Flying the friendly skie.., p.1
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       Flying The Friendly Skies 2015, p.1
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Flying The Friendly Skies 2015
Flying the Friendly Skies, 2015 AD

  by Helen E. Davis

  Copyright 2012 Helen Davis

  Thank you for your support.

  Only for you, Cicely, Jeanne thought as she jumped out of her car into the pre-dawn cold. Only for you would I pack myself into a sardine can and fly naked in the middle of winter.

  She yanked off her coat and threw it into the trunk of her car, tucked her purse under it, then slammed the lid down. Praying that the thumb-print lock wouldn’t be frozen on her return, she wrapped her arms around her old sweater and stumbled toward the nearest shelter. An ice-crusted wind clawed through her clothes, reminding her of the stupidity of winter travel.

  Beyond a tall, barbed wire-topped electric fence, there was a second parking lot where the shuttles came every five minutes. Their shelters were warmer and more numerous, and the people who parked there received special perks, such as food and music and wearing clothes on the plane.

  Life was good when you had a Premium Security Clearance.

  ***

  She huddled next to the lukewarm heater, cringing every time the door opened and the wind blasted through, and ruminated dark sisterly thoughts about Cicely. This was her the woman’s fourth child – hadn’t she figured out by now that you didn’t have them in the winter? Spring was when offspring should be born, so that would be weaned when the harvest came in. Summer was reasonable. Early fall was acceptable, just barely. But winter? Winter meant that the sister coming to help you would freeze to death while flying, and then you’d have no one to take care of the baby while you slept.

  All around her miserable people hunched down into their clothes, blew on their hands, and stamped their feet. One woman had a moth-eaten blanket wrapped around her shoulders and the toddler on her lap. A bearded young man huddled into his woolen overcoat, arms tight across his chest, staring at the floor. A college student wore pajamas decorated with psychedelic frogs, apparently a Christmas gift from a deranged relative.

  So which one is the terrorist? Jeanne examined these faces and the half dozen nondescript ones tucked around them. The government was always talking about the hidden terrorist, issuing warnings the colors of the rainbow and setting new security measures into place, then claiming success as no new planes plummeted into skyscrapers. It was a bit like the old elephant repellant–see how well it works, no wild elephants for thousands of miles! Probably just as effective.

  The shelter door opened again, and stayed open, blocked by a woman with a bulging carry-on bag. A long coat trimmed with what might have been real fur covered her ample frame; jewels sparkled in her ears. Kohl-rimmed eyes slowly widening, she took in the tattered mob which almost filled the benches, then snorted. “Well. It seems rather crowded in here. I’ll just go on to the next one.”

  Amid snickers the door swung shut and the woman flounced off. Jeanne brushed snow off her threadbare jeans. She hasn’t flown on this side of the airport before.

  ***

  The lobby was crowded. Check in lines looped back and forth like giant snakes, while the people standing in them stared vacantly at the walls and ceilings. Most had the bleary look of having already waited a day for their turn–once the flights were filled the counters would close and not open until the next morning. Bumped passengers had to simply settle down and wait; there were no saved places.

  A storm the day before had cancelled dozens of flights. Jeanne looked at the waiting mob and prayed that she would get on a flight before the counter closed.

  On the side of the lobby, a huge, old-fashioned clock with hands read 4:10. Way too early to be standing in a crowded line in an overly bright lobby. It was all Cicely’s fault. Jeanne craved a coffee, a chocolate bar, anything with caffeine–yet caffeine was her worst enemy today. She could lose her place in line if she made a run for the bathroom, and even worse, once she was installed in her seat on the airplane, there would be no getting out of it until they landed.

  She didn’t know who had invented compact seating, with the marvelously moving seats which squeezed out every last inch of space between the passengers–but she hoped he was spending eternity in it.

  ***

  So which one is the terrorist? Jeanne played as she waited. A woman holding a small child was a possibility. Children seemed so innocent, so unlikely to be carrying explosives or drugs inside their stuffed toys. The woman with the child was out, simply because by being obviously innocent, she would be more thoroughly searched.

  To her right, a group of college kids had decided to make a party out of the wait, inflating plastic chairs and passing around bottled water and sandwiches. A disposable iPod belted out a street tune, and they laughed loudly at lame jokes. Was this, perhaps, a farewell to life wake? Any one of them could be concealing a bomb beneath his clothes.

  Or it could be the man in front of her, who was describing the details of his prostate surgery into his rented cell phone. Those intimate details were really a code, telling his companions what flight he was getting on, allowing them to set up their part of the plan. Why carry on bombs when missiles could be sent from the ground?

  The girl in the frog pajamas was a possibility, too. She was reading a book with a multi-eyed squid on the cover, and people who read such things were clearly anti-social–according to her mother. Jeanne had always rolled her eyes and mouthed along with the little speech.

  And there was....

  “I don’t see why I have to stand in this line!” The voice carried to every corner of the room. It was the Premium Flyer who had refused to enter the shelter, and she had trapped the quiet man with the beard. “It’s not my fault my brother got sick and I didn’t have the time to order a Premium Security Check! He could be dead by the time I received my pass! They should have exceptions for people with sick brothers!”

