Trump Sky Alpha, the rigid airship that docked on the roof of the White House and the roof of Trump Tower, a thousand-foot vessel from the bridge of which Trump delivered streaming YouTube addresses every Wednesday, DC to New York, and every Sunday, New York to DC, the ultra-luxury Zeppelin – ‘Crystal Palace of the Sky’ – on which the 224 seats (‘Luxury berths in an Open Loge Style’) went for a starting price of 450,000, a figure that jumped with the addition of various ultra-deluxe packages and enhancements, ‘Diamond’ and ‘Diamond Troika Elite’ tiers, four figures for the ‘Ten-Star Double Platinum Seafood’, ‘certified eight-pound’ lobsters with trump embossed on tail fin and right claw, wine pairings offered by the animated ‘Founding Foodie’ Ben Franklin on touchscreen, Franklin adjusting spectacles and cataloging flights of Trump Wine (‘An Exquisite Taste of Trump’), the Feu de Cheminée and the Blanc de Blanc de la plus Blanc, the final bill after disembarkment running to twenty pages or more of often obscure fees and surcharges, bag fees and negative weather clemency credits and per-use charges on the ergonomic loge controls – every seat adjustment noted by the system and itemized – the seats arranged in an oblong spiral that looped the transparent floor six times, the entire body of the aircraft constructed from a revolutionary transparent membrane stretched over a skeleton of moth-white aluminum, seats facing inward, amphitheater-style, and at the center a circular bridge of bulletproof glass, the views from all 224 seats opening vertiginously onto the National Mall or Central Park and Midtown as the craft lifted off, offering a ‘pristine God’s-eye view of our Great Nation’, seats sliding backward on mobile tracks, while a system of giant claws and pulleys yanked other seats up overhead and moved them forward, closer to Trump, the price of your enhancement package determining how far up you went, a leapfrog of one or ten seats, the ‘Troika’ or ‘Triple-Star Emerald Troika’ or ‘Deca-Diamond Troika Extreme’, the last of which, for a modulating price somewhere in the seven figures, placing you at Position #1, which you would then enjoy for a minute or an hour until someone else ordered it, everyone knocked back one position, chairs almost continuously moving backward on a track on the floor, clacking against each other, so Trump’s words were overlaid with big echoing vibrations like huge skee balls loading and sharp but stifled human gasps as giant claws snatched the next upgrader, seats whooshing overhead, at any given moment eight or ten or twelve seats zipping around unpredictably above, the transparent floor provoking a certain amount of nervous loge-adjustment as Trump spoke (each adjustment itemized), big spenders with corporate or government sponsors taking their turn up front as Trump gives his twice-weekly address at the helm of the Zeppelin, or if not the big spenders themselves then stand-ins the sponsors had hired, attractive actors filling in for company executives after earlier accidents and threats and attacks, Monsanto or McKesson or Chevron stitched prominently but tastefully on their suits or dresses, Trump’s hands on and then off the wheel as he gestures during his live-streamed address, seeming to float at the center of the craft, unleashing all the old familiar gestures, the little pointy duck bill, the poke, the palms-out ‘stop’ that would flow into a second gesture, fingers still fanned but palms turning in to face each other and then squeezing in and out as though meeting a resistant force, a crazy horizontal spring, Trump grimacing with the effort, elbows pinching into his waist, whole body contorting at the sheer ridiculousness of whatever enemy he was describing, Trump putting his rubberized face – by turns frog-lipped and hemorrhoidal, pig- and pop-eyed – through its paces, an array of comical disapprovals, hands resting now and then on the big gold-spoked wheel that at times seemed in his power and at others appeared to turn of its own accord, Trump almost floating there in the sky, drawing no salary, wholly removed from the business side of the Trump Organization and Trump Sky Alpha for the duration of his presidency – but he could still fly in it, couldn’t he? you’re not saying that’s illegal? – the whole bridge rotating behind its circular glass wall, making 360-degree rotations every four minutes, Trump turning and turning as Trump Sky Alpha twice a week made stately progress, warping the clouds and sky behind, above it a massive American flag with Trump’s face superimposed, squinting and grinning, the flag itself animated LED-enabled fabric, mirroring Trump’s expressions via real-time video capture, the highways and port cities of the eastern seaboard spread out below, Trump rotating and raising a fist, his voice filling the craft, Trump interrupting his own extemporaneous thoughts on the events of the past week to