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“We didn’t get to choose our own names, ma’am,” I said, fighting a smile. Shaun and I don’t even know what names we were born with. We were orphaned in the Rising, and when the Masons adopted us, we were both listed under “Baby Doe.”

“Oh, but one of you did,” she said. “One of the Georges is also a Buffy, and if I remember my pop culture right, it should be the blonde one.” She turned, extending a hand toward Buffy. “Georgette Meissonier, correct?”

“Absolutely,” Buffy said, taking her hand. “You can call me Buffy. Everyone else does.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Emily replied, and released her hand, turning toward Shaun and me. “That must make you the Masons. Shaun and Georgia. Yes?”

“Got it,” Shaun said, saluting her. Somehow, he kept the gesture from looking like he was making fun. I’ve never understood how he does that.

I stepped forward, offering her a hand. “George is fine by me, or Georgia. Whichever is easier for you, Mrs. Ryman.”

“Call me Emily,” she said. Her grip was cool, and the glance she cast toward my sunglasses was understanding. “Are the lights too bright for you? They’re all soft bulbs, but I can dim the window a bit more if you need me to.”

“No, thank you,” I said, eyebrows rising as I studied her face more closely. Her eyes weren’t dark, as I had first assumed; what I had taken to be deep brown irises were actually her pupils, so dilated that they pushed the natural muddy hazel of her eyes into a thin ring around the edges. “Wouldn’t you know if the lights were a problem?”

She smiled, wryly. “My eyes aren’t as sensitive as they used to be. I was an early case, and there was some nerve damage by the time they figured out what was going on. You’ll tell me if the lights get to be too much?”

I nodded. “Sure will.”

“Wonderful. You three make yourselves comfortable. Lunch will be up in a few minutes. We’re having fish tacos with mango salsa and virgin mimosas.” She raised a finger to the senator, adding playfully, “I don’t want to hear a word of complaint from you, Mister. We’re not getting these nice reporters drunk before things even get started.”

“Don’t worry, ma’am,” Shaun said. “Some of us can hold our liquor.”

“And some of us can’t,” I said dryly. Buffy weighs ninety-five pounds, soaking wet. The one time we took her out drinking, she wound up climbing onto a table and reciting half of Night of the Living Dead before Shaun and I could pull her down. “Thank you, Mrs . Emily.”

Her smile was approving. “You can be taught. Now all of you, go sit down while I finish taking care of business. Peter, that means you, too.”

“Yes, dear,” said the senator, kissing her on the cheek before moving to take a seat at the dining room table. The three of us followed him in an obedient, slightly ragged line. I’ll challenge senators and kings for the right to know the truth, but far be it from me to challenge a woman in her own kitchen.

Watching the places everyone took around the table was interesting in a purely sociological sense. Shaun settled with his back to the wall, affording him the best view of the room. He may seem like an idiot, but in some ways, he’s the most careful of us all. You can’t be an Irwin and not learn some things about keeping your exits open. If the zombies ever mob en masse again, he’ll be ready. And filming.

Buffy took the seat nearest the light, where the cameras studded through her jewelry would get the best pickup shots. Her portables work on the principles defined during the big pre-Rising wireless boom; they transmit data to the server on a constant basis, allowing her to come back later and edit it at her leisure. I once tried to figure out how many transmitters she actually had on her, but wound up giving up and wandering off to do something more productive, like answering Shaun’s fan mail. He gets more marriage proposals a week than he likes to think about, and he lets me handle them all.

The senator took the seat closest to the kitchen and his wife, thus conveniently leaving me the chair with the highest degree of shadow. So he was a family man and someone who understood that consideration was a virtue. Nice. I settled, asking, “You provide home-cooked meals for all your news staff?”

“Just the controversial ones,” he replied, his tone easy and assured. “I’m not going to beat around the bush. I read your public reports, your op-ed pieces, everything, before I agreed to your application. I know you’re smart and won’t forgive bullshit. That doesn’t,” he held up a finger, “mean I’m going to be one hundred percent straight with you, because there are some things no reporter ever gets to be privy to. Mostly having to do with my home life and my family, but still, there are no-go zones.”

“We respect that,” I said. Shaun and Buffy were nodding.

Senator Ryman seemed to approve, because he nodded in turn, looking satisfied. “Nobody wanted me to bring blog folks on this campaign,” he said, without preamble. I sat up a little straighter. The entire online community knew that the senator’s handlers had been recommending against including bloggers in the official campaign press corps, but I’d never expected to hear it put so baldly. “They have this idea that you three will report whatever you damn well want to and not what’s good for the campaign.”

“So you’re saying they’re pretty smart, then?” Shaun asked, in a bland surfer-boy drawl that might almost have been believable, if he hadn’t been smirking as he said it.

The senator roared with laughter, and Emily looked up from the stove, clearly amused. “That’s what I pay them for, so I certainly hope so, Shaun. Yeah, they’re pretty smart. They’ve got you pegged for exactly what you are.”

“And what’s that, Senator?” I asked.

Sobering, he leaned forward. “The children of the Rising. Biggest revolution that our generations—yours, mine, and at least two more besides—are ever going to see. The world changed overnight, and sometimes I’m sorry I was born too early to be in on the ground level of what it’s turned into. You kids, you’re the ones who get to shape the real tomorrow, the one that’s going to matter. Not me, not my lovely wife, and certainly not a bunch of talking heads who get paid to be smart enough to realize that a bunch of Bay Area blogger kids are going to tell the truth as they see it, and damn the political consequences.”