Cold November wind whistled through the chain link fence surrounding the school yard, pushing the milling students further into the wind-shadow of the building.
“Can't believe they're keeping us outside like this...” Rachel muttered.
“Shh, I can't hear,” her friend Tisha hissed.
The voice of the woman called Cyd screeched out of the speakers of Tisha's mobile. “Did we start out learning to kill people with our minds? Phh-- Hell no. No, we just... we just did shit for a while, you know? Just kinda fucked around and... Naw, the killin' came later.”
Another voice said something indistinct, and Cyd laughed. “Fuck. Naw, no, no, no, I—I couldn't do anything cool like that now. No, my power's still blocked. I just got the memories.”
“I thought we already watched this one...” Rachel muttered.
Tisha shrugged. “You did maybe, but I don't remember it.”
Rachel grunted and pushed further back into the alcove they had taken shelter in.
The recording of Cyd continued. “Hell yes, I was there. What, you think I'm crazy? That I'd lie about that? Ha! 'Course I was there when the riot started. Hell, I helped start it. There was this crazy guy, see, and—”
“You know...” Rachel looked down at the tiny, red-haired pixie manically dancing across the mobile, “my uncle was there, when the riot started.”
“Yeah, he mentioned Cyd.”
“Dang. What'd he think? Crazy?”
Rachel shook her head. “He never said, but I'm guessing crazy.”
Tisha looked up and met her friend’s eyes. “And you think she's crazy, too.”
Rachel tried to look offended. “Of course not! We can't discount any—”
“Mmm, no. Don't try to bullshit your way out of this. You really think she's crazy and making it up. Why?”
“Well...” Rachel looked up from the mobile and out at the crowds of freezing, unhappy teenagers. “Just too coincidental. She's a super-soldier, who just happens to show up at the site of a pro-'hud rally, the day after her fellow super-soldier tries to kill the president. She's unable to duplicate any powers, and our oh-so paranoid government has failed to pick up on her. She's just a crazy street person who was in the right place at the right time to get a good story.”
Tisha nodded, then stretched her legs and stared up at the sky. “Looks like snow.”
Rachel didn't look up. “No it doesn't.”
“So if she's lying, why? Just the attention?”
Rachel opened her mouth to respond, but didn't answer. She stared at the screen for a moment, then gestured for the mobile to rewind the video.
“Shh! Did you hear that?”
“What?” Tisha leaned forward and scrutinized the screen. “What'd she say?”
Rachel gestured for the mobile to play, and Cyd's high, nasal voice returned. “—was this crazy guy, see, and he showed up there and was just watching. And I was thinking, and was all like, 'Shit, he looks familiar.' So I went over to him, and it was him, one of my buddies from the program. What a fuckin' coincidence, huh? So I was like, 'Hey, John! What's up?' And he just stared at me like I was crazy or something, and tired to buy me off, but I knew it was him; I'd recognize that bald little head of his anywhere, even with those stupid glasses. And I started tellin' everybody—hey! Hey, you! Yeah, you, in the football jersey!” Cyd broke off and started waving at someone off screen.
Tisha gestured for the video to stop. “You think she's talking about your uncle?”
“She described him perfectly...”
“That's hilarious! And she thinks he's an EHUD?”
Rachel shook her head.
“What? She's crazy, right? Why'd you care what she says? Besides, that'd be cool if he really was one!”
“My dad thinks he's an EHUD”
“So I've heard him talking about it." She shrugged.
Tisha dropped the mobile into her lap and leaned out past the edge of their alcove. “Speaking of your dad; when the hell's he supposed to get here?”
“He knows it's his day right, and that we just can't walk out of here?”
“He knows... probably just got caught up at work.” She sighed, then stood up and began to pace in a tight circle. “Shit. I can't believe they're doing this to us! They round us up and store us in these goddamn concentration camps all day, and now they won't let us leave until a fucking grown-up comes and holds our hands!”
Tisha nodded. “Sucks. That's the reactionaries for you.”
“Yeah, like we're gonna get caught in a riot right outside the school. We should be free to leave on our own!”
Tisha snorted and swiped a hand at Rachel's leg. “You just want to see Wayne without daddy finding out.”
Rachel stopped walking. “Shut up.” She dropped back down next to Tisha and grabbed for the mobile. “Okay, forget detainment without just cause; we can argue the constitution later. Let's watch something.”
Tisha opened her mouth, but Rachel cut her off. “Not Cyd. I've had too much Cyd. See if AmeriNews has anything new on the riot yesterday.”
Tisha closed her mouth and reclaimed the mobile from Rachel. “Okay... Oh! Breaking news, it's been out for like ten minutes now, presidential statement about the Defenders!”
