I know you have at least one transmitter planted on the man, and you never let a piece of equipment out of your sight without a tracking device.
Buffy paused. Then she asked, Are you near a data port?
I looked around. Theres a public jack about ten yards from me.
Great. They dont have wireless maps of the convention center up for public accesssomething about preserving the security of the hall or whatever. Go over and plug yourself in, and I can give you Senator Rymans current location, assuming hes not standing within ten yards of a scrambler.
Have I mentioned recently that I adore you? I rose, chucked my bottle into a recycler, and walked toward the jack-in point. So, Chuck, huh? I guess hes cute, if you like the weedy techie type. Personally, Id go for something a little taller, but whatever floats your boat. Just make sure you know where hes been.
Yes, mother, Buffy replied. Are you there yet?
Plugging in now. Hooking my handheld to the wall unit was a matter of seconds. The standardization of data ports has been a true blessing to the technically inept computer users of the world. My system took a few seconds to negotiate a connection with the convention center servers, and most of that was verifying compatibility of antiviral and anti-spam software. It beeped, signaling its readiness to proceed. Im in.
Great. Buffy quieted. I could hear typing in the background. Got it. Youre in the exhibition zone on the second level, right?
Right. Near the Starbucks.
Drop the singular; there are eight Starbucks kiosks on that level alone. Bring me a sugar-free vanilla raspberry mocha when you come back. The senator is on the conference floor three levels down. Im dropping you a map. My handheld beeped, acknowledging receipt. That should have everything you need, assuming he doesnt move.
Thanks, Buffy. I unplugged myself from the wall. Have fun.
Dont call back for at least an hour. The connection cut itself off.
Shaking my head, I focused on the map dominating my screen. It was fairly simplistic, representing the convention center in clear enough lines that my route was difficult to misinterpret. The senators last known location was marked in red, and a thin yellow line connected him to the blinking white dot representing the data port where Id downloaded the information. Nicely done. Pushing my sunglasses back up, I began making my way down the exhibition hall.
The crowd had grown thicker during my water break. That wasnt a problem: Buffys mapping software was equipped with a full overview of the pedestrian routes through the convention center and had been programmed to come up with the fastest route between points, rather than the shortest. After estimating congestion levels, it displayed a route that made use of little-used hallways, half-hidden shortcuts, and a lot of stairwells. Since most people will use escalators whenever possible, taking the stairs is often the best way to avoid getting yourself lost in a crowd.
The human tropism toward illusionary time-saving devices has been the topic of a lot of studies since the Rising. There were an estimated six hundred casualties in one large Midwestern mall due entirely to peoples unwillingness to take the stairs during a crisis. Escalators jam if you overload them. People got stuck on elevators or ambushed by zombies that had been able to worm their way into the crush of people trying to force their way up the frozen escalators, and that was all she wrote. Youd think that after something like that, folks would start getting better about expending a little extra effort, but youd be wrong. Sometimes, the hardest habit to break is the habit of doing nothing beyond the necessary.
It took about fifteen minutes to descend three levels and make it past the cursory security checkpoint between the exhibition levels and the conference floor, which was closed to everyone save the candidates, members of their immediate family, official staff, and the press. The security check consisted of scanning my press pass to confirm that it wasnt a fake, patting me down for unlicensed weapons, and performing a basic blood check with a cheap handheld unit from a brand that I know for a fact returns false negatives three times out of ten. I guess once youre past the door in these places, they dont worry as much about your health.
The quiet of the conference floor was a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the levels above. Down here, the business of waiting for results was exactly that: business. There are always a few hopefuls who stick it out even after the numbers indicate they dont have much of a shot at the big seat, but the fact of the matter is that the party nominations almost always go to the folks who take Super Tuesday, and without party backing, your odds of taking the presidency are slim to none. Youre welcome to try, but youre probably not going to win. Nine out of ten of the folks whove been out pounding the pavement for the last few months will be heading home after the polls close. Itll be four more years before they have another shot at the big time, and for some of them, thats too long to wait; a lot of this years candidates will never try for it again. Dreams are made and broken on days like this.
The senator and his team were in a plushly appointed boardroom about halfway down the hall. A placard on the wall identified the rooms inhabitants as Senator Ryman, Rep., WI, but I still knocked before trying the door, just in case something was going on that I wasnt meant to interfere with.
Come in, called a brisk, irritated voice. I nodded, satisfied that I wasnt interrupting, and stepped inside.
When I first met Robert Channing, the senators chief aide, my initial impression was of a fussy, egotistical man who resented anything that might get in his way. After a few months of acquaintanceship, I havent been forced to revise that impression, although Ive come to understand that hes very good at what he does. He doesnt travel with the convoy. Hes usually at the senators office in Wisconsin, arranging bookings, setting up the halls where Senator Ryman speaks, and coordinating outside news coverage, since three amateur journalists with a vanity site doesnt exactly constitute wide-scale exposure. Oddly, much of my respect for him comes from the fact that hes willing to say things like that to my face. Hes been very upfront about everything that affects the senators chances at the White House from day one, and if that means stepping on a few toes, hes okay with that. Not a nice guy, but a good one to have on your side.