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Buffy beamed. “All of it.”

“That explains some of the jump,” Shaun said dryly. “We always get a point spike when you say you hate me in a published report.”

“Only because it’s true,” I said, quashing the urge to groan. It was my own fault for leaving Buffy alone with the unedited footage. She had to put something up. A news blackout doesn’t heighten suspense; it just loses readers.

Shaun snorted. “Right. So you had three tracks, and ?”

“I tossed them up in their raw form, tapped some beta Newsies to throw down narrative tracks, got straight bio files on the confirmed casualties, and wrote a new poem about how fast everything can fall apart.” Buffy cast an anxious glance my way, smile slipping. “Did I do it right?”

Room service confirmed that the assorted drinks were en route, along with an order of dry wheat toast. I hung up the phone. “Which betas?”

“Um, Mahir for the gate, Alaric for the perimeter, and Becks for the attack on the two of you.”

“Ah.” I adjusted my sunglasses. “I’m going to want to review their reports.” It was a formality, and from the look on her face, Buffy knew it; she’d selected the same betas I would have chosen. Mahir is located in London, England, and he’s great for dry, factual reporting that neither pretties things up nor dumbs them down. If I have a second in command, it’s Mahir. Alaric can build suspense almost as well as an Irwin, fitting his narration and description into the natural blank spots in a recording. And Becks would have been a horror movie director if we weren’t all practically living in a horror movie these days. Her sense of timing is impeccable, and her cut shots are even better. Of the betas we’ve acquired, I count my Newsies as the best of the bunch. They’re good. They’re hoping to ride our success to alpha positions of their own, and that makes them ambitious. Ambition is worth more than practically anything else in this business, even talent.

“Of course you will,” Buffy said, clearly waiting for me to break down and say the words.

I smiled, faintly, and said them: “You did good.”

Buffy punched the air. “She shoots, she scores!”

“Just don’t get cocky,” I said. There was a knock at the door. This hotel must have the fastest room service in the Midwest. “Remember, one successful set of executive decisions does not prepare you to take my—”

I opened the door to reveal Steve and Carlos. They were impeccably dressed, matching black suits so crisply pressed that you’d never have guessed they’d been in the field incinerating the bodies of their fallen comrades less than eight hours previous. I stood there in my slept-in clothes, with my uncombed hair sticking up in all directions, and stared at them.

“Miss Mason,” said Steve. His tone was flat, even more formal than it was on our first encounter. Dipping a hand into his pocket, he produced the familiar shape of a handheld blood testing unit. “If you and your associates would care to come with us, a debriefing has been scheduled in the boardroom.”

“Couldn’t you have called first?” I asked.

He raised his eyebrows. “We did.”

Shaun and I really had been sleeping like the unrisen dead. I pressed my lips into a thin line, and said, “My brother and I have only been awake for a few minutes. Can we have time to make ourselves presentable?”

Steve looked past me into the room, where Shaun—still clad only in his boxers—offered a sardonic wave. Steve looked back to me. I smiled. “Unless you’d prefer we came as we are?”

“You have ten minutes,” Steve said, and shut the door.

“Good morning, Georgia,” I muttered. “Right. Buffy, get out. We’ll see you in the boardroom. Shaun, put clothes on.” I raked a hand through my hair. “I’m going to wash up.” One good thing about going to bed straight from a cleanup operation: Even after six hours of sleeping and sweating into my clothes, they were still cleaner than they’d been when I bought them. After you’ve been sterilized seven times for live virus particles, dirt doesn’t stand much of a chance.

“Georgia—” Buffy began.

I pointed to the door. “Out.” Not waiting to see whether she obeyed me—largely because I was pretty certain she wasn’t going to—I grabbed my overnight bag off the floor by the foot of the bed and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind me.

There’s only one way to prevent a migraine from the combination of too little sleep and too much light from fully establishing itself, and that’s to wear my contacts. They come with their own little complications, like making my eyeballs itch all damn day, but they block a lot more light than my sunglasses. I pulled the case out of my bag, popped off the top, and withdrew the first of the lenses from the saline solution where they customarily floated.

Normal contact lenses are designed to correct problems with the wearer’s eyesight. My eyesight is fine, except for my light issues, which the lenses can compensate for. Unfortunately, while normal contacts enhance peripheral vision, these ones kill the greater part of mine by covering the iris and most of the pupil with solid color films that essentially create artificial surfaces for my eyes. I’m not legally allowed to go into field situations while wearing contacts.

Tilting my head back, I slipped the first lens into place, blinking to settle it against my eye. I repeated the process with the other eye before lowering my head and looking at myself in the mirror. My reflection gazed impassively back at me, eyes perfectly normal and cornflower blue.

The blue was my choice. When I was a kid they got me brown lenses that matched the natural color of my eyes. I switched to blue as soon as I was old enough to have a say. They don’t look as natural, but they also don’t make me feel like I’m trying to lie about my medical condition. My eyes aren’t normal. They never will be. If that makes some people uncomfortable, well, I’ve learned to use that to my own advantage.