  It had to be her, she was the terrorist, Jeanne thought cruelly. All that padding beneath her clothes was merely camouflage for the dynamite strapped to her body.

  She stared up at the ceiling, and then at the skywalks where, protected by bullet-proof glass, Premium Flyers rushed to make their early flights. They carried briefcases and coats, talked on cell phones or played electronic games. One lady carted a big bag with knitting needles poking out of the top. The good old days of flying were up there. The bad new days were down here.

  “But why do we have to stand in line?” the Premium Flyer whined. “Why can’t we get our reservation and a boarding pass ahead of time?”

  Jeanne knew the answer to that. Weather patterns disrupted flights, making it difficult for airlines to promise that specific flights would fly at specific time. Commuter patterns changed daily, making it difficult for the airlines to predict how many full flights could be flown from each city. And by assigning seats at check-in, over-booking and missed flights were eliminated. But Jeanne knew the fourth, and the real reason–a terrorist couldn’t plan to fly a specific flight.

  ***

  At 5:00 the counters opened. At 5:10 the line started to inch forward, and the college kids slid their inflatable chairs forward without getting up. At 5:40 Jeanne caught her first sight of the counter, while the man with the cell phone discussed the results of his endoscopy exam. At 6:20 she was finally at the head of the line, and the little girl was almost asleep in her mother’s arms.

  “Next,” called the counter clerk in a weary voice.

  “Don’t!” yelled one of the young men from the party, followed by BANG!

  Almost a reflex, Jeanne threw herself into a tight ball, forehead over her knees, arms over her head. She was dimly aware that everyone around her followed suit, though she caught a glimpse of one young man flat on his back, sprawled over the remains of his chair. He’d tried to slide it
over the metal strip at the edge of the carpet, she guessed. Idiot!

  “For goodness sake,” screeched the Premium Flyer. “It was only a ch...”

  WHUMP!

  Streams of white poured from the ceiling and walls, a blizzard that rapidly hardened into an shell which could smother a fire, contain an explosion, and stop a riot. Jeanne was trapped, barely able to peek out beneath her arm. All she could see was the Premium Flyer standing like a snowman on a wedding cake, her mouth opening and shutting in protest, the only part that could move.

  After an uncomfortable eternity Jeanne heard the stamp of feet as a squad of guards marched by on their way to collect the unlucky young man. The footsteps faded away. After another uncomfortable eternity she heard the soft hiss of the sprinkler system and felt the hard foam melt away.

  Now irritated and soaked, she dripped her way to the counter where the clerk acted as if nothing had happened. The woman barely looked up as she said, “Name?”

  “Jeanne Jamison.”

  “What do you mean I can’t check my bags?” screeched the Premium woman, who was checking in at her own counter.

  Jeanne’s counter clerk punched a few computer buttons, then inserted a keycard into the terminal. “Traveler E30-786-459, security clearance B, last loading class.”

  “That’s right,” Jeanne confirmed.

  “Then just what am I supposed to do with them?” The Premium Flyer again.

  “Thumbprint and retinal scan for identification, please.” The clerk gestured to the console.

  Jeanne completed the now familiar ritual. The computer pulled up her basic security clearance, then beeped acceptance of her identity.

  “I can’t wait through that whole line again!” More of the Premium Flyer. Jeanne prayed that they wouldn’t be on the same flight. Surely there was some god, somewhere, who would listen?

  “I have a 4:00 flight to Chicago, with room in the last boarding class. If you don’t mind boarding in an earlier group, I could put you on the roster for a 12:45 flight.”

  “No,” Jeanne stated evenly. “I paid for late boarding, and that’s what I want.” The seats in the last boarding group always ended up with a few more inches than the ones filled previously, a few very precious inches which doubled the price of the ticket.

  “Very well,” the clerk said, pressing more buttons. “Will you be adding any funds to your ticket?”

  Jeanne told her the amount, just enough to top off the account. It could pay for food and a sleeping locker in Chicago, if need be. The money wasn’t refundable, but she could roll it over to a future ticket. And since Cicely was not showing any signs of stopping her baby production, the account might as well stay full.

  “The 4:00 to Chicago.” The clerk clipped a necklace to the keycard and placed it on the counter. “If, for any reason, you do not board at your assigned time, you forfeit all rights to your seat. Present this at security, please. Next!”

  As Jeanne walked off to join the queue leading up to the at security gates, she heard, “What do you mean you won’t take a check?”

  ***

  There were two lines at the security gates, one for men and one for women, each guarded by a metal detector. Between them stood a rental return box filled with cell phones and a box of trash–the rather soggy book with the squid on the cover lay beneath the remains of the iPod. Just inside the door a genial woman handed out rubber tubs and dull yellow packets. “Everything in there, hun,” she said in the tone of someone who would be saying the same thing hundreds of times a day.

  “I know,” Jeanne said, and passed through the door to the changing rooms. It was the lady on the other side who had the hard job.

