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This is another way the end of Feed could have gone: it picks up with the events of what would originally have been chapter twenty-five. It is not what happened.
But it could have.
We came very close.
Rise up while you can.
No one gets to ask us for anything more. Not now, not ever. When history looks our way-stupid, blind history, that judges everything and never gives a shit what we paid to get it-it better remember that no one had a right to ask us for this. No one.
-From Hail to the King, the blog of Shaun Mason, June 19th, 2040.
I wanted to tell the truth. I wanted to be the grand crusader who walked into the darkness and hauled the answers, kicking and screaming, into the light. I wanted to be a savior.
All I succeeded in becoming was a fool.
I have paid enough; I have paid too much; I'm done And I'm sorry.
-From Images May Disturb You, the blog of Georgia Mason, June 19th, 2040.
George walked out of the hall with her shoulders stiff and her face so composed that I knew inside she had to be screaming. The skin around her sunglasses was tight, a sure sign that she was transferring all the tension to her eyes, where no one would be able to see it.
Rick spoke first: "Georgia, what just happened?"
If she lashed out, I wanted to be the one who drew her fire. I stepped minutely forward, adding my own patently idiotic, "George? You okay?"
She grabbed a flute of champagne from a passing server and drained it in one convulsive gulp before she snapped, "We have to go. Now."
I frowned. "How pissed is he?"
A small, utterly humorless smile creased her lips. "He's pulling our press passes in fifteen minutes."
I whistled. "Nice. Even for you, that's impressive. What'd you do, suggest that his wife was having an affair with the librarian?"
"It was the tutor, that was the Mayor of Oakland's wife, and I was right," she said, with typical haughtiness. She started toward the exit. I followed, motioning for Rick to do the same. "I didn't say anything about Emily."
"Excuse me, but does one of you mind telling me what's going on?" interjected Rick, putting on a burst of speed to get in front of her. "Georgia just got us kicked out of a major political event,
Senator Ryman's clearly pissed, and Tate's glaring.
I'm missing something. I don't like that."
That got through. George flinched a little as she asked, "Tate's glaring at us?"
"If looks could kill…"
"We'd be joining Rebecca Ryman," said George said grimly.
"I'll fill you in once we're in the car."
Rick hesitated, licking his lower lip.
"I'm serious," she said, and sped up.
She was clearly freaking out, and the heels she was wearing weren't helping her move as fast as she wanted to. I linked an arm through hers and matched her pace, letting my stride help to lengthen hers. Rick followed, holding his questions for the moment. Maybe he was smarter than he looked.
It only took one blood test to get out. Since everyone on the banquet level was assumed clean after the checks they'd endured to get there, the elevator came at the press of a button, no needles involved until we wanted to exit. Like a roach motel-the infected could check in, but they couldn't check out.
My earlier curiosity about what would happen if more than one person took the elevator at the same time was answered as the interior sensors refused to let the doors open until the system detected three different, non-infected blood samples. Someone who unwittingly boarded the elevator with a person un-dergoing viral amplification would just die in there.
George had commandeered one of the cam-paign vehicles, and one of the campaign drivers, to boot: Steve was leaning against a big black car with his arms folded across his chest. He straightened when he saw us coming, but didn't speak until we reached the car. Then he asked, "Well?"
"Threatened to yank our press passes," said George.
"Nice," said Steve, raising his eyebrows. "He pressing charges?"
"No, that'll probably come after tonight's episode of "meet the press.'" She climbed into the back seat.
I circled around to the opposite side of the car, opening the door. "She means "beat the press,' don'cha, George?"
"Possibly," she said, voice muffled by the car roof. I got in.
"Now will you tell me what's going on?" asked Rick, getting into the front passenger seat and twisting to face us.
"It's simple, really," said George. She sounded exhausted. I put my arm behind her just before she sagged into her seat. She braced herself against me, giving me a brief, relieved nod as she kept talking. "Dave and Alaric followed the money and proved that Governor Tate was behind the at-tacks on Eakly and the ranch. Also, PS, the CDC is potentially involved, which isn't going to make me sleep any easier tonight, thanks.
