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Five Brains Olivia Moore Never Ate

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1. The vampire

“A vampire?” Liv said, with the appropriate amount of skepticism. “Like Vampire Steve, you mean.”

“Well, this one seems to have been really into it,” Clive said. “At least, he acted like he thought he really was a vampire. Specially filed and capped teeth, wouldn’t go out in the daytime, a woman he dated went to the police because he bit her when they were about to get intimate.”

“But did he actually drink her blood?” Ravi asked, prodding with a gloved finger at the corpse’s mouth to expose the aforesaid teeth. They were indeed extra pointy.

“Not clear,” Clive said, paging through the folder. “Anyway that just makes him a method actor. I may have come around to the existence of psychics, but you’re not going to tell me that you think vampires and the things that go bump in the night are real.”

Clive didn’t look up to see Liv and Ravi exchange meaningful looks.

As soon as Clive was out of earshot, Ravi began to speculate, moving around the morgue with the energy of inspiration. “Some scientists, admittedly those on the fringe, have long speculated that vampire legends have some basis in reality, not just the oft-discussed porphyria but perhaps even more vampiric conditions that were never confirmed by medical science. If there are zombies, after all, why not vampires?”

“Okay, but: first, if he’s a vampire, will his brain still work for me? It’s pretty clear in the mythology that vampires are un-dead.”

“Well,” Ravi gestured at the gaping hole in the corpse’s chest, “this one is a very dead un-dead. And if it doesn’t, then we just get you another meal.”

“Which brings me to my second question: if he’s a vampire, would eating his brains risk turning me into a vampire?”

Ravi made a considering expression. “Technically, I expect you’d be a zompire.”

Liv made a frustrated sound, and Ravi hurried onwards: “The blood-brain barrier suggests that the answer is no. In the mythology, usually a victim has to drink the vampire’s blood to get turned; saliva exchange via bite is generally insufficient. Interestingly enough, it might go the other way: since you can transmit the zombie condition via scratch, you almost certainly would have been able to make him into a zompire if he’d bit you while he was undead, assuming that the two conditions are compatible.”

“If I were a zompire, I wonder if I could survive off the blood of the dead,” Liv mused, getting into it. “And would that be better or worse than brains?”

“Let’s find out!” Ravi suited actions to words by handing her the bone saw.

Liv decided on simplicity for the meal: she pureed the brains with beets, for color, and drank a brainshake.

The first flash she got was when Ravi came back from the gym (his boasting aside, those good looks required a little maintenance) and she saw his exposed neck as he shrugged out of his jacket. Somehow her attention narrowed to the pulsing vein there, and she was somewhere else: the person he was looking at was droning on, but he couldn’t understand a word, not with the blood calling to him so much more loudly. He had to stay into control. He couldn’t get afford to get kicked out of another club, not when the city had so few places that welcomed people like him. He had to find a way to feed more discreetly.

“Liv!” Ravi’s voice snapped her back.

“Gotta go find Clive,” she told him, before she could let herself feel the temptation bleeding over, so to speak, to Ravi in the present. She shuddered as she headed up to the detective’s pen. She’d felt the hunger, the desperation to feed lest she turn into an even worse monster. But what the victim (Jon, he’d been Jon) had felt was different. Thicker, richer, more like lust. It didn’t matter whether it was biological—this was a man who would have killed for the pleasure of getting what he wanted.

Clive was able to establish that the “club” Jon was worried about getting kicked out was called Blood of the Believer. Vampire-friendly (and another, less troublesome flash in the precinct hallway confirmed that Jon had even seen Vampire Steve there, albeit Jon had dismissed him as a poser).

“Let’s go,” he said, and she couldn’t explain that she was worried about turning into a bloodsucking monster, as opposed to the monster she already was. Clive just chalked her reluctance up to her usual weirdness. She was acutely aware of what Ravi had pointed out: if she gave in to Jon’s impulses and tried to drink the blood of the living, she could easily turn another human being into a zombie. So she kept her distance from Clive, as much as possible, and also from the people they passed on their way into the club.

