2054, Part VI: Standoff at Arlington

6:46 p.m. April 15, 2054 (GMT‑5)

Arlington National Cemetery

That night in her apartment, Julia Hunt ordered sushi and watched coverage of Slake's botched press conference on her living room couch. Days later, Slake's panicked responses to questions about Castro's death continued to air, and they appeared even worse on the news.

Hunt held up a piece of salmon sashimi between two chopsticks as she read the chyron of the following story: Castro Autopsy Leaked on Common Sense Confirms Foul Play and White House Lies. She dropped the fish onto her lap.

News of the denied autopsy exploded. On each channel, prime-time anchors projected printed copies of the report on camera. They read entire sections aloud, describing the dimensions of the mass of marble-sized cells inexplicably lodged in Castro's aorta and the excerpt from the autopsy transcript itself, in which the chief internist concluded, “It can’t be the same heart.” »

In less than an hour, Truthers took over the streets of cities across the country. As Hunt flipped through channels, a news crew in Lafayette Park conducted interviews with the growing mass of protesters, one of whom she recognized; it was the man in the wheelchair she had met on the subway. She had often thought of him. She now learned his identity: retired artillery sergeant Joseph William Sherman III. Below his name on the screen were the words Truther Volunteer Organizer. She put his name into a search engine and learned that he had lost his legs in the Spratly Islands and that the Chinese nuclear attack on San Diego had killed his wife and three daughters, who lived at Camp Pendleton, in proximity. Hunt could hear in Sherman's voice how much he resented a president who, during his lifetime, flaunted constitutional norms by clinging to power for an attempted fourth term and whose successor, Smith, was again flaunting standards by refusing to conduct an autopsy and refusing to be transparent about the death of his predecessor. .

“Point your camera here,” Sherman said, pointing to his missing legs. “I sacrificed them for my country, and you are going to lie to me… you are going to lie to everyone. We.” He gestured expansively toward a group of Truthers who had placed him in the center, the core of them veterans, wearing old military fatigues adorned with medals that hung from their breast pockets. “It is a lie to claim that Smith is the rightful president when he so clearly contributed to the murder of Castro. Is this what America has become? Dreamers drunk on power led by a president-dictator. Lie to the many as long as it gives power to the few. Sherman kept the camera in focus with his insistent blue eyes.

His tone was so resolute that the correspondent felt obliged to respond. In a soft voice, she said, “I don’t know. »

“Of course not.” Sherman leaned toward the camera. “President Smith,” he began, “you are illegitimate. You will find that ordinary Americans – we patriots who demand the truth about your crimes and the excesses of the Dreamers – will not be led by a thief, by someone who stole the presidency. We have served our country before and we will serve it again. And don't even bother trying to put your predecessor on the hallowed ground of Arlington. Sherman turned, his back to the camera, and walked away.

The news has gone commercial.

Julia Hunt leaned her head against the arm of her couch, her eyes still glued to the screen. Weeks of exhaustion overwhelmed her. While she waited for the program to return, she fell into a wild, dark sleep. Deep in this sleep, in the early hours of the morning, she begins to dream: Here, in the dream, she sleeps in her childhood bedroom and is awakened before dawn by a noise, the sound of something striking floor. Her surroundings are familiar to her, the adobe ranch in New Mexico where Sarah Hunt raised her. Dressed in her nightgown, she carefully closes the door behind her and walks into the dark hallway. At its end, a single band of light escapes from the base of another door. She starts walking down the hallway. The tiles are cool under his bare feet. As she gets closer, she hears what sounds like a struggle.

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