The Constitution

Saul Beneke relaxed into the black leather chair and crossed his right leg over his left, taking care that the bottom of his oxford was visible to the producer. A string of MoodFilm hits afforded him a certain familiarity, and he enjoyed the frown which creased Samantha Brown's pretty face. "Five days to write an original story. Doesn't give me much time."

Samantha Brown, producer, pulled her brown eyes away from the offending shoe. Her fingers tapped against her mahogany desk. "I'm aware of your contract for Concord Victim. I'm willing up your fee by 25%." She took a breath in through her nose. "I'm looking for a standard plot, hero comes out of nowhere to save the universe, but first he has to confront his own demons."

She doesn't have anybody else. "A standard plot? You said I was to have complete creative license." 

"The hero has to save a particular document, a MacGuffin, if you will. Standard. It's up to you to create art."

Whatever had resided in Samantha's desk or the veneer file cabinets now sat in cardboard boxes stacked next to the door. He wasn't surprised Samantha was one of the last power brokers to move from this crumbling lot to the newer facilities in Irvine. Failure was not tolerated, and recently Samantha had produced a string of flops.

Atop the desk rested an intercom, a gold colored pen and a single sheet of paper headed by Nationalist Productions

The contract. 

Saul set his feet on the carpet and slid the contract into his hands. "Standard can work if there's enough room for the creative muse. Does the hero get the girl?"

"Girl...or boy, doesn't matter. I told you, complete creative license. I'm financing this myself." She leaned forward. "This project is very important to me. Very important."

"No, he doesn't. We'll surprise the viewers with a tragic ending. The hero dies. Everybody dies. The girl dies most horribly." Saul stood and walked to the window to hide his smirk. She'd never go for that. 'Full creative license' meant that only a dozen executives would have to green light it--after the censors had cleared it. 

The window reflected his brown, confident eyes ringed by thin lines, graying hair he didn't bother to dye, and a narrow chest under a blue pinstriped shirt. He liked the look his five-mile daily walks gave him. 

Through the glass he could see prisoners in orange jumpsuits scrambling to remove the fixtures from the doomed Cerritos Studio. The open double doors to Sound Stage Three across the way gaped like a shadowy maw. 

Propaganda was an ever expanding business in Czar Leonard Goldwin III's America, the constant recasting of history, the reshaping of mood and opinion. It merited newer facilities.

Saul knew the biz well, having ridden it into fortune. He hardly tasted the bitterness of censorship anymore. The Mood Enhancers his Stratton fired had numbed that long ago, those nano-robots that put the Mood in Mood Writing.

Idealism. He'd had that once. His wife stole it away when she'd left him, along with all his dreams save one: make it big. 

Samantha's fingers ceased their drumbeat. "As long as your story moves the viewer. That's why I need you--you can pull this off before the studio is demolished."

One of the prisoners must have been moving too slowly. Two green-clad guards yanked her from a forklift and beat her with Taser rods. 

Saul touched the glass. The double paned glass vibrated to her screams. 

It took effort to insulate oneself from the violence of the regime, but a Mood Writer was good at that. Insulation was his business.

Still, it bothered him. Why do they have to beat her? A simple change in Mood would have accomplished the same thing.

He turned away.

Samantha came around the desk. An attractive woman with tastefully dyed blond hair, her shapely legs flashed from beneath her blue skirt. 

He wondered how she had lost her touch, how she had failed to produce a hit in a decade. The fear stalked him as well, the fear that someday he too would lose it. 

But not this day. This day he would make a killing.

Samantha put her own face to the glass. "Saul, you liked working together on Peter's Touch, didn't you? I left you to your work—and back then I had the entire studio breathing down my neck. This is your chance to do something really creative. This is your chance to make art." 

He snorted. "The last I heard that word was in film school—which I never attended." 

He picked up his black, palm-sized Stratton. The current Mood was set to quiet assurance, subtly enhancing the sub-cellular reaction he desired for this meeting. "This is what we call art: microscopic robots which release chemicals to alter our feelings. 

"Tell me the conditions." He held a finger to her face as she started to protest. "There are always conditions."

