In just a few minutes they were airborne, the jet banked and they flew east. Kelly and the male flight attendant came around a few minutes later with trays of champagne. The Indian woman shook her head when the champagne was offered. “Oh no, it’s much too early,” she said.
“Only a bit of bubbly,” Caleb said, swiveling his chair to face her. “What’s the harm?” When she still refused he said, “Give me hers then. We can’t have good wine going to waste now.”
Nate turned on the tablet by his seat and tapped the Internet icon. A message popped up saying the network wasn’t available. He hit the back button and tried again. Same result. To Tony he said, “Try your Internet. Mine’s not working.”
Tony touched the screen a couple of times then shook his head. “Mine’s not working either.”
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Nate waved the male flight attendant over. His name tag said Adam. “What’s going on with the Internet? I can’t get on.”
“I’ll look into it.” He came back a few minutes later. “I’m sorry, sir. I tried resetting it, but it didn’t help. There’s nothing else I can do. You should be able to access the video library though. There are thousands of movies and TV shows to choose from.”
“I want to learn more about the terrorist attack.”
“I’ll talk to the captain and see what he can find out.”
“You need to relax, mate,” Caleb said, holding up his glass of champagne. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Nate said. He took a sip of his champagne. He didn’t know much about champagne, but it tasted like the good stuff.
“What do you know about this show? Is it going to be like Survivor or something, where we break into teams and try not to get voted off the island?” Tony asked him.
“Arnie was pretty vague when I asked him.”
“Is that normal?”
Nate shrugged. “I’ve got no idea what is normal and what isn’t.”
Jenna spoke up. “I tried to get Arnie to tell me more about the show but he acted very mysterious about it. All he would say was that it wasn’t quite like any reality show ever done, and the director wanted to keep the details secret until we got there. Something about not spoiling the dramatic intensity of the show.”
“Dramatic intensity,” Nate said with a snort. “Give me a break.”
Jenna turned her gaze on him. “You don’t think reality TV has dramatic intensity?”
“No. I don’t. It’s all fake. It’s manufactured drama.”
“How is that different from a movie? Isn’t that also manufactured drama?”
“Yes, but…” Others were listening in now and Nate began to wish he’d kept his mouth shut. He had a feeling he’d stepped into a trap and it would only get tighter the more he wriggled. “A movie’s different. It’s not trying to pass itself off as real.”
“And reality shows do?”
“Exactly. They try to make us believe that the drama, the interactions between characters, is all real.”
“But it’s not.”
“No. The actors on those shows know they’re on camera the entire time. I’m not saying they don’t actually get into real fights, but everything they do is based around the knowledge that the camera is always watching. No matter how convincing they might be, it’s still all fake.”
“You don’t think that after enough time that the people on those shows start to forget the cameras are there? That they become used to their presence to the point where their true feelings come out?”
Nate hesitated. He hadn’t thought about that. “I suppose it’s possible. I’ll still take a well-written and well-acted play or movie any day over reality TV.”
“Why?” She had piercing green eyes that seemed to pin Nate into place.
Nate looked to Tony for help. Tony held up his hands as if to say, you got yourself into this. “Great drama, like great literature, gives us a window into the human condition,” Nate said. Great. Now he sounded like his high school English teacher.
“So, watching a quality movie gives us a chance to see how people react to their lives and the other people around them?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.” The edge of the cliff felt closer.
“Doesn’t reality TV do the same thing? Isn’t it popular for exactly the same reason, because it gives the audience a chance to see how real people interact?”
“But, it’s not the same,” Nate spluttered. People were grinning. He definitely should have just kept his mouth shut.
“No, it’s not. One is only people pretending to react to things. The other is people actually reacting to things.” She gave him a triumphant smile.
“Okay,” Nate said weakly. “I surrender.” Jenna opened her bag and took out a magazine and started flipping through it.
“I guess now you know not to tangle with her,” Tony said quietly, making sure Jenna couldn’t hear.
“No shit. Are my wounds still bleeding?”
Tony looked him over. “Just a couple of them. One question.”