point or wink at a chair that had moved to the front (‘We’ve got Walmart coming up, looks like Ford right behind, try the surf and turf, it’s really fabulous!’) while several copilots and a whole team of staffers and security personnel and military folks worked in a concealed bay in the aft, a white opaque bay that was markedly empty tonight, no copilot, no staff, no passengers, Trump Sky Alpha tonight tearing its moorings from the White House roof, shocking the military and Secret Service and the White House staffers who milled about on the ground (even Trump’s private security caught flat-footed), staffers and military and members of the deep state who had told the president again and again that day, all day long, that under the extraordinary circumstances unfolding around the world, the nuclear attacks, the hundreds or thousands of ongoing conflicts, the millions or tens of millions already dead, Trump would absolutely not be permitted to fly Trump Sky Alpha, Mr President, we can get you into a bunker with full communication equipment and you can give your address there, you just can’t do it in a goddamn plastic blimp at the start of World War III.
In the afternoon Trump stopped arguing with them, got quiet, it was after Ivanka went on TV, after she said it was a mistake, the first nuclear launch, and after that Trump wouldn’t speak, which they realized later was a warning of things to come – there was Trump sitting catatonic in his big chair in the White House situation room for hours, papers piling up before him, he had authorized a plan the previous evening, a limited nuclear option, and this had been carried out, and Ivanka had gone on TV, weeping, to say it was a mistake, and ever since he had just sat in his big chair, all night and through the day, Trump in the situation room with the joint chiefs, options set down in black binders in front of him, options whose windows were passing rapidly, gone and replaced with new binders, Trump’s only real movement when Pence mentioned a possible transfer of power, just for the day, just for an hour, just so a few key decisions could be made, and Trump turned and half-stood, slow and bear-like and implacable, and open-palm smacked Pence’s face, knocked him down with a crack that silenced the dozen murmured conversations happening across the room, and there was a tense moment among the Secret Service and Trump’s private security, but Pence sat up and rubbed his head and said, I’m fine, it’s fine, and then all at once people were speaking, Mr President there are a range of options, here’s the big one, these are more measured, we advise an immediate response, it’s a dynamic and unfolding situation, we advise something limited but decisive, let me walk you through the details . . . Trump again silent, slouched in his chair, vacantly staring through a deep squint, eyes for long periods the narrowest slits, possibly closed altogether, it was his favorite day, the day he got to fly Trump Sky Alpha and do his live-streaming, twice a week it was his favorite day, but something had happened, today something had happened to his favorite day, and there was Pence, hovering again like a maître d’, moving between Trump and the other end of the room, where a certain humming awareness was coming into being, a panic that they, the generals, were watching, just watching, the world end, and there were plans, they had been drawn up very early, even before the inauguration, plans for the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, his mental illness, his – it had been decided – his dementia, these whispers going back and forth at the generals’ end of the room, yes, clear signs of age-related dementia, changes of mood, confusion, difficulty following conversations, and now was the moment to deploy it, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, compounded by the shock of what had happened to his family, not to Ivanka but most of the rest of the family who had been in New York, the series of attacks in New York among the precipitating events of the crisis, though now since the first ‘limited’ US nuclear response protestors had filled the streets, demanding peace, demanding no more of this, it was Lewy Body Dementia, that was the emerging consensus, somehow they had landed on Lewy Body Dementia, it seemed better than plain-old dementia, and they couldn’t just watch the world end, not when there was something they could do, Trump’s private security at the other end of the room sensing the threat taking shape, casually falling into positions around and behind the president, the generals and advisors and deep state, they had to do something, and so at last Pence gave the nod, and the chairman of the joint chiefs cleared his throat, and there was an almost slow-motion interplay of dozens of gazes and hands, hands on all sides of the room moving to the guns holstered under fine-tailored suits, it was all about