The sunglasses too, maam, said the soldier.
Oh, for cryingshes got retinal KA! You have our files from when we came in here, you should know that! Shauns earlier grandstanding was gone, replaced by genuine irritation.
The sunglasses, repeated the soldier.
Its all right, Shaun; hes just doing his job, I said, gritting my teeth and squeezing my eyes closed before tugging off my sunglasses and dropping them. Again, I moved to step back into the line.
Please open your eyes, maam, said the soldier.
Are you prepared to provide me with immediate medical attention? I asked, not bothering to conceal my own anger. My name is Georgia Carolyn Mason, license number alpha-foxtrot-bravo-one-seven-five-eight-nine-three, and like my brother said, you have my file. I have advanced retinal Kellis-Amberlee. If I open my eyes without protection, I risk permanent damage. Again, were journalists, and I will sue.
There was another pause as the soldier conferred with whoever was giving him his orders. This one took longer; they were presumably calling up my file and confirming that no one was attempting to use a pair of sunglasses and some big words to conceal my impending conversion. Return to your group, he said, finally. I stepped backward, letting Shauns hand on my elbow guide me to a stop.
It took nearly ten minutes for Shaun and Rick to finish putting their weapons down and move back into place beside me, Shauns hand going to my elbow in case we needed to move. Im basically blind in daylight without my glasses. Maybe worse, since a real blind person doesnt have to worry about migraines or damaging their retinas just because theres no cloud cover.
Under whose authority have you entered these premises? asked the soldier.
Senator Peter Ryman, said Rick, speaking with a calm that clearly said that hed done more than his share of dealing with the authorities. I believe it was Miss Masons call to the senator that you intercepted?
The soldier ignored his barb. Senator Ryman is aware of your current location?
Senator Ryman gave full consent for this investigation, said Rick, stressing the word senator. Im sure hell be very interested in our findings.
There was another pause as the soldier conferred. This one was interrupted by a crackle of static, and Senator Rymans voice came over the loudspeaker, saying, Give me that thing. What are your people doing? Thats my press corps, and youre acting like theyre trespassers on my landyou dont see something wrong with that? Another voice mumbled contrition outside the range of the speakers microphone, and Senator Ryman boomed, Damn right, you didnt think. You folks all right? Georgia, have you gone mental, girl? Get your glasses back on. You think a blind reporters going to be much good at uncovering all my dirty little secrets?
These nice men told me to take them off, sir! I called.
These nice men with all the guns, Shaun added.
Well, that was very neighborly of them, but now Im asking you to put them back on. Georgia, you got a spare set?
I do, but theyre in my back pocketIm afraid Ill drop them. Never go out without a spare pair of sunglasses. Preferably three. Of course, that anticipates contamination, not army-induced flash-blinding.
Shaun, get your sister her glasses. She looks naked without them. Its creeping me out.
Yes, sir! Shaun let go of my elbow and reached into my pocket. A moment later, I felt him pressing a fresh pair of glasses into my palm. I let out a relieved sigh, snapped them open, and slid them on. The glare receded. I opened my eyes.
The scene hadnt changed much. Shaun and Rick were still flanking me, the armed men were still surrounding us, and fixed-point camera number four was still transmitting the whole thing back to the van on a band so low that it would look like white noise to most receivers. Buffy stays on top of whats happening in the field of wireless technology for just that reason; the more she knows, the harder it is to jam our signals. I didnt know whether our higher-band cameras were being blockedprobably, considering the armybut our low-band was going to be fine.
Are your eyes all right, Georgia? asked the senator. Shaun was giving me a look that asked the same question, in fewer words.
Absolutely, sir, I called. That wasnt entirely true. My migraine was reaching epic proportions and would probably be with me for days. Still, it was close enough for government work. We need to talk when these nice men are done, if you have time.
Of course. There was a tension in the senators voice that belied his earlier friendliness. I want to know everything.
So do we, sir, said Rick. For one thing, wed very much like to know whats in this syringe. Unfortunately, we lack the facilities to test its contents.
The item in question is now in the custody of the United States Army, said the first voice, reclaiming the loudspeaker from Senator Ryman. What it does or does not contain is no longer your concern.
I straightened. Shaun and Rick did the same.
Excuse me, Rick said, but are you saying that potential proof that live Kellis-Amberlee was used to cause an outbreak on American soil, on the property of a candidate for President of the United States of America, is not the concern of the people? Of, to be specific, three fully licensed and accredited representatives of the American media, who located that proof after being invited to perform an investigation that the armed forces had neglected to carry out?
The soldiers surrounding us stiffened, and their guns were suddenly at angles that implied that accidents can happen, even on friendly soil. The Secret Service men frowned but remained more relaxed; after all, the original investigation hadnt been under their control.