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I straightened my clothes, tucked my sunglasses into the breast pocket of my shirt, and ran a brush through my hair. There, that was as presentable as I was going to get. If the senator didn’t like it, he could damn well refrain from allowing any more late-night attacks on the convoy.

Buffy was gone when I emerged from the bathroom. Shaun handed me a can of Coke and my MP3 recorder, wrinkling his nose. “You know your contacts creep me out, right?”

“That’s the goal.” The soda was cold enough to make my back teeth ache. I didn’t stop gulping until the can was empty. Tossing it in the bathroom trash, I asked, “Ready?”

“For hours. You girls always take forever in the bathroom.”

“Bite me.”

“Not without a blood test.”

I kicked his ankle, grabbed three more Cokes from the room service tray, and left the room. Steve was waiting in the hall, blood test unit still in his hand. I eyed it.

“Isn’t this going a bit far? We went from cleanup to bed. I doubt there was a viral reservoir in the closet.”

“Hand,” Steve replied.

I sighed and switched my pilfered sodas to my left hand, allowing me to offer him the right. The process of testing me, and then Shaun, took less than a minute. Both of us came up unsurprisingly clean.

Steve dropped the used units into a plastic bag, sealed it, and turned to walk down the hall, obviously expecting us to follow. Shaun and I exchanged a glance, shrugged, and did exactly that.

The boardroom was three floors up, on a level you needed an executive keycard to access. The carpet was so thick that our feet made no sound as we followed Steve down the hall to the open boardroom door. Buffy was seated on a countertop inside, keying information into her handheld and trying to stay out of the way of the senator’s advisors. They were moving back and forth, grabbing papers from one another, making notes on whiteboards, and generally creating the sort of hurricane of productive activity that signals absolutely nothing happening.

The senator was at the head of the table with his head in his hands, creating an island of stillness in the heart of the chaos. Carlos flanked him to the left, and as we crossed the threshold, Steve abandoned us to cut across the room and flank Senator Ryman to the right. Something must have alerted the senator to Steve’s presence because he raised his head, looking first toward the bodyguard and then toward us. One by one, the bustling aides stopped what they were doing and followed the direction of the senator’s gaze.

I raised a can of soda and popped the tab.

The sound seemed to snap the senator out of his fugue. He sat up, clearing his throat. “Shaun. Georgia. If the two of you wouldn’t mind taking your seats, we can get things started.”

“Thanks for holding the briefing until we got here,” I said, moving toward one of the open chairs and setting my MP3 recorder on the table. “Sorry we took so long.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, waving a hand. “I know how late you were out with the cleanup crews. A little sleep is hardly repayment for going above and beyond the call of duty like that.”

“In that case, I’d like some groupies,” said Shaun, settling in the chair next to mine. I kicked him in the shin. He yelped but grinned, unrepentant.

“I’ll see what we can do.” The senator rose, rapping his knuckles against the table. The last small eddies of conversation in the room died, all attention sliding back to him. Even Buffy stopped typing as the senator leaned forward, hands on the table, and said, “Now that we’re all here how the hell did that happen?” His voice never rose above a conversational level. “We lost four guards last night, three of them at our own front gate. What happened to the concept of security? Did I miss the meeting where we decided that zombies weren’t something we needed to be concerned about anymore?”

One of the aides cleared his throat and said, “Well, sir, it looks like there was a power short on the anterior detection unit, which resulted in the doors failing to shut fast enough to prevent the incursion from—”

“Speak English at this table or I will fire you so fast you’ll wind up standing at the airport wondering how the hell you got from here to there without any goddamn pants on,” the senator snapped. The aide responded by paling and dropping the papers he’d been holding. “Can anyone here tell me what happened and how, in simple English words of two syllables or less?”

“Your screamer wasn’t working,” said Buffy. Every head in the room turned to her. She shrugged. “Every perimeter rig has a screamer built in. Yours didn’t switch on.”

“A screamer being ?” asked one of the aides.

“A heat-sensitive motion sensor,” said Chuck Wong. He looked anxious—and with good reason. Most of his job involves the design and maintenance of the convoy’s automated perimeter defenses. If there’d been a mechanical failure, it was technically his fault. “They scan moving objects for heat as well as motion. Anything below a certain range sets off an alert of possible zombies in the area.”

“A really fresh one can fool a screamer, but the packs we saw last night were too mixed for that. They should have set off the alerts, and they didn’t.” Buffy shrugged again. “That means we had a screamer failure.”

“Chuck? Care to tell us why that happened?”

“I can’t. Not until we can arrange for a physical inspection of the equipment.”

“It’s arranged. Carlos, get three of your men and take Chuck for an inspection run. Report back as soon as you have anything.” Carlos nodded, heading for the door. Three of the other bodyguards moved away from the walls and followed, not waiting to be asked.

“I’ll need my equipment—” Chuck protested.

“Your equipment should be with the convoy, and since that’s where you’re going, I’m sure you’ll have everything you need,” the senator said. There was no arguing with his tone. Chuck obviously saw that. He stood, thin-boned hands twitching by his sides as he turned toward the door.

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