And you won't be hearing another peep out of me until Phase Two.”

Mayhem cracked his knuckles. “Then let's do this thing.”

“Right.” Before her nerves could get any worse, Flo selected Jake's number, hit the call button, and switched to speaker.

An agonizing five rings passed before she heard a familiar, “Hello?”

“Jake?” asked Mayhem, as Flo held her breath.

There was a brief pause before Jake replied, “Flo?” The hopeful undertone he attached to her name would have made her feel guilty, if the question itself hadn't offered damning proof of a far greater crime on his part.

“Thank goodness,” she exhaled instead. They'd agreed in advance that as soon as the initial test was complete, she'd handle the talking unless things got tricky. “I didn't know if you'd pick up, or if you could. Where are you? Are you all right?”

“I'm fine.” Another brief pause. “For now. Things are...complicated. What about you? Where are you?”

“In one of the back rooms,” Mayhem took over, at a nervous glance from Flo. “It's quiet outside. Too quiet. I don't know who's – or what's – still out there, and I'm scared to go look.”

“I'm so sorry, Flo,” said Jake, sounding blissfully unaware the real Flo was biting her lip hard enough to draw blood to keep from blurting something to the effect of, “Like hell!” “I wish I could be there to make things better.”

“I wish you were, too,” simpered Mayhem, before turning coy. “This is going to sound terrible, but...all I can think of right now is all those times we would've given anything for the chance to just sit and talk like this. No work distracting us; nothing to do but just...be us.”

“I know. Remember the theatre tickets I bought as a surprise?”

“Of course I do. At least, I remember you telling me about them after I got done with my extra shift,” Flo chimed in, seeing Mayhem's lost expression. “Or that camping trip we were supposed to take together. The stars were so beautiful.”

“They couldn't possibly have been as beautiful as you,” Jake told her, while Mayhem directed a simultaneous thumbs-up at her and a gagging motion at the phone.

“Oh, Jake,” said Flo sadly. “You do still care.”

His wistful chuckle faded off into static. “For all the good it does us now.”

“Well, why not?” asked Mayhem, before Flo could even signal. “If the world is ending, I can't think of a better way to spend it than seeing you one last time.”

Jake let out a long, ecstatic sigh. “You don't know how much I've dreamed of hearing you say that.”

“Then you'll come?” Flo burst out eagerly.

The pause this time was far longer than any of the previous ones, and Flo began to fear she'd overplayed their hand. Especially when Jake finally did speak. “I want to, Flo. But like I said, it's complicated...”

Please, Jake,” Mayhem begged, in a voice so ragged with need it took every particle of self-control Flo possessed not to try and soothe him. An actual tear slid down his cheek. “I just...I don't want to be alone.”

Flo could almost hear the last threads of resistance snapping on Jake's end of the line. “One minute,” he said at last. “Give me one minute, and then I'm all yours. You remember the jingle?”

“How could I forget?” she said, flashing her first genuine smile of the entire conversation. “One minute, Jake. I'll be waiting.”

She hung up as quickly as possible.

“And one minute should be all the time I need to radio Maurice,” declared Nathaniel cheerfully, as Flo stowed the phone back in her pocket. “Good job, you two. I'll be just outside until you need me. More space that way.”

“Good job,” Flo echoed when he had gone. Mayhem bowed, and nearly tripped over his own feet, thereby proving himself well and truly Mayhem once again.

“I understand why we're taking precautions, but are we really planning to give Jake the full minute?” he asked, after righting himself.

The corners of Flo's mouth turned up ever so slightly. “What do you think?”

Judging by the matching expression on Mayhem's face and the cold spark in his eye, the bond might not have been entirely broken after all. “I think the honor is all yours.”

“We can share.” She gestured grandly in his direction. “You first.”

Mayhem cleared his throat, and an unsurprisingly off-key baritone emerged. “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there...”

“With all the medicine we need to stop the zombie plague!” Flo shouted.

They took a few steps back as the room began to fill with boxes. A second later, Jake popped into view, flanked by two heavily armed State Farm representatives who had definitely played football at some point during high school.

“Told you it was a trap,” muttered the agent on Jake's left.

Jake just kept looking from Flo to Mayhem and back again, with that confused expression Flo had once found adorable, but now wanted to punch right off his face. “But...you...what...how?”

“Because I,” declared Mayhem, “am a total badass.” As though still somehow channeling Flo's thoughts, he strode forward and knocked Jake unconscious with a single uppercut to the chin.

The agent on the right took this opportunity to fire off a shot at close range. Mayhem staggered back and slumped to the ground, clutching his shoulder. Both agents cocked and re-aimed their weapons.

So did Flo.

The agents snickered. “Put the toy down, sweetheart,” the one on the left told her.

