On the screen, Buffy paused to take a deep breath, looking suddenly very young behind her exhaustion. I didnt know. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, and that Id never work in the news again, but I didnt know anyone was going to get hurt. I didnt know until the ranch, and by then, I was in too deep to find a way out again. Im sorry. That doesnt bring back the dead, but its the truth, because I didnt want anyone to get hurt. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought that when this was over, wed be a stronger nation because of what Id done. A tear escaped her left eye, running down her cheek. It would have seemed overly theatrical if I hadnt known Buffy as well as I didknowing her, it wasnt theatrical enough. She was really crying. I see them when I dream. I close my eyes, and theyre all there. Everyone who died in Eakly. Everyone who died at the ranch. It was my fault, and Im so afraid we got this job because someone who could manipulate the numbers knew I was for sale, if you offered the right price. Im so sorry. I didnt mean it. I didnt mean any of it.
If I knew who Id been sold to, Id tell you, but I dont. I went out of my way to never know, because if Id known I think, if Id known, I would have realized it was wrong. Buffy looked away from the camera, wiping her eyes. I got in too deep. I couldnt get back out. And you wont let us go home. Georgia, why cant we go home? She turned back toward the lens, both eyes brimming with tears. I dont want to die. I dont want you to see this. Please. Cant we just go home?
God, Buffy, Im 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. Youre going to see this, she said, lips tugging up into a small and bitter smile. You have to see it. Or youll never know the truth. By triggering this file, youve mailed a video to my parents telling them how sorry I am, and how much I loved what I did. When it closes, youll have access to my private directory, including a file named Confession. Its locked and time stamped. If you dont open it, itll be admissible in court. I didnt 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. Youll find everything Ive got, including the access codes for all those listening devices. Good luck. Avenge me if you can. And Im sorry.
Buffy paused, smiling for real this time, and added, Thisbeing here, with you, following this campaignreally was what I wanted. Not all of it, maybe, but Im 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 reporters story; never take the last of another reporters ammo; never mess with another reporters computer. Those are the rules, unless you work for a tabloid, where they replace never with always but once youre dead, youre meat, and all bets are off. I had to keep telling myself that as I used a screwdriver to work the bottom panel off Buffys laptop. Shaun and Rick stood nearby, watching. Wed already scanned the machine itself and found nothingliterally 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. Shed had good reason to be, after Eakly.
It was somehow anticlimactic when the laptops 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. Hows she with computers?
Not as good as Buffy
No ones as good as Buffy.
But shes good.
Only one way to find out. He held out his hand. I gave him the data stick without a moments hesitation. The day I couldnt 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 dont care what it takes. We need to get a copy of whatevers on that disk stored off-site, and I think London qualifies.
Georgia? Ricks tone was soft. I glanced toward him. He hadnt 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 asleepor, God forbid, if this was somehow even bigger than it looked, already deadhis 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 hed 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.