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“Huh?” I twisted around to look at him. “Right, leaving. Yeah, I’m ready to go.”

“You feeling okay?” He peered at me. “You’re pale.”

“I was thinking about Rebecca. You drive? My head hurts too much for it to be safe.”

Now Shaun was really starting to look concerned. I don’t like to let him drive when I’m a passenger. His idea of traffic safety is going too fast for the cops to catch up. “You sure?”

I tossed him the keys. Usually, I don’t like to be in the car when he’s behind the wheel, but usually, I don’t have a bunch of dead people, a distraught presidential candidate, and a splitting headache to contend with. “Drive.”

Shaun gave me one last worried look and turned to head for the van. I followed and climbed into the passenger seat, closing my eyes. Showing rather uncharacteristic concern for my well-being, Shaun opted to drive like a sane human being, pulling out at a reasonably sedate fifty or so miles per hour, and actually acknowledging that the brakes could be used in situations other than “band of zombies blocking the road ahead.” I settled deeper into my seat, keeping my eyes closed, and started to review.

When I said that the facts on the outbreak at the ranch didn’t add up, I’d been half-expecting to find some sign of human neglect or possibly of an intruder who kicked off the whole mess and managed to get overlooked in the carnage, leaving it to be blamed on the horses. Some small thing that was nonetheless enough to trigger my sense of “something isn’t right here.” In short, a blip, a little bit of nothing that didn’t change anything.

Rebecca Ryman was murdered.

This changed everything.

We’d known for weeks that Tracy’s death—and thus probably the entire Eakly outbreak, although there wasn’t anything conclusive that could be used to prove it—wasn’t an accident, but we’d had no real proof that it was anything more than some lunatic taking advantage of an opportunity to cause a little chaos. Now the chances of two random acts of malicious sabotage happening to the same group of people were small to nil. They just got smaller when you stopped to consider that the man who connected both incidents was one of the current front-runners for the office of President of the United States of America. This was big. This was very, very big.

And it was also very, very bad, because whoever was behind it thought nothing of violating Raskin-Watts, and that meant they’d already crossed a line most people don’t even realize is there. Murder is one thing. This was terrorism.

“George? Georgia?” Shaun was shaking my shoulder. I opened my eyes, squinting automatically before I realized that I was facing blessed dimness. Cocking an eyebrow, I turned toward him. He smiled, looking relieved. “Hey. You fell asleep. We’re here.”

“I was thinking,” I said primly, unbuckling my belt before admitting, “and maybe also dozing a little bit.”

“It’s no big. How’s the head?”


“Good. Rick’s already here, and your crew is driving him up a wall—he’s called three times to find out when we’d be on site.”

“Any word from Buffy?” I grabbed my bag and opened the door, sliding out of the car. The parking garage was cool and fairly full. Not surprising; when the senator booked our rooms, he put us in the best hotel in town. Five-star security doesn’t come cheap, but it comes with perks, like underground parking with motion sensors that keep constant track not only of who’s where, but how long they’ve been there and what they’re doing. Stay down here walking in circles for a while, and Shaun and I could get a whole new view of hotel security. That might have been appealing if we hadn’t already been working a story that was almost too hot to handle. I was starting to miss the days when toying with rich people’s security systems was enough to make our front page.

“She’s still at Chuck’s, but she says the servers are prepped to handle whatever load we ask them to and that the Fiction section won’t have a response for a day or two anyway; we should go ahead and run without her.” Shaun slammed his door, starting toward the elevators that would let us into the main hotel. “She seemed pretty shaken up. Said she’d probably sleep over there tonight.”


Like most of the senator’s men, Chuck was staying at the Embassy Suites Business Resort, a fancy name for a series of pseudo-condos that offered less transitory lodgings than our own high-scale but strictly temporary accommodations. His place came with a kitchen, living room, and a bathtub a normal human being could actually take a bath in. Ours came with a substantial array of cable channels, two queen-sized beds that we’d shoved together on the far side of the room in order to make space for the computers, and a surprisingly robust electrical system. We’d only managed to trip the circuit breakers twice, and for us, that’s practically a record.

The elevators were protected by a poor-man’s air lock. The sliding glass doors opened at our approach, then slid closed, sealing us into a small antechamber. A second set of glass doors barred us from the elevator. Being a high-end hotel, they were configured to handle up to four entrances at a time, although most people wouldn’t be foolish enough to take advantage of that illusionary convenience. If anyone failed to check out as clean, the doors would lock and security would be called. Going into an air lock with someone you weren’t certain was uninfected was a form of Russian roulette that few cared to indulge in.

Shaun took my hand, squeezing before we split up. He took the leftmost station while I took the one on the right.

“Hello, honored guests,” said the warm, mock-maternal voice of the hotel. It was clearly designed to conjure up reassuring thoughts of soft beds, chocolates on your pillow every morning, and no infections ever getting past the sealed glass doors. “May I have your room numbers and personal identifications?”