The club was somewhere between parodic and tasteful—all black velvet drapes and Gothic flourishes, thrones for individual patrons to sit on and discreet alcoves where blood drinking was probably the most hygenic activity that went on.

The bouncer recognized Jon’s picture (from the neck up, of course). “Yeah, he’s a regular. Comes in every couple of nights. Used to be with this one girl all the time, but lately he’s been playing the field.”

“Know any names?” Clive asked.

“Lilah was the main squeeze,” the bouncer said. “Don’t remember her last name, but I’d know her if I saw her again. Most of the others I’m not sure of the names, almost none of them were regulars, but there was Yvonne. Nguyen, I think her name is.”

Yvonne worked at a startup downtown, and when they were ushered into her office, the first thing Liv noticed was the scarf around her neck—opaque silk, blue-green and tempting. Her mouth watered from a momentary flash of unwrapping a similar scarf from that lovely neck, anticipating how hot and sweet the blood would taste.

In the background, Clive was confirming Yvonne’s alibi for the time of the murder: it turned out that she’d been at a conference in Los Angeles. There was a YouTube video of her panel. Given the travel times involved, it would’ve been all but impossible for her to have killed Jon within the available time of death window.

“Do you know of anyone who might’ve wanted to hurt Jon?” Clive asked, and Liv forced herself to pay attention.

Yvonne shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said. “We only went out a few times. I wasn’t looking for anything serious, so we didn’t talk about anything heavy.”

“This is an awkward question,” Clive said, “but did he ever … bite you?”

Yvonne’s hand went to her throat. Liv’s focus narrowed to those slim fingers, caressing the concealing fabric. Yvonne’s voice was lower when she answered. “I liked it. That’s, um, that’s how we matched, you know, on the app.”

Clive waited until they got outside to express his opinion on the existence of an app for people who were into creature roleplay. Unsurprisingly, that opinion was not favorable.

Liv, meanwhile, was wondering whether she ought to get an account on Monstr, and it wasn’t just Jon’s brain that made her tone sharp when she told him not to be a prude. “Everyone needs someone, and if they’re both enjoying themselves, it’s nobody else’s business!”

Clive’s frown reminded her that her secret was not safe with him. “He bit her and drank her blood!”

“And she enjoyed it! Trust me, I was there, in my vision I mean.”

“I definitely do not want to hear any more about that,” Clive said. “But you don’t think she’s a suspect.”

Liv shook her head. “They parted on good terms, last time they saw each other. She seemed pretty much the same talking to us as she did with him.”

“Then I think we might have to look into this app,” Clive said. They drove back to the precinct in silence, Clive watching the road ahead and Liv going back and forth between not wanting to look at him so that she wouldn’t think about drinking his blood and not wanting to look at him because he was a person she liked who’d be revolted if he knew the truth—and he wasn’t wrong.

She headed back to the morgue. “How’d it go?” Ravi asked, coming out of the back where the zombie rat experiments were hidden.

She shrugged. “I vant to drink your blood,” she said, “but I still have no idea whether that’s psychological or something else.”

“Luckily, I’ve procured some blood for you.” Ravi opened the refrigerator and pointed to two packets. “The first is donated blood—from a living donor. My preference would be for you to try that first. Some of the mythologies say that dead man’s blood is poisonous to vampires, which would be a rather ironic interaction. But if the first doesn’t do anything for you, we ought to try a small amount of the second, just to test my zompire theory.”

Liv regarded him with some skepticism. “I thought not poisoning me was something we were working on.”

Ravi waved a hand dismissively. “Just a small amount. For science!”

Liv sighed and put out her hand. “All right, let’s do this.”