She folded her arms under her chest; light glinted from her silver watch. "Five days, you know that, and I have an illustrator for you to work with, one of the best."

"I choose my own illustrator."

"Not this time." 

The set of her jaw told him he wouldn't win on that one. Well, he could work with anyone for five days. "They draw what I write, right?" She nodded. "What else?"

"I've rented a MoodMaker here on the lot. It's a little antiquated, but perfect for what we plan to do. We work until the project is done. No breaks, no three martini lunches, and no leaving the studio lot. Period. We sleep in the studio."

It almost sounded fun. Crazy, but fun—like when he was making his first MoodFilm for that contest. What was it? Ah, the San Mateo Film Festival. Back then he'd had dreams. The memory brought a hint of a smile.

Samantha must really be in a stew to have to produce something this fast.

He spread the contract out on the desk and scanned it, smelling its fresh ink. No fine print. Practically a 'back of the napkin' contract—except she’d written in his confinement to the lot. "And what are we going to do?"

Samantha walked back around the desk. "Unlike anything you've ever worked on before. A comic book. Sixty pages, two hundred forty panels, more or less. You can work with that out with the illustrator."

He signed his name with a flourish. "A comic book. Samantha, you are insane. Will you let me remove my name from the project if I don't like the result?"

"Of course."

She pressed a finger on the intercom. "Send in Mrs. Beneke."

Saul thought for a second he’d misheard…until the door to the outer office opened and in came someone he barely recognized. Her bone structure was the same: thin nose, narrow shoulders, long neck, feet turned outwards from years of ballet, but her face and arms had been scarred with black ink, skulls, strands of barbed wire, and, visible above the maroon, spaghetti string top, five tears across her left breast. 

Rebecca,” he breathed.

Marks of prestige to inmates, teardrops showed how much the Czar hated them--or feared them. Each one indicated the level of torture the prisoner had received.

People with those marks rarely saw natural sunlight again.

Rebecca's lip curled on one side beneath a poorly-healed scar. She had had none of these marks when they were married.

Saul ran a tongue across his dry lips. Dear Jesus, what has she done? What have they done to her?

He felt anger and pity and love, and the still-bitter sting of her walking out on him eleven years before.

Rebecca rubbed a hand across one tattoo-scarred cheek. "Sorry I didn't write. I've been busy." She turned to face the producer. "Well? Let's get this over with."

How like her. Despite everything between them—or perhaps because of it—she treated him with indifference, even disrespect. It made him furious. "Things you had to do? Like going to prison? Like leaving your husband? Was this for the man you left me for or did you decide to become a criminal on your own?" 

She brushed the hair from her face without turning to meet his eyes. "You wouldn't have understood."

"Oh, I understand. Eleven years and you're still putting a wall between us!"

Samantha hit the intercom and asked the person on the other end to come in.

The door admitted a boy who resembled Samantha down to his earlobes. He stared at Saul with saucer eyes. "Saul Beneke! I know every line from Peter's Touch." He deepened his voice to imitate the movie dialog. "'That's right, Molly—the dog stays. Now hit the road.'"

Saul stuck out his hand, and the boy took it very solemnly. "Nice to meet you, Mister Beneke. Is it true you have a photographic memory?"

The boy's hands felt like wax, but Saul managed to partially mask his surprise behind a smile. "Only for the good lines. The bad ones I write myself." Artificial arms.

Samantha fished around in her purse and produced a photo ID badge. "William, tell the guards we'll be working in Studio 11 through the night. William?" He broke the handshake with Saul. "No one is to go in or out without my badge. Understand?"

"Yes, mom." The boy took the badge between waxy-looking fingers. 

And then the thought hit him. Samantha is using her son instead of an assistant. She might not even have enough money for this project. Does she even work here anymore? It was preposterous. And yet...

Saul’s opportunity for escape fled with the boy. His tingling fingers told him he should go now, should get away from whatever this deal was...but he couldn't. First, there was the matter of the contract. Samantha might be on the outs but she was still a producer. She could hold him to his contract.

