Today's Reading

"You heard the man," Keegan told Griff, crumpling the origami robot in her hand and slipping the balled-up nanoplastic into her pocket. "Set it on RUR. No sense in FBI property getting blown up at the station's parking garage along with us."

With the required permission from the human bureaucracy, Griff gave the machine its authorization, setting the vehicle on "Roam Until Recall," to drive about until called back to their location for pickup. The vehicle quickly lurched forward a few inches. "Now you start moving," Griff huffed. But it was only the autodrive resetting to the more precisely programmed follow distance in its traffic protocol.

As Keegan slammed the passenger-side door shut, she gave an open- handed slap onto the SUV's window, as if giving the machine a high five. The titanium of her wedding ring made a reassuring ping as it rapped against the glass. Griff looked over and gave Keegan a thumbs-up that wasn't needed. The slap was just an old ritual of Keegan's from when she'd had to exit armored vehicles in far more dangerous places.

As she moved around the blue minivan, Keegan saw the dad escalating the argument, jabbing the air with his fingers while he yelled at the kids. Asshole. She could also see that the Viking had moved, and not in a good way. His lips were opening and shutting in the staccato style of a professional sharing a rapid update with someone on the other end of a command network. More important, his finger had flicked off the safety and moved down into the rifle's trigger guard.

Keegan walked slowly toward the Viking, with her hands held palms out. "Hands where he can see them," she hissed at Griff.

As they closed, Keegan caught a whiff of that old familiar smell of goat crossed with Break-Free cleaning solvent. She'd been right about both the hair and the gun.

"That's far enough," growled the Viking.

Keegan paused and scanned the area ahead of her. She stood near the start of a central lane that ran through the camp that had sprung up on the seven blocks of park bordering the Capitol building. A row of tents ran along each side of the path, covering ground that members of Congress had been using as a landing area for autonomous personal aircraft. None of the tents were uniform, ranging in size from Improved Combat Shelters—the Army version of a one-person pup tent—to massive AirBeam inflatable barrack buildings. Here and there, a few brightly colored civilian camping tents livened up the sand and jungle green of military surplus. But that's where any disorganization ended. All of it was squared off and as clean as could be.

Even the gravel in the pathway had been recently raked into the wavelike patterns of a Zen garden; whoever had that duty had evidently served in INDOPACOM.

"You know the agreement," the Viking said as he tipped the gun toward the edge of the cement, which also aimed it just before their feet. "No cops inside. Only those that paid their dues. Step on the green and y'all will get your asses handed to you...again."

Keegan still got angry every time video of that confrontation flashed through her feed. The DC police had gone in dumb, thinking they could roust out the camp with the same tactics that worked on angry students or farmers. But batons and pepper spray were nothing to a couple thousand veterans who'd been through far worse. No one was ready yet to copy what General Douglas MacArthur had done to the Bonus Marchers over a century earlier and bring in tanks. So instead, a rough truce had been made. Traffic was allowed on the streets that ran through the parks, but everything in between—now known as Patriots Camp—was the veterans' turf, to run as they saw fit. At least until Congress paid up.

"Not a cop, but a federal agent," Keegan said. "More importantly, I'm one of you. I have just as much right to be here as you do."

Behind the Viking, a woman emerged from a tent set up at the park's edge.

It was pixelated desert tan, evidently military surplus, with a sign directing journalists to register there. Keegan knew enough about electronics, though, to recognize that the array of antennae peeking from the top was not merely for linking up to the news networks. When the DC police had tried to storm the camp, the veterans had thrown up a digital blockade, not just jamming radios, but tossing up so much electronic noise that the cops' surveillance drones had literally fallen from the skies.

The woman was in her late twenties, diminutive, with a matte black eyebrow stud and dreadlocks. While the Viking was in green digital camo, cut off just above the knees into a pair of ragged shorts, Dreadlocks was in blue Navy coveralls. As she came closer, Keegan spied the name "Richter" stitched on the right, as well as the blue, gold, and red stripes of a Presidential Unit Citation on her sleeve. That and the fact that she carried no weapons indicated she was higher up in the camp's ranks.
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