The sharp buzz of something vibrating on a plastic tray pulled Rachel out of a half-sleep. She blinked, focused on her mobile twitching on the tray-table in front of her, reached for it, answered. “Hello?”
“Rachel? Are you still in-air?”
“Mom? Shit, what time is iii—” she broke off into a yawn.
“It's just after five here, I don't know where you are. Where are you?”
“I don't know, we didn't leave until like five this morning... I think we're Central right now...”
“Listen, one of the interns just called me. Some social group just took over the airport, threatened to load up a plane with explosives and crash it somewhere unless their demands were met.”
Rachel was fully awake now. “Which group?”
“I don't—just a second.” There was a sound of clicking, then, “Libre California Republica. Bunch of neo-Mexican supremacists, want to cut ties with America, citing human rights violations.”
“Oh, my God, are they going to route us through Bob Hope?”
“No, no, no. They threatened to fly out a bomb-plane, remember? Whole country's being grounded. You're going down at the nearest port that can handle your plane. Hopefully you're close enough that you'll go back to PHL and you can stay with Reggie. But don't worry, if you're far enough out, I'll drive out and get you, assuming the border isn't sealed.”
“Can they do that?”
“If there was ever a time for the cartels to jump, it would be now.”
“Shit...” Rachel stroked her belly.
“Now, I don't know when they'll make the announcement, but you can bet your flight's already been rerouted. They'll announce your destination before too long. When you land, call me.”
“Alright, sweetie; love you. Gotta call the congressman now...”
“Have fun.” Rachel disconnected and sat back, awaiting the inevitable.
After about ten minutes, it came.
A low buzz and then, “Hey, folks, this is your captain speaking... I hate to tell you this, but it looks like the land of sun and palm trees is going to have to wait just a bit. I've just received word that LAX has been shut down, and all inbound flights are being rerouted elsewhere.”
Protest from the other passengers almost drowned out the pilot's next words. “We will be setting down in about half an hour in scenic Tulsa, Oklahoma, former oil capitol of the world!” His cheeriness sounded forced. “Until we land, please relax, and as always, thanks for flying—”
His last words were cut off by a chorus of boos and cursing.
Rachel sighed and looked at her phone. Adjusted for time zones, it was a little past seven-thirty on Tuesday morning. She needed to sleep...
Seatbelt signs lit up, and Rachel shut off her mobile as the stewards began making their final rounds.
The flight prepared to land... then didn't. Rachel waited with rising tension as her flight continued to circle over the Tulsa airport. The other passengers began to murmur. Some verbally abused the stewards. As Rachel watched, the once peaceful, normal folk on their way from Philadelphia to Los Angeles became feral beasts, capable of anything.
After two hours, the pilot came back on, announced clearance, and finally landed the plane.
Rachel remained in her seat as all around her angry passengers swarmed out of their seats, grabbing bags from overhead, pushing towards the exit. As she watched the people begin to froth and boil, she remembered the schoolyard, her friends and classmates venting teenage angst and fear at the police, all directed by her, all on her selfish whim. She saw Raoulito rushing the line, saw the battle begin, felt again the rush of power she had experienced that day. She knew that, whatever else she might do with her life, she couldn't let this group of passengers go through with the course of action they had committed themselves to.
She waited until the aisle had cleared then jumped up, sprinted down the fuselage and up the boarding tube, and ran into the horde that filled the terminal. It wasn't just passengers from her flight; hundreds of other people packed the long, low room that made up this spur of the airport. Rachel climbed up on a table bolted to the floor to see what was at the center of the crowd's attention: a small kiosk, manned by ten or so airline employees, most trying to placate their enraged customers, several making frantic phone calls, all looking terrified.
Rachel dropped back to the floor and pushed her way into the back of the crowd. She had made it through several layers when someone grabbed her backpack and yelled, “Hey, wait your turn! I've been here over half an hour!” Rachel slipped the backpack off and continued forward.
Further in she was ignored; the passengers were too focused on heaping abuse on the airline workers, demanding compensation for their time, pleading for special accommodations. Near the front, Rachel could start making out individual voices, recognizable phrases.
“—I don't give a good goddamn about Mexican politics, my family is waiting—“
“—the whole fucking reason I left New York!”
“—can't seriously expect us to pay for hotels! You're the ones who grounded us!”
“They can't all be booked! Try again! This just started—”
Through a forest of gesticulating arms Rachel caught a glimpse of a grey counter, of red-vested airline employees pleading with the crowd, looking around for help, completely out of their depth.
She broke through the front rank and made eye contact with a terrified young woman who couldn't have been much older than Rachel.
