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I think he’s the scariest of the many frightening things I’ve encountered since this campaign began. And that includes the zombies.

Governor Tate is a man who cares so much about freedom that he’s willing to give it to you at gunpoint. He’s a man who cares so deeply about our schools that he supports shutting down public education in favor of vouchers distributed only to schools with government safety certifications. A man who cares so deeply about our farmers that he would reduce the scope of Mason’s Law to allow not only large herding dogs but livestock up to a hundred and thirty pounds back into residential neighborhoods. Governor Tate wants us all to experience the glories of his carefree youth, including, it would seem, pursuit by infected collies and zombie goats.

To make matters worse, he has a good speaking manner, a parochial appearance that polls well in a large percentage of the country, and a decorated history of military service. In short, ladies and gentlemen, he is a legitimate contender to hold the highest office in our nation, as well as being the man who seems most likely to escalate the unending conflict between us and the infected into a state of all-out war.

I can’t tell you to choose Senator Ryman as the Republican Party candidate just because I don’t like Governor Tate. But I can tell you this: The governor’s biases, like mine, are a matter of public record. Do your research. Do your homework. Learn what this man would do to our country in the name of preserving a brand of freedom that is as destructive as it is impossible to secure. Know your enemy.

That’s what freedom really means.

—From Images May Disturb You,

the blog of Georgia Mason, March 14, 2040

Twelve

George?”

“Yeah?” I didn’t look up. Editing Governor Tate’s remarks into a coherent interview was easy, especially since I wasn’t forcing myself to be evenhanded. The man didn’t like me; there was no reason to pretend it wasn’t mutual. Compiling everything into a readable format took less than fifteen minutes, and we were already getting a satisfactory number of hits. It was the follow-ups that were taking time. Not only did I have a lot of photographs and video footage to wade through, but the phenomenal amount of gossip and hearsay posted about the man bordered on appalling. The folks running the convention were about to start calling the votes—we’d have a formal party nominee inside the hour—and I wasn’t anywhere near prepared to leave my computer.

“No, seriously, George?”

“What?”

“There’s a man.”

Now I did look up, squinting in the glare from the open office door before I reached for my sunglasses. The room faded into a comforting monochrome. Anyone who values colors has never had to deal with a KA-induced migraine. “You want to try that again? Because you almost told me something, and I’m thinking you might want to obfuscate your verbiage just a little more. Just for, y’know, giggles.”

“He says you invited him here.” Shaun leaned forward and smirked, his tone dripping with affected smarm. “Got a little election night itch you want scratched? I mean, he’s not completely hideous, although I didn’t think the corn-fed farm boys were your type—”

“Wait. Sandy brown hair, about your height, blue eyes, older than us, looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth?”

“Or anywhere else you wanted to shove it,” Shaun confirmed, eyes narrowing. “You mean you really did tell him to come here?”

“He’s a defector from Wagman’s press corp. She’s pulling out, and he’s bringing everything he’s got, providing it nets him a spot with us for the duration of Ryman’s campaign.”

Shaun’s eyebrows rose. “Public domain materials?”

“Or he wouldn’t be trying to bribe us with them. Buffy!” I hit Save and stood, looking toward the closet our resident Fictional had drafted as her private office. The door cracked open, and her head poked out. “Drop me all the personnel files you can pull on Wagman’s press corps and get out here. We have an interview to conduct.”

“Okay,” she said, and withdrew back into the closet. My terminal beeped a moment later, signaling receipt of the files I’d requested. We’re nothing if not efficient.

“Good.” I looked to Shaun. “Let’s find out whether the man’s wasting our time. Go get him.”

“Your wish, my command,” Shaun said, and turned, closing the door behind him.

Buffy emerged from her closet, moving to take the seat next to me. She had her hair skimmed back in a loose ponytail and was wearing a blue button-up shirt I was reasonably sure belonged to Chuck. She looked about as professional as your average fifteen-year-old, which was close to perfect: If this guy couldn’t handle us in our natural working environment, he didn’t really want to work with us.

“You really thinking of hiring this guy?” she asked.

“Depends on what he’s got and what his credentials say,” I said.

She nodded. “Fair enough.”

Further conversation was forestalled as the door swung open. Shaun stepped into the room, followed by the man from the press room. He was carrying a sealed folder under one arm, which he tossed to me as soon as he was clear of the door. I caught it and raised one eyebrow, waiting. Buffy sat up a little straighter, attention fixed on the newcomer.

“That’s everything,” he said. “Video, hardcopy, data files. Six months of following Wagman, plus the details on the deals she cut as she made for the door. Your boy’s getting confirmed tonight, and it’s going to be partially because of the amount of pull she tossed his way.”

“I doubt she shifted the balance,” I said. Handing the folder to Buffy, I said, “Run this. See if there’s anything we can use.”

“Got it.” She stood and paused, tossing a studied, impish grin toward the newcomer. “Hey, Rick. You’re looking all downtrodden and desperate.”


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