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Scene Title Changing/Guard
Synopsis President Harding's inauguration speech is heard around the world.
Date January 20, 2021

On the steps of the Bartle Hall Convention Center in Washington KC, a crowd of thousands has gathered beneath slate gray skies. Dozens of flags fly over the convention center, representing the branches of the US armed forces, its federal agencies, and its states.

President Joshua Harding, having just been sworn into office, steps up to a podium and surveys the crowd amid a growing silence. He grips the sides of the podium, brows furrowed and jaw set as if passing a judgment over all of those who have gathered. After a moment he looks to his right, where a group of political figures sit in observation of his first speech.

“Chief Justice Coburn, Vice President Dowe. President Praeger, Speaker Addams, Leaders Preston, Garvey, Vice President Reader, Secretary Chesterfield, my distinguished guests and my fellow Americans…” Harding looks out to the crowd again. “This is America’s day.”

“This is democracy’s day.” He continues, raising a hand to motion to the crowd. “A day of history and hope of renewal and resolve through a crucible for the ages. Ten years ago America was tested in a way it has never been since the founding days of this great nation. We failed that test. America collapsed into a Civil War that threatened to consume us all in the fires of hate, intolerance, fear, and bigotry.”

A pause between Harding’s thoughts allows his words to ring through the air. “We allowed our fear of the unknown to guide our hand and we gave in…”


1,200 Miles Away

The Ruins of Queens
New York

January 20th
9:47 am

«… to fascism and tyranny.»

Harding’s address crackles over a small radio set up on a high shelf in a fluorescent-lit armory. Zachery Becker sits on a folding chair, stripping down an assault rifle into its component parts. He looks across the armory to an older man loading ball bearings and gunpowder into a metal canister through a funnel, then glances to the radio.

«Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy and freedom. The people — the will of the people — has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded. For the second time since the end of our second civil war, the people have elected a new president.»

“Ain’t my president,” Eugene Arrowood says with a slow shake of his head. “Ain’t my will. No sir. No sir.


Jackson Heights

«We live in an America that understands democracy is fragile. At this hour, democracy has once again prevailed.»

It's been a month and it's not gotten any easier. Each morning feels like the first one. Each one brings with it a tightness in her chest. But so many things keep moving forward, and Emily feels like she's obligated to, too.

«But this day comes with it a solemn reminder of everything we have lost. We do not stand on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington DC.»

Smoothing down the blazer she's wearing over the pale blouse she's picked for the day, she tries to smile at herself in the mirror, and for her efforts only ends up with a furrowed brow. Even when she stops the attempt, the look of discomfort hasn't faded entirely. Closing her eyes, Emily balls one hand before her somewhere over her sternum, willing herself to find her center as she takes in a deep breath and releases it again. She hears the leap of Kettle's light steps more by how they rock the radio that plays on her desk as he leaps up and sits right next to the antenna-sporting box. Finally, not looking at the mirror, she's able to smile softly, at least for him. She reaches one hand over to him, scritching him on the side of his face the way he likes.

«That building is gone, erased from the face of the earth by extremism and conflict.»

The last thing Emily dons before she leaves are the pair of darkened, aviator sunglasses she's taken to wearing while at the office. Avoiding eye contact is unavoidable, but she's made the excuse that light sensitivity is a 'side effect' after coming back from the harrowing she underwent, and used them as a convenient barrier between her and others. Whether it's merely psychosomatic or actually prevents use of her ability remains to be seen, but it feels like it helps. She slips the dark frames over her face and looks back one last time at the mirror.

«We stand now in the streets of what was once Kansas City, in the shadow of buildings that were never intended to house the heart and soul of American democracy, but have nonetheless come to shoulder that burden.»

With more confidence than before, she nods to herself, flips the switch that both darkens and silences the room, and turns to head for the apartment's front door.


Fort Jay
Governor’s Island

«As we look ahead in our uniquely American way: restless, bold, optimistic. We set our sights on the nation we can be and we must be.»

What is the point of rank if you can’t use it to grab the conference room with the big television once in a while? Seated at the table, her attention rapt on the screen and the news coverage shown, Nicole Miller can’t help but feel a sense of victory in this moment. So much of this moment is historic. It’s a step in the right direction. It has to be.

«A nation divided not by fear, but united in hope for the future.»

Her hand lifts just off the table so she can glide her wrist across its surface, the cuff of her blouse making the movement a smooth one. Instead of reaching for the carafe in the middle, she misses the mark. When her hand bumps into the one resting on the side opposite her, Nicole doesn’t turn away from the inauguration to look at him, instead letting her pinky and ring fingers overlay the man’s, gently brushing over the smoother patch of skin where he once wore a ring. Companionship conveyed. Wordless.

«I thank my predecessors for their presence here today. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. And I know, I know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength, the strength of our nation.»

Donald Kenner slowly withdraws his hand, folding them together in front of himself with eyes fixed squarely on the television in front of him. His jaw sets, brows furrow, tension evident in every fiber of his being. He had spent so much of his recent life surrounded by violent extremists that he can’t help but hold in a very present fear. Something terrible was going to happen.

«I know the strength of the American people who through determination and hope stood firm against a tide of violence the likes of which we have never seen before and God help me we will never see again.»


