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“It might seem like a great idea, but I don’t think it is, for the same reason I don’t think it’s a great idea for a first grader to stand up and say that he’s learned enough, he’s done with school, thanks a lot but he’s got it from here. Compared to God, we’re barely out of kindergarten, and like any good teacher, I don’t believe He intends to let us out of class just because we’re finding the lessons a little difficult. I don’t know whether I believe in the Rapture or not. I believe that if God wants to do it, He will but I don’t believe that it’s coming in our lifetime. We have too much work left to do right here.”

Ms. Greeley looked at him for a long moment, lips still pressed into a thin line. Then, so slow that it was almost glacial, she nodded. “Thank you, young man,” she said.

Those four words couldn’t have been sweeter if they’d been backed by the hallelujah choir.

“Internet share just jumped to top three percent,” Buffy reported, raising her head. Her eyes were very wide. “Georgia, we’re getting a top-three feed.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I murmured, leaning back in my chair, “I do believe we’ve got ourselves a presidential candidate.”

Top-three feed. The words were, if you’ll pardon the cliché, music to my ears. The world of Internet percentages and readership shares is complicated. It all comes down to server traffic. There are thousands of machines dedicated to calculating the flow of data, then reporting back which sites are getting the most access requests from outside sources, and which subsidiaries are attracting the biggest number of hits. Those turn into our ratings, and those are what the advertisers and financial backers base their investments on. Top three was the top of heap. Anything more would require adding click-through  p**n .

The rest of the question-and-answer period was pretty standard stuff, with a few hardballs thrown in just to keep things interesting. Where did the senator stand on the death penalty? Given that most corpses tended to get up and try to eat folks, he didn’t see it as a productive pursuit. What was his opinion on public health care? Failure to keep people healthy enough to stay alive bordered on criminal negligence. Was he prepared to face the ongoing challenges of disaster preparedness? After the mass reanimations following the explosions in San Diego, he couldn’t imagine any presidency surviving without improved disaster planning. Where did he stand on g*y marriage, religious freedom, free speech? Well, folks, given that it was no longer possible to pretend that any part of the human race was going to politely lie down and disappear just because the majority happened to disagree with them, and given further the proof that life is a short and fragile thing, he didn’t see the point of rendering anyone less free and equal than anybody else. When we got to the afterlife, God could sort us out into the sinner and the saved. Until we got there, it seemed to him that we were better off just being good neighbors and reserving our moral judgments for ourselves.

After an hour and a half of questions, more than half of which originated in the auditorium—a campaign first—the senator stood, wiping his forehead with the handkerchief he’d produced from a back pocket. “Well, folks, much as I’d like to stay and chat a while longer, it’s getting on late, and my secretary has informed me that if I don’t start cutting off these evening discussions, I’m going to seem a little dull to the folks I’m visiting in the morning.” Laughter greeted this comment. Relaxed laughter; sometime in the previous hour, he’d managed to ease the audience out of their fear and into the sort of calm most people don’t experience outside of their homes. “I want to thank you for having me, and for all your questions and viewpoints. I sincerely hope I’ll have your vote when the time comes, but even if I don’t, I have faith that it will be because you managed to find someone who was better for this great land.”

“We’re following you, Peter!” shouted someone from the back of the room. I twisted around in my seat and blinked, realizing that the shouter wasn’t someone from the campaign; it was a woman I’d never seen before, holding up a hand-painted Senator Ryman for President sign.

“The campaign has groupies,” observed Shaun.

“Always a good sign,” said Buffy.

The senator laughed. “I certainly hope that you are,” he said. “You’ll have the chance to make me put my money where my mouth is soon enough. In the meantime, good night, and God bless you all.” Waving to the audience, he turned and walked off the stage as “The Star-Spangled Banner” began to play from speakers around the room. The applause wasn’t exactly thunderous—there wasn’t enough audience for that—but it was enthusiastic. More so than it had been at the last engagement, and that one had been more enthusiastic than the one before it, and so on, and so on. Maybe you couldn’t tell by looking at it, but the campaign was gathering steam.

I stayed where I was, observing the audience as they rose, and, surprisingly, began to talk among themselves rather than fleeing the hall for the safety of their cars. That was a new development, just like the applause. People were talking. Face-to-face, real-time talking, inspired by the senator and the things he had said.

More and more, I was beginning to feel like we were following a president.

“Georgia?” said Buffy.

“Go ahead and check the backstage feeds,” I said, and nodded toward the knot of chattering attendees. “I’m going to go see what the buzz is.”

“Make sure you’re recording,” she said, and started for the stage, gesturing for Shaun to follow. Grumbling good-naturedly, he snagged his chain mail and went.

I walked toward the group of attendees. A few of them glanced over at my approach, took note of my press pass, and went back to talking. The news is either invisible or something to be avoided, depending on what’s going on and how many cameras the people around you can see. Since I didn’t have any visible recording equipment, I was just part of the scenery.