  ***

  With her wet clothes dumped into the tub, Jeanne opened the packet and pulled out her flight suit: underwear and bra made of a transparent mesh which barely held in the functional parts, mesh socks with rubberized soles, and a yellow jumpsuit made of the same stiff paper as those non-covering robes in the doctor’s office. Peel and stick adhesive closed the front and the back flap, which also had ties for extra security.

  As usual, being one size fits all, it was too large.

  “If you need help adjusting the suit,” read a sign on the wall, “please call an attendant. Your modesty is our greatest concern.”

  It used to be comfort. Jeanne waddled out of the stall, her suit crackling as she moved. Whoever had the idea of making clothes out of paper was a sadist–and hopefully shared the same hell as the person who invented compact seating.

  She waited for her turn at the exit, then pushed her tub onto the counter. This attendant, a stern woman with sharp eyes, inspected the contents. “Anything here breakable, perishable, flammable, illegal, or valuable?”

  “No.”

  She scooped the wet clothes into a plastic bag and sealed it, then ran Jeanne’s ticket through a machine. A label spat out the side. She slapped it onto the bag, tossed the bag into a bin, and said, “It will be waiting for you on your return NEXT!”

  Mildewed, but waiting.

  On the other side of the room, an all too familiar voice shrilled, “Not my earrings! I’m naked without my earrings!”

  Cool air crept in through the gaps in Jeanne’s suit, tickled her bare skin. You’re naked? Who isn’t?

  ***

  3:14, according to the digital clock on the side of the otherwise barren waiting room. Jeanne looked around, noticed that the young people with the inflatable chairs were on her flight. They no longer laughed, but stood in a tight group, minus one. There was also the mother with the young child, and the girl who had been wearing pajamas. She sat by the window, drawing frogs on her paper pants with a marker she had somehow smuggled in. And next to the young man with a beard, desperation shining in his eyes, the Premium Flyer gabbled out her life’s troubles.

  She’s on my flight, Jeanne thought dully for the one hundred and fiftieth time. Then she prayed fervently, Please, please don’t put her in my boarding group!

  Five dongs echoed through the room, and a quarter of the passengers shuffled into line. One by one they put their tickets into a reader and then bent to have their retinas and fingerprints scanned. A flight attendant searched them with a hand held detector before a security guard did a quick pat-down. A third person collected bits of contraband and tossed it away. The pajama girl lost her marker and disappeared through the gate to the jetbridge.

  So who’s the terrorist? Jeanne tried to play, but her rational mind refused. No one, not even the most determined soldier of fortune, could smuggle anything past these guards.

  The second boarding group was called, then the third. The Premium Flyer did not budge; she was in the last group. A metaphysical stage direction ran through Jeanne’s mind, indicating the downward and permanent position she wished the woman would take.

  As the fourth group was called, Jeanne rushed into line, begging the gods to at least put her in a different row. Having to listen to the woman all the way to Chicago was bad enough, but to be crammed into her limited space with someone who claimed more than her fair space, that was too much. She had led, if not a good life, at least a fairly decent one. And she was giving up time and money to help her sister. Wasn’t that worth something on the celestial scale?

  Apparently not, for when Jeanne turned around the woman and her tortured young victim stood right behind her. I hope she likes my elbows, Jeanne thought darkly as she presented her ticket to the attendants.

  And then suddenly she was through the gate and sailing down the jetbridge to the airplane door. She was free of security, free of delays, free of everything but the horrible experience of the flight itself. She could see the doorway to the plane. She could almost touch it.

  Only for you, Cicely.

  Just three steps more.

  “Stop!” screamed a hoarse voice behind her. She looked back. The bearded man had ripped off his suit to expose the flesh-colored patches molded to his skin. Flesh-colored wires linked the patches to a groin-hugging b
elt. “Do what I say!”

  He’s the terrorist, Jeanne though dully, as the Premium Flyer stumbled and fainted. Pudgy, clutching hands grabbed Jeanne’s suit and tore it off. The mesh bra popped. Cold air raked Jeanne from neck to crotch as the bra fell into her hands.

  How...dare...he?

  She had gone without sleep and stood in line for hours to make this flight. The bra twisted in her hands.

  She had been frozen, pushed, soaked, and forced to listen to a spoiled, rich, whining lady. This lady!

  With that she shoved the Premium Flyer into the man. Distracted by the blow, he didn’t notice the twisted bra until it was around his neck, squeezing off his air. He groped for his belt, but couldn’t reach it, not with two passengers hanging onto his right arm and four more on his left. Two women clung to his legs. And the little girl was biting his ankle.

  ***

  Jeanne missed her flight.

  There were forms to fill out, statements to make, releases to sign. By the time all the security people, police officers, and FBI agents were finished, her plane had already landed in Chicago. But Jeanne didn’t mind.

  She was now dressed in real clothes and sitting in a leather-lined chair with enough room in front to stretch out her feet. A smiling stewardess passed out drinks and snacks, and magazines waited for her in the seatback pocket.

  Life was good when you flew Premium Security Class.

  ####

  Other Books By Helen E Davis

  Bastard in the Promised Land

  The Curious Incident of the Investigation of R’lyeh

  Rails Across the Dragonlands

  Silent Runners

  Or you can visit her website for a complete listing of her publications.

 
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