The meeting was to take place on the Boardwalk in Venice. We came from miles around, each making our way through the darkened streets lit by the occasional fire that hadn’t gone out yet.
From as far away as Santa Monica, Culver City, and Marina Del Rey we came. One family, a yuppie couple and their daughter, traveled all the way from Cheviot Hills, picking their way along Palms. We walked mostly in silence, each of us absorbed in his or her own thoughts on the subject we knew would be discussed at the meeting. It was the most pressing question of our time, and it deserved careful consideration. This was not a thing to be decided lightly.
I nodded to an engineer from Symantec, still wearing his name badge. He nodded back, but we were soon separated by the flow of other walkers. Ever since the Outbreak, it has been too dangerous to drive cars. With no street lights, you never knew what you were going to run into.
The press of bodies grew deeper and deeper as we turned onto Market Street. The meeting place was at the very end, near the skate park. As I tried to find a decent place to stand where I could see the concrete bench the speaker would use as a make-shift stage, a bikini-clad girl in roller skates bumped into me. She shot me an apologetic smile, glancing down at her skates. Clearly, they would be a problem for her now, but what could she do? We all had problems. I, myself, had left early even though I had only been a couple of miles away when the call went out for the meeting. I knew that my shattered fibula would slow me down, and I was not wrong about that. I arrived towards the back of the pack, only a few minutes before the speaker began.
I used the time to scan the crowd. It was a grim sight. There were very few in perfect health. One of the first victims of the Outbreak was, logically enough, health care. To my left was a woman in a waitress outfit with a Coco’s badge, sporting what looked to my untrained eye like a particularly nasty head wound. On my right was a man in a business suit, holding his daughter who was clearly missing her left leg below the knee. In front of me, two teen aged girls stood. One was helping the other to stand, as her friend had a clearly and badly broken ankle. No one spoke, but the groans of pain from the injured masses threatened to drown out the crash-boom of the waves coming in just yards away.
Finally it was time, and the speaker shuffled up onto the bench. He had to be helped up by a couple of other guys, and he swayed for a moment as he took his place. I recognized him. He had been a local politician before the Outbreak. Somewhere along the lines he had lost his suit coat, although he still had his tie. His white shirt front was dark with blood, and from the way he held his hand to his stomach, I guessed that he had been stabbed there.
As he stood, looking out at us, the crowd gradually fell silent. He took his time, judging the moment to perfection as we all gazed up at him, waiting. Wisely, I felt, he skipped any speeches or preliminaries. We all knew why we were here, what the issue at hand was. For what was probably the first time in his life, he chose to forgo the self-aggrandizement of public speaking and instead get right to the heart of the matter. He called for a vote instantly.
“Braains?” he asked.
As one, seven thousand voices replied in unanimous consent, “Braaaaaaaaiiinnssssss!”
And so it was decided.