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“Van sweet van,” murmured Shaun.

“Exactly.” I started walking, trusting the security detail to bring the rest of our things. Our vehicles and the majority of our equipment were already in place.

“In a hurry?” Rick asked, trotting to catch up with me. Shaun gave him a look. He ignored it.

“I want to see if the boys have made any progress,” I said, pressing my palm against the pressure pad on the van door. Needles bit into my hand. The door unloaded a few seconds later. Looking back over my shoulder, I asked, “Steve, which trailer are we?”

“The one on the far left with your name over the door. Mr. Cousins is in the trailer next to it,” Steve said. “I assume you’re anxious to get to work?”

“Yes, actually—crap.” I paused, dismayed. “The keynote speech.”

“I’ve got it,” said Shaun. I must have looked stunned, because he shrugged. “I can wear a monkey suit and take notes like a Newsie. They’ll never know the difference, and I bet the invite just says ‘Mason.’ Steve?”

“Yes ” said Steve, looking perplexed.

“It’s settled. C’mon, Rick. Let’s let George get some work done.” My brother grabbed the startled Newsie by the arm and hauled him away. Steve smirked and followed, leaving me standing at the entrance to the van, wondering what had just happened. Then, not being one to look a bit of gift productivity in the mouth, I stepped inside.

We removed a few vital system components before letting them ship the van, like the backup drives, our files, and—most important—the data sticks that would unlock the servers. I made my way around the interior, taking my time as I brought each system up and online, ending with the perimeter cameras. There was a certain feeling of homecoming as the screens Buffy had worked so long to get installed began flickering on, showing rotating camera views of the outside. Nothing was happening. That’s the way I like it. Once everything was stable, I flipped on the security systems. They would generate enough static to block any outside surveillance less sophisticated than the CIA’s, and if we were being monitored by the CIA, we’d have been dead already. Sitting down at my console, I opened a chat window.

Most online networking is done via message boards—totally text, not quite real-time—or streaming video these days. Very few people remember the old chat relays that used to dominate the Internet. That’s good. That means that if both sides of the chat are on servers you control, you can fly so far under the radar that you’re essentially invisible.

Luck was with me. Dave was waiting when I connected.

What’s the story? I typed. My words appeared white against the black command window.

Georgia? Confirm.

Password is ‘tintinnabulation.’

Confirmed. Have you checked your e-mail?

Not yet. We just got in.

Log off. Go read. I don’t want to waste your time with a reframe.

I paused, staring at those stark white words for a long moment before I typed, How bad?

Bad enough. Go.

I went.

Reading the files Dave and Alaric provided took the better part of an hour. Getting myself to stop hyperventilating took another twenty minutes. When my lungs stopped burning and I was sure I could control myself, I shut down my laptop, returned it to its case, and rose. I needed to get myself dressed; it was time to crash a party.

I always knew I wanted to be a journalist. When I was a kid, I thought they were the next best thing to superheroes. They told the truth. They helped people. I wouldn’t find out about the other things journalists did—the lies and espionage and back-stabbing and bribes—for years, and by that point, it was too late. The news was in my blood. Like every junkie in the world, I needed my next hit too badly to give it up.

I’ve wanted nothing but the news and the truth and to make the world a better place since I was a little girl, and I never regretted it for a minute. Not until now. Because this is bigger than me, and it’s bigger than Shaun, and God, I’m scared. And I’m still a junkie. I still can’t walk away.

—From Postcards from the Wall,

the unpublished files of Georgia Mason, June 19, 2040


Unfortunately for my need to hurry, the instructions regarding the senator’s keynote speech and the dinner party to follow were clear: Formal attire was required for all attendees, even media representatives. Maybe especially media representatives—after all, everyone else paid fifteen hundred dollars for the privilege of eating rubber chicken and rubbing elbows with Senator Ryman, while we were getting in on that damned “freedom of the press” loophole. If they shut us out, we’d be free to start playing dirty. If they let us in, cosseted us, petted us, and put us in our places, they could maintain the semblance of control. Maybe it’s never stopped a real scandal from growing legs, but it’s done a lot to keep the little ones under the table where they belong.

The campaign staff had been careful with our luggage, placing mine and Shaun’s on our respective sides of the trailer we’d be living in for the duration of the Sacramento stop. That was, sadly, before Shaun tore through like a hurricane, looking for his own formalwear. My suitcases were buried beneath a thick layer of Shaun’s clothing, weaponry, paperwork, and other general debris. Locating them took the better part of ten minutes, and determining which case contained my own formalwear took another five. I cursed Shaun the whole time. It kept me distracted.

Men’s formal attire is sensible: pants, suit coats, cummerbunds. Even ties can be useful, since they work as makeshift tourniquets or garrotes. Women’s formal attire, on the other hand, hasn’t changed since the Rising; it still seems designed to get the people wearing it killed at the first possible opportunity. Screw that. My dress was custom-made. The skirt is breakaway, the bodice is fitted to allow me to carry a recorder and a gun, and there’s a pocket concealed at the waist for extra ammo. Even with all those alterations, it’s the most confining garment I own, and the situations that call for me to wear it almost invariably require hose and heels. At least modern pantyhose are made with a polymer weave that’s virtually puncture proof.