The year was 2018, and everybody was either with us or against us. Those who were with us were good and those who were against us were evil. Nobody was in between. Nobody was neutral. Nobody was allowed to not preserve our freedoms. Nobody was allowed liquids or lighters on aeroplanes, except officially licensed and armed Air Marshals, who, due to the stressful nature of their work (they kept shooting the wrong people), were permitted to smoke in toilets anytime after take-off and before landing. All this with us and against us was due to the PATRIOT Act, which replaced the Constitution in 2015, and due to the unflagging vigilance of agents of the Department of Homeland Security.
Some things about living with us or against us still weren't quite right, though. Winter, for instance, had all but disappeared, driving people crazy because they could no longer ski. It was during that muggy season of Swinter (Spring/Winter) that the DHS men took John and Nina White's fourteen-year-old son, John White Junior, away.
It was tragic, all right, but John and Nina didn't do anything about it because they were with us. Nina embroidered a special doily to hang above the fireplace to proclaim she was with us. John, although raised to believe in the Second Amendment, relinquished all his guns under the "Everyone's Doing It, Why Don't You?" campaign because he was with us. Nina and John were proud to be the first in Oklahoma City to be implanted with government-issued RFID chips. They were tuned to a government GPS satellite. Every second, the government knew where all the with us people were.
John and Nina were at the Will Rogers World airport. They had arrived the requisite twenty-four hours in advance. They were planning a trip to Warming Island off the coast of Greenland. A long time ago, when they had paid their fee and were licensed to marry, Nina asked John why it was called Greenland not Whiteland if it was permanently covered in snow, and he had replied, Why is cocaine called Blow not Snort? Unbeknownst to him, this comment triggered a Person Of Interest report and appeared on his Permanent Record at DHSdb.com.
The line to the Screening Area moved at a pace of twelve people per screener per hour as regulated, unless it moved slower, for no other reason than it was permitted under TSA Union Rule #224 subsection 111(m). John watched the markets on his hand-held. Nina watched one of the flat screen TVs dotted throughout the area. On CNN, a heavy-set Tyra Banks was interviewing Anna Nicole Smith's teenage daughter. Nina wondered whether Anna Nicole Smith's teenage daughter had flown to the interview on a private jet. She pitied her if she had. Imagine, missing out on the TSA!
A siren sounded. Everyone looked up expectantly. Over a loudspeaker, a voice announced: Terror alert! Terror alert! Due to recent suspicious terrorist activity in Bora Bora, the National Threat Advisory has been modified from Mildly Elevated/Moderately Elevated (Chartreuse Yellow/Lime Yellow) to Moderately High/Almost Quite Severely High (Carmine/Vermillion).
People nodded in approval. A few applauded. "Isn't that wonderful!" the lady in front of Nina and John said with a wide smile. She removed her spectacles and dropped them into one of the metal bins that lined the walls of the holding area. Moderately High/Almost Quite Severely High (Carmine/Vermillion) meant eyeglasses, hand-helds, breast implants, anyone who had had gastric bypass surgery, and any form of footwear was now banned. John dropped his hand-held in the bin and started to remove one of his government-issued flip-flops – most passengers now wore these Kerry's while traveling – when his wife said, "Why not wait until we're nearer the detectors?"
John hopped on one leg and slapped the soft rubber sole against his thigh.
"You don't want to get your feet dirty. Think of the germs. Remember when Barbara Walters did that show about the staph-resistant virus strains crawling all over airports? Remember? That time her jaw moved?"
"And risk an AAU on my PR?" John said but he lowered the shoe back to the floor.
"They'd never Almost Against Us you for that!" Nina sounded horrified, then less certain. "Would they?"
John tried to think whether they would or not, but became distracted by the voluptuous naked woman who squeezed past him. For an extra fee, FastTrak passengers could report unclothed and bypass all but the probe section of the screening process. Moral activists were lobbying to get FastTrak passengers into separate terminals but a small vocal group, Trakers Are People Too (We're TAPT In!) had delayed such plans.
"It's not right that money buys you that sort of convenience," Nina said, frowning at the barcode jiggling on the woman's buttocks. "It's only fair that she should wait for her probe like the rest of us!"
"You said it, honey," John said, watching the woman's ass disappear. "It's people like that who make the system fall apart."