Second, he was just too curious. What the blazes is going on? This is no ordinary story she wants me to write. He'd see how it played out. But his fingers tingled, and that meant nothing good.

Samantha gestured to the door. "You two can catch up on old times as we walk."

Saul bent to pick up the black plastic shock case of his Stratton. Rebecca's eyes followed, crinkling at the edges. She had never approved of Mood Enhancers. Hell, ninety-nine percent of the public ate them for breakfast. His job was providing them with Mood. 

He walked past her without holding the door, considering what Mood setting would best fit the situation. One popped immediately into his mind.



The orange jumpsuits were all moving in one direction now—the exit. Twilight had painted the sky spumoni. The lot was nearing lockdown. This had been Rebecca's favorite time to paint, when nature itself wielded a brush.

They turned into the alley where they had filmed Aces Low, Saul’s third MoodFilm and one of his best, something he wrote in the days when censorship did not breathe in the micro-cells of every writer.

Samantha walked fast, her heels click-clicking against the rough pavement. Abruptly they stopped before a single-wide door marked Sound Stage 11, a small building shaped like an airplane hangar. 

There hung a poster of a middle-aged bearded man, Czar Leonard Goldwin III. The eyes stared just above Saul's own no matter where he looked. The Mood projector embedded in the paper made his sub-cellular Enhancers react with optimism and gratefulness

Effective, Saul thought, though I would have chosen more subtlety. 

Someone had scrawled something in black ink in the poster's lower right-hand corner. 


Someone had dared to deface the Czar's image, here, in the midst of his propaganda machine! Even after the lot had been slated for demolition it was bold beyond fathoming. 

Saul's heart skipped.

Samantha noticed his stare. She peeled back the edge of the poster with green lacquered fingernails and ripped off the graffiti. 

The Mood Projector shorted, leaving Saul with sudden emptiness. 

"We can't have someone thinking one of us wrote this, can we?"

Rebecca tisked.

Saul's mouth grew dry. A convict might have nothing left to fear from the censors, but Saul Beneke, Mood Writer, certainly did. "No."

Samantha opened the door. When the lights flickered on, Saul saw a dinosaur.


The silver and black machine was about twenty feet long, ten wide. Modern Empathy© was written along the side in silver cursive. One end contained the command console: two chairs side by side, a three-by-ten foot screen. Knobs, dials and gauges controlled Mood intensity and blending. 

The fat end was an old fashioned printing press. 

He could smell the acetone in the machine's bowels. 

Saul had cut his chops on a similar all-in-one machine thirty years before at Plumaria Comics. It had been outdated then. 

His suspicion flared. We're not supposed to be here. The Censors don't know about this project.

He ran over the entire contract in his mind, word for word. His mind worked like that—he could picture the words as they flowed through time. One thing was distinctly missing. The story, what is the story?

A red, dusty couch with three tears faced the machine. Beside it sat a table with a coffeemaker, round coffee inserts, and an open box marked standard rations. One tray lay open, foil peeled back and plastic fork lying crossways across a yam-scented glob.

A wedge of light penetrated the room as the door opened behind them. William ran to his mother. "I did what you said. Nobody leaves without your badge. They've already locked the gates for the night."

Samantha mussed her son’s hair.

William skipped to the machine's control seats, his eyes seeking Saul's. "What do you think?" His artificial fingers tapped a series of controls. The machine began to hum. "I put these together from two Strattons. The control panel had been stripped, see? The Mood Maker works okay, at least I think so, but mom won't let me get Mood Enhancers yet, so I couldn't test it."

"It works," Samantha said. "It will have to do."

Why did you bring him into this shit? Saul wanted to ask. Why would anyone give birth these days? 

He waved his hands. "Whoa. Working in here—in secret—is not part of my contract."

A muscle clenched in Samantha's jaw. "Five days without leaving the lot, that's the—"

"Just tell me what the hell is going on. I don't have the stomach for mysteries."

Rebecca was loading the coffee machine with a double-stack of inserts. Without looking up, she said, "Oh, yes he does. Curiosity is one of his few endearing qualities."