to be resolved, one way or another, when suddenly Trump was lumbering very fast through the White House and up the stairs, in every hallway and stairwell strong-arming Secret Service out of his way, all the way to the roof access, Secret Service and military personnel asking each other at first jokingly and then not so much if they should just tackle him, but it happened so fast, he was already on the roof and then half- running up the gangway – it was time, the scheduled takeoff time for Trump Sky Alpha, though Trump had been told there would be no takeoff today, not at the start of World War III, didn’t he understand? – Trump’s feet landing with concussive thuds, and two Secret Service agents tried to take him by the arm (right there on the gangway stairs – it’s very dangerous to grab people on stairs, everyone knows that, especially on these flimsy gangway stairs that just go up and up, absolutely terrible!) and with shocking strength for an elderly overweight man, Trump hurled both agents off the gangway and pressed the button that closed it up behind him, three more agents actually grabbing onto mooring cables as the Zeppelin lifted off, struggling up their respective cables for a few seconds before plummeting to their deaths like losers – and that’s what they were, total losers – Trump in his glassed-in enclosure firing off a few quick tweets (‘Happy to be flying back to NYC! Beautiful night! Fake News Media WRONG as usual!!!’) as the bridge began to rotate, Trump Sky Alpha rising above the National Mall, which was wholly given over now to military operations, dozens of helicopters and tanks and armored personnel carriers on the green (‘Generals doing great job! Say they’re glad it’s me, not Hillary! Don’t listen to lying media. We Keep America SAFE!!!’), Trump activating the livestream, an array of cameras that cut automatically between Trump and the amphitheater-style seats with genuine leather accents, now empty, on what had been until this day a perpetually sold-out flight, two times a week, Trump Sky Alpha heading north, Trump beginning his address, the latest in his series of twice-weekly monologues, while behind him across the Potomac the Pentagon still smoldered, huge clouds of black smoke visible from several of the camera angles the livestream was cycling through, the sunset a lavender and black-and-orange melange that added painterly highlights to Trump’s coiffure, Trump turning the gold-plated wheel and touching levers and buttons that controlled the stabilizers and the rotor speed, and across the world the other Zeppelins in the fleet rose from their moorings, all of them linked together, all of them ‘Piloted by Trumptm’, it wasn’t a single aircraft, it was several dozen Trump Zeppelins across the globe, a sort of global interconnected organism, so that when Trump Sky Alpha turned right, the Zeppelins all turned right, when he turned left, they turned left, when he accelerated, they did the same, Trump’s hologram projected in real time onto the glass bridges of several dozen other Zeppelins, the Zeppelins all linked to his as in a pantograph, as connected pens that reproduce a single image at various scales (‘Based on Benjamin Franklin’s “Pantograph” Invention, the Ultimate in Luxury Travel’), Trump Sky Zeppelins in Taiwan, the UAE, Kuwait, the Netherlands, South Korea, Russia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and dozens of other locales, took off and followed the same paths, or had, until this night, when worldwide devastation had already rendered half the fleet inoperable, but against the backdrop of blackouts or massive fires the crafts that remained lifted off with Trump, in Kazakhstan tracer bullets sliced up the Trump Sky craft’s cabin, sliced up the people in the cabin, it took off as the floor of it broke free and all inside tumbled down except those who were already in the claws, and who burned to death watching a Trump hologram chatter and gesticulate (‘You wouldn’t know it from the press, just how beautifully it’s going, the media has been really terrible, there are a couple people – and I’m not going to name names – but there are a couple people who are just so disgusting, CNN and the failing New York Times’), and Trump passed over the Patapsco River and hit the button to click off the really tasteless just nasty Kazakh live feed, those people in the claws shrieking and engulfed in flames, but the button he pressed turned out to be the rear rotor reverse switch, and the nose of the craft went up sharply – noses all across the fleet did – and the 2,000-gallon wheeled lobster tanks crashed against the Mount Rushmore-style sculptures that separated the galley from the main cabin, and 2,000-gallon plate-glass tanks all around the world likewise shattered against sculptures of Trump and Eric and Trump Jr and Ivanka, sending huge crustaceans flying everywhere as passengers worldwide screamed in one voice.
