shelves now bare, their counters unattended. The windows of the big ground-floor room still offered a view of the pretty little lake next to that edge of the campus. Bright artwork graced the walls. But gone was any sense, which must have once existed, of community, of the excitement of learning, of intellectual freedom. Even the decades-old once-stylish sleek hallways and architecture reminded her of something the past did better than the present.

“This food is punishment,” she murmured to the young man ahead of her.

He glanced back at her and shrugged. “There’s shortages.”

“Not really, not this,” she said. “There’s plenty of food available all over. It’s just not being served here anymore.”

He shrugged again and turned away, unwilling to risk talking, but he knew—everyone had to know—a new chancellor had been forced on the University of Wisconsin to destroy it, especially the Madison campus. Step one involved needless, niggling austerity. Breakfast had become a choice of greasy overprocessed pastries, gritty cereal, some sort of fake milk, equally fake juice, and something that didn’t even smell like coffee. And it was so easy to engineer quality synthesized coffee!

Step two, she imagined, aimed at closing down the campus with its forty-five thousand students and thus destroying the city of Madison, long a beacon of liberty. The Prez and his supporters couldn’t even muster subtlety. They didn’t have to anymore.

She selected an unnaturally bright yellow muffin and a lukewarm cup of brown liquid, and took her tray to an empty table. There were a lot of empty tables. Anyone with spending money ate off-campus, where good meals could easily be found—and which meant more money for the chancellor’s fast-food cronies. Machine-generated pop music blared throughout the food court, another way to make eating unpleasant. The muffin tasted like artificially sweetened sand.

Where was her contact? She tried not to look around. Be discreet, that’s the first thing. Someone is always watching. She took another bite of the dry, awful muffin. She stared at her phone display as if she were studying. Finally, someone approached. He seemed old enough to be a graduate student and wore a blue T-shirt with a logo for a game company. He carried a cup of the bilge coffee.

“Avril Stenmark? Hi, I’m Cal, a longtime resident here, and I want to be sure you’re getting along all right. May I join you?”

She studied his face: brown, smiling, and innocent. Fake innocent. “Yes, please. Thanks. I’m doing pretty well, all things considered.” She gestured at the remains of the food on her tray with disdain.

He nodded as he sat down. He wore a visor-screen, which would be telling him things as they spoke. “Yeah, it’s not like it used to be. So, you’re from near Chicago, your profile says.”

“Kenilworth. It’s a suburb.”

“A nice one.”

She caught his reproach: a wealthy suburb, so she’d never struggled. She was a white girl, very white—blond, in fact—who’d led a sheltered life. “I know what’s going on,” she said.

“Yeah?” He leaned forward, but he looked doubtful.

“Can we talk here?”

“That’s why the music’s so loud.”

The dormitory management was part of the conspiracy, then. Well, they could choose better songs. No matter. She had decided exactly what to say, one example of outrage out of so many, this one especially relevant because she’d heard the mutiny would have a nationwide protest soon. He would know that she understood what she was getting into. She spoke quietly so the music would hide her words. “I know why protests are banned in a lot of places. They didn’t do that to protect protesters, or I mean, that wasn’t the first step.”

He nodded, staring at her face. His visor might pick up signs of lying. Fine. She wasn’t about to lie.

“A while back, protesters went to the Supreme Court to ask for protection from the police because they had the right to protest, they said. The right to free speech. And the court said that they had the right to protest, but so did antiprotesters, and if the two sides clashed, that was the price of freedom.”

He nodded. He had to know this, even if most people had no idea about the history behind the bans.

“So if antiprotesters did something, like fire guns over the heads of crowds to scare people—which was the test case—and that made protesters panic and run, and if someone got hurt running away, that was the protesters’ fault. The court said free speech doesn’t guarantee the right to speak safely. But the ruling effectively abrogates that right. The dissenting opinion made the need for physical safety clear. If you can’t speak safely, you can’t speak. And the attacks got even worse after that.”

She’d read the dissent. She’d learned a lot, including the meaning of the word abrogate. Cal seemed to be listening patiently.

She leaned forward, tapping the table for emphasis: “That’s why some cities, even whole states, banned protests—to protect protesters. That’s just one of the cases that got us here, into the mess we have now where none of us are safe.”

He showed no reaction. “Have you ever been to a protest?”

“Well, no, not exactly.” But now she wanted to do that more than anything else. “I saw one just a week ago in Chicago, it went past in the street while I was there.” She lowered her voice to a murmur, afraid she might shout. “Maybe you heard about it. A drone killed a dog.”

He shifted in his chair. “Tell me about your family.”

Why did that matter? “Um, my mother is a property manager, and my father is a lawyer.”

“Mick Stenmark.”

She nodded—and then she understood.

“Michael Stenmark,” Cal said, reading something on his visor. “Assistant United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.”

She could explain. Yes, he worked for the Justice Department, and she never understood why, since it made him so angry. “He’s the one who told me about how wrong the Supreme Court was. He…” Her father hated the Prez and his constant theatrics, he hated everything the Prez and his cronies

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