“This can’t be happening!”
She tore through her family’s modest two-story home, skidding when her socked feet reached the kitchen floor tile. The lights rose as she crossed the threshold. Displaying the agility of her hero Marlowe Kana, she nimbly dodged the corner of the kitchen island and barely slowing, extended her hand and reached for the door handle to the greenhouse. Cool, fresh air greeted her shorn scalp as she flung the door wide.
“Dads!” she yelled.
Brian and David Millar both looked up, jarred from the peaceful zen of tending to their plants. Before either could ask what was going on, Britany blurted out. “It’s MK! It happened! She’s… You gotta come see!”
Brian looked at David and shrugged. “I guess we should…”
“Of course,” David said. “It’s important to her.”
“Well, it’s important, period,” Brian replied. “But especially to her.”
The fathers carefully laid their gardening implements on the table and walked toward the door, removing their gloves and masks. Britany had already fled back inside, finding it physically painful to be away from the screen. As Brian and David entered, they were taken aback by the massive red bar flashing across the screen on the living room wall as it blared the word “GUILTY!” Above the text was a pair of side-by-side photos of the most famous person in the nation: Marlowe Kana.
The left-hand photo displayed a half-body shot of a healthy, muscular woman in full MilSec dress uniform, campaign ribbons and medals adorning nearly the entire top half of her jacket. She had short white hair, carefully groomed and parted in a manner befitting a by-the-books MilSec soldier. Despite the massive scar across her cheek under her right eye, there was a light and a life in her eyes that complimented her slight smile. Her expression spoke volumes. It seemed to say that, while she took her duties seriously and performed them with the gravity of a committed and dedicated soldier, she had, in fact, a truly all-encompassing love for her work. A fact that all of her 20+ million fans knew from watching her Feed, despite her seemingly constant annoyance at the fame it brought her.
The right-hand photo showed the same woman, her hair shaved to stubble and her uniform replaced with a bright orange prison jumpsuit. The smile was gone, as was the light in her eyes. They seemed dead and hollow. Her cheekbones were pronounced and her face was gaunt from malnourishment.
The NewsFeed crawl below the photos detailed that just moments ago, at 7:02 p.m., “Next Top Soldier” Hall-of-Famer, Major Marlowe Kana, had been found guilty of attempted murder, conduct unbecoming a MilSec soldier, and treason against the United American State.
Despite having seen many hyperbolic developments on the NewsFeed in their days, both David and Brian couldn’t help but gasp. The national hero — everyone’s favorite Next Top Soldier for the past ten years and the General’s daughter — guilty of treason? It seemed impossible to believe. But there it was, writ large on the wall-sized screen, with every talking head on the NewsFeed animatedly discussing this latest development in the saga that had gripped the nation for the last three months.
“Oh dear,” Brian said just as David blurted out “Oh shit.” Brian smacked his husband on the arm.
Through the haze of her dismay, Britany heard her father cursing. She didn’t bother to remind him to put a credit in the curse jar. Self-improvement seemed trivial in the face of such earth-shattering news.
The street light streaming through the window wall glinted off of Britany Millar’s tears. She looked up at her fathers. Together, they went to her and comforted her. They ached to explain that even heroes can screw up and that everyone must be beholden to the law. But they couldn’t find the words. They didn’t need to. The entire nation had flooded the Feeds with their responses.
“…That’s right, Tom,” Amanda Stokes, correspondent for NewsFeed, was saying on the screen. “The nation overwhelmingly believed that Marlowe was guilty all along, with #IKnewIt in first place with 12 million tags.”
“You called it from the beginning, Amanda,” Tom Wallace replied, “For weeks, we’ve been watching #IKnewIt trend upward, as the evidence proving Marlowe’s innocence never turned up. So that is no surprise. But MK still has her fans, as we can see by the second place response #MarloweIsInnocent, followed by #PrayForMarlowe, #FuckMilSec, and #ShavedHeadSolidarity…”
The screen suddenly went silent as Britany extended her hand and circled her index finger counter-clockwise; a gesture-based command relayed to the screen via the embedded Pod that wrapped around the base of her skull, which muted the Feed. In a voice strangled with pain, she summoned the omnipresent AI assistant, JAQi.
“Yes, Britany?” JAQi replied flatly, seemingly from nowhere and everywhere at once.
“Post to my Feed that I’ll never, ever believe that MK is guilty, and anyone who does is immediately banned from my list!”
“Yes, Britany,” JAQi replied. A tone signaled that the job had been done.
“And also that I’m NOT growing my hair back just because she lost! Not ever!”
“Yes, Britany,” JAQi responded. Another tone signaled.
“–Britany, honey…” her father Brian interjected soothingly.
“No!” she snapped. “This isn’t…I’m NOT apologizing for supporting MK!”
“Honey,” David chimed in, “We know…”
“It’s a setup!” she yelled. “It has to be! Marlowe would never…she didn’t do this! It’s the terrorists! It’s got to be! They’re setting her up!”
“It’s a really complicated–” Brian began to say, before David cut him off.
“You’re right, honey,” David consoled. “This is a tragedy. You have a right to be upset.” He turned to his husband and looked him in the eyes. “We all do.”
On the screen, aerial footage flickered of Marlowe being led into a large secure transport vehicle, while the crawl continued to repeatedly trumpet her guilty verdict. Brian Millar hugged his daughter closer, and placed his free arm around his partner’s shoulder. Nothing would ever be the same: if they couldn’t put their trust in Marlowe Kana, then in whom could they?
Together, the family began to cry.