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“It’s a good way to get ratings and commit suicide at the same time,” Rick said.

I snorted. “All right. You can stay.”

There was a knock at the door. It opened before any of us had a chance to react, and Steve entered, sunglasses obscuring the majority of his expression. I stood.

“Is it time?” I asked.

Steve nodded. “Senator asked me to make sure you were ready.”

“Right. Thanks, Steve.” Grabbing my bag, I hooked a thumb toward our newest addition. “Rick, you’re with me; we’re on the floor. Buffy, I need you here, working the terminals. Hit my remotes and tell them we’re streaming raw footage starting in ten minutes, and they should be ready to start doing the forum-facing clean and jerk.”

“Editorial power?”

“Fact only, no opinions until I log on and start setting the baselines.” I was checking equipment as I spoke, hands moving on autopilot. My recorder was charged, and the readout on my watch indicated that all cameras were operating at seventy percent or above. “See if you can rouse Mahir, and yes, I know what time it is in London, but I need someone sane stomping on the trolls. Shaun—”

“Outside the convention hall with my skateboard and my stick, watching to see if the protestors and picketers do anything worth reporting on,” Shaun said, snapping an amiable salute. “I know my strengths.”

“Play to them, and don’t get dead,” I said, turning to head for the door. Steve stepped out of the way, giving me a sidelong look as Rick followed in my wake. “It’s okay, Steve. He’s on the squad.”

“They liked my backflip,” Rick said, looking up at Steve. There was a lot of “up” to look at. “You’re very tall.”

“You must be a reporter,” Steve said. He closed the door behind us, leaving Shaun and Buffy inside.

The convention center had seemed busy before. Compared to the madhouse that greeted us as we proceeded toward the main meeting hall, it was a mausoleum. People were everywhere. They ranged from staffers I recognized from the various campaigns to private security, members of politicians’ families, and reporters who’d somehow managed to get out of the press pit and into the wild. Soon, they’d go feral and start inventing scandals for the sake of their ratings.

Rick greeted the scene with calm professionalism, sticking close as I followed in Steve’s massive, crowd-clearing wake. Rick didn’t seem to have any problems taking orders from a woman ten years his junior, either, which can be an issue with guys trying to jump from the traditional news media to the blogging world. They don’t mean to bring their prejudices with them when they make the transition, but some things are harder to get rid of than an addiction to seeing your stories physically printed. If Rick continued to listen as well as he had been, things were going to be fine.

Steve steered a course through the back halls and into the screaming furor of the auditorium, where politicos and onlookers of every age, race, and creed were gathered for the solemn practice of screaming at the top of their lungs whenever they thought they caught a glimpse of one of the prospective candidates. A satisfying percentage of the crowd was sporting “Ryman for President” buttons. A group of clean-cut sorority girls in tight white T-shirts hung over one of the rails, shrieking with delight over the entire political process.

I elbowed Rick, indicating the girls. “See their shirts?”

He squinted. “ ‘Ryman’s My Man’? Who comes up with this stuff?”

“Shaun, actually. He’s got an amazing ear for doggerel.” I tapped my ear cuff. “Buffy, we’re in. How’s my signal?”

“Loud and clear, O glorious recorder of really jumbled footage. Try to get yourself to a clean shot, I’m only getting fifty percent signal off the stationary cameras.”

“You mean the stationary cameras that belong to the convention center and were installed for security purposes? The ones with the supposedly unbreakable signal feeds?”

“Those would be the ones. I won’t be able to use them for anything but pan shots, and the networks have the wall-mount cameras under exclusive coding that I can’t break through, so get something good!”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Buffy out.”

The connection clicked off, and I turned to Steve. “Where are we?”

“Mrs. Ryman has said you can sit backstage with her if you’d like, or you can stay out here and film the crowd,” Steve said. “Either way, I need to head back there. We’re hitting the wire.”

“Got it.” I looked to Rick, unclasping the recording array from my left wrist. “Take this. Three cameras, direct feed back to Buffy in the closet—just lift it up, the lenses are set to autofocus.”

He took the wristband and snapped the Velcro around his own wrist. “You’ll be backstage?”

“Got it. Meet back in the office when the crowd disperses, and we’ll see where we’re going from there.” The footage I got backstage wouldn’t be as sensational, but it would be more intimate, and that sort of thing has a staying power that crowd shots lack. We’d hook readers with the screaming and keep them with the silence. Plus, this was a good opportunity to test Rick’s reactions in a field situation. The term “probationary period” doesn’t mean much in the news. He’d work out or he wouldn’t, starting tonight.

“Right.” He turned toward the stage, raising his arm to give the cameras the best view. Satisfied that he wasn’t going to screw around, I followed Steve along the edge of the hall toward the curtained-off area behind the stage.

You wouldn’t think one little canvas curtain could make that much of a difference. Most little canvas curtains aren’t equipped with enough private security to stop a full-scale invasion. The men at the entrance eyeballed our credentials but didn’t bother to stop us or ask for blood tests—once we were this deep into the convention center, either we were clean or we were all dead already. So we just sailed on through, out of the chaos and into the calm harbor on the other side.