Saul pointed a shaking finger at her. "You stay out of this." 

Samantha took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "A few years ago, I discovered something in my father's files. An important document. Legendary, even."

Saul recalled that Samantha's father, Phillip Brown, was an important producer in his own right. Progress passed him by because he refused to use Mood to stimulate the audience. 

Samantha had shown no such compunction.

Niggling curiosity raised its head again. Saul vowed to investigate its diametric opposite on the Stratton and set it at maximum. "Would this document be banned by the censors?"

Rebecca and Samantha exchanged a look. Rebecca then reached into her shirt with her right hand, pulling the maroon top down a smidge to access her black, lacy bra. Every inch of her cleavage had been inked. It was crude work, done with some kind of blade and black powder. She removed a neatly folded, yellowing piece of paper and handed it to him. 

Her entire body must be covered. He shuddered—partly revolted, partly intrigued—to think what she must look like naked, to think what primitive tribal behavior had driven her to this.

The yellowing paper crinkled as he opened it, face side down, revealing the stamped words US Constitution, $12.85. Printed in China. He barked a laugh. "That thing? Every copy has been purged, if it even existed."

Samantha ran one hand along the edge of Modern Empathy. "It is no joke. So many lies have been perpetrated that we don't know what is real and what is false. No one does, even the people telling lies."

Rebecca said, "When Samantha approached me with this idea, I thought she was crazy. I had every reason to hate the Tyrant6—more than you can imagine—but I wasn't going to risk my freedom for a madwoman. But then she showed me the Constitution. Saul, it's beautiful." She stood legs apart, hips slightly cocked, daring him to believe. 

Small print covered the face of the document, beginning with an oversized We the people... 

"A single page? I don't think so. The legend says the constitution guaranteed the freedom of a civilization for hundreds of years. This is a joke." 

He let the page flutter to the floor. Samantha might be setting us up. I'll warn Rebecca when we're alone.

Where did that thought come from? Warn Rebecca? How could such feeling have crossed eleven years? Ridiculous.

Saul knew the cure for that. He crossed to the red couch and sat down, snapped open the Stratton and set the gain to maximum. "You're both crazy. Absolutely nuts. I'm in lockdown with a convict and a traitor." He jerked a thumb at William, fiddling with Modern Empathy's controls. "What is he, a skyjacker?"

He spotted the Mood he wanted—three-martini dream—cranked it to nine and hit start. These crazies might convince me to do something stupid, like write their damn comic. Drowsiness slithered into his brain with a silky hand. His arms were encased in velvet; he swam on the couch, sparkles dancing in front of his eyes, becoming more and more comfortable. 

It was good.

As his ex-wife approached him, he could see her beautiful cleavage and something else, a smile that made him nervous, a smile that said she had anticipated this. "Sleep well," she said. "We'll start as soon as you wake up." 

Her tongue had been inked as a forked snake. It slithered. It would feel so good in his ear...

Rebecca pried his fingers off the Stratton. Even in his stupefied state, he knew he shouldn't let her play with his Moods. He reached for the Stratton, tried to hit the button which would scramble its signal...and missed.

"Still using the same password?" She shook her head, her black, curly hair bouncing prettily. "Tisk, tisk."

And then, as unconsciousness embraced him, he felt extreme gratitude towards her for taking the time to select a special Mood just for him.


The chair hummed with the musings of Modern Empathy. Rebecca worked beside him, avoiding eye contact, penciling in the desert around her version of a hero: a Bedouin, a muscular, bronzed adventurer with little resemblance to anyone Saul had ever met. 

The smell of stock surrounded her. Her white pants accentuated the shapeliness of her legs.

His own shirt clung to his armpits, reminding him that he had been sleeping in his clothes for 24 hours. They must have turned off the ventilation. Four more days of this and he'd be unbearable even to himself. 

Samantha and William dozed on flattened cardboard boxes.

Beads of sweat clung to Rebecca's upper lip. "What's the story, Mood Writer?" With a flick of her light pencil she dragged the finished adventurer over to his half of the screen. "Am I anywhere close?"

