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. &...