I couldn't help myself, as I walked by, I stopped at the window and tried to hide the wincing of my guilt. They all sat on the clinically stark plastic seating of the bus terminal and stared at the dusted cold of the white tile floor. Their sullen faces reflected their disbelief in what was happening to them. They were about to be put on buses and hauled off to some undisclosed government-imposed quarantined area. Or dare I say, internment camp? And it was my fault, just as much as anyone's. My knees shook and my back stood tall to grab my failing legs and stop me from falling from the thought of my role as a failed friend to these people.
I tried to swallow my shame, but it didn't go down easy. After all, that type of thing was not supposed to happen these days. Unfortunately, our elected Congress had gone insane with power, like found-on-the-floor-rolling-around-naked-in-their-own-power, kind of insane. And they were using it in odd and frightful ways that made one shake his or her head reading the headlines that came out about every ten minutes.
I watched as a hazmat team, in full gear, filed in and surrounded the edges of the terminal to wait for the busloads to leave. Their job, to protect society from every last, possibly infected, dead skin cell of this entire group of people. Nothing was to be left untreated or uncontained. These people, who thought they had outlived the stigma of their condition and could go on living normal lives, were about to be banished from American society.
It started as an ignored headline about a State Representative wanting to quarantine anyone who was HIV positive. It didn't make any sense why this group would be more of a risk now than they had been for the preceding decades. We knew so little about how to combat the progression of HIV/AIDS back then, but there had been so many advances. How could they be more of a risk now that the virus was not an instant sentence to death row anymore?
Apparently that was the Representative's reasoning. She felt that since now they lived longer lives, they could infect more people. At first everyone had written her off as crazy. No one was going to quarantine anyone, but then the situation escalated. Her accusation of people infecting others acted as a trigger for three people. The next headline that splashed the news was, Spiteful Three Infect Dozens.
Hiding their positive status, the three went on a binge and infected dozens of people. As HIV no longer meant death, the three weren't charged with murder or attempted murder as they would have been in the past. They were sued in Civil Court by their victims, but none of three had money or assets. There would be no real reparation.
It was broadcast over all media that since these three people banded together to perform this act, certainly everyone infected could band together to form a terrorist organization and eventually infect everyone, or at least threaten to. The idea went viral and social media threw a lot of people into a panic. At this point Congress found a foothold to grab on to more power. They presented their ideas to the President and the next thing we knew he issued an Executive Order. It somewhat resembled Executive Order No. 9066 that interned those of Japanese heritage during WWII and also somewhat resembled the reasoning behind the situation at Guantanamo Bay. It stated anyone who tested HIV positive was a sudden and imminent threat to the rest of society and should be treated as a wartime combatant and/or terrorist. All this apparently fell under the blanket of the continuing War Against Terror. This group of people would need to be removed and guarded by Homeland Security and would be quarantined under the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Big department names tend to trick some folks into believing information is credible and that the Departments should be trusted. Quite a few frightened Americans bought into it. The President, helped out by Congress, just decided it was so, wrapped it up in a complicated Executive Order and crammed it into the ears and minds of the public. There was a huge propaganda push to move this forward.
It didn't make sense to a lot of us and frightened us for a whole different reason, the loss of freedom. Why were these people more dangerous than crazy gunmen, opioid addicts or even guilt-ridden rebels, like me, who were out walking our streets? Why were they singled out? And what group would be next?
Demonstrations and meetings against the internment started to pop up everywhere. Social media gave us a platform for a while until the Patriot Act wiped out our sourcing. After that it was word of mouth and old school methods printed on basement presses.
The speakers in the terminal crackled. People's eyes looked up with a glimmer of hope. An announcement that more detainees were arriving forced a long sigh from the crowd and their eyes sank back to the tile floor. My reflection in the window remained unchanged, my eyes and lips locked in regret.
To get any group shunned or banished, Congress would have to find a way to prove who these people were and that these people were what the government said they were. We wouldn't want to have the government going on any kind of witch hunt, like they had so many times in the past. They evaded that label this time by finding an identifiable component to blame. They defined this hunt as a quest to save us all. For this particular quest for survival, we were told we would all need to succumb to government-mandated blood testing to see if we came up positive.