The initial plans had been to replicate the flight path of Trump Sky Alpha at a 1:1 scale, and in the same compass bearings, though ultimately Trump had been convinced that the Zeppelins could be oriented in various directions depending on local need, but since the local need was in many cases nil, it still resulted in Zeppelin landing stations in the middle of the desert, or way out in some Hebei province backwater, where there were mountains and big ancient pagodas and other obstructions, so that at last a further compromise of sorts was made, the 221 miles from the White House to Trump Tower could be scaled up or down, and in Yemen, for reasons of security, after the first two were downed mid-flight by shoulder-fired missiles, the Zeppelin now lifted up and went ‘in place’, whereas the route from Brussels to Frankfurt was a near match, and the longest route in the fleet, from Moscow to Minsk, 446.7 miles, required the Zeppelin to travel at nearly double the speed of Trump Sky Alpha, which had led to the August disaster, but the craft had quickly been replaced and the route recertified, and passengers were leery, to say the least, after all the attacks and accidents, but it had been made clear that Trump wanted full flights, all of them full, it would not do to simply buy them out and send them up empty, Trump watched the crafts from video screens on the bridge of Trump Sky Alpha, and though there weren’t enough commercial passengers to fill them (and indeed, given the routes they took, and the times, there was very little utility to the flights, the flights from Brussels for instance left at three in the morning), but nevertheless, the flights were almost always full, booked far in advance, bought out by the sovereign wealth funds of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, China, and Hong Kong, as well as by corporate partners, the latter tricky at first, many corporations at first resisted – they had stockholders they were accountable to, they couldn’t be spending tens of millions on luxury travel – but soon it became clear that certain favors were being granted, playing fields tipped, regulations loosened or disappeared, sabers rattled more or less vigorously, so that in numerous ways, plausibly deniable and otherwise, those in the Zeppelins were accruing certain advantages: money that had previously been allocated to study peatland fires in Indonesia, fires which some individuals had claimed were major sources of carbon emission and global pollution, had been zeroed out; and State reversed its opposition to certain uses of lèse-majesté in Thailand, after all these people had their own ways and traditions and who were we to interfere; and Trump himself gave a big thumbs up in a Fox News interview to Azerbaijan’s overrun of Nagorno-Karabakh, as part of a larger package of policy initiatives geared to combat terrorism in the region; and in Zimbabwe, human rights restrictions were lifted following the death of Robert Mugabe, and the Zim diamond mines were in full swing, despite the fact that in the first months of his successor’s presidency over 200 students had been killed by police; and in Taiwan, we temporarily halted follow-on support to certain Tactical Information Distribution Systems that we had sold them; and sanctions were lifted in Yemen and Burundi and Belarus; and the Magnitsky Sanctions were swiftly and quietly scrapped; and those who were not buying into the fleet watched all this from the sidelines until at last they did not, it was the new world system and it seemed more and more that you could not avoid it, but the money that got you advantages a month ago was now not enough, it was always more, and corporations of various sizes, including the very largest multinationals, made extraordinary efforts, each according to their means, buying out the whole ship, for instance, or, on International British Petroleum Trump Sky Day, buying out the entire fleet, which was temporarily rebranded, a BP logo added to the rear stabilizers and onto the US flag itself, BP’s logo resting tastefully on the canton, while Trump’s face mugged and grimaced and gaped (within three months, offshore drilling rights were granted to BP all up and down the coast of California), and as nice as some of the seeming advantages were, those who still purchased seats but didn’t keep up with the rising prices of the ultra-luxe enhancements found their interests actively impeded, a less profitable week for a given aircraft could send mysterious vibrations throughout that country, a rash of bad fortune and destabilizing influences, said country scrambling to increase its purchases, to spend more, and where would it