“Fatty's trying to bury the perjury, you think?”
The screen went black for a moment, then displayed a static shot of a lectern with the presidential seal on the front, then—
“Hey!” Tisha leaned forward. “That's not—”
On the screen, looking tired, his hair and beard sticking up in places, was Edgar Latterndale.
“My fellow Americans,” he began, his voice deep and firm, “it is my sad duty to inform you that this morning President Isaac Latterndale was assassinated in the presidential residence. Following his unfortunate passing, and the abrupt resignation of Secretary of State Charlton Wong, it has fallen to me to execute the duties of the office of President of the United States.” He cleared his throat, looked at the lectern.
“It may seem inappropriate to address matters of policy while the country should be in a period of morning, but unfortunately we are in a state of crisis, and policy must be addressed.
Rachel felt a tingle of excitement, a sense of impending change.
“The previous official line regarding these so-called foreign saboteurs is now null and void; it is time to reveal the truth of them and their origins. Everything alleged by the late Merv Lemlin is true, in general terms. The American government created the Defenders. Illegally, unethically.”
This was really happening.
“And I knew about it.”
Latterndale fell silent as a torrent of mixed emotions surged through Rachel. Everything she had suspected, the hidden truth she had believed, was true. But the man she had respected, the hero she had worshiped, had just acknowledged himself as a fraud.
Latterndale continued. “I'm going to try to be honest with you; I didn't know all the facts. I knew the first two subjects were volunteers, and I naturally assumed the rest were as well. Nothing I was told contradicted that perception.” He paused and inclined his head. “Nothing reinforced that perception. Judge that as you will.
“Now, if I knew about the truth, why didn't I come forward following Lemlin's accusations? Why didn't anyone? We were afraid. Immediately following Lemlin's attack, my predecessor was not... rational. He was unbalanced and threatening, and I feared for my family's safety. I realize now that the greater threat was to let the deception stand, but it is far too late to make better choices. All that is left to do is to move on, and I ask for your support in enacting new policy regarding the Defenders.
“Based on wisdom given over the past two months by leveler heads, especially those of Senator Terstein and Ambassador Mokri, I feel that it is best to label the Defenders as weapons of mass destruction, to be placed under international authority and oversight.”
Tisha gasped and Rachel clutched her arm; Latterndale seemed determined to lose all credibility in this one speech.
“To ensure that these weapons will not be misused by any government or other power, only those experienced with the Defenders should be considered to oversee them. As such, I would respectfully request that the United Nations accept the Defenders as political refugees from their country of origin, and grant them governance over the Defender weapons.”
Rachel released Tisha's arm. The wording was clumsy, but it was brilliant: Latterndale had redeemed himself.
“As of this point, I no longer consider the Defenders as American citizens. They are international diplomats, and will be treated with all the courtesy and authority that this distinction grants them. To any Defenders watching this broadcast, I ask that you make yourselves known, that you connect with our government--with any government--to help us in achieving peace, to put this dark period behind us. You Defenders have been hurt by us; now it is time for you Defenders to be defended by us.”
There were several moments of silence as Latterndale looked down at the podium, tapped his fingers, and finally nodded. “There is much more that needs to be said, but I feel that it can best be said later. The immediate problem is to right the wrong that has been done; the rest can come later. Thank you.” He turned and walked away. The video ended.
“Oh, holy shit...” Tisha stared at the screen. “Isaac's dead...”
Rachel furrowed her brows. “The man pulls off a brilliant piece of political bullshitting that gives the world self-aware mutually assured destruction, and all you can care about is that some old man died?”
“He was assassinated! And 'the man' didn't tell us by who.”
“Why does that matter?”
Tisha lowered the mobile and fixed Rachel with a withering stare. “Really? Why do you think he didn't bring it up? What possible reason could there be to not give away the identity of the assassin?”
“You don't have to be such a bitch about it.” Rachel stood and rubbed her arms; the temperature was dropping. “Condemning a Defender while trying to make nice would kill the message.”
“That's going to come back and bite him.”
“Doesn't matter. Mystery 'hud kills the president, that's a major no-no, even if public opinion's on their side. Latterndale can get away with this one thing.”
They remained like that for several minutes, Tisha sitting and scrolling through comments on her mobile, Rachel standing and shivering.
“You know,” Rachel said, fog curling away from her mouth, “if this goes down right, if Latterndale can push this whole independent Defenders thing with the U.N., everything's going to get better. And then... Then we can GET THE HELL OUT OF THIS FUCKING PLACE!”
Heads all around the schoolyard turned in her direction, and Rachel slumped down next to Tisha, resigned to wait for her father.