That's when all hell broke loose and we landed on the doorstep of a revolutionary riot. Unfortunately, it was a very short doorstep. Imposed blood testing set the conspiracy theorists into full swing over the internet and HAM radio. Who among us would say they were wrong? How long would the government keep the samples? What else would they test for without public knowledge? There had always been a dark side to the government which had been kept classified, easily denied and forgotten about until the people were individually affected. But now, we were all subject to become an experiment, an outcast, a burden, a plague, part of a group the rest of society could or should do without.
I could see the Positives that joined the revolution to fight for themselves hidden in the posture of some of the people through the window in front of me. Fists clenched, eyes straight on, and standing tall. Yet, they stood tall behind glass, like fighting fish in a tank that if not given something else to fight might turn on each other at any moment. It made me feel sick to my stomach that I could stand outside the glass and allow it to happen, for any period of time. There wasn't any choice. If I did anything to try and help right now I'd be shot. It felt like an excuse, but it was the truth.
A revolution might have worked if the US troops were still deployed everywhere else but here, but since they had all been brought home, the government had a bit more force than We, the People. As the protests grew against Congress and their blood tests, the military began to deploy armored vehicles around the Capitol building. I was standing in the forward crowd, with a perfect view, the day the strength of that force of tanks and troops doubled. The silhouette of armed power came over the horizon like a nightmare marching into reality. It was terrifying. One could almost see the protest crowd take a collective step backward, but only for a moment before they lurched forward with signs held high and chanted with more vigor than before. Even with the security blanket of my own semi-automatic at hand, I knew it was more than we could take. A couple people had armored vehicles, but nothing that would out-power the full strength of the US Military.
Shortly thereafter, the rumors were confirmed that free elections were now over. A totalitarian tank infestation was not going to win votes to keep anyone's seat in office. We had fallen under complete command. Over just a few days, tensions grew to the point the government began giving orders to fire into the protesting crowd. Oddly enough, that order brought more protestors, which essentially exterminated more of the resistance with every round. From time to time the military would just take out the front line of protestors or gun down a defector running from their own side. Even the well-armed, camo-clad civilian militias we all knew we would need some day fell short. We tried, we really did, but our limited barn and basement arsenals didn't have enough fire power for this battle. If we continued to protest and fight, we were going to wipe ourselves out, especially the most passionate and well-armed folks who were always up front. We couldn't defend ourselves against the current oppression. We needed to regroup. We needed strategy. We needed time. Word of mouth spread and the protests stopped.
We knew the only way to do what we needed to do was to abandon the protests and submit to the blood testing. We had to work underground on an overthrow. Submitting was exactly what we didn't want to do, but what we had to do. We sacrificed the dignity of a few, these people staring at the floor inside this window of the bus station, to try for the dignity of us all. My gut shifted and my image on the glass tried to rebalance itself to a more steady position.
When it had been my turn for testing, I stood in line, thick in my guilt, for two hours. The weight of my shame jabbed shards of pain into my lower back while I stood. I held back the tears of defeat when the needle of simulated surrender plunged into my vein. I wondered if maybe death wouldn't have been a better choice, the right choice. No, just an easier and ineffective choice. I just had to suck it up and move on to do what was right and effective.
No one was too high up in the public eye to escape the testing either. A few Congress people tried to bury the fact they tested positive, but to no avail. They were wrangled in and thrown out like the rest.
Accusations flew, people trying to escape bloodwork were tackled by soldiers and tested right in the middle of the streets. Others just stepped around or in some cases, over the scene. It was disgusting to view. People were retested as many times as accused, even though they had already been verified negative. Note, not one of the people with a positive result got a second test, a second chance. Those who came up positive were deported immediately to this bus station. Here, they waited for an endless detainment, feeling they were missing out on a better life. For some, they'd likely handle it fine, already trained by social media. For others, it would probably become unbearable. I could see SUICIDE stamped across some of their slumping shoulders.
For me, they served as a living diorama of my own weakness and failure. Maybe in time I (we) could, and I (we) would try, but there was no reason to believe our efforts would be successful. Our try at revolution would be forgotten. It didn't matter because it didn't work. We failed. I failed.
Through the clear barrier separating me from the certain stench of hatred and desperation in that overcrowded room, I saw each of them sit and wait for a new revolution, a savior, or a bus. All I could do was look on, both at them and my own defeated reflection, as I waited for the same.