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I looked at him, grateful for the way my sunglasses concealed the bulk of my expression. Only Shaun was likely to realize how upset I was. “You mean it’s classified from the media.”

“Now, Georgia—”

“Are you seriously telling me that if I were some random Joe Public, you’d answer my questions, but because I work for a news site, you won’t?” His silence was all the answer I needed. “Goddammit, Peter. We are dying for you, and you won’t tell us what kind of bullets they’re using for the job? Why, because being reporters means we automatically have no sense of discretion? Is that it? We’re going to run right out and cause a public panic, because, gee, no one’s going to suspect a cover-up when one of our own gets dead and we don’t say anything but ‘Death sucks’!” I started stepping toward him and stopped as Rick and Shaun each grabbed me by an arm. “Screw you,” I spat, not bothering to fight their hold. “I thought you were better than this.”

Senator Ryman looked at me, shaking his head in open bewilderment. “She’s dead, Georgia. Buffy’s dead. Chuck’s dead. You should be dead, all of you, dead and sanitized, not here and alive, shouting at me for not wanting you to rush right back out and keep getting yourselves killed! Georgia, I’m not keeping this from you because you’re a reporter. I’m keeping it from you because I’d rather you didn’t die.”

“With all due respect, Senator, I think that’s a decision you have to let us make for ourselves.” I shook my arm free of Shaun’s grasp. As soon as Shaun released me, Rick did the same. We looked at Senator Ryman together, waiting for his answer.

The senator glanced away. “I don’t want your deaths on my conscience, Georgia. Or on my campaign.”

“Well, then, Senator, I guess we’ll just have to do our best not to die,” I said.

He turned back to us. His expression was bleak. It was the face of a man who’d spent his life chasing a dream and was only now beginning to realize how much it might cost to get it.

“I’ll have the reports sent to you,” he said. “Our plane leaves in an hour. If you’ll excuse me.” It wasn’t a question, and he didn’t wait for an answer. He just turned and walked away.

first time I met Buffy. Man, I didn’t even know I was meeting her, y’know? It was one of those types of things. Me and George, we knew we needed a Fictional if we wanted to get hired at one of the good sites because you can’t just log in and be like “Yo, we’re two-thirds of a triple threat, give us our virtual desks.” We needed a wedge, something to make us complete. And that was Buffy. We just didn’t know it yet.

They do these online job fair things in the blogging community, like Craigslist gone even more super-specialized. Georgia and I flagged our need for a Fictional at the next fair, opened a virtual booth, and waited. We were about to give up when we got a chat request from somebody who IDed herself as “B.Meissonier” and said she didn’t have any field experience but she was willing to learn. We talked for thirteen hours straight. We hired her that night.

Buffy Meissonier was the funniest woman I knew. She loved computers, poetry, and being the kind of geek who fixes your PDA before you know it’s broken. She liked old TV and new movies, and she listened to all kinds of music, even the stuff that sounds like static and church bells. She played guitar really badly, but she meant every note.

There are people who are going to say she was a traitor. I’ll probably be one of them. That doesn’t change the fact that she was my friend. For a long time, before she did anything wrong, she was my friend, and I was with her when she died, and I’m going to miss her. That’s what matters. She was my friend.

Buffy, I hope they have computers and cheesy television and music and people laughing where you are now. I hope you’re happy, on the other side of the Wall.

We miss you.

—From Hail to the King,

the blog of Shaun Mason, April 21, 2040


The senator and his security team came from Houston to Memphis via the Houston CDC’s private plane. Every CDC installation has one fueled and ready at all times. Not because there could be an evacuation—any outbreak large enough to require evacuating an entire CDC installation would leave a distinct lack of uninfected people to actually evacuate—but for the transfer of specialists, patients, and, yes, politicians and other such notables from one location to another in a quick, efficient, and, above all, discreet manner. It wouldn’t do to set off a public panic because someone had seen, say, the world’s leading specialist in Kellis-Amberlee-related reservoir conditions being flown into a populated area. The nation is constantly poised on the edge of a riot, and the CDC is very aware of how easy it would be to be the match that starts the fire.

The last time I was on a CDC plane and conscious of the experience, I was nine and on my way to visit Dr. William Crowell. Dr. Crowell was that “world’s leading specialist” I mentioned before, and he thought he might’ve found a cure for retinal KA. My parents, ever eager to do stupid shit in the name of a good story, flew me to Atlanta to let him test his treatment on me. His cure proved as artificial as his toupee and his “light therapy” left me seeing spots for a month, but I got to ride in an airplane and have an adventure without Shaun. For my nine-year-old self, that was almost enough.

They give you more snacks when you’re nine. Also, airplane captains may be willing to let cute little girls in dark glasses hang out in the cabin, but they’re not as understanding of adult journalists who just want to get away from their traveling companions. When you added the fact that the senator wouldn’t look me in the eye, while Shaun spent the entire flight trying to take his seat apart with a screwdriver swiped from one of the guards, it’s no surprise that I was happy as hell to touch down at our destination, even though landing came barely an hour after taking off.