“The Respected Profession”

Why did I sign up for this, Danny Finnegan’s brain kept asking as he dragged himself to the studio. He knew being a news anchor would be difficult, but he hadn’t reckoned with the 3:00AM call time. Luckily, the studio’s food synthesizer made excellent coffee. He entered the grey stone building at 2:58, the soundproofed double set of doors blocking the San Francisco traffic out. He ruffled his sandy brown hair, revealing the light touches of grey that his wife avoided mentioning. He smiled at the interns, politely asking the nearest young man to get him a cup of coffee. As the eager youth ran off, Danny’s Co-anchor Kathleen Asher arrived.

“Morning,” she mumbled, looking as though she very much wanted her pantsuit to magically change to sweats. David was grateful for her, though. Kathleen was his best friend, helping get through the monotony of the 4:00 News.

“Same to you,” he said, patting her on the back. Kathleen smiled and brushed her fiery red hair away from her face. “Shall we go to makeup?”

Kathleen led the way to the makeup stage, where the coffee had been delivered by the intern. The two of them only took 15 minutes to prepare for the cameras. They had been doing this for 4 years, after all. And they knew what it took to even get this horrible morning shift. They were grateful. Now that the government had taken over the news outlets as Daily Briefings and Entertainment, the training and scrutiny for journalism professions was intense. Journalists were the best of the best in 2063; they were paid ridiculous salaries, they were trusted by the public, and faced harsh punishment for betraying their citizens. Only 12% of students in Journalism training made it through.

David and Kathleen both lived in San Francisco; David in the Marina, Kathleen in Noe Valley. The Studio was halfway between them, in a grand building that DBE used for their Northern California headquarters. The makeup stylists knew their every whim; Kathleen liked neutral makeup, no reds or pinks because of her hair. The interns knew the exact coffee to ask for, the pastries each of the anchors liked; Danny preferred dark roast with one sugar and a cheese danish. In return, the anchors wrote heartfelt letters of recommendation for all the interns, and always took them out for breakfast or drinks. Each one got a very nice Christmas present, and every intern’s mother giggled and sighed at the autographed photos they sent home. Every now and then, a female intern would try to make a pass at Danny, and he always politely brushed her off. There was no getting ahead in this job.

But today there was a strange air in the studio. Everyone was quiet, there was a rush to get out of makeup. For once the stylist didn’t make small talk, didn’t make witty jokes. The interns were tense, hovering in doorways and whispering to one another.

Fully camera ready, the same intern who had brought coffee produced their tablets for the broadcast. “What’ve we got today, Scott?” Kathleen said, giving him her best TV Smile. Scott stammered and blushed. Danny nudged Kathleen.

“U-um, we h-have a big one,” Scott mumbled.

“What kind of big one?” Danny asked. “Bridge collapse big, impeachment big, Godzilla big?”

Scott shook his head. “Bombings big. Big as in, as soon as you’re briefed you need to get on air, big.”

Danny heard Kathleen take in a sharp breath. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

“A bomb?’

“Yessir. One in the White House, another in the capitol. One in New York, one in Sacramento, and one….one here, one in mid-SF. The bomber called headquarters an hour ago.”

“Here? Why here?”

“I don’t know, ma’am, I just know that one was said to be here.” For once, Scott was able to look Kathleen in the eye.

Danny ran his hand through his hair again. This was a huge story. This could save people’s lives. This was his chance. “Alright Scott,” he said calmly, as he did every morning, “tell it like it is, and then we’ll tell everyone else.”

 

At precisely 4:00AM, the cameras switched on.

“Good Morning,” Kathleen said, “I’m Kathleen Asher and this is Danny Finnegan. This is an urgent news broadcast this morning, December 10th, 2110. Those of you in New York in the shopping district, those in Washington DC near the Capitol and the White House, those in Sacramento near the Capitol,” here Kathleen visibly gulped, “and those in the downtown district of San Francisco area are under a warning of a bomb threat. An individual as yet unknown to the police called DBE this morning to warn of bombs planted in these general areas. Police are currently sweeping, and SWAT has been deployed.”

“The alleged bomber gave the time of planned detonation,” Danny added, “all bombs are to go off at 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time. Those on the West coast, 5:00 AM. If you can evacuate, please do so in an orderly and calm fashion. The police have sent out alerts to every home and phone number, and will be knocking on doors for the next hour. We are as yet unsure of the motivation behind this planned attack, or how the bomber managed the cross-country trip.”

“As many of you know, we here in DBE San Francisco are located within the radius of the bomb.” Kathleen glanced at the producer. He gave her a small nod. “While we have been ordered to evacuate, we have chosen to stay at the desk, to give you live updates. If the time comes when the bomb will be detonated, we will evacuate as mandated.”

