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“Mommy, how high does the airplane go?”
“On a flight like this, maybe up to thirty-three thousand feet,” I tell Casey.
Casey drags her My Little Pony suitcase . “How high is that?”
“About six miles.”
“How much is a mile?”
Casey is five, and curious as we approach the ticket counter for her first airline flight. The line moves quickly. Twenty minutes to takeoff, plenty of time.
“Will I see clouds?” Casey asks.
“No, I’m sorry. I told you. You can’t see anything during the flight.” I shift my purse to get a better grip on my rolling suitcase.
“Aww,” she says as we step up to the counter. I hand over our ID cards. The ticket agent plugs mine into a reader and checks my face against her monitor.
“DNA scan, please, ma’am,” she says. I press my thumb to the terminal. “Thank you. And what’s your name, little one?” she asks my daughter.
“Casey. I’m five.”
“Delightful,” says the ticket agent. “DNA scan, please, miss.” Casey thumbs the terminal, just like at school.
“Thank you. Okay, are you checking any bags today?”
“These two and my purse,” I say, hefting my suitcase and handbag onto the conveyor. “Come on, Casey, put your suitcase up.” She does, and the agent tags each bag with a sticker. My Little Pony whisks away at a few taps at a keyboard.
“All right,” says the ticket agent, “I’m coding your pod routings to your ID cards. Pod Lounge B, follow the signs. And for you, Casey, here’s a happy kitty sticker you can put on your pod! Have a great trip!” She winks at Casey, who smiles at her sticker as we walk away.
Fifteen minutes until flight time. I used to hate flying. 9/11 and the fear everywhere, machine guns at the airport. Super-sensitive metal detectors, shoes and belts off, hassle and delay at the checkpoints. The new system is so much easier.
“Mommy, can we get ice cream?” Casey asks.
“When we arrive. We need to get to our pods now.” We’re approaching Pod Lounge B.
“Do I have to go alone?”
“Yes, honey, but everything will be fine. I’ll be right next to you. It’s perfectly safe. You’ll see,” I tell her, smiling and squeezing her hand. We step into Pod Lounge B behind a big family: grandmother, mom, dad, four young children.
Flying is so much nicer now without all the security stuff. The shoe guy and the underpants bomber made the government introduce tough screening procedures.
First were the terahertz nudity machines. You could skip them, but they’d search by hand. I didn’t mind – better than being fondled and having your crotch examined by those cold blue rubber gloves.
Later the body scans were mandatory, along with the hand searches. Nobody liked that. Many quit flying altogether. More airlines went bankrupt. Governments bailed them out. The vagina bomber came, and then the cavity searches. I always took the fast-acting tranqs the Bureau of Transportation Safety gave out in the security lines.
Then there was Norman Greer. Militia. Veteran. He had C-4 in his hollow metal femurs. 523 people died that day.
“I don’t wanna go in the pod!” yells the youngest child. Casey looks nervous. Dad grabs a tranq off the wall, dials a dose and presses it to the girl’s neck. She goes limp, and mom and dad load her into her pod. They smooth their daughter’s happy puppy sticker over it and feed in her ID card. A low beep, a green light, and they go to settle the rest of their family.
“Here we are, Casey,” I say, approaching our own silver pods. I point to a spot on Casey’s pod, under the rim of the open lid. “Put your sticker on here.”
Casey peels off the happy kitty sticker and smooths it down. “Hop in.”
Casey gets in the pod and lies down. “Will I dream, Mommy?” she asks.
“No, you’ll sleep and Grandma will be there to give you a big hug.”
“Okay,” she says. I kiss her and close the pod lid. I push Casey’s ID into the slot. A green light, a beep, and I can hear the gas.
They say the pods freeze you to just above absolute zero. Nothing can explode when it’s so cold, so there’s no way to launch a terrorist attack. Luggage is handled the same way. Baggage and passenger pods are all racked into the planes by robot loaders. Very efficient, much cheaper.
I get into my pod, gaze at the happy kitty, and shut the lid. I push my ID into the slot overhead and breathe the gas.
* * *
Waking up from pod sleep is strange. It’s hard to focus. Things sound odd after the lid opens. I sit up and spot Casey’s pod among the others, the happy kitty identifying her, rampant BTS eagle right beside. Groggy passengers stagger from the pod lounge toward baggage claim.
No sign of Grandma yet. Casey’s pod is closed, so I walk over. Two more minutes, the display says. Suddenly, a scream. Children’s cries join in.
I see the happy puppy sticker. The little girl tranquilized in the pod lounge before we left. The lid is open. Mom and the other children scream as they look inside, dad ashen, grandma agape.
Casey’s pod beeps. The light turns green. I open it. She blinks at the light. We both start; a crashing noise behind us. The screaming stops. I lift Casey out of the pod and we walk toward baggage claim to look for Grandma.
The screaming starts again. We glance back. The happy puppy pod fell off the rack. A thick, reddish goo flows out, pooling around the family’s feet.
Ah well. There hasn’t been a terrorist attack in three years.
“Hey Casey! How about some ice cream?”
“Yeah! I want blueberry!”