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Who would want to kill Senator Ryman? Try “practically everyone,” and you’d be off to a good start. Senator Peter Ryman started out as a long shot, and somehow became a front-runner in the presidential race. Everything could change before the official party conventions, but there was no denying that he’d been doing well in the polls, that he’d been performing solidly across a wide spectrum of potential voters, and that his views on the issues tended to appeal to the majority. Being the first candidate to open his campaign to the blogging world certainly didn’t hurt—he’d enjoyed a substantial boost in awareness among voters aged thirty-five and below. The other candidates took too long to realize that they might have missed a trick, and they’d all been scrambling to catch up. Two of our betas received invitations to follow competing politicians in the week immediately after Eakly. Both refused the offers, citing conflict of interest. When you’ve got a good thing going, you don’t shoot it before you have to.

Beyond Senator Ryman’s standing lead, he was photogenic, well-liked, and well-placed in the Republican Party, with no major scandals in his background. No one makes it that far in politics and stays completely clean, but he’s about as close as they come. Literally, the biggest scandal I’ve been able to find on the man is that his oldest daughter, Rebecca, was either three months premature or was conceived out of wedlock. That’s it. He’s like a big, friendly Boy Scout who just woke up one day and decided to become the President of the United States of America.

He doesn’t even seem to belong to any of the major special-interest groups. Despite his wife’s horse ranch, he supports the enforcement of Mason’s Law, which means he’s not in the pocket of the animal rights organizations, but he also opposes wide-scale hunting and deforestation, which means he doesn’t belong to the militant antinature groups. He neither preaches damnation nor asserts that secular humanism was the only answer for a post-Rising world. I haven’t even been able to find proof that his campaign received funding from the tobacco companies, and everyone’s campaign receives funding from the tobacco companies. Once lung cancer stopped killing their customers, they rapidly became the number one contributors to most political campaigns. There’s big money to be had in cigarettes that don’t give anybody cancer.

A lot of people would benefit if Peter Ryman turned up dead. So maybe it’s no surprise that things were fairly bleak around the convoy as the primaries approached. The playful atmosphere that had dominated the campaign for the first six weeks was gone, replaced by blank-faced, by-the-book bodyguards who sometimes seemed to think they should demand blood tests after you used a public toilet. Buffy was handling things pretty well, largely by spending her time either inside the van or with Chuck and his team over in the senator’s equipment rig, but it was driving Shaun and me out of our minds.

We both have our own ways of dealing with crazy. That’s why Super Tuesday found Shaun off with every other Irwin who’d shown up to cover the convention, looking for dead things to irritate, while I was packed onto a bus with six dozen other deeply uncomfortable-looking reporters, heading for the convention center. I didn’t know why they looked so uneasy; I had to get my press pass scanned three times and my blood tested twice before they’d even let me board. The only way anyone was going into conversion before we hit the convention center was if they suffered from cardiac arrest from the strain of being surrounded by other human beings.

A tense-looking man whose shirt was deformed in a way that telegraphed “I am wearing poorly fitted Kevlar” got onto the bus, and the driver announced, “We are at capacity. This bus is now departing for the convention center.” This garnered a smattering of applause from the riders, most of whom looked like they were rethinking their choice of careers. No one ever told them that being a reporter would mean talking to people!

If it seems as if I have little respect for the other members of my profession, that’s because it’s true: I frequently don’t. For every Dennis Stahl who’s willing to go out and chase down the story, you have three or four “reporters” who’d rather edit together remotely taped feeds, interview their subjects by phone, and never leave their homes. There’s a fairly popular news site, Under the Lens, that makes that one of their selling points: They claim they must be truly objective, because none of their Newsies ever go into the field. None of them have Class A licenses, and they act like this is something to brag about, like being distanced from the news is a good thing. If the paparazzi clouds serve one purpose, it’s keeping that attitude from spreading.

Fear makes people stupid, and Kellis-Amberlee has had people scared for the last twenty years. There comes a point when you need to get over the fear and get on with your life, and a lot of people don’t seem to be capable of that anymore. From blood tests to gated communities, we have embraced the cult of fear, and now we don’t seem to know how to put it back where it belongs.

The ride to the convention center was almost silent, punctuated only by the various beeps and whirrs of people’s equipment recalibrating as we passed in and out of the various service zones and secure bands. Wireless tech has reached the point where you’d practically have to be in the middle of the rain forest or standing on an iceberg in uncharted waters to be truly “out of service,” but privacy fields and encryption have progressed at roughly the same rate, which frequently results in service being present but unavailable unless you have the security keys.

No one’s supposed to interfere with the standard phone service channels. This doesn’t stop overenthusiastic security crews from occasionally blanking everything but the emergency bands. It was amusingly easy to spot the freelance journalists in the crowd: They were the ones hitting their PDAs against their palms, like this would somehow make the proper security keys for the convention center access points appear. Fortunately for the security techs of the world, this approach has yet to work for anyone, and the freelancers were still quietly abusing their equipment when we reached the convention center.