Arrows of the Leviathan - Chapter 37 - Terrible Lie
Two Years Ago
June 1, 2022
Barack Obama International Airport
Daniel woke with a jolt as wheels screeched, and there was a loud thump through the cabin. His transport aircraft had landed on a sun-drenched runway of Washington’s newly christened Barack Obama International Airport, once known as Andrews Air Force Base.
The captain didn’t do so great with that landing, he reflected dourly. His grumpy mood immediately faded when he remembered his beloved should be there to greet him. The plane, a decrepit chartered 777, didn’t taxi to the gate but instead parked on the tarmac to meet the families of the soldiers who were jammed into the over-crowded airliner.
Getting out of his seat, still in his worn tan fatigues, he pulled down his bag and waited impatiently in the queue to exit. After an interminable wait, Daniel emerged into a blistering June day and walked down sturdy, metal stairs. In the distance, he could see Sana on the gray pavement, hand shielding her eyes, smiling.
She was dressed as he would expect, in a gray business suit and high heels. His smile broadened as she saw him, made a small leap of joy, and began moving up through the crowd to meet him. He reached the ground just in time, dropping his bag and reaching to embrace Sana around her shoulders and waist. Her arms squeezed his warm body against hers, then she released him, holding him at arm's length. Her eyes trailed over his face, from eyes to nose to mouth.
He released her hand, retrieved his trusty bag, now warm from the sun, and gestured toward the airport entrance.
As they entered, the coolness of the air conditioning washed over them. Sana’s voice echoed through the halls as she gleefully brought Daniel up to date. But he said nothing, noticing that the airport was nearly deserted. Instead of restaurants full of travelers, they were empty, with a few worried-looking waiters standing around. Shops, once filled with overpriced trinkets, had their metal gates closed and their shelves emptied. They passed security from the terminal and noticed there was no wait to get in. The missing people brought Daniel’s mind back to his own missing men and the unholy mess he had left behind. His mood, lightened temporarily by the homecoming, began to darken again.
The parking lot was barely half full, which made it easier to find his faithful old Ford F-150 pickup truck. Daniel sighed as he settled into the familiar vehicle and regarded the well-worn steering wheel. With a creak, the door on the other side opened, and Sana slid across the seat to sit close to him. He drove to the parking booth and paid the attendant.
He had barely said a word since arriving. There had been no need. But now, merging onto a near-empty freeway, Daniel suddenly let loose.
“It's starting to fall apart. I lost three of my men to an IED last week. We aren't achieving a thing! Why doesn't Washington get the message?”
Sana was stunned. Her eyes flickered across Daniel’s face, which was now slightly pink in the cheeks and harder than it had appeared just moments ago. Her lips parted and closed. Then she spoke.
"I've been doing my best to convince Senator Cowell, but he isn't getting the whole picture. The CPC rollout is capturing the media's attention.”
His brow furrowed. She added, “Everyone is hopeful that it will revive the economy.”
Daniel loosened his grip on the steering wheel and propped his left elbow on the driver’s side door. Briefly, he rubbed his eyes as they cruised. “So, how is that going?” he asked rhetorically and gestured to the nearly empty highway.
Her jaw tightened, and she focused on the road ahead of them. The tires of the pickup were wobbly at this speed. She unconsciously slid over, increasing the distance between them and looking away. “Well,” she sighed. “We're over budget by trillions. This latest proposal of a 2% wealth tax has increased the flow into Ducats. Money and talent is disappearing faster than we can stop it. We’ve proposed increased spending on education and social policy, but that is having a measurable negative effect. We’re in full collapse.”
Driving for a few minutes in silence, Daniel steered the truck through a maze of interstate ramps, then emerged into the city. He took in the familiar sights and sounds of Alexandria’s Waterfront.
“Every day we learn more about the agreement we signed with the CPC,” Sana offered as they bumped over cobblestone streets. “They said we had to pass the treaty to find out what's in it. The short answer is that the formation of the CPC means our constitution is worthless paper.”
Daniel looked left to right, taking in the crumbling, vacant buildings. Men whose skin seemed gray and yellow loitered on the sidewalk.
“It looks rough out there,” he said. The light turned yellow, then red. He nodded at one of the men who held a sign at the intersection. Ever the humanitarian, Sana rolled down her window and held a crumpled bill out to the man.
She answered Daniel’s unspoken question as the light turned green and the wheels began their methodical whoosh. “I've seen the unfiltered statistics. Real unemployment is at thirty-seven percent. Over two-thirds of the population is on subsidized food.”
Looking side-to-side out the windows, he saw an endless array of decrepit old buildings and listless men loitering in the street. Makeshift camps of tarps and scrap lined the streets in front of brownstones. He shook his head. “Even worse than when I left. How is this happening? And how did it happen so fast?”
“I don't know. I just know we are among the lucky ones,” Sana said, glancing at a half-rotten billboard that seemed to speak of better days as she squeezed Daniel’s hand for reassurance.
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