Anne Cisner tried her best to be invisible when she entered the briefing room, staying so close to her escort that she had to consciously block out the whirring animosity that frothed his aura.
"Where is he?" she whispered behind his ear, unsure of whether the growing hubbub would drown her words.
Alex paused briefly, his dreadlocks echoing the ratchet of his gaze as he scanned the room. Then he turned right and skirted the crowd, leading her to a vacant seat at the end of the third row.
While settling into the well-worn folding chair, she scanned the people in her row, identifying mainstream media shills by the confident bluster in their energy fields. For her, it wasn't so much a visual experience as a tactile one, making this fleeting psychic intimacy both blessing and curse. Fortunately, it was interrupted when Alex touched her shoulder. He looked her in the eye, then glanced at someone a few rows behind them. She nodded a thank-you, and he left.
Anne swallowed. She dared not look back, lest someone catch on to what they were about to do. It wasn't exactly illegal, but only because psychic abilities such as hers had not yet been proven in a court of law. Rather, it was the court of public opinion they were concerned about. If word of this got out, the reporter who had sought her assistance would be open to spurious ridicule. He would lose the credibility that had made it possible for him to ask an unscripted question. He was trusted. At least for today. Afterwards? He'd risked his reputation, his career, on a single moment at this press conference. His life might just as well be in her hands. She was terrified.
Time was, Anne had been a constitutional activist. A damn good one, too. But there's just so long you can push an immoveable object. At some point, you just burn out. For her, that moment came on Election night, and here it was, March again already.
When Republican control of Congress was broken in 2006, the masses who had struggled to make it happen knew that there was more to repairing the damage than simply ousting the junta. The judiciary had been poisoned. Political operatives had been insinuated into agencies throughout the government. Congress had caved to pressure and propaganda, passing laws that would have made the founders burn the city. What useful laws they did manage to pass were either ignored or subverted by presidential decree. Until finally, Congress was forced to admit that without the ability to enforce its will, it was powerless against the combined strength of the executive and the financial interests that made everything work.
All that was left to hope for was a change of leadership come the next election.
The one-term Democratic administration that followed made a big show of cleaning house, but the root causes were never addressed. The worst parts of what came to be known as the New Intolerable Acts -- such travesties as the so-called PATRIOT Act -- were toned down, but their substance was retained. Rights taken from the citizens were never returned. What had once been a self-proclaimed bastion of freedom and liberty had been fine-tuned to keep people just happy enough to not want to make trouble.
And then the tide turned once again. After a single term out of office, the Republican corporatocracy regained power. Nobody believed the election results, but it was now illegal to question them. It was too late to reverse the damage, and more was being layered over it day by day.
Since November, Anne had buried her frustration and rage under a mountain of work, focusing instead on her practice. She spent her days massaging the shell-shocked psyches of people too overwhelmed with manipulative media and force-prescribed with anti-anxiety drugs to do much more than the mind-numbing jobs left them to pay for the effects of the mistreatment they were subjected to. And she couldn't even be open about how she did it, lest she lose her hard-fought counseling license.
An amplified rustling of paper broke her reverie. The crowd had settled down, and all of the empty seats were now filled.
"May I have your attention, please?" A young woman stood at the podium. Her voice was weak, uncertain. "Please hold your credentials out. Homeland Security will verify everyone's ID before we begin."
Alex had handed her a badge before they entered. She fished it out and looked over at the beefy uniformed Aryan headed her way. The man's bearing was stiff, over-controlled. He was uncomfortable being here, judging from the roiling texture of his energy field. She looked up at him.
"I haven't seen you here, before, Ma'am."
She smiled. "First time."