“Until that time, as Kathleen said, we will continue with the news and updates on this situation as usual.” Danny glanced down at the somewhat trite stories now scrolling on his tablet. “The Prime Minister of Britain today addressed parliament regarding…”

For the next tense 20 minutes, they read the usual news briefings. Kathleen was professional to the camera, but Danny could see her hands shaking and her muscles jumping in her jaw. His own heart was thumping, with every passing moment he was more convinced he was going to die. He considered calling his wife, but he couldn’t do that on air. She always watched his broadcasts, she would know to grab their son and run. They could go to his parents’ house in Marin. He used the tablet to message her, thus looking as though he were calling up another story.

Behind the cameras, the producer heard the phone ring. One of the interns shakily picked it up. “DBE SF,” she said quietly. “Yes sir, he’s right here. Yes sir.” She motioned to the producer.

“Hello?” He said into the phone.

“Why hell are they staying on air??” The Director of DBE yelled into his ear. “All our other offices in bomb areas have evacuated, it’s policy-”

“Yessir, I understand that. I tried to explain this to them, but they denied the option. They pointed out that while it is policy, any member of the team can acknowledge and disregard their own personal safety in a crisis situation. Having all signed the contract, every person in the studio has fully acknowledged and declined. The interns, however, will be leaving as soon as the half hour hits.”

The Director clearly had not expected such a concise answer. He huffed and blustered for a moment. “Just make sure everyone is evacuated by 10 till, dammit,” he growled, and rang off. The producer was not shaken; he had expected this. He checked his watch, and seeing it was 4:29, he motioned for the anchors to announce the interns were to leave.

“At this time,” Danny said as Kathleen finished the piece on a women’s rally, “all interns are to evacuate the building. This is for their safety. The camera crew, our producer, and we as anchors will be staying. We have not heard -”

Suddenly, the studio phone rang again. Danny glanced up. The producer took a deep breath, and picked up the phone. Danny saw his face drain of color, and he pressed the recording, then the text-to-script buttons. A scroll began on the tablets. Danny cleared his throat.

“I stand corrected, we are now receiving a call from the San Francisco police. The bombs are placed in the government buildings, yet here in San Francisco the possible buildings have been narrowed down to this very studio. It seems the bomber has been caught. I repeat, the bomber has been apprehended, but his name has not yet been released and he is not revealing the exact location in the building of the San Francisco bomb.”

Kathleen started violently shaking. The producer and the camera crew exchanged glances. The producer muttered something to the crew, and they left with the last interns. Scott was one of the last out the door. He glanced behind him, nodded at Kathleen and Danny, and disappeared to safety.

“It is now 4:35,” Kathleen said, her voice high but strong. “Our camera crew is leaving the building, and thus no channel promotions will happen during this time. We are now warning those within a 50 block radius of the DBE studio to evacuate immediately.

“Should we be forced to evacuate, we will shut down the studio and there will be no programming from the west coast until the studio is reopened,” Danny said, his stomach suddenly very still.

For the next several minutes, they continued to give real time quotes. The scroll was still running on the tablets, and suddenly the screen was filled with a police warning; THOSE IN THE DBE SF STUDIO EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY. WILL DETONATE SOONER THAN PLANNED. SWAT ASSISTANCE OUTSIDE.

“Kathleen,” Danny said, and she nodded. The producer nodded grimly. It was time to go.

“We have now been informed that the bombs will be detonated ahead of schedule,” Danny said. “This is DBE SF, signing off.”

The light on the camera went black.

And the floor suddenly heaved up, then disappeared from under them with an ear-splitting roar.

Danny propelled himself forward, grabbed Kathleen and twisted her above him. She was screaming, but he was remarkably calm. He needed to land under her, to cushion the blow.

They hit the ground hard. Danny was blinded by the pain in his back. He knew it was broken. He was disoriented. Debris was falling all around them. He heard screaming and dogs barking. His vision was slowly decreasing. Kathleen was unconscious, just barely not being crushed by a desk.

Silence suddenly descended. Danny was dimly aware of people moving. He had no idea how much time had passed.

“HERE!” he yelled, with the last of his strength. “WE’RE OVER HERE.” He felt a cold wetness near his head, and saw a body-retrieval dog barking above him. Several EMT’s surrounded him, and lifted him and Kathleen out of the debris.

Someone was above him, shaking his shoulders. His wife? Danny fought the darkness surrounding his vision. Jackie. Jackie, why was she here? Where was Connor? Where…

Two years later, Kathleen Asher presented the Danny Finnegan Bravery Award to Scott Smith, for exemplary journalism in the face of danger, when he reported on the news while in a war zone before being shot at and dragging his camera man to safety while severely wounded. “You have shown exceptional courage in the face of great danger, and you have served the people well in your pursuit of the the truth,” she said. “Danny Finnegan would have been proud.”

Scott bowed his head, as Jackie Finnegan clapped in the front row, tears streaking her face.