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Page 89


“You’re going to be fine,” I said, watching the lights. They were still cycling, still measuring the viral payload of her blood, but the cycle was becoming irregular, hanging on red for six seconds before flashing back to green. The test results were being confirmed, and they were not in Buffy’s favor.

“You’re too attached to the truth, Georgia,” she said. Her voice was serene, at peace with itself. “It makes you a crappy liar.” The tears were falling faster now. “I swear I had no idea they were going to do those things. No idea at all. If I’d known, I would never have agreed to it. You have to believe me, I wouldn’t have.”

The lights had settled on a steady red, as damning as any doctor’s report. The viral load Buffy picked up from Chuck’s saliva might have been small, but it had been enough. That wasn’t the only thing making me go cold. I stood, stepping back next to Shaun, and pulled the gun from my belt. “You wouldn’t have agreed to what?”

“They said the country was drifting away from God. They said that we were losing sight of His desires for the nation, and that was why things are the way they are now. And I believed them.”

“They who, Buffy?”

“They didn’t give me a name. They just said they could make sure things went the way they needed to go. The way they had to go for this country to be great again. All I had to do was let them access our databases and follow the Ryman campaign.”

Voice gone suddenly hard, Rick said, “When did you figure out what they were using that information to do, Buffy? Before or after Eakly?”

“After!” she said, opening her eyes and turning a plaintive look his way. “After, I swear it was after. It wasn’t until the ranch that I realized I realized ”

My hand shook, sending my aim wavering as I realized what she was saying and what it meant. “Oh, my God. With access to our databases, they’d known exactly where the senator was going to be, what sort of security he’d have, what times we had booked for any given location—”

“It gets worse,” said Shaun. His own voice was flat. “She had our databases cued to the senator’s databases. Didn’t you, Buffy?”

“It seemed practical at the time, and Chuck said it wouldn’t hurt anything as long as we stayed out of the more sensitive areas. It made things easier ”

“Lots of things,” I said. “Like knowing when the ranch would be most vulnerable. You cut them off, didn’t you? Told them you wouldn’t be giving them anything else.”

“How did you know?” She closed her eyes again, shuddering.

“Because they’d have no other reason to try to kill us all.” I glanced toward Rick and Shaun. “We stopped being useful. So Buffy’s ‘friends’ tried to take us out.”

“My notes,” said Buffy, with an air of desperation in her tone. Her tears were stopping. Another classic sign. The virus doesn’t like to give moisture away. “You have to read my notes. They’ll tell you everything I knew. I didn’t know their names, but there are time stamps, there are IPs, you can try to try to ”

“How could you do this, Buffy?” demanded Shaun. “How could you possibly have done this? To the senator? To us? People have died, for God’s sake!”

“And I’m one of them. It’s time to shoot me. Please.”

“Buffy—”

“That’s not my name,” she said, and opened her eyes. Her pupils had dilated until they were as large as mine. She turned those unnaturally dark eyes toward me, shaking her head. “I don’t remember my name. But that isn’t it.”

Shaun started to swing his pistol into place. I raised my hand, stopping him. “I hired her,” I said, quietly. “It’s my job to fire her.”

I stepped forward, putting my left hand over my right to steady my grip on the gun. Buffy continued looking up at me, her expression calm. “I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s not your fault,” she replied.

“Your name is Georgette Marie Meissonier,” I said, and pulled the trigger.

She fell without another sound. Shaun put his arms around my shoulders, and we stood there, frozen in the night.

Nothing would ever be the same.

BOOK IV

Postcards from the Wall

Alive or dead, the truth won’t rest. My name is Georgia Mason, and I am begging you: Rise up while you can.

—GEORGIA MASON

If you asked me now “Was it worth it? Were the things you got, the things you wanted?” I’d tell you “no,” because there isn’t any other answer. So I guess it’s a good thing that nobody’s ever going to ask. They never ask the things that really matter.

—SHAUN MASON

It is the unfortunate duty of the management of After the End Times to announce that the maintainer of this blog, Georgette Marie “Buffy” Meissonier, passed away this past Saturday night, April 17, 2040, at approximately eight-fifteen P.M. Buffy was involved in an automotive accident that led, tragically, to her being bitten by her boyfriend, Charles Wong, who had died and reawakened only a few moments previously.

Please do not mistake the professional tone of this memo for a lack of compassion or mourning on the part of the staff here at After the End Times. Rather, take it for what it is, a sign of our respect and dismay over her sudden loss.

Buffy’s family has been notified, and her entry has been transmitted to the Wall. Her blog and its archives will be maintained in her honor for the lifetime of this site.

Buffy, you will be missed.

—A message from Georgia Mason,

originally published in By the Sounding Sea,

the blog of Buffy Meissonier, April 18, 2040

Eighteen

My aim has never been as good as Shaun’s, but it didn’t matter at close range: Head shots get a lot easier when there’s no real distance between you and your target. Even so, I kept my gun raised for several minutes, as much waiting to feel something as waiting for her to move. She was part of my team, part of our inner circle, and she was gone. Shouldn’t I have felt something? But there was nothing beyond a vague sense of loss and a much stronger sense of onrushing dread.


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