2054, Part VI: Standoff at Arlington

2054, Part VI: Standoff at Arlington

18:46 April 15, 2054 (GMT‑5)

Arlington National Cemetery

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

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

News of the withheld autopsy exploded. On every channel the prime-time anchors flashed printed copies of the report to the camera. They read whole sections aloud, describing the dimensions of the marble-sized mass of cells inexplicably lodged in Castro’s aorta and the excerpted transcript of the autopsy itself, in which the chief internist concluded, “This can’t be the same heart.”

Within the hour, Truthers flooded the streets in cities around the country. As Hunt scrolled the channels, a news crew in Lafayette Park was conducting interviews with the growing mass of protesters, one of whom she recognized; it was the man in the wheelchair she’d met on the Metro. She had thought of him often. Now she learned his identity: retired gunnery sergeant Joseph William Sherman III. Beneath his name on the screen were the words Truther Volunteer Organizer. She placed his name in a search engine and learned that he’d lost his legs in the Spratly Islands and that the Chinese nuclear attack on San Diego had killed his wife and three daughters, who’d lived at nearby Camp Pendleton. Hunt could hear in Sherman’s voice how deeply he resented a president who while alive flaunted constitutional norms by clinging to power for an attempted fourth term and whose successor, Smith, now flaunted norms again by withholding an autopsy and refusing to be transparent about his predecessor’s death.

“Point your camera here,” said Sherman, thumbing toward his missing legs. “I sacrificed these for my country, and you’re going to lie to me … you’re going to lie to all of us.” He gestured expansively to a cluster of Truthers who’d placed him at their center, the core of them veterans, wearing old military fatigues adorned with medals that dangled from their chest pockets. “It’s a lie that Smith is the legitimate president when he so clearly had a hand in killing Castro. Is this what America has become? Dreamers drunk on power led by a dictator-president. Lies to the many so long as it gives power to the few.” Sherman held the camera’s focus with his insistent blue eyes.

His tone was so resolved, the correspondent felt compelled to answer him. In a meek voice, she said, “I don’t know.”

“Of course you don’t.” Sherman leaned into the camera. “President Smith,” he began, “you are illegitimate. You will find that everyday 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 served our country before, and we’ll serve it again. And don’t even think of trying to place your predecessor in Arlington’s hallowed ground.” Sherman swiveled around, turning his back to the camera, and wheeled himself away.

The news cut to commercial.

Julia Hunt rested her head against the arm of her sofa, her eyes still glued to the screen. Weeks of exhaustion swept over her. While she waited for the program to return, she fell into a black wilderness of sleep. Deep into this sleep, in the early hours of the morning, she began to dream: Here, in the dream, she is asleep in her girlhood bedroom and is woken before dawn by a noise, the sound of something hitting the floor. Her surroundings are familiar, the adobe ranch house in New Mexico where Sarah Hunt had raised her. Wearing her nightgown, she carefully shuts the door behind her and steps into the dark corridor. At its far end a single band of light escapes from the base of another door. She begins to walk down the corridor. The tiles are cool beneath her bare feet. As she draws closer, she can hear what sounds like a struggle.

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