He watched the lights. Knew the sequence. What to do. Checked his watch. Been in line forty-five minutes. Sweat sheathed his back. Not from heat.
The woman ahead seemed confused. WTF. How? R-O-Y-G-B. Someone was talking to her from a monitor that he couldn’t see. She was laughing at herself. Hoarse sound. Like she’d been smoking. An odd thought for someone her age, in a lilac and white dress with dark purple shoes and matching glasses and hand bag. Where was she going.
She went on. The light was red. He fixed on it. Glad his wife wasn’t here. And sorry. She would like this. And hate it.
The light turned green. He stepped in. Fixed on the new set of lights to his right. R-O-Y-G-B. Stereo female voice said, “Look into the blue screen ahead of you, please.:
That screen was ten by ten inches, he guessed.
“Find the black light and focus.”
Damn. He’d forgotten that. How could he see the other lights if he was staring at the black dot in the blue screen. Found it immediately — did he get a reward? Focused. A soft click was heard. Gentle whirring followed.
“Welcome, Gerrard. Please look to your left. You will see a series of light. All are now dark except the first one, labeled one.”
Well, they were making this unnecessarily cumbersome. Did that voice have an English accent?
“When light number two turns orange, please put your right arm in the black cuff to your left. You will hold it there as lights three and four turn yellow and green. During that time, you may feel a small jab in your right hand. Do not worry. This is normal. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Might be a British accent. There a difference between English and British accents?
“Keep your arm in the cuff until light number five has turned blue. Do you understand?”
He felt like giggling. Shivered. Cold in this booth. “Yes.”
A chime sounded. The second light turned orange. The voice said, “Please insert your arm into the cuff now.”
Gerrard did. Sweat dribbled down his neck. Why? Wasn’t hot. The cuff closed on his arm. He couldn’t pull it out if he tried. Kind of wanted to try.
Light number three went yellow. Something jabbed his index finger hard. He flinched.
“Please do not move,” the voice said.
Embarrassment washed him. Hadn’t meant to move. He was surprised. That’s all. Harder jab than he expected.
Green light number for came on. Another chime. Same as the first. A blue light came on. “You may remove your arm.”
As he was pulling it out, flexing his fingers and looking for damages, the voice continued, “When the overhead door light turns green, you may exit the booth. Your gate is twenty-seven bee.”
As he looked at it, the booth light turned green and the voice intoned, “Follow the instructions to your gate. Thank you for Traveling with America First.”
“You’re welcome,” he muttered. Ahead was a sign. “Gerrard Miles, please turn left and follow the green line to gate twenty-seven b.” The green arrow pointed straight.
It was dark. Low lights. Cool. Like he was underground. Or in a movie theater. One of those huge complexes with big screens and small rooms. He followed as necessary, losing tracks about how many turns were made. Things he’d read always said this was the offsetting part, getting to your gate. Most deemed this the worse feature.
Gate 27 B was in green to his right. Others were there. About twenty-five. Another sign said, “Pittsburgh.”
A male voice said, “Welcome to gate twenty-seven bee and travel to Pittsburgh. We are ready to board. Please proceed to the door on your left.”
They all queued. He felt weird about it. No seats? No zones? Others were guffawing about it. Nervousness flowed around them like flooding waters. Only one woman, blonde, in a white coat, seemed comfortable. Seemed a little superior in her attitude, too. She’d done this before.
The gate was open. No one was there. A male said, “Please step into the gate when the light turns green.”
This was it. They made it seem like it wasn’t. This was it, though. They all knew it. All were deadly quiet. The blonde woman went. Was gone. The light shuffled forward. Sweat was drenching Gerrard. Like he’d been in a moonson.
He shuffled with the rest. Tenth. Ninth. Et cetera. Then him. Licked his lips. Coped with dryness at the back of his throat. And a dry tongue. Watched the light. Stepped forward.
The ground moved, sucking him forward. He almost screamed but there wasn’t time. The same voice said, “Please step forward. Welcome to Pittsburgh. The local time is five thirty-four. It’s a pleasant seventy-eight degrees outside. You can claim your baggage at carrousel number seventeen. Thank you for traveling with America First. We hope you have a good visit, whether you’re in Pittsburgh for business or vacation.
He walked forward, blinking against dazzling sunshine, his sweat drying, the ordeal over, into the international airport, looking for directions to baggage claim. He’d been at home two hours before. Home in Medford, Oregon. Now he was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He’d gone over twenty-five hundred miles almost instantaneously. Like a bullet.
Fucking technology. He didn’t understand it but it was amazing.