He reviewed Rebecca's illustrations: a series of panels featuring the Bedouin hero breaking into the National Archives, escaping in a barrage of gunfire, and fleeing to the desert. 

Filled with a kind of faux realism, these drawings screamed that they came from a human hand, not a computer simulation. They had the vibrancy of oils and the subtlety of watercolors.

"I'm not writing this story."

"Don't you want to know what convinced a producer to risk everything, even her own son?" She nodded towards the folded US Constitution.

"No." He gently took Rebecca's right hand in his left. His heart flooded with love, resentment, suspicion, and curiosity. Unnatural curiosity. Rebecca must have chosen that for his Mood.

He barely managed to keep his voice steady. "I want to know what happened to you. Why did you leave me? Why did you go to prison?"

"Haven't you figured it out?” Rebecca’s brow wrinkled. “It wasn't because you cheated on me with android ladies—that I could have lived with. No, Mister Saul Beneke, celebrated Mood Writer. Famous Mood Writer. It was because you never believed in anything except Saul Beneke. That's why your stories are crap. There is nothing you about them.—No passion. No belief. Even Aces Low is nothing but cliché."

"Oh, you mean I wasn't willing to go to prison like you? Is that what you mean?" 

"That's about it. Yes."

"What did you do that was so noble?"

"I resisted the Tyrant. I drew something called satire and joined a group of people doing something that mattered. Unlike you and your quest for fame."

The arrogance! "This is madness. Don't you see? Samantha is setting us up. Nothing else makes sense."

"Why would she do that?"

"She's had four failures in a row." He pulled away to pace the room. "She is respected, yes, in the way a museum portrait is respected. So she struck a deal. If she could bring down a traitor—a famous traitor, three-time winner of the Heurist for best Mood Writer—she'd be back in business. And who better to lure him in than his ex-wife."

Rebecca gaped. "Is that the best you could come up with? A thinly-disguised ego stroke?"

William stirred, sat up, and rubbed his eyes, his hair an unruly mop. "Is everything okay?"

"Fine," Saul said. "Go to sleep."

Rebecca stood, punctuating her words with one wagging finger. "This may be the most important story of your life. Give the people a story to remember, a battle cry to die for. Immortality, isn't that what you wanted more than anything? This is your chance, Saul." 

"Treason," Saul whispered. 

"Just read it. You'll understand."

At that, Saul's curiosity surged. What could have driven Rebecca to risk torture unimaginable—again? Had Samantha tricked her? Possibly. But why? 

The Constitution was the key—

He had to get out of here. 

The Moods, Rebecca had fiddled with his Moods. "You almost had me. Almost."

He strode to the exit.

"You have a contract!" Rebecca shouted.

"Oh, I'll write something—something about snakes."

He burst outside, blinking against the noontime sun. The lot was quiet. When the door opened behind him, he whirled to see William with Samantha's badge in his right hand. "You'll need this."

He wanted to tell this boy something, warn him...but that was not his concern. Samantha brought him into this foul world, she had best take care of him. "Where's your father?"

William frowned. "I have no father, just like I have no arms."

Saul took the badge from the waxy hand. "Thanks."

The boy stared, disapproving. "You're not like I thought."

Saul turned away. "No one ever is."


Although rectangular of perimeter, the Cerritos sound stages, prop-rooms, offices and facades faced in such meandering directions that they recalled the limitless streets of Cordoba, a town he had visited while researching his romantic comedy Andalucía Twist. Only occasionally did he notice the concertina wire atop the perimeter wall and their green-clad guards. 

Walking cleared his mind.

I could probably stroll right out of here with this badge, tell the front guard that Samantha had sent me to get food. He'd understand that. I wonder if Sanso still works the guard shack.

He got a brief feeling of pleasure remembering the friendly guard and pungent coffee shared in the employees' cafeteria. But he passed the guard shack without slowing down. 

He arrived before Samantha's building and looked up at her window., two days ago a seemingly unimportant contract had become a junction. Both roads led to doom: down one prison, torture, death; down the other continued fame, continued success...and deafening unimportance. 

