Short Story: “Incident on Concourse B”

As if the real news wasn’t frightening enough. Maybe having a good imagination isn’t such a good idea.

“Incident on Concourse B”
By P. Orin Zack

Lendon Forrester, clattering bags of jumbled canned goods, ran up the steps and opened the door. “Did I miss it?”

“No,” Frannie Jurdens called from the kitchen. “They’re still in a holding pattern.” She capped the jug she’d been filling, and placed it beside the others on the counter.

Len glanced at the reporter on the living room TV in passing. “…the ticket counter behind me, air travel in our city has ground to a halt. This same ‘ghost-town’ scenario is being played out at airports across the country, in the wake of this morning’s thwarted terrorist attack in Cincinnati.”

Frannie looked up as he entered. “I don’t know, Len. The media’s crawling with rumors.”

“About what?”

The TV, which they could see beyond the pass-through, now showed a jerky security video. People were running everywhere, and over near the wall, a teary little girl screamed soundlessly. “This was the scene in that city’s airport shortly after two suspected terrorists were shot. Panicked travelers were contained at the airport, along with what authorities say are other members of the terror cell, when Homeland Security locked down the facility. Intelligence analysts fear that they were part of a coordinated effort to disrupt air travel throughout the country. This is Allen Wu.”

She shook her head, then craned for a closer look at her laptop, perched on the pass-through. “Hmm. Judging from the network traffic, I’ve got some large email coming in.”

A grim studio newsreader continued. “At the urging of the White House and Homeland Security, several governors have already declared a state of emergency. As of this moment, Governor Fletcher has not yet joined them, but we have a reporter standing by at the capitol. We have also learned that the president is due to make a statement shortly. But for now, we urge all citizens to return to your homes if at all possible. Stay tuned for further developments.”

Len put the last of the cans away, and fell heavily into a chair. “How did all of this happen?”

“I wish I knew. By the time I called you, the Cincinnati airport had already been locked down. They say when the security checkpoint got several positives on TSA’s video facematch system, they sent a team to stop some already cleared passengers on concourse B while they validated the reports. Two people refused to cooperate, so they called for backup. But because an alert had been raised, the agents who responded were acting under a different protocol, which gave them authority to preemptively act against suspects. You know. For the greater good, and all.”

“For the greater good.”

“Yeah. Anyway, the noise of the shots and the shouting set off a panic throughout the airport.” She glanced at the TV. “They’ve been running that clip endlessly. It didn’t take long for the news services to pick up the terrorist story, and when they did, it was fed into the airport cable systems, including the one in Cincinnati. Airport management then panicked and killed the feed.”

Len chuckled humorlessly. “I’ll bet that was helpful.”

“It was like trying to put a fire out with accelerant. The first thing everyone there did was to hit their cell phones, which overwhelmed the system. So there they were, with no cable news and no cells, supposedly sharing an airport with who knew how many terrorists. There was a stampede for the exits. By the time they reached the doors, Homeland Security had already locked them to corral the terrorists.”

He nodded. “That was the first I heard of it. As soon as people at other airports got wind of what happened in Cincinnati, they dropped their own flight plans and headed home, lest they get stuck in the same pickle.”

“Yeah. By then, of course, it was completely out of control. Rumors were flying faster than they could be squelched. The stock markets went berserk. Which was all the suits in D.C. needed to spur them into action.”

“What do you suppose the president is going to do?”

Frannie took a deep breath. “I know what the rumors say.”

“Martial Law?”

“Bush’s old Presidential Directive’s been burning a hole in his pocket. He’s been itching for an excuse.”

“That’s all we need.” Len indicated the laptop. “Your big email in yet?”

She took a closer look. “Seems so. I don’t recognize the sender, though.”

“It’ll have to wait. President’s on air.”

They’d already gotten comfortable on the couch by the time he was ready to speak.

“Good evening. Earlier today, the facial recognition system that monitors security video at the nation’s airports alerted agents of the Transportation Security Administration at Cincinnati International Airport to matches in the Department of Homeland Security’s terror suspect database. Following established protocol, TSA attempted to detain these individuals in order to confirm the match. As you may have heard, the suspects bolted, and Homeland Security snipers were forced to fire at them.”

Len looked a question at Frannie. “Forced? The suspects had weapons?”

“It is believed that the terrorists killed this morning in Cincinnati were part of a cell that intended to conduct an attack on that airport, as part of a coordinated plan to cripple the nation’s transportation system. In order to safeguard the safety of all citizens, I have therefore declared all commercial airports to be essential federal facilities. This enables the Department of Homeland Security to extend complete control over this critical part of our national infrastructure. Furthermore, as of nine o’clock eastern time tonight, I am imposing Martial Law across the country. This state will continue until all of the terrorists involved in this scheme to take over the airspace over the US have been caught or killed. In the meantime, the White House, in accordance with National Security Directive 51, will take control of all government affairs. Members of congress are encouraged to use ground transport to return to their home states, and to use this time to help their constituents through this time of national peril.”

Len snorted. “I’m glad you asked me to pick up some canned goods. There’s no telling how long this might last. So now what?”

“Looks like we’ll be here for a while, so I might as well see what that message was.” She got the laptop, then returned to her seat and plugged it back in. “Hmmm. It’s video mail. Forwarded from my cell phone account. Nice of them to have that option. Only thing is, I don’t recognize the sender.”

“Well, let’s have a look-see.”

Frannie turned the laptop so they could both see the screen, and opened the attached video.

A young man looked out from the small window, an arm’s-length view from a camera-phone. “Hi Ned. It’s Larry. I hope I remembered your cell number correctly.”

Len shrugged. “Apparently not.”

“I was on Concourse B when those TSA goons pulled their game of ‘freeze’.”

The two glanced at one another.

“I saw what happened,” the man said tightly, visibly shaken. “All these uniforms came running down the hall, yelling for everyone to stop. They hugged the walls, and barked at anyone who moved. Scary stuff. I guess they must have blocked access around where we were, because nobody else tried walking through. Anyway, two people protested. One was a girl about Marla’s age. I guess the other one was her boyfriend. She was worried about her kid sister, who’d wandered off.”

They clasped hands nervously.

Larry looked towards his right, then back at the camera. “They screamed at her. Threatened to have them both arrested. I’ll tell you, that kid had spunk. She went right up to one of them, pleading for help finding her sister. Then one of the goons radioed for help. In seconds it seemed, there were three guys in camou, pointing rifles at the two of them.”

He looked down, caught his breath, then continued. “Ned, the government lied. Those two people they killed weren’t terrorists. They were innocent. Her name was Maria. Before they cut the news feed here, we saw a security cam clip of her kid sister crying. Maybe you’ve seen it by now. Her name is Flora, and she’s here with me now.”

The camera rotated towards the girl, and then back. Larry frowned. “Ned, you once told me you were hooked up with an indy media group. Post this. Pass it on. Get the word out before things get out of hand. The terrorist story they built from this is a sham. They may pull a false flag hit on some city somewhere to run up a body count for the propaganda machine. You have to stop them.”

Frannie’s jaw dropped. “Holy crap! What are going to do?”

“You heard him. Post it. Pass it on.”

“But who’ll believe us? We don’t know where thing even came from.”

“Yeah, we do. You saw the kid. It’s real, all right. And as for what one person can do, all it took was two people defying an order to get the entire country under Martial Law. Hand me some CD-Rs. I’ll make copies. Find someone to tell.”

Copyright 2007 by P. Orin Zack


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