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“My daughter died, Shaun!” said the senator. He was suddenly on his feet, leaving Emily abandoned and looking lost on the couch. “Do you understand that this is more than a story to us? Rebecca is dead! Telling the truth isn’t going to bring her back to life!”

“Neither is telling a lie,” said Rick, his tone so calm that it seemed almost out of place among the heated exchanges. We all turned to look at him. His head was up, his expression clear as he looked from Senator Ryman to Governor Tate. “Senator, believe me when I say I understand your pain more than you can know. And I understand that concern is making you listen to bad advice,” he glanced toward the governor, who had the grace to redden and scowl, “that says we’re civilians, and you should get us out of harm’s way. But, sir, it’s too late for that. This is news. If you send us away, you’re just going to get other reporters sniffing around, looking for a story. Reporters who, if you’ll allow me to beg your pardon, you can’t control. Now, we have a working relationship, and you know we’ll listen to you. Can you honestly expect that from anyone else who might be attracted to this scoop?”

“I think we should go,” said Buffy. I turned to her, eyes going wide. Still looking at her hands, she continued. “We didn’t sign up for this. Maybe Rick’s right, and maybe other people will come, but who cares?” She glanced up through the fringe of her hair and licked her lips. “If they want to come and die, that’s their problem. But I’m scared, and he’s right. We shouldn’t be here anymore. If we were ever supposed to be here at all.”

“Buffy,” said Shaun, sounding stung. “What are you talking about?”

“This is just a story, Shaun, and everywhere we’ve gone, horrible things have happened.” She raised her head, expression miserable. “Those poor people in Eakly. The thing at the ranch. Senator Ryman, I think you’re a wonderful man, but this is just a story, and we shouldn’t be in it. We’re going to get hurt.”

“That’s exactly why we have to stay,” I said. My disappointment didn’t show in my voice; I found that astonishing. I wanted to slap Buffy. I wanted to shake her and demand to know how she could be so blind to the importance of telling the truth after everything we’d been through together. Instead, I faced the room, and my voice stayed calm as I said, “Everything is ‘just a story.’ Tragedy, comedy, end of the world, whatever, it’s just a story. What matters is making sure it’s heard.”

“That attitude, young lady, is why it’s time for you to go,” said Governor Tate. “We can’t trust you to keep your mouth shut when you decide it’s time for the story to be told. Your judgment isn’t the yardstick here. National security is. And I don’t think you fully understand the dangers you could place us in.”

“Now, David—” said the senator.

“Nice stand for freedom there, Governor,” I snapped.

“Can you believe this bullshit?” demanded Shaun.

“On the plus side, ‘Faithful Reporters Fired from Campaign as Veil of Censorship Descends’ has a nice ring to it,” said Rick. “I figure that’s a rating spike, right there.”

“Ratings! All you concern yourself with—”

“Be quiet,” said Emily.

“—is your precious by God ratings!” Governor Tate was getting into it now, his face flushing with religious fire. He’d found his latest opponents, now that Senator Ryman was off the menu. Us. “A little girl dies, a family is shattered, a man’s run to the presidency may not recover, and what do you care about? Your damn ratings! Well, you can take those ratings, and—”

We never found out what we could do with our ratings. The sound of Emily’s palm striking Governor Tate’s cheek rang through the room like a branch breaking; the only thing that could have been louder was the silence that came after it. Governor Tate raised his hand to his cheek, staring at her like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. I couldn’t blame him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing either, and I wasn’t the one who’d been slapped.

“Emily, what—” began Senator Ryman. She raised her hand for silence, and then slowly, deliberately, removed her sunglasses, eyes on Governor Tate the whole time. The unforgiving light flooding the room had caused her pupils to expand until her irises were entirely gone, drowning in blackness. I winced. I knew how much that had to be hurting her, but she didn’t flinch. She kept staring at Tate.

“For the sake of my husband’s political career, I will be pleasant to you; I will smile at you at public functions, and I will, whenever a camera or member of the undiscriminating press is present, endeavor to treat you as if you were a human being,” she said, in a calm, almost reasonable tone. “But understand this: If you ever speak to these people in that sort of manner in my presence again? If you ever behave as if they have no judgment, no compassion, and no common sense? I’ll make you wish you’d never joined this ticket. And if I come to believe that your attitude is in any way changing my husband—not damaging his oh-so-precious career, but changing who he is as a man—I will repudiate you, and I will end you. Do we have an understanding, Governor?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Governor Tate, sounding about as stunned as I felt. A glance to Shaun showed that he was probably feeling much the same. “I think you’ve made yourself clear.”

“Good.” Emily turned toward us. “Shaun, Georgia, Buffy, Rick, I hope you won’t let this unpleasant little scene sour you against my husband’s campaign. I speak for both of us when I say that I very much hope you’ll continue doing exactly what you’ve been doing for us.”

“We signed on for the good and the bad alike, Mrs. Ryman,” said Rick. “I don’t believe any of us are planning on going anywhere.”

Looking at Buffy, I wasn’t sure. “He’s right, Emily,” I said. “We’re staying. Assuming, of course, the senator wants us to ?” I looked his way, and waited.


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