Main > Writings > Terminal

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I woke up, returning from my dream to the overcrowded terminal. A voice on the speaker called in a language I couldn’t understand. As if summoned, hundreds of people rushed toward gate twenty-seven, swarming like ants. I passed a hand over my sleepy eyes, checked my bag, and shifted uncomfortably, muscles numb from having slept crooked.

The crowd chanted like priests in the worship of their goddess. Their words, an adulation to beauty and might, rang strong and true. My attention drifted to the tall woman in their midst—dark-skinned, with wavy black hair and piercing eyes that darted about. Our gazes met for a second before she met the stares of those around her. Two strong men in leather suits held the reaching hands at bay.

The trio progressed slowly, surronded as they were, and none but I noticed the tall bald man edging his way along the protective glass windows. He looked like her, skin so dark it defied light, squared jaw, straight nose and full lips. His movements attracted my attention as he kept his hands to his sides as though ready to jump. He never once looked my way. If he had, he could have seen the cold steel of my Beretta, for I could tell this man was intent on committing a crime.

I watched him walk like a cat toward the crowd, wondering that he would do, asking myself what mission kept him from glancing around even once. The people pressed about the woman and her two bodyguards moved with them, protecting yet pinning them. I did not stop looking at the man. His uncommon behavior beckoned my undivided attention. Then I noticed five security officers passing by, engrossed in a definitely unprofessional conversation, weapons shouldered unthreateningly, as if the activity around them was entirely routine. Reflecting on it now, I do suppose they did see that often. Then they were gone, carried by quick feet.

But the man had jumped, reaching forward into the crowd. I almost caught his movement too late and I ran toward him, pistol drawn. He parted the crowd with violent hands, mowing himself a path, maiming idolators and soon a different wail arose from the midst. The general fear coursed through my body but training took over. Six, seven people had collapsed to the floor. The man was a pro. I stopped, aimed at his back and shouted "Freeze!"

He tunred around, not expecting trouble from this angle, then ducked for cover among the innocent. The crowd dispersed, the majority dropping to the terminal's linoleum.

The two bodyguards, their task immensely complicated by the trembling and screaming crowd nevertheless stayed true to their keep and wisked her away. The man, seeing this, rushed toward them, stepping without concern on the terror-stricken bodies. More screams. I shot him in the shoulder. He stumbled but got up again. The five security guards came running back, combat boots pounding the floor, lethal weapons drawn and ready. The man, mad with rage, lurched forward once again toward the woman and her two bodyguards. I shot him in the leg this time, after securing my line of sight.

He fell heavily, saliva arching out of his grimacing mouth. He too screamed: a deep, senseless animal cry.

The guards rushed past me, secured the man, yelled that it was all over. The people began to get up shakily, most wide-eyed in disbelief.

And yet my spine kept tingling. I could not shake the sensation that another was near, that watching eyes were scanning the scene. I turned around only to find myself face to face with the security Captain.

"Surrender your weapon." He said very seriousy.

I handed him my Beretta, barrel pointing down. He took it, checked it, then returned it to me. The woman, trailing her brutes, stepped briskly up to me. I saw no fear in her eyes. She shook my hand and said "Thanks" then escaped the reforming crowd through a little door, led by two security guards.

I returned to my bag, found my holster, fastened it to my belt and secured my pistol. Then I sat back down, feeling very tired.

"Sir?" A stranger volunteered, standing five paces from me.

"Yes, what can I do for you?"

"You saved her life!" he beamed.

"I suppose. But I probably took one too."

"But you must be proud..." he began.

"What's there to be proud of? A man attacks innocent people: he's asking for it. I did nothing more than what any other would have done."

His eyes gleamed. A boyish smile appeared on his young face. "Sir! I am awed by your wisdom! You must be a follower then."

"A follower?"

"Of Queen Sheeba, the Holy One!"

"No, I am not."

He was about to add something, I am sure, but the Captain approached and the young man obviously felt uncomfortable so he retreated to his group.

I stood, eyes even with the Captain's.

"Sir," he said. "Come with me. We have to talk."