“This is a gun,” she insisted, pleased that she'd managed to keep most of the tremor out of her voice. “A real one.” It wasn't technically a lie, she reassured herself. No matter how anyone else saw it, the power of Name Your Own Price was real to her.

“You can't pull that trick,” the agent on the right scoffed. “Especially not on us.”

“Yeah? Well, until today, neither could he.” Flo indicated Mayhem with her free hand while moving the tool slowly from one agent to the other, trying to approximate Mayhem's smirk and steely stare in the process. It was a lot easier than she'd expected. “Or do I mean me? You can't be sure, can you?”

The agents hesitated.

Two more shots rang out, and both agents reared back, tranquilizer darts jutting from their necks. Seconds later, Nathaniel flung the door the rest of the way open, tranquilizer gun in hand. He was followed by a small army of university students and cavemen, including Maurice, who stepped forward and expedited the agents' trip to Dreamland with the aid of his club.

“What took you so long?” Flo complained, finally able to bend down and check on Mayhem, who had gone worryingly quiet at some point during the exchange.

“Sorry.” Nathaniel made his way through the crowd and around the crush of boxes over to them. “Couldn't get a clear angle without making myself a target.”

“What now, Professor?” asked one of the cavemen.

Nathaniel pointed to the incapacitated agents, including Jake. “I want those three prepped for interrogation when they wake up. But first, get the supplies out of here. The Big Guy promised he'd get us military support when I briefed him on the situation, but we need to be ready in case State Farm sends reinforcements first.” As the cavalry swarmed to carry out his orders, he knelt beside Flo. “Can you stabilize him?”

“I think he's mostly in shock,” said Flo, trying to keep her fingers from shaking as she eased aside his jacket and undid the top few buttons of his shirt, pulling back the fabric to examine the injury site. She saw a fair bit of blood, but no trace of an entry wound. “Yep. Minor damage.”

Mayhem gave a few short, raspy coughs that might've been an attempt at laughter. “My specialty.”

“Shh,” urged Flo, pulling off her hairband to convert it into a bandage. She supposed his tie would also have done the trick, but it seemed wrong to deprive him of it. “Lie back and relax. You're in good hands.”

“Hey. That's my line,” he murmured, with the faintest trace of a smile. And despite the alarming skip her heart made, for the first time since that morning, Flo knew for sure that everything was going to be all right.

Epilogue: The Time That Is Given to Us

“So the store is still standing?” asked Mayhem, as Flo hung up the phone.

“And officially zombie-free.” Flo beamed. “Thanks to the Rivals, of all people. I'm not sure they intentionally volunteered to provide a distraction while Jamie recalibrated the lasers on the Name Your Own Price tools, but it worked. Best of all, we have about fifteen new lifetime policyholders.”

Mayhem let out a soft snort.

“Go on,” she teased him. “Accuse me of having a one-track mind again.”

He shook his head, suddenly serious. “Not before I apologize.”

Flo blinked. “What for?”

“Telling you that you couldn't pull off a bluff. That was some quick thinking with the gun. Besides, pretty much all you had to do was say was his name, and Jake would have come for you. Poor guy.” He shook his head dismissively, but the last two words rang more in Flo's ears as something more like commiseration. “You'd have gotten through the call without me just fine.”

“No, I couldn't,” she insisted, taking a step toward him. “Maybe I could've said the words. But I couldn't have made it sound like I wanted him back.” Another step brought her close enough to brush her hands against the lapels of his jacket. “Or that I ever thought I was alone.” She leaned in, inches from his lips. “And that punch was pretty badass.”

Mayhem stumbled backward, holding up his good arm to keep her at bay. “Flo...this might be the most painful thing I've ever done in my entire existence. And that's saying a lot. But I'm sorry. I can't. We can't.”

She could feel a pout coming on. “Brand loyalty, huh?”

“Not exactly. It's one thing if the world is ending, but if we're going to live to see another campaign? This thing would destroy us before the next CLIO awards.” He sighed. “Or me, anyway. Allstate's already got one guy ready to step in and make things better. I can't be that guy. I don't have the voice for it.”

“Believe me, I know there's no way this has a happy ending.” She spared a second for her last remaining sympathetic memories of Jake, before turning her focus back to Mayhem. “But like it or not, you'll always be my go-to guy when the day needs saving.”

He tried to smile. “At least we'll always have the University. And the zombie apocalypse.”

A thought struck her, slowly restoring her own grin. “Which isn't technically over yet, is it?”

Based on the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, Mayhem appeared to be having the same realization. “I guess there's still a fair bit of mopping up to be done.”

“And even then, normal programming won't resume right away,” she continued.

“True.”

“Well, then,” asked Flo, sauntering back within reach and pressing a finger against his tie, “What do you say to a little more unauthorized collaboration? Just until we've taken down the last of those red-shirted traitors?”

He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her toward him. “I say let's go cause some mayhem.”