Casimir and John descended the stairs together.
Amy was sprawled on the floor, clutching her head. Dominic, although in his wheelchair, didn't look any better; he only looked more upright. They both groaned.
"What was that?" Dominic asked.
"Our friend Cazgivicus decided to put in an appearance," Casimir said.
"Who's that?" Dominic asked.
Amy and Casimir explained.
"But who chased him off?" Amy asked.
"I did," Casimir said.
"Hunh," Amy grunted. "Where's the infamous Jane?" Amy asked while she stood up.
John shook his head while he went to go stand by Dominic. Amy looked away, into the dead eyes of the zombies that pressed against the glass.
"She's gone," Casimir said. Amy had been right, at least in part. They had headed away, or at least perpendicular, from safety because of him. Now that rescuing Jane was gone, he had to do everything that he could to get them back to the museum. "She must have been one of the first to turn. I gave her what mercy I could."
"You did the right thing," Dominic said, gripping John's hand that rested on his shoulder.
"We've got to move," Casimir said, looking at Amy. She grabbed her rifle and nodded.
"The front's pretty jammed up," she said, jerking her thumb over her shoulder. A wall of of zombies petted the glass next ot the door.
"The neighbors in the next building used to have rooftop cookouts. We usually went over by roof to roof transit. There's a few big boards that span the alley. I doubt that anybody removed the bridge," Casimir said.
"Can you handle that?" Dominic asked John.
"It won't be a problem," John replied.
"Good. It's only four flights up," Casimir said.
The four made their way back up the stairwell, with Casimir ignoring the open door to Jane's apartment. They found quite a lot of debris blocking the stairwell to the roof. After a bit of shoving, pushing and prodding, they had created a tunnel and one by one they crawled through. Casimir was first. He swung open the door to the roof and the long barrel of a gun immediately began picking his nose.
"Hello," Casimir said, peering down the iron sights into the eye of his assailant. Her hair fell across her other eye in a way that Casimir had always liked.
"Get your hands where I can see 'em," said the woman at the other end of the rifle.
"What's going on?" Amy asked from behind Casimir, still in the tunnel of debris and unable to assist.
"Hold on a second," he said to Amy.
"Who's with you? Whoa, you're a zombie!" the woman said, staring at Casimir's arm. The swoop of eyebrow above the eye descended into a quizzical frown. "I thought that zombie's couldn't talk."
"They can't," Casimir said.
"Are you telling me that you're not a zombie?" she asked.
"That's correct. I have a very bad infection," Casimir said.
"That's pretty gross," the woman said, still not moving her rifle.
"You're right," Casimir said.
The woman peered past Casimir.
"You broke our barricade," she said, as matter of factly as if she was saying that pigeons liked french fries.
"We made a tunnel of sorts to crawl through," Casimir said. "It's still mostly intact. It'd stop a zombie."
"You'll have to fix it," the woman said.
"Okay," Casimir said.
"One final question: how do you feel about brains?" the woman asked.
"I'm quite sick of seeing them scattered all around the place, if that's what you're asking," Casimir said.
The woman lowered the gun. Amy, John and Dominic came through, the latter sans his wheelchair.
"It wouldn't fit," John said, red in the face. "On the plus side, after all the tugging that I did to try to get it through, the barricade's not going anywhere." The woman nodded, satisfied.
"Frank, bring these folks some beans on toast!" the woman said. She pushed the door closed and sat back down onto the lawn chair on which she'd been sitting. "You'll apologize if we don't throw you a party. We've got a condo association and, well, you're not a part of it. Feel free to stay. Just don't bother us."
Dominic pulled himself into a sitting position on an air conditioner and the rest joined him.
They were on top of Jane's building. It wasn't the tallest in the area, but it gave them a good vantage point. The rest of Constantinople sprawled out around them. The brilliantly orange sunset lit plumes of smoke that stretched towards the sky. Some were the wispy trails of cookfires, like the one that emerged from their roof, while indiscriminate fires belched greasy clots in the sky.
Casimir didn't see any vapor trails above, and heard no sirens below. It occurred to him that the city had died, and like its residents, continued shambling on in a lifeless husk. In all of the houses and offices there was no life, only the automatic action of the undead.
A plate of beans on toast appeared in his hands, given to him by a scowling fat man who had a board with a nail through it tied to his leg by a bit of shoelace The wood appeared to have a rich, red stain, but Casimir quickly realized that the color hadn't come out of a can.
"Eat," Frank said. "Beans've got good protein." He gave other small plates of beans on toast to Amy, Dom and John, then stomped away.
Casimir hadn't realized how hungry he was. He inhaled the beans and toast and saw that the others did as well.
Fatigue mixed with adrenaline in Casimir's arteries to form a viscous slurry of cold battery acid.
"I hate to be the one to bring this up, but do we make the trek back to the Museum tonight?" Amy said. "The sun's going down, and if we're going to leave, we should do it soon."
"They're going to worry about us if we don't come back," Casimir said.
"It'll be more dangerous to travel at night, but I actually agree with Casimir," Amy said.
"We're safe for the evening," John said. "And Dom's lost his wheelchair. If we wait until tomorrow we might be able to find a replacement. Don't make that face at me, Dom."
Dominic's face had gone red. "I don't want to hold up your progress."
"We don't all have to go," Casimir said.
"But who's going to go?" Amy said.
"Me. I'm the only expendable one," Casimir said.
"Absolutely not," Dominic said. John nodded.
"Seriously. I'm nobody's boyfriend, I'm nobody's brother. Besides, I've got an ace...sticking out of the bottom of my sleeve," Casimir said. He held up his rotten hand and wiggled the fingers.
"Gross!" Amy said. "You can control it again?"
"So it would seem," Casimir said. "But if I went back I'd be able to let everybody know that we were, um, mostly safe."
Casimir let the memory of Emblem pass through his head for a moment.
"But it doesn't make sense for the rest of you to go," he finished.
"Me," Amy said. "I'm faster than you, I'm in better shape."
"If you're going, then I'm going with," Dominic said.
"Don't be stupid," Amy said.
"Because I don't have a wheelchair?"
"Well, yeah," Amy said.
Dominic looked prepared to have a lengthy disagreement with his sister vis-a-vis the relatively danger of her expedition with and without his assistance.
"How about we all rest and plan in the morning?" Casimir said. "This has been possibly the longest day ever. Except for yesterday."
The situation was defused. The four of them talked until the sunset, when the condo association offered them a spare yoga mat. After a row with Amy during which Dominic made it clear that he wouldn't sleep unless she took it, the three men found comfortable patches of asphalt and Amy curled up on the yoga mat.
Casimir lay staring up into the sky, admiring the stars that hadn't shone through the orange haze of the city in decades. They seemed to twinkle with the delight of re-acquainting themselves with all of the alleyways and dark places that they could tickle with their ancient luminescence.
After he heard everybody else's breathing fall into the gentle rhythm of sleep, Casimir got up and went to the fire escape. He would head back to the Museum that night, and be back before dawn.