The conversation was not going well.
“Will you at least leave the girl alone? She's out of the action at this point, and she deserves to have a life after what she's been through.”
Torquil MacKenna shook his head. “Max,” he said, “I'd like to oblige you, but the lady is news. My network reports the news.”
“News?” Max echoed. “How do you figure that? She's just a college student.”
“She dodged an interview by Florence D'Arcy. Who does that, unless they have something to hide? I trust Florence's instincts. And I checked the footage. She was at the Wellness Center when those two oversized goons appeared. You can't tell me she's not connected to this somehow.”
“There were a lot of people there,” Max countered. “So what?”
The head of UNN shook his head. “I've seen the footage you released. She was right next to the lady who turned into a lion and then stabbed herself. Don't even try to tell me she didn't know her.”
Max started back at him. “Now, look,” he said, “You can't – “
“Oh yes I can.” Torquil gestured. Behind him, a screen lit up with a view of the people standing at the Asklepeion, and zoomed in on Darla and Sekhmet. Darla's words were as clear as they were venomous: “You're the alien bitch who's been screwing my son.”
He froze the scene. “Unless I'm mistaken, she as much as said that Machaon is her son. You can't be much moire involved that that, can you?” He look at Max smugly. “From what I see, we have a woman who slept with someone who's been called a reincarnation of the god of healing. And made a son named Machaon. Face it, Max, like it or not, Darla is news.”
I should never have authorized the release of that footage, Max realized with a sinking feeling. He exhaled slowly. “You know what you know,” he said. “But she still deserves a life. We both know what will happen if you blab a story about her.”
“We do?” Torquil said, his face a picture of puzzled innocence that Max despised for for the facade he knew it to be. “What do we know?”
“You know very well the Church hates all this talk of reincarnation and gods. She'll be branded some kind of Satanic deceiver by the religious extremists and hunted down like the old abortion clinic doctors. Do you want that on your conscience? Can you live with that, all in the name of your 'the people have a right to know' crap?”
Narrowed eyes bored into his own. “The freedom of the press is important. It wouldn't have been included in the United Earth Constitution if it wasn't.”
Max sighed. “Spare me the civics lesson. What do I have to do to convince you to keep the bull's eye off Darla Kaplan?”
The head of UNN spread his hands expansively. “I'm a reasonable man. Believe it or not, I do have a heart. But you have to give me something. Max. I have to have a story I can run. If I don't get anything else, that story is Darla.”
Max thought rapidly. “There's a bigger story behind all this. Florence hasn't a clue. If I give UNN an exclusive, will you pull Florence off Darla and put her on something else?”
Torquil regarded him silently for a moment. “I can't just tell her to go sniff at some campaign finance bullshit, Max. She's our top reporter, and her lawyer worked a non-interference clause into her contract. If I pull her off a major story – and don't kid yourself, she knows this is a major story – she'll invoke that clause, go free agent, and one of the other networks will snap her up and put her back on it.”
“Oh, gods.” Max put his head in his hands. “Then we're fucked. Totally fucked. I wish I could tell you how completely and thoroughly fucked.” Her mom will go apeshit! And she's got connections to the government. They'll will step in and halt the server. If that's not interference with the Covenant match, I don't know what is! Then we forfeit, and the aliens own us. Damn you, Florence!
The other man drummed his fingers on his desk. “Calm down. There may be a way out of this.”
Max looked up at him, trying to hope. “A way out? Like what?”
“You won't like it.” Was that a grin?
Torquil told him. He was right. Max didn't like it. Not at all.
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