"Okay." I replied, reaching for my bag. He led the way throught the same little door. Once on the other side, he pulled a cigarette out of a new pack and offered me one too. I declined. He lit his and smoked slowly. We reached a long, well-lit room with four desks and chairs to match. Each government issue sported a cheap adjustable lamp, a multiline black telephone, and a towering pile of files and manuals.

He half-sat on a free corner of the messiest desk and buried the consumed cigarette in a smelly, overflowing ashtray. I felt at home. I eased my bad down on the graying floor and propped my foot on the seat of his tired chair.

"That was good shooting. The medics were impressed. They say he will live."

"That's good."

"Where did you learn to shoot like that?"

"In the service of my country."

"Which one?"

"The States."

A shadow crossed his face. He lit another cigarette. I flexed my hips; rested an elbow on my knee.

"What have you been doing since... Since it's..."

I interrupted: "Since the dissolution?"

He nodded.

"Traveling mostly. Odd jobs here and there."

"And you still live there?"

"It's home," I replied, lungs filled with his smoke. "I've given so much to the land. It won't let me go."

He nodded again.

"Speaking of," I continued, "my flight is leaving in an hour, so we might want to get the paperwork out of the way."

"Certainly," he replied, pointing to a subordinate busily typing away. "As soon as the report is done."

"And there is one other thing," he added. "Why did you warn the man before you shot him?"

"That's part of my training. And besides, I don't like shooting a man in the back."

"When you're going to shoot a man, you need every advantage."

"But perhaps he would have surrendered."

"You believe that?"

"No, but I'll sleep better knowing he made his choice knowing all the facts."

"I suppose so," the Captain said, rising from his desk. He began pacing the room, speaking as much to himself as to me. "First, I disagree that he had to know the facts. He made a choice before he attacked. He chose to attack, chose to kill. But you're going to say that we're not like him, that we're not animals, that we don't strike at the innocent, that we don't, ourselves, promote violence."

I listened in silence. The ash from his cigarette fell to the floor.

"We are the ones who promote violence in our society. We are the ones who carry guns and practice the art of killing day after day. We exacerbate the wound, trying to cure it by adding salt."

"And what are we supposed to do?" I interjected, rising from my resting stance. "Was I supposed to let the man kill without somehow stopping him?"

"No, you did the right thing. You did what was necessary, I just wish society as a whole did not need us to carry such weapons in the bosom of a peaceful nation." He continued, but took care to drop the ash in the tray. "We can't expect our situation to be an end unto itself; we can't live without the hope of peaceful unity. We must not see the specter of violence as an angel!"

He stopped speaking and looked at me, then fumbled for another cigarette. "I'm sorry, it's getting to me. All those killings. It's insane."

"Yes, it's crazy. That's why my country collapsed. It could not bear the internal strain. Imagine three hundred million people feeling like you do now."

"And that's why the harsher government survived, I suppose."

"That's what I think," I said. "That's why Texas retained its cohesiveness. They did not complicate their lives with hopeless moral issues. To them, there were only three words that meant anything for a while: "guilty as charged."

"In fact," the Captain continued, "that's exactly what they told us: Don't worry about about right and wrong. Just obey and enforce the law of the day. When political confusion reigned, we followed direct verbal orders from the Chief of Police. There was never any question as to where our loyalty lay."

"That's something that could never have happened in the States, you know." I said. "The police forces were all commanded by the local governments and tensions ran so high that in the end various departments were fighting each other."

"It's a shame."

My turn to nod. "That's when I left the force. I could not obey the orders."

"Because of your morals..."

"And because I respect human life."

"Well, human life is another thing altogether." He said while walking to the laser printer which was now quickly ejecting neatly printed pages.

I continued: "But would you attack another officer?"

He looked at me without saying a word. My best guess is that he would.

He picked up the report and leafed through it. Stopping at the page which concerned me, he pulled it out and handed it to me. "Look it over and let me know if anything's amiss."

