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I entered my password to open the file. Both Shaun and I possess the legal authority to access all files stored on our servers, just in case of situations like this. The document flashed open. It was a read-only copy of the actual document, which was being held, according to the header information, by the Meissonier family lawyer back in Berkeley. For our purposes, it was more than sufficient.

Shaun slid out of his chair and stepped up behind me, resting a hand on my shoulder. Buffy left the bulk of her personal possessions to her family, her written works and literary estate to the site as a whole, and her nonfiction—which is to say, her personal files—to Shaun and me. We had the right to use her data however we saw fit. There was no mention of a successor, but that didn’t matter because that last rider told me everything we needed to know.

“Son of a bitch,” I muttered. “She knew she was going to die over this. And she knew she was doing the wrong thing, even if she didn’t want to admit it to herself. She knew.”

“How can you say that?” asked Rick.

Shaun answered for me, saying, “She left us her personal files. Why would she do that if she didn’t know we’d need something that’s in them? Maybe she felt like she had to do this, but that doesn’t mean she managed to convince herself that it was right. George ”

“Rick, I need you to find a new head for the Fictionals.” I hit Print and closed the file. “That’s your assignment for right now. Well, that and the DAR report. Shaun, I’m going to need to do a news report on what happened, but—”

“But the bulk of it’s an Irwin thing. Got it.” Shaun squeezed my shoulder before returning to his own machine. “What about Buffy’s files? The server she told us to access?”

“I’d really like that camera footage Mahir has; I was hoping to get that out of the way first. But yeah, the files. I’ll head over there now.”


“Just be quiet while I deal with this,” I said, almost more curtly than I’d meant to, and began to type.

After the End Times maintains two file servers for employee use. One, the so-called “public” server, is open to uploads and downloads by every blogger we employ, as well as every blogger even remotely affiliated with the site. If you do any work for us at all, we open an account for you on the public server, and those accounts are rarely revoked unless there’s active abuse. There’s just no point, especially since we have a tendency to reuse freelancers. Why burn goodwill on a server purge? More important, why waste time by forcing your IT person to set up the same accounts more than once? When we’re a little bigger—if we live that long—we’ll need to reconsider that policy, but it’s served us well so far.

The private server is a lot more locked down. There are presently seven people whose accounts include access to that server, and one of them is dead. Me, Mahir, and Rick from the Newsies; Buffy and Magdalene from the Fictionals; Shaun and Becks from the Irwins. That’s where we keep the important things, from private financial records to stories about the campaign that still need to have their facts verified. That server is as hack-proof as it can be because one unverified story leaked under my byline would be enough to seriously cripple, if not kill, the news section of our site.

The news is serious business. If you’re not willing to treat it that way, you shouldn’t be anywhere near it.

I opened an FTP window and fed in the address for our secure server. When it prompted me for a user name and password, I typed in soundingsea, followed by the password February-4-29. Shaun and Rick abandoned their workstations and moved to stand behind me, watching as the screen flickered once, twice, and then rolled as a video player seized control of my machine. Tapping the Escape key did nothing to stop the program from opening, and so I settled back in my seat, comforted by the presence of my team. We weren’t much, and we were dwindling by the day, but the three of us were all that we had left.

The screen stopped rolling as the much-beloved face of Buffy Meissonier became clear. She was seated cross-legged on the counter of our van, wearing her patchwork vest and a tattered broomstick skirt. I recognized that outfit; she’d been wearing it the day we left Oklahoma City, when we’d barely been speaking to one another. She’d wanted us to give it up. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, they say. Well, it was a little late now, but at least I understood why she’d wanted so badly to make us all head home. She’d been trying, in her misguided way, to save our lives.

Looking into the camera, Buffy smiled. “Hey,” she said. Her voice and expression combined to paint the picture of a woman tired beyond all reckoning, so worn through that she was no longer sure she could be patched back together again. “I guess you guys are watching this. Schrödinger’s video recording—if you can see it, it’s too late for you to tell me what the picture quality is like. Isn’t that always the way? It’s my masterpiece, and I’ll never see the reactions. I guess that means I won’t have to live with the reviews, either. I should get down to business, though, because if you’re watching this, you probably don’t have much time left to waste.

“My name is Georgette Marie Meissonier, license number delta-bravo-echo-eight-four-one-two-zero-seven. I am of sound mind and body, and I am making this recording to testify that I have willingly and knowingly participated in a campaign to defraud the American public, beginning with my business partners, Shaun Phillip Mason and Georgia Carolyn Mason. As a part of this campaign, I have fed news reports and private feeds to third parties, with the understanding that they would use this information to undercut the presidential campaign of Senator Peter Ryman, and planted recording devices in private spaces, with the understanding that the material thus collected would be used to further undermine the campaign.”