The Machine

“Can you step right over here, sir?”

Of course I’m used to this by now, and stroll into the roped off area as easily as if I were queuing up at the grocery store. It used to be the metal in my shoes that set off the security scanners, but this time I’ve made it through unscathed. Instead, the attention seems to be on my bag this time, and they’re rolling it through the scanner repeatedly, and pointing at the monitor, and squinting their eyes.

I know they’re squinting because it makes the lawn darts easier to see. Those and the live pit vipers, as well as the ninja-issue throwing stars, the twelve blue vials of nitro glycerin, and the shards of glass from the asylum I’ve just escaped from. You see those items when you’re bored out of your mind – I can hardly blame them for their diligence.

The head security guard–the pit boss–swaggers over to the table next to me with my bag swinging from his fist liked a hanged man. That’s all I can think about, I mean. In the meantime, he’s smug, and ready to rack up the charges. “Mind if I take a look? See what we have?”

“Have at it,” I say.

“Okay, before I do, is there anything in here that’s going to poke me?” He’s at line four in the guidebook, I can tell. “Do you have anything sharp that I should know about?”

My thumbs aren’t necessarily sharp, but I do know how to use them if it comes to that. I put my hands in my pockets and say, “No. I have some clippers in the toiletries bag. And there are some spoons in the front pocket.” He’s not interested, except to note that I’ve missed my last chance to confess.

As he digs through my laundry, curiosity gets the better of me. “Is there anything in particular you were looking for? Maybe I can help, I mean.

He doesn’t look up, doesn’t pause. “Okay, well the machine showed some scissors, the kind with the curled blades.” I’d never heard of such a thing. “The kind you’d use to trim your moustache. Long curled blades.”

“Oh,” I say, rubbing the clean-shaven skin over my lip. What he means is that they were the kind of scissors most people would use to trim their moustache. I, on the other hand, would be using them to pierce the necks of the flight attendants as I clawed my way to the pilots’ cabin.

The guard shrugs off my demonstrative gesture. “Really, it’s not a question of whether you have them. The machine is never wrong. It’s a matter of where you have them. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and the machine is never wrong.”

Are you quoting directly from Brave New World then? I don’t remember that line specifically, so help me out. I nod, “Well I don’t think I’ve ever owned scissors like that, so if you find them it’ll be pretty cool.” Actually it wouldn’t be all that cool once the initial gee-whiz how’d-you-do-that factor wore off, and the handcuffs closed tightly around my delicate wrists. I suppose that I’m entitled to some degree of outrage, but my initial reaction is one of sadness for this security guard who is now dropping my underwear and notebook on the floor as he chases phantoms. A machine that could foresee a middle aged man in polyester uniform staring critically at my toothbrush would be a machine that was never wrong.

“I’m going to scan it again,” he says, voice flat. I watch as he peers at the monitor while the other security people look decidedly less interested. Might they be stifling laughter? All I need is to see one of them whistling and rocking back on his heels and my day is made.

“Okay, we’re done,” he says, handing my bag back to me. It’s unzipped, and my socks are hanging out of it. It looks like a rape victim down at the police station. As I straighten my things he leans in and says something spooky: “Are you okay, sir?” Like I’ve forgotten my next line to him.

“Sure,” I say, and flash him a convincing smile. Back to the villa for me, and you’d better wash your hands, by the way. It’s truly a relief to be done with this though, because I do have bigger things on my mind. This bag I carry is, after all, made of just over three square feet of my homemade explosive fabric, and I’m about ready to rock steady.

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