As it turned out, donated blood was no worse than any normal food she’d tried since her zombification. It tasted like someone else’s spit, and that was all. The most disappointing part was the flash she got just before drinking of Jon’s pleasure at gorging himself on blood. A part of her wanted that for herself. Even if it had worked, there was no guarantee that she wouldn’t just start to need both blood and brains, but if Jon was any indication vampires had a far more pleasurable relationship to their condition than zombies did. Or maybe Jon had simply been a psychopath like Blaine.

After an hour, Liv tried a mouthful of the dead body blood, which was unsurprisingly worse in texture but no different in effect. Half disappointed, half relieved, she helped Ravi with the routine tasks of the morgue—the autopsies that weren’t about murder and the paperwork that accumulated fast enough that they could’ve mummified the corpses with the printouts.

“It’s strange, you know,” she mused as they prepared a body for transport to its destination funeral home. “I’m in his head, and I still can’t tell whether he was really a vampire. He knew he was—it wasn’t even a question to him—but I can’t tell if that’s meaningful.”

“Unless you get a flash of him turning into a bat, we may never know.”

“Even that might not be good enough, given my experience with hallucinations,” she pointed out.

“Tragic,” Ravi agreed. “But at least we tried.”

“Tried what?” Clive said, and they both turned.

Ravi took a beat, then answered using his best I-think-I’m-smooth tone: “The new dumpling place a few blocks away. Not recommended, I fear.”

“Yeah, well, neither is that Monstr app,” Clive says. “Turns out, once the subpoena came through, our victim matched with a woman who’s been all around the country, matching with lots of folks. Including three other murder victims.”

Ravi’s eyes widened. “So you’re telling me we’re dealing with a rogue vampire hunter?”

“Not what I would’ve said, but let’s go with that.” Clive turned to Liv. “Just wanted to let you know, we picked the killer up an hour ago. She’s not denying anything. Says her parents were killed by vampires and that she’s making the world a safer place. I don’t even think it’s a scam to stay out of jail. I think she’s serious. Believes so much in monsters, she became a monster herself.”

“That’s terrible,” Liv made herself say.

Clive sighed. “I’m not saying I approve and I don’t even understand, but you’re right—our victim’s fetish shouldn’t’ve gotten him killed. He was just a weirdo, but aren’t we all, in our own ways?”

“Excuse me, I am manifestly normal, albeit far more handsome than average,” Ravi said, gamely doing his best to keep Clive from noticing how shaken Liv was. Sure enough, Clive snorted and made his goodbyes while Liv stared blankly at the corpse on the table in front of them.

“As far as we know, Jon never hurt anyone, at least not beyond consensual blood-drinking,” she said at last. “Vampire or not, the idea alone was enough to get him killed.”

“That’s not going to happen to you,” Ravi said. “I promise.”

And even if Liv didn’t dare hug him with Jon’s brain and bloodlust still in her system, it was enough, for the moment, that she wanted to.

2. Boomer

“Why do people have more sympathy for animals than for other people?” Clive asked. “This woman is a murder victim, and everyone is upset that the killer also killed the dog.”

“You work for the police, Clive, you know why people don’t sympathize with other people. They know other people,” Ravi said matter-of-factly. “Animals are far more congenial as a rule; even when they’re rude, it’s not generally because they’re judging you, though I have met more than one cat I’d characterize as a deliberate jerk. But, quick question, did you bring the dog's body—no pun intended!—to the morgue?”

“No pun intended?” Clive repeated dubiously, which led Ravi to explain the concept of a “dogsbody,” while Liv went to prep the body and discovered that yes, the German Shepherd’s body was also present, even before Clive got around to explaining that they were hoping that the coroner could collect physical evidence, on the off chance that the dog had gotten a bite or a scratch in—after all, the killer might well have killed the dog as retribution for the attack of a loyal companion on its human’s murderer.

“So does your … thing—” (here Clive made the gesture that he thought meant “psychic” and everyone else thought meant “crazy”)—“work on animals?”

Both Liv and Ravi paused to contemplate that question, though Liv personally felt that Ravi probably looked sillier, his mouth frozen open as he got in position to give an answer before actually having one.

