Alexis Hemingway stormed into Hal’s office and slammed the newspaper down on his desk.
“Take my name off this article. I didn’t write this!” Her index finger slammed down on the desk as she spoke, punctuating each word.
Hal glanced up from the notes scattered across his desk. He knew that look.
“I’m sorry, Alex. We’d never get away with yours. You’d be thrown in prison.” Her eye twitched and her jaw set. “It’s not worth it, Alex. You are too good of a journalist to go down like this.”
“You know how I feel about this.” She turned her back to him and wore a new path on the carpet. “This is America, even if we’re only two sovereign states now. We’re still bound by the Constitution.”
She stopped pacing. “I should be allowed to speak my mind without fear of retribution!”
Hal jumped in panic and slammed his palm against a small camera behind him.
“Dammit, Alex! You know Big Brother is watching! Ever since those censorship bills passed in 2012, we’ve practiced caution. I know this is hard for you.” He sighed deeply and sat on the edge of the desk, pulling Alex’s hands in his own. “Please trust me.”
“You don’t understand, Hal. They need to know what the government is planning. It’s all over the Underground. The Surface deserves to know that death is coming now.”
“I do understand, but you can’t put it in print like that. You’ll have the National Guard down on us before sunrise.”
Alex dropped Hal’s hands in disgust. She stepped closer, meeting his doe-eyed stare with her steely one. A snarl crept across her face, starting at one dimple and ending silently at her nose.
“What happened to you? The Hal I know would be standing right beside me saying to hell with the military. The Hal I know would print the truth– the whole uncensored truth—and not give a damn. Where did he go?”
Hal reached out and grabbed her arms.
“I have a family now. It’s not just me anymore. There’s Reece and Katie to think of. If I lose this, they’ll starve. I can’t be that Hal anymore.”
“We’ll go Underground. We’ll be free!” Alex’s chin stood firm even as a solitary tear rolled down her face. Hal reached up and wiped it away.
“That’s no life for children, Alex, and you know it,” he said, softly.
Alex laughed. “There’s no life for children on the Surface, either, if the President passes this new bill. Life as we know it will cease to exist. These people have no chance of survival unless we tell them.”
She pleaded with her eyes. Hal said nothing, but tears formed in his. He knew she was right. Alex softened.
“They depend on us to tell them the truth! We must tell them,” she whispered.
Hal dropped his head. “I’m sorry, Alex. I can’t.” He raised his head again and pulled her back to him. “Please understand. My children…”
“You’d rather live as a coward, serving a tyrant, then die a hero?” Spittle flew from Alex’s painted lips. “You’d rather your children grow up not respecting you than to show them how to stand up for what they believe in!”
The sting of Hal’s hand slapping her cheek made her gasp. “They’ll kill you, you know. What do they need you for, a small town publisher, when they have their own? They’ll slaughter you and your children, just for printing without them.”
Hal choked and turned his head away from her. Tears flowed freely down his face. He squeezed her hand in apology. Steel toed boots stomped in the stairwell. Alex’s eyes widened in panic. “It’s too late! Run to the Underground!” she said.
The office door swung open and the sound of gunfire ricocheted through the air. Hal’s body crumbled to the floor. As the guns turned on her, she knew what she had to do. She threw open the window, leaned out, and yelled as loud as she could to the steady stream of people five stories beneath her.
“They’re here! Run for your lives!”
With her last word, the bullets penetrated her body, pushing her through the window and into the air until she landed with a splatter on the sidewalk below.