Page 79

He tilted his head, studying me. “That really upset you, didn’t it?”

“What, you mean the part where the nice guys with the big guns demonstrated over a live feed that I can be incapacitated by taking my glasses away? That didn’t bother me a bit.” I shoved Shaun’s feet off my lap. “Sit up. This isn’t a cruise.”

“Behold the bitchiness of George when she hasn’t had her beauty sleep,” said Shaun, pushing himself upright. Twisting around to face Rick, he said, “So, Ricky-boy, you seen your ratings? Because I have some ideas to spice things up. Let’s start with nudity—” And he was off and running, offering a plethora of insane suggestions as my overwhelmed fellow Newsie looked on in dismay.

Grateful for the save, I pulled out my PDA and started scrolling through the headlines. There’d been another outbreak in San Diego; that city hasn’t had a break since the Rising, when bad timing and worse luck caused amplification to occur during the annual International Comic Convention, an event that drew over a hundred and twenty thousand attendees. The results were less than pleasant. In other news, Congresswoman Wagman had been asked to leave the floor for showing up in an outfit more suitable for a Vegas showgirl. Another nutcase in Hong Kong was claiming that Kellis-Amberlee had been engineered specifically to undermine those religions that depended on ancestor worship. In other words, a pretty quiet day if you cut out the headlines that directly referenced or connected back to our expedition to the Ryman family ranch. At a rough glance, I estimated that sixty to seventy percent of the news sites were carrying us as their top story. Us.

I tapped my ear cuff. There was a pause as the connection was made; then Buffy was on the line, sounding irritated from her first curt “Go.”

“Buffy, I need numbers. We’re everywhere, and I have to know whether I’m hauling Mahir’s ass out of bed to start manning the walls.”

“Sec.” We all have live feeds, but Buffy’s are the most up-to-date. I need special equipment to get the data she pulls as a matter of course. That’s why she’s the techie, while I’m just in charge.

There was a long pause. Longer than I’m used to; Buffy can normally give me numbers in a matter of seconds. “Buffy?” Shaun stopped talking as both he and Rick turned toward me. I held up my hand, signaling for quiet. “Are you still there?”

“I’m here. I, uh I think I’m here, anyway.” She sounded a little bit scared. “Georgia? We’re number one, Georgia. We have more current hits, references, link-backs, and quotations than any other news site on the planet.”

My entire body seemed to go numb. I licked my lips. “Say that again.”

“Number one, Georgia.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive.” There was a pause before she said, plaintively, “What do we do now?”

“What do we do now? What do we do now? Wake them up, Buffy! Call your people and wake them up!”

“Senator Ryman—”

“We’re on our way! Ignore him! Get your people on the phone, and get them on the damn site!” I hit my ear cuff to kill the connection and twisted to face the others. “Shaun, start dialing. I want your entire team updating, ten minutes ago, and that means Dave, too. They have phones in Alaska. Rick, check your in-box, start clearing out any merchandise queries that got routed to you by mistake.”

“George, what—”

“We have the ratings, Shaun. We have the top slot.” I nodded at his stunned expression. “Yeah. Now get them on the phone.”

The rest of the ride was a blur of telephone calls, text messages, e-mails, and rousing person after person out of their well-earned rest in order to throw them back into the fray. Most of my crew was too disoriented by lack of sleep to argue when I ordered them out of bed and to their terminals, where the freshly updated site message that appeared as each of them logged in read “Number One News Site IN THE WORLD” in flashing red letters. If that wasn’t enough to jolt them into consciousness, they were probably already dead.

Mahir put it best: When I called him, he responded first with stunned silence, then by swearing a blue streak and hanging up on me so he could get to his computer. I love a man who keeps his priorities straight.

All three of us were so engrossed in work that we missed the rest of the drive to the senator’s “secure location.” I was in the process of giving Alaric and Suzy their marching orders when the car doors opened, filling the back seat with light and nearly spilling Shaun—whose feet were braced against the left-hand passenger window—into the parking lot.

“We’re here,” said Steve. The three of us continued frantically typing on our various handheld PDAs and output screens. Rick was managing to type on his Palm and his phone at the same time, using his thumbs for data entry. Steve frowned. “Uh, guys? We’re here. The senator is waiting.”

“Sec,” I said, freeing one hand long enough to hold it up to him in the universal “stop” gesture. While he gaped at me, I finished tapping out the instructions Alaric and Suzy would need to keep their portions of the site functional until I could get back online. I wasn’t confident they’d survive the day, but Mahir would back them up as much as he could, and he had most of the same administrative permissions as Shaun and I; it would have to do. I lowered my PDA. “All right. Where do we go?”

“You sure you don’t need a few more minutes to check your e-mail or anything?”

I glanced to Shaun. “I think he’s making fun of us.”

“I think you’re right,” Shaun said, and slid out of the car, offering me his hands. “Ignore the philistine and get out here. We have government officials to annoy.”

We were parked in a covered garage less than a quarter the size of the one at the hotel. The lights were bright enough that I hadn’t even noticed the transition from real to artificial illumination. I used Shaun’s hands for balance as I stepped out of the car, sliding my PDA into the carrier on my belt before turning to help Rick down. He glanced to me, and I nodded.