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“Oh, God, Shaun.” Emily Ryman stood so fast she sent her chair toppling over as she threw her arms around me. “We heard the news. I’m so sorry.”

“I shot her,” I said conversationally, looking over Emily’s shoulder to Senator Ryman and Governor Tate. “Pulled the trigger after she started to amplify. She was lucid until then. You can increase the duration of postinfection lucidity with sedatives and white blood cell boosters, and first-aid classes teach you to do that in the field. So you can get any messages they may have for their family or other loved ones.”

“Shaun?” Emily pulled away, looking uncertain. She glanced over her shoulder at Governor Tate before looking back to me. “What’s going on here?”

“How did you get out of the quarantine zone?” asked Tate. His voice was flat, verging on emotionless. He knew the score. He’d known it since I walked through the door. The bastard.

“A little luck, a little skill, a little applied journalism.” Emily Ryman let me go entirely, taking a step backward, toward her husband. I kept my eyes on Tate. “Turns out most of the security staff liked my sister more than they ever liked you. Probably because George tried to help them, instead of using them to further her political ambitions. Once they knew what happened, they were happy to help.”

“Shaun, what are you talking about?”

The confusion in Senator Ryman’s voice was enough to distract me from Tate. I turned to blink at the man responsible for us being here in the first place, asking, “Haven’t you seen Georgia’s last report?”

“No, son, I haven’t.” His expression was drawn tight with concern. “Things have been a bit hectic. I haven’t had a site feed since the outbreak bell rang.”

“Then how did you—”

“The CDC puts out a statement, that tends to go around in a hurry.” Senator Ryman closed his eyes, looking pained. “She was so damn young.”

“Georgia was assassinated, Senator. Plastic dart full of live-state Kellis-Amberlee, shot straight into her arm. She never had a prayer. All because we figured out what was really going on.” I swung my attention back to Tate and asked, more quietly, “Why Eakly, Governor? Why the ranch? And why, you f**ker, why Buffy? I can actually understand trying to kill me and my sister, after everything else, but why?”

“Dave?” said Senator Ryman.

“This country needed someone to take real action for a change. Someone who was willing to do what needed to be done. Not just another politician preaching changes and keeping up the status quo.” Tate met my eyes without flinching, looking almost calm. “We took some good steps toward God and safety after the Rising, but they’ve slowed in recent years. People are afraid to do the right thing. That’s the key. Real fear’s what motivates them to get past the fears that aren’t important enough to matter. They needed to be reminded. They needed to remember what America stands for.”

“Not sure I’d call terrorist use of Kellis-Amberlee a ‘reminder.’ Personally, I’d call it, y’know. Terrorism. Maybe a crime against humanity. Possibly both. I guess that’s for the courts to decide.” I drew Georgia’s .40, and aimed it at Tate. The crowd went still, honed political instincts reacting to what had to look like an assassination attempt in the making. “Secure-channel voice activation, Shaun Phillip Mason, ABF-17894, password ‘crikey.’ Mahir, you there?”

My ear cuff beeped once. “Here, Shaun,” said Mahir’s voice, distorted by the encryption algorithms protecting the transmission. Secure channels are only good once, but, oh, how good they are. “What’s the situation?”

“On Tate now. Start uploading everything you receive and download Georgia’s last report directly to Senator Ryman. He needs to give it a glance.” Governor Tate was glaring. I flashed him a smile. “I’ve been recording this whole time. But you knew that, didn’t you? Smart guy like you. Smart enough to get around our security. To get around our friends.”

“Miss Meissonier was a realist and a patriot who understood the trials facing this country,” said Tate, tone as stiff as his shoulders. “She was proud to have the opportunity to serve.”

“Miss Meissonier was a twenty-four-year-old journalist who wrote poetry for a living,” I snapped. “Miss Meissonier was our partner, and you had her killed because she wasn’t useful anymore.”

“David, is this true?” asked Emily, horror leeching the inflection from her voice. Senator Ryman had taken out his PDA and seemed to be growing older by the second as he stared at its screen. “Did you Eakly? The ranch?” Fury twisted her features, and before either I or her husband could react, she was out of her chair, launching herself at Governor Tate. “My daughter! That was my daughter, you bastard! Those were my parents! Burn in hell, you—”

Tate grabbed her wrists, twisting her to the side and locking his arm around her neck. His left hand, which had been under the table since I arrived, came into view, holding another of those plastic syringes. Unaware, Emily Ryman continued to struggle.

The senator went pale. “Now, David, let’s not do anything rash here—”

“I tried to send them home, Peter,” said Tate. “I tried to get them off the campaign, out of harm’s way, out of my way. Now look where they’ve brought us. Me, holding your pretty little wife, with just one outbreak left between us and a happy ending. I would have given you the election. I would have made you the greatest American president of the past hundred years, because together, we would have remade this nation.”

“No election is worth this,” Ryman said. “Emily, be still now, baby.” Looking confused and betrayed, Emily stopped struggling. Ryman lifted his hands into view, palms upward. “What’ll it take for you to release her? My wife’s not a part of this.”

“I’m afraid you’re all a part of this now,” Tate said, with a small shake of his head. “No one’s walking away. It’s gone too far for that. Maybe if you’d disposed of the journalists,” the word was almost spat, “it could have gone differently. But there’s no use crying over spilled milk, now, is there?”