She’d never felt any desire to eat animal brains. But then again, she wasn’t around a lot of animals on a regular basis, especially not ones with brains large enough to provide a substantial meal. Even though her apartment building had a mouse problem, she didn’t see them skittering across the floor on a regular basis, and there might not be enough brain in one to trigger zombie hunger.

“I’m gonna have to get back to you on that,” she said at last.

A few minutes later, they were discussing the possibilities as Ravi began the ordinary evidence collection from the canine corpse. “Lots of cultures consume animal brains,” Liv pointed out. “If this works, I could be just a pasty cultural appropriator rather than a brain-eating cannibal monster.”

“That would be an improvement,” Ravi agreed. “Though not many murder victims are thoughtful enough to get murdered next to an animal companion, so it could interfere with your sleuthing.”

“I’d take it,” she said. “The Seattle police department solved murders before me and it can solve murders without me.”

“Yes, but it would be much less fun for me,” Ravi said.

Of course, Liv still couldn’t go back to being a doctor for the living, even if animal brains kept her un-alive. Too many chances for accidental blood contact, even if she stayed gloved and gowned with all the fervor of an immunocompromised germphobe.

But there was no point in speculating in advance of the evidence.

In what might’ve been an unconscious homage to Lady and the Tramp, she made spaghetti and meatballs. The dog’s brains were substantially smaller than a human’s. Once cooked, they didn’t taste any different.

They waited a full day before admitting that it hadn’t worked. Ravi’s promised treats and scritches went ungiven. She ate the brain of the human victim.

“It’s probably for the best,” Ravi said, afterwards, somehow managing to avoid sounding pitying. “Given your general reaction to the brains you eat, I don’t think we really wanted you going around smelling crotches and peeing on your work area.”

Liv snorted dismissively—the victim had compensated for her inability to handle strong emotions with sarcasm and other deflections—and made sure that Boomer’s body was delivered to the family along with the victim’s, so that they could be buried together.

3. The professor

“The victim taught property law at the University of Seattle,” Clive said.

Ravi groaned. “A lawyer?”

“Worse,” Clive said. “A law professor.”

Which was how Liv managed to surprise Peyton that evening by delivering a lecture on the importance of the Rule Against Perpetuities. It wasn’t, she explained, that the Rule had much continuing value in itself—though it could still cost a business or a wealthy heir millions of dollars if the lawyers weren’t paying attention—but that the Rule was useful for teaching the methods of law itself. Lawyers have to know how to follow a set of facts through the complicated set of branching rules that apply until they arrive at a correct result. That’s not what all law is like, but enough of it is to make the Rule a useful pedagogical tool.

“Okay,” Peyton said, with the tolerance that she’d slowly been developing for Liv’s weirdness. “My property professor said that she wasn’t going to cover it because we’d learn it for bar review, and now all I remember is that it’s part of the plot of Body Heat.”

Liv made a frustrated noise. “That movie isn’t even accurate about Florida law!”

“Okay,” Peyton said again, drawing it out more. “Say, read any good books lately?”

Liv gave her up as a lost cause and went back to work.

But when she got there, Ravi (who’d stayed behind to fiddle with the rats) was also annoying. “Peyton aside,” he told her, “doctors are by default sexy and interesting, and lawyers are the opposite. Our education lets us save people; theirs lets them confuse and entrap people.”

“Really,” Liv said. “Doctors have been responsible for a number of atrocities, usually in the name of science. Doctors can use their positions to take a patient’s cells and make a billion dollars from the resulting patents without sharing anything with the patient. They can misdiagnose and mistreat them and cover it up because results aren’t guaranteed. They can tell women that they aren’t really in pain and that they should see a shrink for their undiagnosed autoimmune disorders. Lawyers are the ones who have to come in and clean up those messes, because doctors won’t regulate themselves. All professions are political and all of life is a struggle. At least lawyers can admit it and willingly fight each other in the interests of their clients.”

