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On the screen, Buffy paused to take a deep breath, looking suddenly very young behind her exhaustion. “I didn’t know. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, and that I’d never work in the news again, but I didn’t know anyone was going to get hurt. I didn’t know until the ranch, and by then, I was in too deep to find a way out again. I’m sorry. That doesn’t bring back the dead, but it’s the truth, because I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought that when this was over, we’d be a stronger nation because of what I’d done.” A tear escaped her left eye, running down her cheek. It would have seemed overly theatrical if I hadn’t known Buffy as well as I did—knowing her, it wasn’t theatrical enough. She was really crying. “I see them when I dream. I close my eyes, and they’re all there. Everyone who died in Eakly. Everyone who died at the ranch. It was my fault, and I’m so afraid we got this job because someone who could manipulate the numbers knew I was for sale, if you offered the right price. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean any of it.

“If I knew who I’d been sold to, I’d tell you, but I don’t. I went out of my way to never know, because if I’d known I think, if I’d known, I would have realized it was wrong.” Buffy looked away from the camera, wiping her eyes. “I got in too deep. I couldn’t get back out. And you won’t let us go home. Georgia, why can’t we go home?” She turned back toward the lens, both eyes brimming with tears. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want you to see this. Please. Can’t we just go home?”

“God, Buffy, I’m sorry,” I whispered. My words dropped into the silence that followed her plea like rocks into a wishing well, with as little effect.

On the screen, Buffy took a deep breath and held it before letting it slowly out. “You’re going to see this,” she said, lips tugging up into a small and bitter smile. “You have to see it. Or you’ll never know the truth. By triggering this file, you’ve mailed a video to my parents telling them how sorry I am, and how much I loved what I did. When it closes, you’ll have access to my private directory, including a file named ‘Confession.’ It’s locked and time stamped. If you don’t open it, it’ll be admissible in court. I didn’t trust everything to the servers. I think I know better than anyone else right now just how dangerous it is to trust people. You have something of mine that no one else has. Look there. You’ll find everything I’ve got, including the access codes for all those listening devices. Good luck. Avenge me if you can. And I’m sorry.”

Buffy paused, smiling for real this time, and added, “This—being here, with you, following this campaign—really was what I wanted. Not all of it, maybe, but I’m glad I came. So thank you. And good luck.” The picture winked out.

The three of us stayed frozen in our silent tableau for several minutes. A sniffle from behind my left shoulder told me Rick was crying. Not for the first time, I damned Kellis-Amberlee for taking that simple human comfort away from me.

“What did she mean, something we have that no one else does?” Shaun asked, putting his hand on my right shoulder. “All her luggage was in the truck.”

“But we have her laptop,” I said. Pushing my chair back from the desk, I rose, turning to face them. “Get me a tool kit and her computer.”

Never steal another reporter’s story; never take the last of another reporter’s ammo; never mess with another reporter’s computer. Those are the rules, unless you work for a tabloid, where they replace “never” with “always” but once you’re dead, you’re meat, and all bets are off. I had to keep telling myself that as I used a screwdriver to work the bottom panel off Buffy’s laptop. Shaun and Rick stood nearby, watching. We’d already scanned the machine itself and found nothing—literally nothing. She wiped the drives at some point, probably before we left on the drive that killed her. When it came to paranoia, Buffy was world class. She’d had good reason to be, after Eakly.

It was somehow anticlimactic when the laptop’s bottom panel came free, tearing the tape stretched between it and the battery case and dropping a data stick into my hand. I held it up, showing it to the two of them. “The plot thickens,” I said. “Shaun, Becks used to be a Newsie. How’s she with computers?”

“Not as good as Buffy—”

“No one’s as good as Buffy.”

“But she’s good.”

“Good enough?”

“Only one way to find out.” He held out his hand. I gave him the data stick without a moment’s hesitation. The day I couldn’t trust Shaun, it was over. Simple as that.

“Get her online and get her going through these files. Buffy said there were time stamps and IPs. We need to see what they can give us.” I stood. “Rick, get back on that report.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Rouse Mahir,” I said, moving back to my machine. The chair was still warm; things were moving faster than they seemed. “I don’t care what it takes. We need to get a copy of whatever’s on that disk stored off-site, and I think ‘London’ qualifies.”

“Georgia?” Rick’s tone was soft. I glanced toward him. He hadn’t moved back to his own machine; he was just standing there, looking at me.


“Are we going to survive this?”

“Probably not. You want out?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I just wanted to know whether you realized that.”

“I do,” I said. “Now get to work.”

Both nodding, Rick and Shaun did exactly that.

For all that Mahir seemed to be out, or asleep—or, God forbid, if this was somehow even bigger than it looked, already dead—his machine address still registered on the network. I tapped it in along with my priority code, activating a personalized screamer. If he did anything online he’d start getting loud, intrusive pings demanding that he contact me immediately. Screamers are generally viewed as extremely poor form outside of emergencies. As far as I was concerned, this qualified as an emergency.