The Senator wasn't thrilled by the idea that his running mate might be the goddamn devil, so he's asked us to go back to the Center to prepare our notes while he decides whether or not to fire our asses."
A long pause followed her announcement. I stared at her, unable to think of a single thing to say.
Steve spoke first, asking, "Are you sure?" in a low, dangerous tone that made me glad as hell that he was on our side.
"We have proof." George leaned harder into my arm. "People have been funneling him money, and he's been funneling it on to the sort of folks who think weaponizing Kellis-Amberlee is a good thing.
Some of that money's been coming from Atlanta.
Some of it's been coming from the big tobacco companies. And a lot of people have died, presumably so that nice ol' Governor Tate can be Vice-President of the United States of America. At least, until the President-elect has some sort of tragic accident, and he has to step into the position."
I didn't say anything.
"Georgia…" Rick sounded almost awed. "If we know this for sure-Georgia, this is a really big deal. This is…are we allowed to know this and not just report it to the FBI, or the CDC, or somebody? This is terrorism."
"I don't know, Rick; you're the one who worked in print media," said George bitterly. "Why don't you try telling me for a change?"
"Even in cases of suspected terrorism, a journalist can protect his or her sources as long as they aren't actually sheltering the suspect.
" Rick hesitated. "We're not, are we? Sheltering him?"
"Pardon me for breaking in, Mr. Cousins, but if Miss Mason's proof is as good as she seems to think, it doesn't matter whether she plans on sheltering him or not. My partner died in Eakly." Steve sounded perfectly calm. That scared the shit out of me. "Tyrone was a good man. He deserved better. Man who started that outbreak, well. That man doesn't deserve better."
"Don't worry about it; I have no intention of sheltering him," said George. "I'll talk it over with the Senator, and if he wants to throw us off the campaign, he's welcome to. I'll mail our files to every open-source blog, newspaper, and politician in the country while we're on the road for home."
"This is crap." I pulled my arm from behind her head, leaning into my own corner and glaring.
"Right," George agreed.
"Absolute f**king crap."
"I want to punch somebody right about now."
"Not it," said Rick.
"I punch back," said Steve. He sounded a little amused.
"Just have patience," said George. "This is all going to be over soon. One way or another, I guess we're finishing things tonight."
I gave her a sidelong look. "Let's pick one way, okay? I don't like another."
"That's okay." George smiled a little, trying to be reassuring. "Neither do I."
She was fidgeting in the way that meant she didn't want to say anything else. I put a hand on her knee, and we drove the rest of the way in silence.
We were greeted at the Center gates by a barrage of blood tests, all of which checked out clean before Steve drove on to the motor pool and parked the car.
I was the first one out, and started walking briskly away. I heard George get out behind me.
"Don't say anything, please," she said, to Steve. "I'm meeting with the senator tonight, when he gets back from his dinner. After that-"
"After that, I guess what needs doing is going to be clear one way or the other," said Steve.
"Don't worry. I wouldn't have gone into security if I didn't know how to keep my mouth shut."
"Don't mention it."
I was already a good four or five yards from the car. I turned, walking backward as I called, "George, c'mon! I want to get out of this damn monkey suit!"
"Coming!" she shouted, and muttered something I was probably better off not hearing before she turned to follow me. Steve waved. I waved back.
Rick walked with us until we reached the van. Then he turned left, heading for his trailer.
We turned right, heading for ours. The silence was getting to be too much for me-I'm not George, I can't do quiet for long periods of time. "He's a good guy," I said, as I pressed my thumb against the lock.
It clicked open. "A little old-fashioned, but still a good guy. I'm glad we got the chance to work with him."
"You think he'll stay on after we all get home?" George squeezed past me to start rummaging through the clothes covering the beds and floor.
"He can write his own ticket after this campaign, but yeah, I think he may stick around." I was already halfway out of my formal wear. She pulled her shirt off over her head. I smiled a little. "He knows he can work with us."