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“Mind if I go along?” asked Buffy. The room looked at her again. She flashed her most winning smile. “I’m pretty good at seeing why field equipment decided to fry. Maybe I could be a second opinion.”

And maybe she could get us some footage for a follow-up report. I nodded, and caught the senator watching the gesture before he, in turn, began to nod. “Thank you for volunteering, Miss Meissonier. I’m sure the group will be glad to have you along.”

“I’ll ring back,” Buffy said, and hopped off the counter, trotting out the door after Chuck and the bodyguards.

“There she goes,” Shaun muttered.

“Jealous?” I asked.

“Tech geeks trying to figure out why a screamer broke? Please. I’ll be jealous if she comes back saying there were actual dead guys to play with.”

“Right.” He was jealous. I folded my arms, returning my attention to the senator.

He wasn’t looking his best. He was leaning forward with his hands braced against the table, but it was clear even in that well-supported position that he hadn’t had nearly as much sleep as Shaun and I. His hair was uncombed, his shirt was wrinkled, and his collar was open. He looked like a man who’d been faced with the unexpected, and now, after a little time to consider the situation, was getting ready to ride out and kick its ass.

“Folks, whatever the cause of last night’s catastrophe, the facts are this: We lost four good men and three potential supporters right before the first round of primaries. This does not send a good message to the people. This sort of thing doesn’t say ‘Vote Ryman, he’ll protect you.’ If anything, it says ‘Vote Ryman if you want to get eaten.’ This isn’t our message, and I refuse to let it become our message, even though that’s the way my opponents are going to try to spin it. What’s our game plan?” He glared around the room. “Well?”

“Sir, the bloggers—”

“Will be staying for this little chat. We try covering it up, they’ll report it a lot less kindly when they manage to root it out. Now please, can we get down to business?”

That seemed to be the cue the room had been waiting for. The next forty minutes passed in a blaze of points and counterpoints, with the senator’s advisors arguing the finer aspects of spin while his security heads protested any attempts to categorize their handling of the campaign to date as “lax” or “insufficient.” Shaun and I sat and listened. We were there as observers, not participants, and after the argument had a little time to develop, it seemed as if most of the room forgot we were there at all. One camp held that they needed to minimize media coverage of the attack, make the requisite statements of increased vigilance, and move on. The other camp held that full openness was the only way to get through an incident of this magnitude without taking damage from other political quarters. Both camps had to admit that the reports released on our site the night before were impacting their opinions, although neither seemed aware of exactly how much traffic those reports had drawn. I opted not to inform them. Observing the political process without interfering with it is sometimes more entertaining than it sounds.

One of the senator’s advisors was beginning a rant on the evils of the modern media when my ear cuff beeped. I rose, moving to the back of the room before I answered. “Georgia here.”

“Georgia, it’s Buffy. Can you patch me to the speakerphone?”

I paused. She sounded harried. More than that, she sounded openly nervous. Not frightened, which meant she probably wasn’t being harassed by zombies or rival bloggers, but nervous. “Sure, Buff. Give me a second.” I strode back to the table and leaned across two of the arguing aides to grab the speaker phone. They squawked protests, but I ignored them, yanking off my ear cuff and snapping it into the transmission jack at the base of the phone.

“Miss Mason?” inquired the senator, eyebrows rising.

“Sorry, this is important.” I hit the Receive button.

“ testing, testing,” said Buffy’s voice, crackling slightly through the speaker. “Am I live?”

“We can hear you, Miss Meissonier,” said the senator. “May I ask what was so important that it required breaking in on our conference?”

Chuck Wong spoke next; apparently, ours wasn’t the only end on speakerphone. “We’re at the perimeter fence, sir, and it seemed important that we call you as quickly as possible.”

“What’s going on out there, Chuck? No more zombies, I hope?”

“No, sir—not so far. It’s the screamer.”

“The one that failed?”

“Yes, sir. It didn’t fail because of anything my team did.” Chuck didn’t keep the relief out of his tone, and I couldn’t blame him. Carelessness can be a federal offense when it applies to antizombie devices. No one has managed to successfully charge a security technician with manslaughter—yet—but the cases come up almost every year. “The wires were cut.”

The senator froze. “Cut?”

“The screamer shows detection of the zombies we saw last night, sir. The connection that should have set off the perimeter alarms wasn’t made because those wires had been cut before the alarm was sounded.”

“Whoever did it did a pretty good job,” Buffy said. “All the damage is inside the boxes. Nothing visible until you crack the case, and even then you have to dig around before you find the breaks.”

The senator sagged backward, paling. “Are you telling me this was sabotage?”

“Well, sir,” said Chuck, “none of my men would have cut the wires on a screamer protecting the convoy that they were inside. There’s just no reason for it.”

“I see. Finish your sweep and report back, Chuck. Miss Meissonier, thank you for calling. Please, call again if you need anything further.”

“Roger. Georgia, we’re on server four.”

“Noted. Signing off now.” I leaned over and cut the connection before pulling my ear cuff out of the jack and sliding it back onto my ear. Only when this was done did I glance back up at Senator Ryman.