I took the page and read the brief description: Retired law enforcement officer on vacation observed suspicious activity which he believed would shortly lead to dangerous and illegal activities. When the subsequently arrested suspect attacked innocent bystanders with overwhelming force, said retired law enforcement officer opened fire with an appropriate firearm, incapacitating the suspect without causing casualties to bystanders. It is the Chief of Security's opinion that these actions were warranted by circumstances and finds no fault therewith. It is the opinion of the State Attorney's Office that the State finds no quarrel with the action of said retired law enforcement officer and thereby releases him of any legal responsibility in this matter.

I looked up from the document and said: "Everything seems fine, but why did you not mention any names?"

He looked up, almost amused. "This becomes public record in ten minutes. You want your name in it?"

I shook my head. A sensible measure for once, I thought. He returned the page to the thick report and gestured in the general direction of the door. "You're free to go. You can look up the report on the net under today's Police Minutes."

"Okay. Huh, one last question."


"Who is the woman?"

"Oh, she's the leader of a religious sect. They call her Queen Sheeba, but she's not queen of anything really."

"Ah. Okay."

"Would you flash me in about two weeks? I'll let you know what happened and whether we have any more questions for you."


"Thanks. That's all I think." He said, extending his hand.

I shook it firmly. "In two weeks." I said, shouldering my bag.

"In two weeks. Have a good trip."

I left, heading down the hall back to the terminal. There, all was quiet. New faces crowded the room, oblivious to what had happened there just half an hour before. I discovered my seat had been taken. Actually all the seats had been taken. I glanced at my wristwatch: twenty-five minutes until departure.

Moving through the crowd was one of the woman's two bodyguards. I wondered for a moment what he might be looking for then reasoned it must be me. I headed toward him, my Bereta catching stares. He stopped right in front of me.

"I have something for you."

He opened his large fist and dropped a little blue roll in my waiting palm. Before I could say thank you, he was moving again, finding his way through the pliant crowd. I pocketed the roll but soon retrieved it.

Carefully penned on genuine rice paper these words came to me:

Sir, whatever your reasons for saving my life, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The paths of the living being tortuous, its hills and valleys forever hidden, I must take this occasion to extend this invitation. When the track you follow seems to lead nowhere, when the rain and the cold chill you to the bone, know in your soul that you will find enduring solace in my house and arms. When silence is better than words, when you've forgotten how to smile and when anger you no longer avoid, come to the place of solitude and witness the rising of the new sun over life's bleakness, filling all with hope and power. Such is the message of Sheeba. Such is the message of your lover.

I reread the message, finding it so unusual in this crazy world.

Perhaps it is the age of the individual. Perhaps it is the dawn of a new era, when prophets no longer claim superior divine guidance.

And yet it feels so backward, as though mankind had stepped through time to an ancient place, relearning to be, replaying history.

And why not? I thought. Perhaps this is what the smart monkey needs. Perhaps it is another threshold in the evolutionary process. Already our world has fundamentally changed. The great world democracies, believed for decades to be the pinnacle of human achievement, have all but disappeared, swallowed up in seven years of controlled chaos. No longer do constitution rule with their now obvious inflexibility and rigid arbitrarity. Now great men and women take power and wield it, having in a few short years rearranged systems, modified policies, mollified beliefs, abolished traditions. They have forged powerful nations capable of fulfilling mankind's new needs and aspirations. They have shaped ideals, fused diversity, crushed animosities in their mighty crucibles. They have reshaped the Global Man with the visionary inferno of their words and the ruthlessness of their deeds. And yet, I don't feel much different. I still breathe, eat, sleep. I still cock my skull at the passage of a beautiful woman. I feel less in danger now than when I was a peace officer in Earth's mightiest nation. Life is strange indeed.

The activity heightened around me. Through the thick glass panes we all saw the giant slick body of our transport mating with the gate's extended walkway. A soft female voice over the speakers began calling in foreign languages sentences I could not understand. But soon she was perfectly clear and the digitally enhanced speech spoke to me at last: "Flight 391 to Los Angeles is now boarding at gate twenty-six. Please have your boarding pass ready."

I was going home.

Or was I?

© 1995 Christopher Mahan