"I think we're going to have to go," said Claire Bodem, the editor-in-chief, in her usual tone of apology, "with the President's response to Taylor's counter-allegations."
There were mutters.
"But it's being broadcast."
"Not all of our readers watch television," said Bodem. "Anyway, it'll still be news tomorrow."
"Are we talking about a partial transcript or a summary?"
"Oh, just a summary," said Lean, the politics editor. "Only about fourteen inches."
"Maybe it's more of an editorial?"
"Oh, yes, Clem is doing one."
"Isn't this a little overkill?"
"I thought we'd decided we weren't going to cover television."
"The Argonaut will do something for sure."
"I thought we weren't going to compete with the Argonaut either."
"If it's going to be broadcast, maybe it would make more sense to do a reaction piece? A word from the pundits kind of thing?"
"Yes," said Lean, "we've got a sidebar planned."
Drew plucked at his pants and looked out the window. He could not tell if it was raining or not. The grey sky had a fine graininess, but when he turned his gaze, the blank white wall of the meeting room had the same appearance. The optometrist he had visited last week had said that there was nothing wrong with his eyes, that he didn't need a new prescription. But he wanted a second opinion. Not Bruce.
It was not a large cancer. It felt about the size of a marble. In his mind it looked like a marble, too: a little node of gristle and death. It felt like a gob of food stuck halfway down his throat—except that it was not in his throat. It was hard to pinpoint its location. When he had woken (not remembering having slept), it had seemed to be lodged behind his left collarbone. In the shower, he felt it pressing against different muscles in his chest or shoulder when he moved his left arm. He did not think that it was shifting inside him, but simply that its location was still being determined, that the cancer-map had not yet been correlated with his body-map. In the car on his way to work, the cancer had seemed to be hovering two inches in front of his chest.
"What about a poll?" somebody suggested.
"The polls on this," said Bodem, "have been strange."
"Last week on the site," said Lean, "we had the basic 'Do you think the President is doing a good job' sort of thing. The numbers ... I don't have the numbers."
"They were strange."
"The gist was that 'Not doing a good job' stayed the same at about fifteen, but 'Is doing a good job' dropped from eighty to ... I want to say fifty?"
"Fifty. And the difference, thirty-something percent, went over to 'Undecided / Don't know.'"
"Thirty-something percent of our readers don't know what they think?"
"But they feel strongly enough about it to answer the poll."
"Is there a story there?"
"I could talk to my girl at the university. Dress it up in statistics, like a story ..."
"Ten inches, tops," said Bodem. "Am I right?"
He knew what Bruce would say—or rather, what he would not say. He would not say that Drew was being ridiculous, that people cannot feel a cancer, that believing you have a ball of cancer in your shoulder was only one step away from believing you had a worm in your heart ...
"For B-section we've got Israel, and we've got part two of the trials."
"Which leaves us with local," said Bodem with a glance at Telerude, who jolted upright in his chair.
"City desk," said Telerude, "has got Rick's follow-up to the sewage piece if anything's decided—which so far it's not looking good. And we've got the subway fire."
"What about Laurel's property management exposé?" someone asked.
After a moment of contemplative silence, Telerude said, "I do think it's an important piece. But ... somehow ... I don't think it's sexy."
Drew's earbugs chirped. He thought he'd turned them off.
Drew Dunkel here? he subvoked.
"I'm sorry, who is that?"
Drew Dunkel, reporter, Post-Times. Hello?
"Yes, of course." The voice was a female's. She was not on a sill phone. There was a delay, as if she were using a sat card. "The newspaper reporter, right?"
He said nothing.
"I'm sorry to bother you like this."
"The reason I'm calling ... I just wanted to ask ... Do you know a Miranda Christianson?"
Before he could formulate a reply, the voice went on pessimistically:
"I mean to say, does she know you? She put your name down on the form, but of course your name is well-known ... But I thought, on the off chance, I should call anyway ..."
I do know her, yes.
"Oh. Have you seen her lately? I mean, has she tried to contact you?"
I ... haven't seen her in a little while.
"But you knew, then, that she was a patient here?"
Who are you exactly?
"I'm just a friend."
You work at the hospital?
"You can call me Mary. Sister Mary. I'm here at the hospital, yes."
What is this about? Is she alright?
When she replied at last, her voice sounded muffled. "I think maybe," she said, "you should come see for yourself."
Then she hung up.
Slowly the din around him of animal grunts and birdlike chatter reverted to human speech, grammatical but meaningless.
"What about the weather secretary's newser? Are we doing any follow-up on that?"
"Wouldn't that be E-section?"
"No," said the weather editor, "it's political. Now."
"The accusations themselves are political," said Clementine Highgens, in her usual tone of steering things back on course, "but I thought we were going to do a follow-up on the science of it. You know, is there any substance to the allegations, can what they're saying these supposed fascist cells are doing be actually done, et cetera et cetera kind of thing."
"It's straight-how nonsense?"
"Straight-how science fiction."
"Still," said Highgens thoughtfully, "might be a story in that. Hard science angle sort of thing."
"We already ran that," said one of the weather reporters quietly. "MR feed piece, interview with that Harvard professor, whatsisname ..."
"You mean in E-section?"
"No. World. Page ... four or five it might have been."
"Five," someone confirmed.
"Well, shit," said Highgens, affronted but unbowed.
Drew stood, and sidled towards the door.
"So how long till the President declares a War on Weather?"
Where's he going?