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At the moment, he was looking at me with narrowed eyes, and it was clear that whoever’s side he was currently on, it wasn’t mine. His tie was askew, and his jacket had been tossed over a nearby chair. That, more than the senator’s unbuttoned jacket and missing tie, told me they’d been having a rough day. Senator Ryman is quick to shed the trappings of propriety, but Channing only takes his jacket off when the stress is too much to tolerate in tweed.

“Thought I’d come see how things were going at the fort,” I said, closing the door behind myself. “Maybe get some decent reaction quotes as the numbers come down.”

“Miss Mason,” acknowledged Channing stiffly. Several of the interchangeable interns were occupied at the back of the room, taking notation from the various monitors into their handhelds and PDAs. “Please try not to get underfoot.”

“I’ll do my best.” I sat in the first unoccupied chair, folding my hands behind my head as I stared in his direction. Channing is one of those people who can’t stand the fact that my sunglasses make it hard for him to tell whether I’m actually looking at him.

He met my stare with a disgruntled glower before grabbing his jacket and striding for the door. “I’m getting coffee,” he said, and stepped out into the hallway, slamming the door as he went.

Senator Ryman didn’t bother to conceal his amusement. Instead, he roared with it, as though my driving his chief aide out of the room was the funniest thing he’d seen in years. “Georgia, that wasn’t nice,” he said, finally, between gusts of laughter.

I shrugged. “All I did was sit down,” I said.

“Wicked, wicked woman. I assume you’re here to find out whether you still have a job?”

“I have a job whether you have a campaign or not, Senator, and I can monitor the public polls from the convoy just as well as I can monitor them from here. I wanted to get an idea of the mood around the camp.” I looked around the room. Most of the people present had shed their jackets, and in some cases their shoes. Empty coffee cups and half-eaten sandwiches littered random surfaces, and the whiteboard was largely dedicated to a series of tic-tac-toe grids. “I’m going with ‘guardedly optimistic.’ ”

“We’re ahead by twenty-three percent of the vote,” the senator said, with a short nod. “ ‘Guardedly optimistic’ is an accurate assessment.”

“How are you feeling?”

He frowned at me. “How do you mean?”

“Well, sir, at some point in the next,” I made a show of checking my watch, “six hours, you find out whether you have a shot at the party nomination, and hence the presidency, or whether you’re looking at the second-banana consolation prize, or worse, nothing at all. Today begins the process of winning or losing the election. So, bearing all of that in mind, how are you feeling?”

“Terrified,” the senator said. “This is a long way from turning to my wife and saying, ‘Well, honey, I think this is the term when I make a run for the office.’ This is the real deal. I’m a bit anticipatory, but not that much. Whatever the polls say, the people will have spoken, and I’ll just have to abide with what they have to say.”

“But you’re expecting them to speak in your favor.”

He fixed me with a stern eye. “Georgia, has this just turned into an interview?”


“Thanks for the warning.”

“Warnings aren’t in my job description. Did you need me to repeat the question?”

“I hadn’t realized it was a question,” he said, tone suddenly wry. “Yes, I’m expecting them to speak in my favor, because you don’t make it as far as I have without developing an ego, and I’m of the opinion that the average American is an intelligent person who knows what’s best for this country. I wouldn’t be running for office if I didn’t think I was the best man for the job. Will I be disappointed if they don’t pick me? A bit. It’s natural to be disappointed when you don’t get chosen for this sort of thing. But I’m willing to believe that if the American public is smart enough to choose their own president, then the American public is smart enough to know what they want, and if they don’t choose me, I need to do some serious self-examination to see where I got it all wrong.”

“Have you given any thought to your next steps, assuming you show strongly enough in today’s polls to continue with the campaign?”

“We’ll keep taking the message to the people. Keep getting out there and meeting people, letting them know that I won’t be the sort of president who sits in a hermetically sealed room and ignores the problems plaguing this country.” His dig at President Wertz was subtle but well-deserved. No one’s seen our current president set foot outside a well-secured urban area since before he was elected, and most critiques of his administration have centered around the fact that he doesn’t seem to realize not everyone can afford to have their air filtered before it gets to them. To listen to him talk, you’d think zombie attacks only happened to the careless and the stupid, rather than being something ninety percent of the people on the planet have to worry about on a daily basis.

“How does Mrs. Ryman feel about this?”

Senator Ryman’s expression softened. “Emily is as pleased as can be that things are going so well. I’m on this campaign with the full support and understanding of my family, and without them, I’d never have been able to make it half as far as I have.”

“Senator, in recent weeks, Governor Tate—who many view as your primary in-party opponent—has been speaking out for stricter screening protocols among children and the elderly, and increased funding for the private school system, on the basis that overcrowding in the public schools only increases the risk of wide-scale viral incubation and outbreak. How do you stand on this issue?”

“Well, Miss Mason, as you know, all three of my daughters have attended the excellent public schools in our home town. My eldest—”