Paul

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

Those were the words written above the doorway in the immigration office. Paul wondered what it could mean. He pondered long and hard, but, eventually came to a blank. Maybe it was a call to the glory days under JFK, when the US was the light at the end of the tunnel — a guiding power for the world to look upon. Maybe, it was a bastardization of those words spoken by the great man, in an effort to justify the new, fascist government that has come to power in the years following, what seemed like, the end to social tensions.

It was 2016. Or, thereabouts. No one could really remember. The history books were fuzzy about that era of US history. All anyone could recall was that it was a failed experiment, rectified by subsequent governments with correctional policies to restore the social order. Or so they’ve been taught in the US. In the UK, where Paul was from, they’ve been taught otherwise.

They called it the ‘Lost Decades’ or the ‘Era of Troubled Presidents’ outside the US. It was an era marked by socially backwards policies, directed at ethnic homogeneity, isolationism, and protectionism. Paul was in search of answers. He was a journalist with the BBC. He was assigned to the US, specifically to cover the developing story of martial law in California, and the US west coast. There was said to be a growing separatist faction there, gaining traction with the locals in urban centers, specifically in the Los Angeles area. That’s where Paul was headed. As far as immigration was concerned, however, Paul wasn’t headed anywhere outside the Philadelphia area.

Paul walked up to the immigration officer. He remembered to keep a smile on his face. But the immigration officer did not seem amused. He had a stern look about him as his hand gestured for Paul’s passport. Paul handed the officer his passport, along with the necessary visa documents. The officer looked at the documents, looked at Paul, then back at the documents. He began to contort is face. It expressed confusion.  Paul knew what was up. On the documents, it claimed Paul was entering the US as a student. Unfortunately, the acceptance letter was from Harvard. It was the only school that would help him on covering the story — all the other schools had been taken over by pro-government faculty, making it nigh impossible to attain their support.

“Harvard, huh?” asked the officer. You could hear the suspicion in his voice. “Boston, and yet, you’re headed to… California.” The officer looked up at Paul. Paul felt sweat gathering on his scalp. He felt like he was in the interrogation chamber. He would have to come up with at least a half plausible answer, if he wanted to avoid arrest.

“Yes, sir,” Paul responded. “I have friends there from my university days, and they invited me to visit before beginning my program at Harvard.”

“You do realize,” the officer retorted, with a slight tone of annoyance to his voice. “that the state of California is under martial law, and that mobility may be limited to certain cities, including, but not limited to, the City of Los Angeles, the City of San Diego, and the City of San Francisco?”

“Yes, sir,” Paul answered. He was relieved he had done his research. Thankfully, SFO was outside San Francisco city limits. “My friend lives in the outskirts of Silicon Valley. I’ll be sure to avoid those urban centers.”

“And when will you be flying to Harvard?”

“When the new semester starts, in September.”

The officer looked at the screen in front of him. He looked back at Paul. He looked back at the documents. He took out his stamp, and soon, Paul was on his way. He walked through the baggage claim area, and into the ticketing counter area. He looked at the screens to find his new gate.

Flight UA1651 DELAYED TO 5:50 AM

‘Damn,’ thought Paul. ‘Guess somethings never change.’ Paul began to walk about the terminal, in search of something to eat. He looked around him. Panda Express. That should do. The only menu available was the leftover orange chicken, but that would have to do. He was eating to survive. He finished his meal, and walked over to the nearest bench. He set his stuff by his side, and tried to get some rest. There was a TV playing near his gate. It was the news.

The news seemed to be dominated by a single story. It was about California. About, some sort of riots. The screen was filled with dated, 4:3 ratio video of the infamous LA street riots back in the 1990’s. The TV anchors must have alluded to this event, making a parallel between then and now. The caption read, “Worst LA riots since the 1990’s”. What was that supposed to mean? Paul turned on his tablet. He connected to the LiFi network and began to search. No meaningful results. All the results alluded to the 1990’s LA riots, claiming gang related violence as the cause of this most recent turmoil. Paul figured it must’ve been the infamous Freedom Wall he had heard so much about. No matter. Where there was a will, there was a way. Paul turned on his VPN, turned on his TOR browser, and began his research again.

BBC. Al Jazeera. Le Monde. NHK. Whatever he could he could get his hands on, he read. It seemed the military had moved in on Los Angeles, but that was all he could get – satellite images of military units closing in on rioters in downtown LA. What was going on? No one seemed to have an explanation as to the motives behind this move. Guess no one was able to get a man on the inside. Paul might be the first. Or the last. Maybe he was late to the party. He wanted to get some sleep – the jet lag was getting to him. He found an empty corner in the airport. He put his things aside, took out his travel pillow, and drifted asleep.

He was greeted by the early morning sunrise. You would never have guessed the things that were happening from the weather. It was a beautiful sight to behold: the sun’s golden rays penetrated the sky, piercing through the openings between the clouds, as if to say, “have hope – there is a god looking over you”. Paul looked at his watch. 4:30. Sounded about right. He got up from his spot on the ground. There were a couple people going around the airport now. Paul wondered where they were headed. Where were these people headed to in such a hurry? One person, in particular, caught his eye. It was a gentleman, a little bit older than Paul, who carried a massive duffle bag about half his size. He was short in stature, but had a presence, as if he were a combat veteran. He was wearing formal ware, but Paul could clearly see that this was not his regular attire. It was a cover for something. No matter. Paul headed for the nearest bathroom. He needed to be on his way.

Paul took out his laptop again, as he sat at his gate, waiting for his flight. He connected to the local network, turned on his VPN, Tor browser, and went to work. No updates. Nothing. The world had moved on to new stories, like the elections in India, and the demonstrations in China. Martial law in the US was now a story for the history books.

Now starting: boarding call for United Airlines flight 1651, bound for San Francisco.

‘Time to get moving,’ thought Paul. He took his things, and got in line for his flight.

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