“Wow,” Ravi said and fled to “get more rat food.” Apparently no one was willing to have an actual conversation with her, probably beause of their insufficient commitment to intellectual engagement.

The next day, Clive likewise left her alone after she challenged the police for their well-known practices of testilying, witness intimidation, and overpolicing. She had to call him on the phone and tell him about the flash of the threatening emails she’d—the victim had—received over the past few months.

As it turned out, he’d been killed by a former student who thought that the professor’s failure to give him a recommendation was the start of his spiral into failure.

“I think,” Ravi said late that afternoon, “that a steady diet of murder victims is not necessarily good for your mental health. They seem to …”

“Have it coming?” Liv suggested. She didn’t want to think that, but on some of the brains it was hard not to do so.

“Be in difficult circumstances,” Ravi temporized. “It’s an unfortunate subset of the population.”

“I have to,” she said. “Not just to survive, even though there is that. But even if I could eat just brains from people who passed easily in their sleep, that would be wrong. I can help them get justice. No matter how awful they were in life, that life was theirs. If I can catch killers, then that’s what I have to do.”

“I know,” Ravi said gently.

They stood in silence for a few moments. Liv held back tears; she wasn’t sure whether crying would be self-pitying or grateful. “I think I’m going to get Indian as a peace offering for Peyton,” she said when she’d regained some composure. “Want to join us?”

“Spicy food and Peyton? Let me think—yes, I do want to join you.”

She grinned at him, and for the rest of the night Liv refused to let any zombie-related concerns distract her—not even the manifest violations of FERPA and other laws shown on the latest episode of Zombie High.

4. The thief

At first Liv wasn’t sure if she’d somehow accidentally gotten a bunch of brains mixed together. There’d be a flash of doing a bank teller’s job, wearing conservative clothes and a blonde bob seen in the reflection of the computer screen, along with a nametag that said Sarah. Then a flash at a stable, putting a horse back into its stall, all decked out in riding gear down to the silly puffy pants, and a voice calling her Naomi. Then a nondescript man leaning down to kiss her in the foyer of a warm, cinnamon-smelling house, a huge engagement ring on her finger clashing with the ugly Christmas sweaters they were both wearing. “Mom, Dad, this is Trixie,” the man said, turning to look at the couple emerging from further down the hallway. Then a flash of putting on black lipstick in a dingy club bathroom, tattoos all up and down her arms and the glint of a diamond nose stud. The victim didn’t have tattoos, or scars from their removal; the same for the nose stud.

When they figured out that the tattoos had been stage makeup and the nose stud had been magnetized, that was a big clue that their victim was, in a real way, more than one woman.

“We can’t say for certain,” Clive explained, “because she seems to be very good at creating false identities, using real people who died young and then creating a background for each character. But the earliest name we can trace is Margaret Edgar. She ingratiates herself in some small but successful business or with a wealthy family, she steals, and she leaves.”

Liv was at first grateful that this thief wasn’t a shoplifter, as with her very first case. She wasn’t tempted to take small items. Instead, she felt herself leaning into what each person thought about her—for Clive, it was the ditzy psychic. For Ravi, the noble suffering subject of science. For Peyton, the formerly trustworthy but now unreliable friend trying to re-earn trust—and Liv was acutely aware of the irony there, because on the next brain she might well be unreliable again, but for the moment she was the best listener anyone could want, and Peyton (like so many of Margaret’s marks) wanted to believe.

She had to avoid Major. Except for being broke, he was Margaret’s perfect target—handsome and honorable, unable to see the duplicity around him. Margaret might’ve seduced him just on general principles, even if she wouldn’t have stayed around. She also had the strong feeling that it would be a bad idea to see her mom on Margaret’s brain. Margaret’s view wasn’t completely clear-eyed—she saw vulnerabilities and the opportunity for exploitation without seeing the good parts of people—but it was unvarnished enough that Liv was afraid of what she’d see.