Nate groaned. “Not you too.”
“Don’t be scared. I just wanted to know why you’re here if you have such a low opinion of reality shows.”
“My roommate talked me into it?”
“That’s a lame excuse.”
“I’m tired of selling clothes?”
“Much better. It’s not really so bad, being on a reality show. Is it?” Tony asked.
“You have no idea. My parents weren’t happy when I chose acting to begin with.”
“Ah. They wanted you to be something serious. Like a doctor. Or an accountant, maybe?” Tony said with a twinkle in his eye.
“Oh, god no. They would have disowned me for sure.”
“Clearly your family is nothing like mine,” Tony said. “I had the grades for med school and chose lowly accounting, which I didn’t finish. That didn’t make me too popular.”
“My parents are artists. Mom’s a painter. She does some sculpting too. Dad’s a – well, he died a few years ago – but he was a violinist with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Both successful. Both expected me to follow them into the arts.”
“Isn’t acting an art?”
“Bingo! That’s just what I said. About two hundred times. But not in their book. Acting’s low brow. Entertainment for the masses. They saved their money and pulled every string they could to get me into Julliard in New York City and then I went and chose theater.”
Tony gave a low whistle. “I’ve heard of Julliard. They don’t take just anybody.”
“Anyway, it’s bad enough I went into acting. When my focus was on theater they could live with that. When I told them I wanted to go to LA and get into movies I thought they’d have a stroke. Now here I am. TV. And the lowest form of TV too. Dad’s rolling over in his grave right now.”
“What did your mom say when you told her you landed this job?”
Nate snorted. “I never told her. It’s likely she’ll never know.”
“I don’t believe that. What mother wouldn’t know if her son was on a TV show?”
Nate gave a dry laugh. “You clearly don’t know my mother. She never watches TV. That is entertainment for the proletarian masses. Nor do either of the two friends she has. She doesn’t subscribe to any newspapers or magazines. She has a computer hooked up to the Internet, but it’s about a hundred years old and she only uses it for email and then only grudgingly. She lives in her own little world, creating, painting, drinking, of course, like any good artist. She probably couldn’t even tell you who’s president.”
“No brothers or sisters to tell her?”
“An uncle? Cousin?”
“The only other family I know of is an uncle, my dad’s brother. He lives in Idaho in a cabin in the woods. According to my dad, he makes the Unabomber look like a Democrat. I’ve never met him.”
“All dead. My mom’s in her late sixties. My parents had me late.”
Tony considered this for a moment, then said, “Your family and mine are just about complete opposites of each other. I’ve got two brothers and two sisters, seven – no, eight – aunts and uncles. Four grandparents, all in China by the way. And more cousins, nieces and nephews than I can count. Our house was always full of family. Half of them worked in my dad’s store in Kansas. I don’t think I could fart without someone in my family noticing and telling everyone else.”
The door to the cockpit opened and the pilot came out. He was tall, his curly hair graying at the temples, with the ramrod posture that spoke of time in the military. “Hi, everyone. I’m Carl Stubing, your captain. I’ve been told our Internet is down and some of you would like an update on the attempted terrorist attack.”
Jenna put her magazine down. Nate, Tony and a couple of the others looked up. The rest continued with what they were doing, which seemed to consist primarily of drinking and flirting.
“I made some calls and here’s what I learned. There was an attempted terrorist attack this morning at Chicago O’Hare. A man attempted to board a plane carrying vials of an unknown biological agent. But he was apprehended before he had the opportunity to release the vials. The authorities have taken two known accomplices of his into custody. There was consideration given to closing our nation’s airports by the Department of Homeland Security after this, but they determined that there are no other attempts happening. This is an isolated group.” Carl gave them a reassuring smile. “I hope that eases your minds a little.”
“But the flight attendant said some people were sick,” Nate said.
“DHS is saying it was a case of food poisoning at one of the airport restaurants. Nothing to do with the terrorists.” He went back into the cockpit.
“Well, that makes me feel better,” Nate said.
“At least we know the world’s not ending,” Tony replied.
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