“Where is security?” Rachel shouted, her voice almost completely drowned out.
“Security! You need help!”
The woman's eyes opened wider. “I don't know! This isn't the only terminal!”
Something clicked as Rachel realized the true scope of what was going happening; there was a reason they had been in a holding pattern for over two hours. When her mother said that the whole country would be grounded, she meant it.
Rachel stood still for a moment, felt other people pushing up behind, crowding in from the side; there were angry people who wanted her space so that they could be heard.
Sudden inspiration struck, and Rachel found herself climbing up on the counter. There were cheers behind her, and she saw the fear in the eyes of the airline employees as they glanced around, desperate for escape.
She stood, her head scraping the low ceiling, then turned to face the crowd. “Hey!” she shouted, waving her arms. “Everyone, shut up!”
It took several more tries, but the sheer height she now inhabited got their attention, and soon a curtain of silence settled over the crowd.
“What the hell do you all think you're doing?” Rachel continued when she was sure she could be heard.
“You think you're the only ones stuck, the only ones inconvenienced? There are literally thousands of flights landing, tens of thousands more being cancelled right now. You think you've been dealt a shit hand? The whole country's been dealt one. We are stuck! And nothing you can do, nothing you can say to these people—” she pointed back to the frightened employees “—is going to change that! You have literally no other choice than to sit here and wait for a while!”
There was a moment of silence as the crowd digested this, then someone from a few rows back yelled, “Why should we listen to you? You're just a kid!”
“I'm twenty-five!” Rachel yelled back; she was glad her backpack was gone. She turned and pointed again at the employees. “And how old do you think these people are, huh? You think they're big airline decision-makers? They're here to help you and your luggage get to the next flight. And guess what? There is no next flight. So go and sit down, or go to the food court, or something, but leave these people alone, yeah? I'm sure they'll send someone along to talk with us, just as soon as they can. Until then... Play the shit hand; you don't have another choice.”
There were coughs and shuffles and mutters, but the crowd began to expand and dissipate, people breaking off in clumps to return to the little islands of chairs spread over the terminal.
Rachel knelt, then slid off the counter. She turned to see the woman tentatively smiling at her.
“Thanks,” the woman said. “We're trying to call an airline rep. I think Homeland Security will get her first, though. Maybe another couple of hours.”
Rachel acknowledged the information with a nod. “Glad to help.” She looked around, taking in the terminal, and the prospect of the airport beyond. “What do you have to eat around here?”
Later, as Rachel stood in line in front of a restaurant, she felt the adrenaline glow of what she had done begin to fade, and she realized... she had enjoyed it. She had captured the attention of an audience, had influenced policy through her words, had helped to make the world a better place. If she had done this last Friday, had tried to reason with the police, Raoul would still be alive, the whole of the situation back home never would have happened...
As she waited for lunch, she swore to herself that this is who she would be, this is what she would do. This was how she would shape her future... and it would be glorious.
Rachel sat in an unpadded bucket seat, trying to balance her mobile on her knees while her hands were busy with eating a taco. Responses to the Libre California Republica's actions were flooding in from every quarter. From the Right were panicked shouts that the United States was dissolving, that nothing but swift military action could solve this problem. From the Left were panicked shouts that the LCR's demands be met, and the South-West be immediately ceded to Mexico. The one voice absent was that of Edgar Latterndale; his whereabouts were still unknown.
Some had risen to put words in the president's mouth. Press Secretary Eli Rosencrantz had bravely gone on air to acknowledge that yes, something bad was happening. National Security Adviser Robert Mistlethwakey insisted that, while the President's primary concern was to peacefully resolve the Defender debacle, he was sure the President would swiftly decide on a course of action to deal with the growing crisis in California. Unfortunately, Mistlethwakey would not be able to conference with the President directly; the General had returned to his hometown of Philadelphia, offering his military experience to quell the fighting there.
Rachel was just reaching down to refresh her mobile when someone in front of her said, “Hey.”
She looked up to see a group of three men and five women, ranging in age from early thirties to mid sixties, looking down at her. The nearest man, who looked to be in his early forties with long, straggly hair, waved to her. He introduced himself and the rest of his group. “Look, I wasn't on your flight, but I saw your speech, and I gotta say... It made me feel pretty stupid. So anyway, we got together, some of us in the terminal, and started asking around, seeing what people wanted to say to the airline reps, and well... We figured you'd be the best person to talk to them. You've already proved yourself as one of the best of us, and you were able to be pretty succinct. What do ya' say?”
Rachel finished her bite of taco, then nodded. “Sure. What are you planning on saying?”