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March 25th

Tom hits Philadelphia as the sun is starting to sink in the west, sending his shadow out in front of him. It's the usual bizarrely empty cityscape, same as Detroit and Harrisburg. It's just weirder, this time, because Philadelphia has a sense of history. The buildings all look so old. It's like walking into a very newly wrecked Colosseum.

Tom wonders vaguely how the Liberty Bell stood up to the apocalypse.

He's learned his lesson about urban areas, and he has his gun out as he walks along I-76. The further he gets into the city, the more picked over things look. That means people, which might explain the lack of zombies. It does make it kind of awkward to scavenge anything for the night, though.

He starts seeing signs that point towards "University of Pennsylvania," though, about when he hits what looks like a railroad switching . . . thingy . . . junction? Anyway. U Penn. He perks up and follows the signs. Colleges, even the ones that have been heavily scavenged, tend to have stores of food and water, and often people living on them. Hell, if you can find an old dorm with normal locks on the doors instead of keycards, you can even sleep someplace safe.

. . . The problem with college campuses, he remembers, is that it's freaking impossible to tell what's what from the outside. He's about ready to throw up his hands and sleep in some lobby when he hears a cheerful female voice call across the way. "Hey!"

Turning, he spots a tall brunette in a messenger cap hurrying his way, waving. He waves back, tentatively, and she breaks into a trot.

"Hey!" she repeats, once she's closer. "Dude, come on, it's getting dark, you have to get inside."

"--Um!" he says, surprised. "Yeah, I'm trying to -- are there--? Is there anywhere I can sleep?"

"Yeah, come on!" She gestures back the way she came. "Theatre building's right this way. We'll get you set up."

It turns out her name is Rebecca, she's an English major, or was, and in spite of her easy, toothy grin, she's watching their surroundings carefully. She ushers him into an imposing building via an unimposing door marked BACKSTAGE, and then up a flight of winding concrete stairs to a balcony overlooking the demolished lobby.

"So," Tom asks, glancing over the railing, "why're you staying in the theater? Isn't it just a big empty space?"

"Well, we're staying in the classrooms mostly. Anyway, all the techies kind of congregated here, and they know how to build stuff and work electrics, so we've got repairs and some power. Plus I think there are more vending machines in this building than in any other one on cam--"

"Jesus Christ!" Tom interrupts. "There's a zombie down there!"

He's already grabbing for his gun as Rebecca strides over and follows his gaze. When he brings it up and takes aim, though, she puts out a hand.

"No, no, wait, don't! You don't have to shoot her! Hold on a sec--"

She darts for a room, and Tom watches her go, thinking sourly Great, just like Shaun. He watches the zombie down below -- what used to be a skinny curly-haired girl, with a pair of much mangled glasses still incongruously perched on her nose -- stagger vaguely around the lobby. Rebecca returns a minute later lugging a cardboard box.

"What're those?"

Rebecca grins. "Watch this." She reaches into the box and pulls out -- a book, very battered. "Bombs away," Rebecca tells him cheerfully, and hurls the book at the zombie. It lands short, with a thumb, but the zombie makes a distressed noise.

Tom reaches into the box and pulls out another book, staring at the cover. "Atlas Shrugged?"

"It only works with Ayn Rand," Rebecca explains, pulling out a copy of The Fountainhead. "Beats me why, though I can't really blame her. If I ever get bitten I expect people to pelt me with copies of Judith Butler."

She flings the book. It lands at the zombie's feet, and she shies -- well, shambles -- away in what has got to be disgust.

"That is the weirdest fucking thing I have ever seen, and I have seen some weird shit."

Rebecca leans on the railing, watching the zombie finally stagger her way out one of the ruined glass doors. "I think it's sad. I think she's just trying to get to the library and she can't remember the way. She just kind of circles campus; comes through here about once a week." Straightening, she adds, "We'll go get the books in the morning and re-use them. Now, you probably want somewhere to sleep, right?"

Shaking his head, Tom follows her up another flight of stairs to the costume shop, where he finds that a few bolts of muslin make a much better pillow than he'd expect. Or maybe he's just that tired from the last five days.

Either way, he sleeps like a log.

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Tom

April 2011

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