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That was his cue. Rick goggled, sparing Shaun and me the trouble of playing hick, before asking, “Where are we?”

“The senator considers it wise to keep a second local residence for meetings of a sensitive nature,” said Steve.

I gave him a sharp look. “Or meetings with people who didn’t feel comfortable being around the horses?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t be qualified to speak to that, Miss Mason.”

That meant yes. “Fine. Where do we go?”

“This way, please.” He led us to a steel-reinforced door, where I was surprised to see a lack of the customary blood testing units. There also wasn’t a doorknob. Shaun and I exchanged a glance as Steve tapped his earpiece, saying, “Base, we’re at the west door. Release.”

Something clicked, and a light above the door frame flashed green. The door slid open. There was a soft outrush of air as the hall on the other side was revealed; it was a positive-pressure zone, designed to force air out rather than allowing it to flow in and cause a contamination risk.

“No wonder they don’t need blood tests.” I followed Steve into the hall with Shaun and Rick close behind me. The hallway door slid shut behind us.

The lights in the hall were bright enough to hurt my eyes even through my contacts. I squinted, stepping closer to Shaun and letting the blurry motion of his silhouette guide me toward the door at the far end, where two more guards waited, each holding a large plastic tray.

“The senator would prefer this meeting not be broadcast or recorded,” Steve said. “If you would please place all nonessential equipment here, it will be returned to you at the end of the meeting.”

“You have got to be kidding,” said Shaun.

“I don’t think he is,” I said, turning toward Steve. “You want us to walk in there naked?”

“We can put up an EMP privacy screen if you don’t think we can trust you to leave your toys behind,” said Steve. His tone was mild, but the tightness around his eyes said he knew exactly how much he was asking and he wasn’t happy about it. “The choice is yours.”

An EMP privacy screen sufficient to secure an area would fry half of our more sensitive recording devices and could do serious damage to the rest. Replacing that much gear would kill our operating budget for months, if not the rest of the year. Grumbling, all three of us began stripping off our equipment—and in my case, jewelry—and dumping it into the trays. The guards stood there impassively, waiting for us to finish.

Dropping my ear cuff into my hand, I looked to Steve. “So do we have to be totally radio silent, or are we allowed to keep our phones?”

“You can keep any private data recorders that will be used solely for the purposes of taking personal notes, and any telecommunications devices that can be deactivated for the duration of the meeting.”

“Swell.” I dropped my ear cuff into the tray and slipped my PDA back onto my belt. I felt strangely exposed without my small army of microphones, cameras, and data storage devices, as if the world held a lot more dangers than it had a few minutes before. “How’s Buffy taking this?”

Steve smirked. “They said they wouldn’t cut her off until we got here.”

“So you’re telling me your men are in there, right now, trying to take Buffy’s equipment away?” Shaun said, and looked toward the closed door with a sort of wary fascination. “Maybe we should stay out here. It’s a lot safer.”

“Unfortunately, Senator Ryman and Governor Tate are waiting for you.” Steve nodded to the guards. The one on the left leaned over and took the tray from the one on the right, who opened the door. There was another inrush of air as the hallway’s positive-pressure zone met the house beyond. “If you don’t mind?”

“Tate’s here?” My eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, Tate’s here?”

Steve walked through the open door without answering me. Eyes still narrowed, I shook my head and followed, with Rick and Shaun close behind me. Once the last of us was through the door, the guards closed it, remaining outside in the garage.

“What,” muttered Shaun, “no blood test?”

“Guess they figure there’s no point,” said Rick.

I kept my mouth shut, busying myself with studying the house. The décor was simple but refined, all clean, sleek lines and well-lit corners. Overhead lighting provided a steady level of illumination, with no visible dimmer switches or controls; it was either light or darkness, with nothing in between. It was less glaring than the hallway lights, but I still grimaced. The lights answered one question—this was nothing but a show home, intended for meetings and parties, but never for living in. Emily, with her retinal KA, couldn’t possibly have lived here.

There were no windows.

We walked through the house to the dining room, where a brisk-looking security guard in a black suit was finishing the process of taking Buffy’s equipment away. If looks could kill, the way she was glaring would have left us with an outbreak on our hands.

“We about done here, Paul?” asked Steve.

The guard—Paul—shot him a harried look and nodded. “Miss Meissonier has been quite cooperative.”

“Liar,” said Shaun, so close to my ear that I don’t think anyone else heard him.

“Buffy,” I said, swallowing my smile. “What’s the sitrep?”

“Chuck’s in there with the senator and Mrs. Ryman,” Buffy said, as she continued glaring at Paul. “Governor Tate just got here. They didn’t tell me he was coming, or I would’ve warned you.”

“It’s all right.” I shook my head. “He’s a part of this campaign now, like it or not.” I looked to Steve. “We’re ready when you are.”

“This way, please.” He opened a door on the far side of the room, holding it as the four of us filed through. When Rick stepped through the doorway, Steve closed the door behind him. The lock slid home with a final-sounding “click.”