On TV, the Tyra Bank's interview was suddenly interrupted by a news bulletin. The graph to the right side of the announcer's head ticked up from "Breaking" to "Snapping" to "Crackling" to "Smashing." Nina tried to recall if she had ever seen Smashing News before.
"Ladies and Gentlemen – " the announcer said and read from a sheet of paper. His hands trembled. My, Nina thought, it must be Smashing if they aren't using a teleprompter. "John White Junior, age fourteen, has escaped from an undisclosed CIA facility where he was being held on suspicion of being a Terrorist. He is a Terrorist. He is a threat to National Security. He is a threat to Coalition Safety. He is AU and must be regarded as a WMD."
The entire terminal gasped.
A photograph of John White Junior with his arms shackled behind him and a black hood pulled down over his head flashed on screen before a voice snapped, "Not that one, you BLEEP!" (Thankfully, the FCC's APP – Auto Profanity Plucker – kicked in followed by a subliminal shot of bonsai kittens, which the Department of Health and Human Services had discovered obliterated the preceding image from a viewer's mind.) The photograph was replaced by a CIA-approved shot of John White Junior with a surprisingly long beard for a fourteen-year-old. He was dressed in a camo vest strapped with dynamite and stood in the mouth of a cave. In one hand, he clutched a vial labeled "Anthrax," and in the other, a bloody sword. Behind him rose a small nuclear reactor.
"What" – the woman in front of Nina and John blinked unseeingly at the screen – "does this, this, Terrorist," she almost spat the word, "look like?"
"If you see this Terrorist, this Weapon of Mass Destruction," the announcer said, "you must, I repeat must, do everything in your power to apprehend him. You are with us."
"With us," the people reiterated.
On the screen, a sudden loud explosion was heard. Screams and shouts and Oh My BLEEPs came from the television sets. The photograph was gone. A living, breathing John White Junior filled the screen.
Skinny, with sunken smooth cheeks and huge brown eyes, John stood in the center of the studio. Tyra Banks and Anna Nicole Smith's teenager daughter and the announcer and the technician and cameraman cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.
"You are the decider!" John cried. "Do you hear? You decide!" He looked straight at the camera. "You decide! Decide for yourself!" His velvet eyes were piercing. "You can choose a world that isn't about being with us or against us, or with or against anyone, or anything. You can choose a world in which we all," he started to sing, "believe in love, love," his voice rose. "Love is all we need." John paused and stared into the camera. "Consider a world not with or against anyone, anything, not with or against me, but against them. Them!" He pointed his finger at the screen. "Against," John swayed from side to side, as though he was hearing celestial music from above. "Against," he said again and leaned in close, "You know who."
At that moment, you know who used a battering ram and broke through the door. The black-clad, body-armored, balaclavaed SWAT Team stormed into the studio carrying submachine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, carbines, tear gas canisters, flashbang grenades, tasers, pepper-spray canisters, Pepperball guns and high-powered sniper rifles. They were followed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Response Team (SRT). Who were followed by the Drug Enforcement Administration Mobile Enforcement Team (MET). Who were then in turn followed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). Who were followed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Weapons and Tactics Team. Who were followed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons Special Operations and Response team (SORT). Who were followed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Response Team – the cameraman was allegedly an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Who were then followed by the Department of Energy Office of Safety and Security (OSS SRT). Who were followed by the Department of Energy Special Response Force (SRF). Who were followed by the Marshals Service Special Operations Group (SOG). Who were, last but not least, followed by the Felony Investigative Assistance SWAT Team unit of Oklahoma County.
In the moment before John White Junior was dead and hit the floor with four-hundred-and-eighty-seven bullet holes in his body, he wondered where the Department of Homeland Security was.
It was then that all the television sets around the airport gave a high-pitched shriek and displayed the same sign: "We Have a Problem. Please be Patient."
A moment later, a picture of bonsai kittens splashed across the screen. Then the announcer came back and said: "You are with us."
"You, our baby, will always be with us," John and Nina whispered before they could stop themselves. They looked at the chanting crowd who yelled as though one, "With us! With us!" and, as John and Nina White slipped off their flips-flops and joined in, cheering as they waved their shoes over their heads, they wondered, "Who still believes in love?" but yelled, "With us! With us! With us!"
May 21, 2007