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You’ve heard about Rebecca Ryman by now. Eighteen years old, scheduled to graduate high school in less than three months, ranked fifth in her class, and already accepted at Brown University, where she was planning to study law and follow in her father’s footsteps. She’d been riding since she was old enough to walk; that’s how she was able to bridle that postamplification horse and get her baby sisters off the grounds. She was a real American hero—at least, that’s what all the papers and news sites say. Even mine.

If you’ll allow a reporter her brief moment of sentiment, I’d like to tell you about the Rebecca that I met, if only for a moment, in the words and the faces of her parents.

Rebecca Ryman was a teenage girl. She was petulant. She was sulky. She hated being asked to sit for her sisters on a Friday night, especially when there was a new Byron Bloom movie opening. She liked to read trashy romances and eat ice cream straight from the container, and nothing made her happier than working with the horses. She stayed home from the Republican National Convention partially to get ready for college and partially to be with the horses. Because of that decision, she died, and her sisters lived. She couldn’t save her grandparents or the men who worked the ranch, but she saved her sisters, and in the end, what more could anyone have asked of her?

I told her parents she was dead. That, if nothing else, qualifies me to say this:

Rebecca, you will be deeply missed.

—From Images May Disturb You,

the blog of Georgia Mason, March 17, 2040


The funeral services for Rebecca Ryman and her grandparents were held a week after the convention at the family ranch. The delay wasn’t for mourning or to allow family members time to travel; that’s how long it took for regional authorities to downgrade the ranch from a Level 2 hazard zone to a Level 5. It was still illegal to enter unarmed, but now at least nonmilitary personnel could enter unescorted. The area would return to its original Level 7 designation if it could go three years without signs of further contamination. Until then, even the kids would need to carry weapons at all times.

Most public opinion held that it wouldn’t matter how long it took for the hazard rating to drop; no family would choose to stay in a home and a profession—viewed by many as a dangerous, glorified hobby—that claimed the life of one of their children. They said the ranch would be long deserted by the time that happened.

I wish I could say that attitude was confined to the conservative fringe, but it wasn’t. Within six hours of Rebecca’s death, half the children’s safety advocacy groups were clamoring for tighter guidelines and attempting to organize legislation that would make the life led by the Rymans illegal. No more early riding classes or family farms; they wanted it shut down, shut down now, and shut down hard. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone but the Rymans, I think: Peter and Emily never attempted to map out the scenarios leading to the martyrdom of their eldest daughter, and so they’d never considered what a boon her death would be to certain organizations. Americans for the Children was the worst. Its “Remember Rebecca” campaign was entirely legal and entirely sleazy, although its attempts to use pictures of Jeanne and Amber had been quashed by the Rymans’ legal team. It didn’t matter. The images of Rebecca with her horses—and of postamplification horses attempting to disembowel the federal authorities putting them down—had already done their damage.

In the chaos and noise surrounding the outbreak at the ranch, it wasn’t really a surprise that Senator Ryman’s selection of a running mate barely made anyone’s radar, save for the hardcore politicos who couldn’t care less that people were dead and me. I wasn’t surprised, although I must admit that I was more than slightly disappointed when it was announced that Governor Tate would accompany Senator Ryman on the ballot. It was a good, balanced ticket; it would carry most of the country, and it stood a good chance of putting Senator Ryman in the White House. The tragedy at the ranch had already put him twenty points up on his opponent in the early polls. The Democratic candidate, Governor Frances Blackburn, was a solid politician with an excellent record of service, but she couldn’t compete with a teenage heroine who sacrificed herself to save her sisters. This early in the race, people weren’t voting for the candidate. They were voting for his daughter. And she was winning.

My team and I offered to head back to California until after the services. While our contract with the senator said “constant access,” there’s a difference between honest reporting and playing the ghoul. Let the local news film the funeral. We’d do our laundry, give Buffy a chance to upgrade the equipment, and introduce Rick to the parents. Nothing says “crash course in working as a team” like starting with a major political convention, then moving on to meeting my mother on her home turf. Shaun can seem like a minor natural disaster sometimes, but Mom’s always a seven point five on the Richter scale.

That plan was scotched on the drawing board by Senator Ryman, who took me aside the day after the convention and informed me that it would mean a great deal to everyone if we would attend—and cover—the funeral. Rebecca loved our coverage of the elections, and given his position as the Republican Party candidate, he knew there would be reporters trying to get in to report on the funeral. This way, he’d know the press was reputable.

What was I supposed to say? Buffy can order most of what she needs online, and they have Laundromats everywhere. The only thing that might have been a sticking point was Rick, since he was still moving his personal belongings out of the hotel that had been the base camp for the Wagman campaign, but I didn’t anticipate it being much of a problem. He’d been forced to hit the ground running, and he’d done it without a murmur of complaint. His footage of Senator Ryman’s acceptance speech was top-notch, especially after we had cut it with the video feed of the assault on the ranch. Our viewer numbers have jumped more than eighteen percent since the convention, and they’re still climbing; I attribute it partially to adding Rick to the team. No one else got an exclusive on the Wagman pullout. Add that to the acceptance and the tragedy, and well