end, many wondered, where could it all end? so that when the first European Zeppelin was taken down by terrorists there were those who sighed a bit in relief, only to find the Trump Organization suing the European Union, threatening sanctions if the EU didn’t assume responsibility for rebuilding the Zeppelin and settling the lawsuits of the dead and massively compensating for the pain and suffering of the Trump Organization itself, two crafts built in its place, twice the demands from the Trump Organization, and the flights had to be full all of the time, but not only full, the passengers had to play perfectly the roles of enthusiastic supporters, smiling as they listened, and frequently applauding or cheering, they were good-looking, they were attentive and well groomed, not long after the fleet had launched there was a move to mix passengers with ‘modern dress’ and ‘traditional garb’, this custom had started with the flight in the Middle East, Trump cheerfully complimenting the mix of modern dress and traditional garb, then wondering out loud the next week why more countries didn’t do that, both modern dress and traditional garb, it really gave him a kick, and in India women in saris received the same compliments the next flight, and so the following week the proverbial dam broke, there were kimonos and kilts and dashikis and Brazilian carnival costumes and Maasai beadwork and Balinese temple dress and Filipino barong tagalogs in Zeppelins around the world, audiences serving up rapt and approving expressions as Trump played on their screens, Trump giving more thumbs up than ever, though on this night, the night following the first nuclear detonations, the fleet was half-empty, or the half of the half that had not already been annihilated was half-empty, and on the flights that weren’t ghost ships there was an air of disassociated panic, white knuckles, weeping faces, occasional screams, headdresses askew or clutched nervously in laps, two women on the Italian Zeppelin in dresses and hats out of La Dolce Vita rose in hysterical panic as huge lobsters caught in gearworks above popped and sprayed them with viscera, the women quickly gunned down by the twitchy Italian security, blood spraying the white loges as the Leaning Tower of Pisa silently slid by beneath, lobsters elsewhere causing big problems as they were ground into the pulley and claw systems, gumming up the works, chairs dropped in the wrong places, cracking, and in Rio actually shattering the transparent floor, the passengers plunging into Guanabara Bay, giant lobsters with branded trump claws and tails splashing down with them and then drifting contentedly to the seabed, Trump still talking, still calm (‘People have called me up crying and thanked me for saving their families, so many calls, now we wanted to keep that private, because I don’t think it’s anybody’s business if people are crying and saying Thank you, Thank you, Mr President, but you look at the people and families I’ve saved, we are talking about millions and millions’), though he did click off the Italian and Brazilian feeds.
But now Trump Sky Alpha was under attack, they had been tracking him, apparently, through his livestream, foreign fighter jets screaming in from God knows where, Trump couldn’t get the nose up, and he crashed with a cascade of sparks into some high-tension power lines that bounced him, sent him sailing back the other way, then a few dozen yards and the next bounced him back in the other direction on the central axis, it appears that the Zeppelin’s velocity, and the tensile strength and elasticity of the lines, and the distance between the towers, were all so perfectly calibrated that even though twenty or thirty lines were dangling from the Zeppelin’s snout, Trump Sky Alpha was still flying, its zigzag path actually helping Trump evade the enemy fighters, giving US planes the chance to shoot them down, Trump still talking, gestures more and more emphatic, conveying in general a look of confidence and ease, speaking the whole time (‘We’re going to rebuild much better anything that was lost to these animals, and that has been greatly, greatly exaggerated, we’re doing very, very well, I know how to build and if it was lost it is not really lost, it is going back better, just fabulous, you know I started off in Queens, my father gave me a small loan, and I made so much more, so much money’) while all across the world the linked Zeppelins following his movements without the power lines to bounce them back, and it was a slaughter, Abuja down, Abu Dhabi down, and in capitals and military encampments and shantytowns and suburbs throughout the world it was being reckoned, how