In the end, they made good use of Margaret’s skills when they had the main suspect in interrogation. Liv was a good three inches shorter than Margaret had been, but, dressed up properly and with a little putty and a lot of makeup, she could pass inspection. Especially when her interlocutor was completely shocked to see her putatively alive.

Trixie’s ex-fiance bolted upright when she came in. “You’re dead!” he said, accurately but unhelpfully. Clive hovered by the door, in case things turned violent.

“Surprise, sweetie,” she said, Margaret’s contempt adding texture to the chipper delivery.

“But I—”

“Killed someone who you thought was me? Despite the different name and hair and everything else? That seems more like a ‘you’ problem than a ‘me’ problem. Honestly I thought you’d be more chill—”

“You ruined my life!” he roared. “I broke up with my girlfriend for you! You drained my accounts and put a mortgage on my parents’ house! I’m a laughingstock in town!”

Liv shrugged. “Guess you should’ve been more careful with your financial information. And where you put your—”

“Oh-kay,” Clive interrupted. “Now that you’ve seen Ms. Edgar, let’s get back to where you were on the night of the fifth.”

But Paul, who’d always been a little slow on the uptake, was stuck. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, it can’t be. You—she—she knew me. She laughed at me. She kept laughing right up until I—”

Clive produced a pen and a pad of yellow paper. “Why don’t you write it all down, right here.”

Liv was bored and left; Clive was too busy talking Paul into giving up his freedom to make any comment.

Back in the morgue, which had a distinct lack of the spa equipment and attendants she would’ve preferred, Ravi was cleaning up.

“I don’t get it,” she told him as he shut a drawer. “This whole schtick you have, saving humanity or whatever. Nobody believed you and it got you fired from the CDC, and now you’re in a basement instead of making bank and dating hotties.”

Ravi did not turn to look at her. “First of all, I’ll thank you to refrain from criticizing my dating choices, and second, that’s the brain talking, not you.”

She knew Ravi was right, but that made it worse somehow. “Maybe I’m the sucker. There’s got to be a way to use this brain-eating business for something valuable.”

“What,” Ravi asked, “like finding people with valuable secrets, killing them, and then selling those secrets? It’s a limited market, and many of the people who might participate in it have guns and would much rather you didn’t have a choice of where to sell your services. If you don’t like the morgue, consider its superiority to a windowless bunker.” He crossed the floor, heading to their administrative area, and began making coffee.

Liv followed him and imagined herself stuffing Margaret down, down, into silence. She wouldn’t be controlled by someone else’s brain, dammit. “You’ve given that some thought,” she observed.

“The risk that you could be snatched up by a nefarious government agency and used for black ops? Yes, the idea has occurred.”

“Eh, they’d probably just kill me,” she joked, though she could tell it had fallen flat as soon as she’d said it.

“Our aim is to avoid any sort of official discovery, terminal or otherwise,” he said. He was really worried, she realized, as he still refused to look her way.

“Thank you,” she said, which made him pause with the coffee filter still in his hand. “I know I cause a lot of stress in your life, and it can’t be easy when you don’t even know who I’m going to be day to day.” Was this Margaret working a target again? It was something Margaret might have said to produce an effect. But that didn’t make it untrue.

“Liv,” he said, “it’s my honor to work with you. I think you experience these brains so profoundly because of your deep compassion and empathy for others. Do you think Blaine would even notice if he ate a sociopath?”

“Better question: would he notice if he ate a humanitarian?” Liv sobered. “Anyway—just so you know: back at you, on the honor thing.”

Ravi put his hand to his heart. “Your eloquence, as ever, astounds me.” But he was smiling as he said it.

5. The astronaut

Even though they couldn’t bring Clive in on the investigation into the brains Major had retrieved, there still needed to be an investigation. Blaine was killing people and there might be a way to give the victim’s loved ones some closure, at the very least. So Liv made a quick stir-fry and dug in.