Kaleidoscope Studios
Bay Ridge

«I’ve just taken the sacred oath each legitimate president before me has taken. The oath, first sworn by George Washington.»

There is exactly one room in Kaleidoscope Studios that no one except Robyn Roux is allowed into. She calls it her exercise room, but it's so much more than just that these days. Adorned with a few pieces of exercise equipment, a radio, a TV, a cork wall with several sharp cuts in it,and a set of three swords, Robyn stands in the middle of the room with one curved blade in hand, looking more than a little ridiculous as she practices her stance and swings.

«But the American story depends not on the legacy of our imperfect founders, but on the idealism of our citizens and our dream of what the world can be like for those who follow us.»

A look is offered to the TV as the inauguration continues, unwisely dividing her time between practice before her next lesson and watching the proceedings. The divide in attention results in a small mishap as she slides the blade back into its sheath, causing her to wince and gasp as a small slice results across the side of her right hand.

«This is a great nation. We are good people. And over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, in ignorance and in revelation, we've come so far. But we still have far to go. We'll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities, much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.»

As luminescent blood trickles out from the small cut, she sighs and picks up a towel she keeps just for moments like this. This means the only thing left to keep her attention is the inauguration, pulling over a chair and sitting down to watch it, a smile on her face as she relaxes in spite of the pain.

«Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now. Millions dead in the wake of a catastrophic war. Tens of millions of jobs have been lost. Seven whole states of our great union lay in total ruin, cut off from electricity and telecommunications. A cry for social justice, some centuries in the making, moves us. The dream of justice will be deferred no longer.»


Geographic Region Redacted

«The cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. We have chosen to come together to face that head on, without fear, without hesitance.»

Marcus Raith closes one gloved hand around another, sitting forward and looking at a Mercator projection map of the world set against a concrete wall. Red pins have been placed in locations across the globe: Detroit, Virginia, New Jersey, Iron County, Ordos, Lhasa, the list goes on. Audio from the inauguration continues over the open laptop beside him.

«The people of this nation have elected its first Expressive president. Its first Black president. My father once told me to be the change I wish to see in the world. I intend to do just that.»

Marcus reaches to his side, picking up a bright red rotary phone with no dial. His eye fixes on that map covered with red pins. “Are you available for a quick case review?” Marcus asks into the receiver,


Somewhere in Nasiriyah

5:52 pm Local Time

«To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America requires so much more than words. It requires vision and cooperation.»

Ra'id Abdul-Jalil Sabbagh sits back against the pillowed leather of a chaise lounge chair, watching television coverage of the American presidential inauguration. The sun is hanging low in the sky, casting the horizon with shades of purple and pink silhouette by tall buildings. Ra’id watches President Harding’s maneuvering on the screen, dark brows coming together with great scrutiny. Ra’id holds a length of hand-woven fabric, rolling it between his fingers, tracing his thumb back and forth over a knot in the weave over and over again.

«It requires every hand in this nation, every mind, every individual to cooperate toward a shared vision of a nation we can all be proud of.»

Slowly, Ra’id lifts his chin and then lowers it as if he was waiting for something. His nostrils flare, the fabric is set aside. Ra’id stands and briskly makes his way for the door.


Unknown Location

«On this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation divided by strife and war. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.»

Looking up from the glow of a computer screen, Colin Verse narrows his eyes and fixes his attention on a television where President Harding stands confident in front of a crowd of constituents and political peers. Verse takes a slurping sip from a can of beer with a straw, then sets it down and wheels his chair closer to the television.

«Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity, we can do great things, important things.»

Rubbing his hands together, Colin watches the speech with rapt attention. He smooths his hands over his mouth, right leg jittering up and down as if waiting for something. His jaw works from side to side, tongue against the inside of his cheek. Anxiety comes over him. He waits for the other shoe to drop.

«We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.»

But it never comes.


Bartle Hall Convention Center
Washington KC

“I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days.”

President Harding looks out over the crowd, his voice echoing off of the tall buildings surrounding the convention center. “I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.”

Within the crowd, a tall and thin man with a shock of gray hair and high cheekbones watches the inauguration speech with intense focus. Athan Stone tips his chin up, eyes narrowed, waiting for something to happen. His gloved hands clench closed, leather creaking so subtly only he can feel it.

“Through civil war, the Great Depression, two world wars, September 11th, November 8th, and our second civil war, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward. And we can do that now.” Harding says from his podium, closing his hand into a fist as he enunciates his point.

“History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature.” Harding continues. As he speaks, a smile slowly dawns on Athan’s face. A look of hopeful optimism and palpable relief. “For without unity, there is no peace — only bitterness and fury. No progress — only exhausting outrage. No nation — only a state of chaos.”

Harding grips the podium with both hands as he speaks. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail again. We cannot afford to.”

“My fellow Americans,” Harding says with clarity and strength, “I close the day where I began, with a sacred oath before God and all of you. I give you my word, I will always level with you. I will defend the Constitution. I’ll defend our democracy. I’ll defend America and I will give all, all of you.”

“So, with purpose and resolve, we turn to those tasks of our time.” Harding commands the crowd, and they are as captivated as the world is in this moment. “Sustained by faith, driven by conviction, devoted to one another and the country we love with all our hearts.”

A world that assumed the worst would come.

“Thank you, America.”

But for once, it didn’t.

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