this might affect the future, how Trump’s reaction to the failure of his fleet might affect the future of the world, as Trump lost control, as enemy planes flew at him and a fleet of US fighter jets and helicopters swarmed around Trump Sky Alpha, jets and helicopters defending Trump Sky Alpha, crashing when necessary into enemy aircraft, slicing through the power lines, and Trump Sky Alpha finally righted itself, rose up above the lines to a safer altitude, there in North Jersey, not far from his destination, but then an enemy fighter appeared, dozens had been shot down or crashed down in suicide runs by US aircraft, but this one came roaring in, hugging the ground and then pulling up sharply, huge suddenly at Trump’s feet, guns and missiles roaring, and slammed into Trump Sky Alpha, and it all blew up, Trump’s Zeppelin, with Trump on board, it massively exploded, taking out a half-dozen helicopters in its escort, the livestream now nothing but noise and fire, and around the world, millions held their breath, everyone watching an instant that seemed to float, the whole world floating in that suspended moment, and then the fireball dissipated, and there he was, Trump, still there, still going, no longer a full Zeppelin, envelope and metal frame burned or fallen away, it was just the glass amphitheater and the bulletproof glass bridge, all the empty seats in their oblong spiral, emergency safety rotors extending out over what is now a much smaller oblong shape with Trump at the center, a dozen moth-white rotors of various sizes keeping the craft afloat, flag still flying, a burned black collection of tendrils writhing like a tub of snakes, and a pale gaping skull-like thing where Trump’s face had been stamped, the rest of the fleet unlinked now and crashing, Trump seeming to float, hands at the gold wheel, still speaking, still smiling, ‘It’s New York now, it’s Midtown, there’s Trump Tower, Central Park, the best views, the best apartments. I have talked to the generals and the generals who are with us have given me some really, really wonderful codes to work with, and the codes are beautiful, just beautiful,’ he said, and right there he authorized it, there aboard Trump Sky Alpha, on the YouTube livestream, he authorized the big one, the biggest possible response, lobsters in Bermuda and Turkey and Paris raising branded claws in silent salute as the flames engulfed them, the last remaining cameras going dark, helicopters and fighter jets crisscrossing the airspace around and in front of the big transparent capsule surrounded by whirling rotors, US President Donald J. Trump floating at the center of it all, he pressed the automated descent button, and the livestream cut out for a final pitch for boutique shopping experiences (Ivanka on video offering bangles and Donald J. Trump signature neckwear and vacation ownership opportunities) and then back to Trump, full frame, at the wheel of the Trump Sky Alpha, another thumbs up to the YouTube livestream audience, to all those watching, those who still had internet, those still alive, and in the situation room, among and between all the generals and the members of the deep state and now even Trump’s private security apparatus, a certain humming awareness, a panic that they were watching, just watching, the world end, and wasn’t there something they could do, but there were too many, too many different strategies, they were each locked into their own roles, and Trump had already announced it, the big option, right there on the livestream, to the whole world, to all our allies and enemies, and around the world protocols and contingency plans were going into effect, there just wasn’t any time, just no way to wiggle out of the moment, to say sorry, to say stop, to say we fucked up, nothing to be done, or rather, they could do the big one, or just nothing, sit passively, hemmed in by life and by all the possibilities they couldn’t quite dream into the real, and they understood that to play was to lose, but not to play was something worse, and so it was the football, the gold codes, it was all initiated, it would start very soon, it was all just minutes away, the big event, the one we’d been waiting for for the better part of a century, the button got pushed, it was easy, sure, it really was, now that it had happened, across the Midwest and elsewhere the missiles took to the sky as President Trump landed softly on the roof of Trump Tower, not listening for but hearing nonetheless, somewhere far below, faint and inescapable as his own heartbeat, the oceanic roar of protestors flooding the streets of Manhattan.
Photograph courtesy of the author
Cover image © J Jakobson