No one remembers who writes Mood Films. Actors, directors, yes. Producers, maybe. But no one remembers who wrote Aces Low. No one.

I did. I did!

The sound stage opposite Samantha's window remained open and a great heap of refuse lay just inside: posters, splintered two by fours, smashed ceramic props, and what looked like a hand.

He stepped into the shadow. 

The smell of rot left no doubt that this hand belonged to a human rather than a prop. An orange prison cuff clothed the wrist. 

He couldn't have said what caused him to reach out and grip the cold, still wrist with his two hands and pull. It must have been the Mood Rebecca had chosen for him. 

Always before, he had managed to suppress his curiosity when it threatened to draw attention from the censors or the police. 

This time he pulled. 

The pile shifted, a stack of posters dropped to the side, and a woman's torso slumped free. 

He gasped. The guards had killed the prisoner and dumped her here. 

A simple change of Mood would have sufficed! 

Her eyes were green as Ireland. A teardrop tattoo inked the swell of her left breast. The first level of torture. 

Rebecca had five such tattoos.

"Hey you, what are you doing? Keep your hands where I can see them."

Saul put his hands up slowly. 

"Turn around!"

He turned. A flashlight shone in his face. He squinted at a black gun barrel pointing at his head, at the young, male officer in green. 

The officer’s eyes darted to Samantha's badge. "Ah, sir. I didn't know you had a producer's badge."

"I, ah, Samantha Brown. Yes, I'm with her."

The gun slipped back in the holster. "Right. I'll just...walk around the building."

Saul almost wanted to scream. Aren't you going to question me? Aren't you going to ask why this young woman is dead?

Prudence got the better of him. He straightened his back. "Have a nice walk."

"Thank you. Thank you, sir."


Saul jogged back to Studio 11. He burst through the door to find all three accomplices napping. They sat up as one.

He charged over to Rebecca. "Give me the Stratton, now! Your Mood nearly got me killed."

That woke her. Wobbling a little, she moved to the side of Modern Empathy. She undid four screws securing a metal panel. His Stratton lay within the machine's guts. She hesitated before handing it to him.

His heart pounded. Mood Setting: None selected. His face went slack. "I haven't been on any Moods?"

Rebecca shook her head. "The first thing they do in prison is purge us of our Mood Enhancers. They think it’s torture but…it's liberating."

All the curiosity, all the desire to matter were his. He could hardly breathe. It was...yes...liberating.

"Will you read it now?" Rebecca asked.

He felt exhilarated, scared.


"Alright. Yes, alright."

He reached out and squeezed Rebecca's hand—God she was beautiful—before retrieving the Constitution. He read it in one quick, mental breath. And then he read it again. He didn't need to, he could recall every word, every strange orthography and punctuation, but the document's limits on power, its system of checks and balances, its guarantees of freedom seemed to him as brilliant as the colors behind a sunrise.

"The Bedouin won't do it," he said with an apologetic look at Rebecca. "We need a hero everyman can relate to. I'm thinking...three people, three powerful friends who conspire together to bring down the Cza--Tyrant."

Rebecca moved quickly to Modern Empathy's command chair and, with a sweep of her light pencil, dumped her previous drawings in the trash.

He sat beside her, putting a hand on her thigh, feeling the ripple of muscle through her pants. He still felt anger at her for leaving him, for all the hurt she had caused, but he let his new feelings submerge the pain for now. "Their plan is to get the Constitution, but to do it they need a fourth man, a documentarian who works in the National Archives."

"How do they get him onboard?" Samantha came to stand at his shoulder, one arm draped over William.

Saul grinned with the side of his mouth. "How else?"

Rebecca began penciling a beautiful seductress. "Blond or brunette?

"Redhead." Like the murdered prisoner.

"Which Mood Enhancers do we associate with her?"

"What else? Curiosity."

The story moved ahead, touching, humorous, at times frightening. He used Mood Enhancers sparingly, relying primarily on his words and Rebecca's evocative drawings. He alluded to the Constitution's ideas throughout as what inspired the hero.

