“I promise, honey,” Bishop said.
“And you promise you won’t let the zombies get me?” Stella sniffled.
“I cross my heart and hope to die,” Bishop said, and I grimaced.
Stella finally relented. She sat down and dangled her legs over the branch. Then she slid off the edge and fell into Bishop’s waiting arms.
“I’ve got you, sweetie,” Bishop said, cradling the little girl and comforting her. “Everything is going to be okay.”
She whispered soothing words into Stella’s hair, then turned around toward us. She was rocking the child gently in her arms until she saw our faces. Daniels, Serg, Boden, and I were all standing in a line, staring at her grimly.
“What?” Bishop asked. She paled, and her gray eyes were scared, but she honestly didn’t seem to understand what would be wrong. “What’s going on?”
“Bishop, you’ve been bitten,” Boden said matter-of-factly.
“What?” She shook her head. “No, I wasn’t.”
“We saw it,” Boden said.
“You saw it?” Her eyes furrowed in confusion. “Where?”
“It’s on your back.” Daniels pointed at her, as if that would clarify the spot. “When your shirt rose up, we all saw it.”
“No, I didn’t get bit.” She shook her head again and turned, lifting up her shirt and trying to see it. “I was scratched. That’s all. I never got bitten.”
“Bishop, we know the difference between a scratch and a bite,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“But…” She’d started backing up, still holding Stella in her arms, and that’s when it first occurred to me that we might have a problem. “I might be immune. You’re immune. I could be like that.”
I was a little stunned to hear Bishop say that. I’m not sure how she knew I was immune, except that Bishop seemed like the kind of person that knew things. She was in charge at the quarantine. Or maybe she’d just overheard me talking with Daniels.
“You might be immune,” Boden agreed. “But you probably aren’t. We’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, though, and we’ll let you go off alone. But you can’t stay with us anymore.”
“You can’t!” Bishop insisted, and her eyes had gotten a wild glint to them. “You can’t separate me from the children! I’m the only one Stella trusts!”
“Please don’t make it harder than it is,” I said. “Just put Stella down.”
Stella, sensing the tension, had begun to cry again. She clung tighter to Bishop, which did not help the situation at all.
“What’s going on?” Max asked, sounding frightened. I’m sure he understood what was happening – at least the part about Bishop being infected. I think he’d asked more because he was afraid of what was going to happen.
“Just stay back, Max,” I said and stepped closer to Bishop. “Just put Stella down, and we’ll talk about it.”
“No.” Bishop shook her head fiercely. “I’m not letting her go. I’m not infected, and she needs me.”
“Bishop, be reasonable.” Boden stepped closer to her, so we were starting to circle her.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Serg stepping away. But Bishop didn’t notice. She was too focused on Boden and me, who were closing in on her.
“You were a good leader,” Boden went on. “You always did what was best for the people. And what’s best for the people is putting the little girl down.”
“I am a good leader, but you’re not,” Bishop said, and tears were fresh in her eyes. “Remy, you shouldn’t be listening to him. He’s wrong about this. I can take care of your brother and Stella. You can’t listen to him.”
“He’s right, Bishop,” I said. “And you know it.”
She backed away from us, but she wasn’t looking where she was going. Her eyes were fixed on Boden and me, and she didn’t see Serg coming up behind her.
Serg pulled out his hunting knife, and I nearly winced when I saw it, but I managed to keep my expression neutral. I didn’t know what he planned to do to Bishop, but we needed to get Stella away from her. If Bishop ran off with her and became a zombie, it would be horrendous.
“You’re wrong,” Bishop kept saying as if that would convince us somehow.
Then Serge was behind her. Using his free hand, he grabbed onto her hair, and she gasped loudly when he pushed the blade into her back. I’d been terrified that he’d stab her or slit her throat, but since she was still breathing, I guessed he was only pressing it there so she knew he had it.
“That’s my knife,” Serg said, his voice low in her ear. His grip on her hair held her to him, and her eyes darted around. “I don’t want to kill you in front of the little girl, and I don’t think you want that either. So put her down, and I’ll let you live.”
“Please,” Bishop pleaded, and Serg pushed the knife harder in her back, making her wince. “Fine! I’ll put her down.”
Serg still hung onto her, so she couldn’t run away, but he moved the knife back, so Bishop could bend down and put Stella on the ground. Stella tried to hang onto her, but Bishop pushed her away with tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Come here, Stella,” Daniels said. He stood behind me and Boden, back with Max, and he crouched down and held his arms out to her.
Stella cried, standing there bewildered for a few seconds, then she dashed past me and ran into Daniels’ waiting arms. He scooped her up and held her to him, letting her cry into his shoulder.
“What are you going to do now?” Bishop asked when she stood back up. Serg still hung onto her hair, with his knife in her back. “Are you going to gut me?”
“No, I’ll let you live if you promise to go away and never come back,” Serg said.
“What if I’m not infected?” Bishop asked, wiping at her nose. “Because I’m not.”
“I don’t care,” Serg said. “Don’t come back. Just go away.”
She sniffled, then nodded. “Fine.”
Serg let go of her, then circled back around to stand by me. He still had his knife out, in case she decided to try something, and her eyes darted between us.
“I’m not infected,” Bishop insisted, rubbing the back of her head. “I’m not. You’re making a horrible mistake.”