AUTHOR'S NOTE: This flash fiction piece was written for Magpie Tales and Sunday Scribblings. Although it is set in the same world as Steal Tomorrow it is part of a new series of stories centered around new characters. Check the "Extras" section of the sidebar for more stories in this series.
"This is a bad idea," Jamail said.
"It'll be fine," Petra reassured him. "We're just getting the story, not trying to bring anyone to justice."
Jamail shook his head and looked around at the broken windows, destroyed traffic signs and streets filthy with the disgorged muck of backed-up sewers. "Like there's any justice in this place."
"Don't be so dramatic."
"It's the end of the world." Jamail waved a hand in exasperation. "All the adults are dead, we're infected and will die soon too, and in the meantime we're living like animals. There's no way to describe it that isn't dramatic."
"It's just a pandemic."
"'Just a pandemic.' Petra, listen to yourself. Ever since you got this idea that we need a news service—"
"Hush." Petra put a hand on his arm. "That's him over there, by the red sofa."
"What's a sofa doing out here by—"
"End of the world, remember?" Petra hurried up to the boy, who was looking around anxiously and cradling his arm at an odd angle. "Hi, I'm Petra Madari, and you must be Casey James."
The boy stared with round eyes. "Uh, yeah."
"Thanks for agreeing to meet me here."
"Sure." He glanced around. "Just make it quick, okay? And don't use my name in your story."
"But—" Petra glanced at Jamail, who threw up his hands as if to ask what she had expected. "The whole point of putting your story in the paper is to make sure other kids know how to avoid the trouble you ended up in. If I don't print you name, they might not think it's true."
The boy rolled his eyes. "Use any name. With so many dead people, how will they know?"
Before she could concede he had a point, Jamail grabbed her arm, his fingers digging into her flesh through the long sleeves of her coat. "Pharms." He pointed with his other hand at the teenage boys running toward them with white lab coats and face paint branding them as members of the most powerful gang in the city.
With a yelp, the boy took off at a sprint. Petra clutched her notebook to her chest. "They won't want us. We're just—"
"Investigating." Jamail pulled her down the street, into an alleyway, up an unused fire escape and into an apartment building where the reek of pandemic dead still lingered. "I told you you're going to get yourself killed," he said, letting go of her arm. He went to peer out the window, making sure they hadn't been followed.
"Journalists are impartial," Petra said, breathing heavily. She smoothed her sleeve with an injured air.
"You think the Pharms care about that?"
"But I only—"
"Wanted to get the story. I know." Certain now that they were alone, he moved a little closer but resisted the temptation to take her in his arms. Would she ever come to care for him the way he cared for her? "Look, how about we stick with safer types of reporting for now? Why don't you write about which of these kids with food stands offers a decent meal and which of the street performers has a good show?"
Petra nodded slowly. "I guess that would be safer. For now."
Jamail beamed. "That's my girl. Now let's go check out that jazz trio on Eleventh. You can write a story about them."
With a small nod of assent, Petra followed him. A jazz trio playing on the street corner for donations was hardly the scoop of the century, but it was safe, at least. For now that was all that mattered.
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