Today's Reading


Donny collected himself at the big wooden door, trying to summon a confident composure as he cued up excuses from his compilation of sins committed and lies told, the way a kid prepares to face an angry father. The only thing you could be sure of before you went in there was that the clients they assigned you to represent were probably guilty. It was the laws they had violated that were unjust—laws a government at war with its own people invents to make sure it wins. And to make doubly sure, they did everything they could to keep you from knowing what they knew about your case, often things even the clients did not know, things that only the electronic brains plugged into the eyes of the state could know.

As he reached for the door handle, the jitter in his hand reminded Donny he was guilty, too. He looked up at the government seal laser-cut into the door, an abstracted image of the eagle squeezing the snake, and remembered which one he was. And then he pulled the door open, assuring his slithering avatar the story wasn't over yet.

When he stepped through, he found the crowd. They were watching the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Kelly, recite the state's coded reasons why the boy in the dock, some scrawny white kid with the hand-me-down clothes and homemade tattoos of one of the resettlement camps, should be detained on suspicion of membership in a rebel gang that had vandalized a FEMA command center.

Donny couldn't see the kid's face, but as he listened to Bridget, he got the sinking feeling this was the case he was assigned to handle, and he'd missed it.

Fortunately, when he looked to the defense table, it wasn't empty. Loni Sandler was there, a veteran public defender whom Donny admired even though he could always tell the feeling was not mutual.

The gallery behind the bar was packed with feds waiting for their cases to be called. Government suits lined up like buzz-cut funeral directors, Coast Guard special operators in their blue-and-orange camo, Texas Rangers in their government-issue Stetsons, a pair of game wardens outfitted for hunting humans, and one Border Patrol agent in her dirt brown DMZ dungarees, no doubt preparing to testify about some dissident she had nabbed trying to escape the country and sneak into Mexico. Most were members of Counterinsurgency Task Force Foxtrap, though Donny knew some of the suits were also there to make sure the court did its job, ready to report back to Washington or Austin as needed. A few of them turned their heads and looked back at him as he entered their domain, with a judgmental group gaze designed to remind him he was on the wrong side. There was one friendly face, but even that one looked worried. Donny joined him in the front row, on the defense side of the aisle.

"Good morning, Miles," whispered Donny. "I thought you were supposed to be in Austin today with Mayor Chung."

Miles Powell was the smartest lawyer Donny knew, the most ethical, and the best dressed. All class, no flash, a black man in grey flannel. Where Donny got access to the secret court from having worked for the government, Miles got his from a career fighting it. That Miles somehow prospered in the process only heightened Donny's sense of moral inferiority.

"I am," said Miles, speaking under his breath. "This afternoon. Arguments at three. Heading out in an hour."

"They still have her in custody?"

Miles nodded. "Special detention in the brig at Camp Mabry. Live camera feed anyone can view."

Donny considered that as he watched the marshals escort Loni's client away, relieved to hear the name and learn it was not the case he had been assigned.

"That's messed up," said Donny. "I wish Mayor Barthelme were still
around. He would know how to handle these guys."

"If Barthelme were still alive, he'd be too drunk to fight these guys."

"He might have the right idea," said Donny, looking around to see if he could figure out where the muffled squeal of pain came from. "So what did I miss?"

Miles just shook his head, put his finger to his mouth to shush Donny, and turned his attention to the court.

Which had now noticed Donny. And did not look happy to see him.

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