Without any way to determine where to look for clues, she settled on trying a random image generator on the internet, hoping that something would trigger a vision. She hadn’t appreciated before just how much it helped to know the basic circumstances of the victim.

Puppy, sunflower, ball of yarn, refrigerator, junked-out red truck—image after image flashed by, meaning nothing more to her than usual. Close-up on hands wearing pink nail polish, lion, cranberries. Then—

One of the classic pictures of Earth from space, a big blue marble.

And he was there, looking out at it through the window. He was in space, in fucking space! His suit was soaked with sweat and worse (everybody shits their pants, his mentor had said; the trick is not to eat anything before liftoff that will make a real mess). The capsule was quieter than he’d expected, and he thought he could already feel himself swelling up from the lack of gravity. Too bad that didn’t work on dicks, he thought, not that astronauts hadn’t been trying for years.

“He’s a freakin’ astronaut!” Liv yelled, back to herself.

“An astronaut,” Ravi said, coming over to her workstation. “I have to admit, that’s more impressive than a doctor … though not very much more.”

Liv was tapping away, searching for astronauts in the news. She didn’t have to search far. “Actually, it says here that Alan York has a PhD in astrophysics.”

“I stand corrected.”

“Yeah, well, he floated, but then again he ended up murdered for his brains, so it’s kind of a tossup.”

Unfortunately, most of his memories weren’t that cool. Astronauts pulled a bunch of pranks on each other (the one with the corned beef sandwich would, sadly, never be erased from Liv’s mind) and drank an awful lot, it turned out. Also, peeing in zero gravity was no fun. Nor could she get an image of his killer; she didn’t even get a flash of his last moments. Given Blaine’s plans, she wouldn’t put it past him to be careful to do the killing from behind, so that not even a zombie could identify the murderer.

And without a body, she couldn’t bring Clive into the investigation. “Yeah, some guy dropped off a box of brains, no idea who” was unlikely to prove convincing, and Clive was already far too suspicious of Major. She couldn’t even give the family a bit of closure via an anonymous note, without anything to back up her claims.

Blaine’s evil had once again dragged her in, and she didn’t know how to get out. She was drowning in anger—her own, not Alan York’s, even though he’d once gotten so belligerent at a reunion that he’d had to be restrained by MPs. Helpless, like he’d been when they’d told him he was too old for another mission, that it was time to let younger men take their chances; the US space program was barely operational at its best, and three missions should be enough for any man.

It hadn’t been enough, just like what she did in the morgue wasn’t enough. Not when Blaine was out there making corpses, leaving Liv to run cleanup.

“I should’ve killed him when I had the chance,” she told Ravi, who had been hovering ever since Liv had kicked over a supply cart in her justified but impotent rage.

“I know how you feel,” Ravi said, which made her huff, since obviously he didn’t; he wasn’t one of the special few, the elect, the ones singled out from humanity.

“Liv,” he said, pulling her up to face him. She almost tore out of his grasp, but he squeezed her arms and said her name again: “Liv. We are going to bring him to justice. We are going to cure zombieism, and we are going to make sure that what happened to Alan York doesn’t happen again. Just—stay with me.”

She took deep breaths, matching Ravi’s rhythm. She was not Alan York; she was not lost in a past of glory. She was here, and what she did have in common with the astronauts was that she was part of a team.

She thought of the Earth, that immense curve of the planet, that fragile envelope of air surrounding all the rest of humanity, so vast and yet appearing so small in the distance from the Moon. She thought of the bravery it took to get into a can strapped to a rocket—a contraption that had killed a substantial number of the people who’d gone before—and to go to space, so that humanity could break the bonds of gravity and expand the realms of possibility. Everyone on that trip had been petty humans, not that different from the people on the ground, but they had also been reaching for the stars.

If Alan York could find the necessary courage just for a shot at the glory of being an astronaut, then surely Liv could do the same to survive being a zombie and to give others the hope of a cure.

“You’re right,” she told Ravi. “Let’s go do our moonshot.”