Liquid Reign Excerpt (Over The Clouds)
The following post is an excerpt from my new novel Liquid Reign.
Over the Clouds
Harry hasn’t flown in a while, and St. Johns Airport seems to get more impressive every time he’s there. All the air traffic between North America and Europe passes through here. There’s a flight leaving every twenty minutes.
Security check. “Any liquids or gels?”
Daniel can’t help himself: “Really? Still?”
Harry shrugs and explains: “…. The organizational setup of airport security is based on quasi military, strictly centralized command structures. The debate about closing down the whole security theater is still dragging on after decades, but somehow there’s never a majority. The security staff itself holds a lot of votes, mostly delegated by non-flyers — which makes it hard to overturn them. What’s worse, during the 2030’s green terrorist attacks the old laws were overwhelmingly reconfirmed, making it even harder to get rid of them.”
“You have to put all the citizens with authoritarian ideologies somewhere — airport security has always been the single most popular occupational therapy for fashos.” Oh, shit, Daniel said that a little too loud.
“Hey, you, please open this suitcase.” “I’ll have to ask you to come with me.” “Sorry, this is a random search, I have to check all your items.” They shove Daniel into the separate compartment, and immediately: “Please take off your pants.”
Daniel is not alone in the humiliation cell — a tall guy with short gray hair wearing nothing but his underwear — which is pink — is yelling at the police officer: “What the hell, just take my coke! What do you mean, it’s illegal? I bought it at the drugstore, and in Iceland you can even get it from a supermarket, what the hell. So cocaine is illegal where exactly?” The securities ignore him, dropping his packet of ‘Grandma’s Best Blow” into a plastic bag labeled ‘confiscated items’.
As they rifle through Daniel’s luggage, one of them picks out the TOR crystal and holds up to the light. He loses his grip on it and they watch it hit the floor. “Oops, sorry.”
Daniel tries to snatch it back, but he burns his fingers when he touches it. There’s a fine crack in the inner glass layer, and white smoke starting to form on the inside. A minute later the chip has melted down.
“Tough luck, but you can’t have anything flammable on the plane anyway.” The security dumps the shards into a baggie once it cooled down, marks it “send to lab” and keeps searching through Daniel’s stuff. After a grab of his genitals and a few other dehumanizing indignities, Daniel and the coke-head are free to go.
“Fuckheads.” Before he even puts his pants back on, the other guy lights up a cigarette, thick with the smell of hashish oil. “Want a hit?”
“No, thanks.” Rethinking the proposition for a moment, Daniel changes his mind. “Well, actually, yes, I’ll take one.” Coughs, ugh, disgusting. But it does the job. His anger rapidly morphs into bewilderment.
“Fuckers. They let me carry tobacco, man, that shit actually kills people, but they steal my coke. Fascists probably snorting like a fucking elephant orgy back in there.”
“We hand over our self-respect the moment we enter an airport, it’s been like that for decades.” Daniel used to call them a human rights free zone.
“Last call for Rekjavik, all passengers proceed to the terminal.”
The stranger puts out his joint, Daniel can’t help himself and follows an old habit, snatching the butt from the ashtray.
“Last call for passengers, Daniel Proudhon and Hunter Steadman… You are delaying the flight.” They run, appeal to the gate crew and make it on their flight. That was close.
Daniel finds his seat — even though Harry booked him in business class, there’s hardly any leg room. He checks the entertainment system wow, head-mounted retina projector from IA, model 4.1. He puts it on, and sees, projected into the aisle, the flight attendant: “the exits are located…” and sure enough, she does the dance! Arms forward, turn around, hands up… life jacket and all. He is getting melancholic, the scene is so familiar from his old life. When it’s over he removes the glasses and stares out the window. Take-off over a snowfield, then forest all the way to the coast, where the plane dives into gray clouds. The pressure is pushing the slime way back into his para-nasal sinuses, clogging his ears.
As the fasten seat belt sign turns off, Harry’s already sound asleep. Daniel smiles as he makes his way to the toilet — and there, nothing at all has changed. He smirks at the holy trinity of airplane insanity: No Smoking sign, tamper-proof fire alarm, and an ashtray in the door. The “no” symbol above the ashtray explicitly depicts a cigarette butt. As he’s done dozens of times, Daniel performs the act of worship, carefully placing Mr. Steadman’s recovered roach in the ashtray. And as always when honoring the god of insanity, he contemplates the empirical evidence of reason’s irrelevance to the conditio humana.
Contented, he heads back to his seat to check out the entertainment options. Minesweeper, Solitaire and a Tower Defense Game. In 3-D. Well. The airline industry is dying and no wonder — despite reasonably high-tech entertainment hardware, the narrative content on offer is brain-dead drivel. Nothing new in the sky here, either. Daniel longs for his old Gameboy, his faithful companion on so many flights — Zelda in 2 colors and with 4 bit sound is far more immersive than this nonsense with fancy graphics. Lydia’s insight in the museum rings true, the best VR hardware is entirely useless without a gripping story. Internet connection? Sorry, technical error. He clicks through the films and settles on a documentary on the development of West Antarctic flora since the great meltdown in 2043. At least it’s a story. Eventually he falls asleep, dreaming of penguins playing with snails and butterflies.
* * *
Hunter, Rest in Peace
Mr. Steadman, may you life forever
Customer Service in Airlines