Saul worked from a single draft, revising in his head. He always worked that way. They had completed about three quarters of the story when his energy sputtered. The days of stress became a loadstone, a feeling akin to the aftereffect of over-strong Moods. His shoulders sagged.

"Sweetie?" Rebecca asked.

Did she just call me Sweetie? "How much time until this building comes down?" It was impossible to tell time in this windowless sound stage. The boy was sleeping again. Hours had passed.

Samantha checked her watch. "Twenty-two hours. We can't stop now."

"Saul needs sleep," Rebecca said.

"We have a deadline."

"I'll be okay. I just..." And then it hit him. His addiction wasn't finished, not yet. He needed a Mood Enhancement to get through this project. He looked at Rebecca.

"I'm not letting you use the Stratton." She rotated in her chair. "What is the hurry, Samantha? Once it's done we can carry it past the guards on a drive. No one will check; there's nothing of value left in this place."

Samantha smiled like a cat who had outsmarted a Doberman pinscher. "We need to allow time to print it."

"Print?! How do you intend to distribute it if not electronically?"

"We're shipping it out with the garbage. The Censors can pick up almost anything electronic, but they'll never expect subversive material to be shipped to the landfill. From there, my friends in the Waste Union will distribute it nationwide." Samantha patted the side of the dinosaur. "That's why we need Modern Empathy. William disconnected it from the web so the Censors aren't riding its back."

Rebecca put a hand on Saul's shoulder. "Do you think you can do it, Sweetie?"

Sweetie! He nodded. "Yes, yes. I think so. How about some coffee?"

Moments later, piercing light cut the room in half. Green-clad police swarmed through the door, guns drawn. Saul's heart jumped to his throat. The police were shouting but he couldn't make out what they said. Rebecca sat beside him, a light pencil poised in one hand, staring straight ahead. In seconds the police had cuffed Samantha and William and swept them out the door.

A burly, shaven-headed officer approached Saul with cuffs drawn, but Rebecca shook her head.

Saul looked from one to the other, jaw gaping. "You...a collaborator?!"

Rebecca’s hand absently rubbed the five teardrop tattoos. "Prison is where the best collaborators are recruited."

"I trusted you. I..." He refused to say loved you

She took his left hand in both of her own. They now felt bony to him, like the hands of a skeleton. "There is still a chance for you, Saul. If you testify against Samantha they might let you off. This is to be a show trial, an example. And I cut off your Moods. You can use that in your defense."

"You knew this? You set this up?"


"You were just waiting for me to give in, to write your stupid story before springing the trap."

"No, I didn't want you to be trapped. I didn't think you would even consider doing this. I was waiting to find out how Samantha intended to distribute her subversive material." She looked down at her lap, then back. "But I underestimated your courage. I'm...I'm proud of you. If you testify against Samantha, I can guarantee that you will go free. The Czar needs your skills."

Saul threw off her hands. They had him to rights, no way he could get out of it. And Samantha was really cooked. But there was another, an innocent. I have no father. He paced, anger pounding his heels against the cement. "I want William."

Rebecca walked to the couch, picked up the copy of the Constitution, and set it on fire with a lighter. "That could be...difficult."

"I want custody of William. We both go free, and nothing—nothing—goes on William's record. The show trial can't even mention that he was here."

The flame licked at Rebecca's fingers. She stared, numb to such pathetic levels of pain. Perversely, it smelled pleasant, like a Cuban cigar.

"Rebecca, do this for me or I confess everything. A Mood Writer, a three-times Heurist winning Mood Writer, will not disappear in silence."

"Yes, yes. Okay." She let the remaining corner flutter to the ground. Her bottom lip quivered. "If you had had this kind of courage before—" She took a deep breath. "I hope William can forgive you. Your name will be all over his mother’s conviction."

As Saul watched the orange ember curl into soot, he recited the Constitution in his mind. He saw it clear as day, every word, every phrase, every strange orthography.

The document had not died. Hope had not died. He would teach it to William.

We the people... 

"I won't need his forgiveness," Saul said. "Only his understanding."

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