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Terror and Texas

You are in range.
You are in range.

Halfway through Dr. Catlos' "Earth Materials" class, the sirens climbed from moaning to screaming. Then, less than ten seconds later, they stopped. Students, near the Castaneda library, looked at each other, wondering if it was the usual test. Then, the sirens began again. Whatever argument was going on in the UTPD control center, it was resolved: shit was going down.

Students, as they are wont, checked their phones. Get out of the buildings and get away from them.

Texas has had a special relationship with terror ever since, as any Management major can tell you, Walt Whitman climbed up the Tower.

You can tell when the student body at UT realizes the seriousness of the semester that is upon them, because they stop washing said bodies very often. The funk means We're Texas and we're serious. That day was yesterday and, though I shudder to retell it, today ... it rained. Eau d'humanity!

Young men and women pressed out onto sidewalks and streets, comparing speculations and texting friends, and wondered if they were "out" and "away" enough to comply with the order. Not for a Government prof who stepped out of Mezes and shouted "GET OFF CAMPUS -- NOW!!!." And the herd began to move. Not because of an official order, but because some member of our community with a loud voice didn't want to see Virginia Tech happen here. Because it already happened here, back before anyone gave two shits about Virginia Tech. Before today's college freshman's parents were born.

The bombs were scheduled to go off at eleven. UPDATE: The speculation now is that the ghost bombs were set for 10:05am Phony Boom Time.

When the time came, the silence was deafening. Twelve shuttle bus routes were gone. 36,000 students weren't bored or befuddled or eyeing the wastepaper basket in the hall with Thurday night's hangover and grim determination. The campus population was decimated. They were all at coffeehouses, crashing their wifi. Whole cellular services shut down. There were bodies everywhere, on the drag, on Dean Keeton, bodies in short shorts and t-shirts fit to stop traffic and strain marriages. Terror had come to Texas, and registered on exactly zero faces. You had to wait for the faces to look up from their phones, but that's how it was.

Do you think I am out of line? Let me explain. Years ago, a scant two years after 9/11, an old Brit prof said to me that he didn't understand why American politicians spent so much time talking up terror. He'd lived through it, The Troubles, when the IRA was blowing up shopping malls and killing parade horses with flying nails. And he told me: the only way to win, to beat them, is to get on with your life. Fear is what they want, so laugh, work, drink, and screw. OK, he didn't say that last part, but I figure he was talking about the 70's, when he was a younger man. When someone tries to scare you, laugh in their face. If you can nail their girlfriend too, that's a plus, but don't forget the laughing part.

By the time Dr. Hersh's students were drifting toward the Drag to go to their Regression Analysis lecture in the Flawn Center (used to be "The Ugly"), they encountered huge mobs of their fellow students, most with umbrellas, all thumbing their phones, or repeating questions and answers into them. We don't know. By the time they realized what was going on, they would have been in range of the Tower.

Live long enough on campus and you don't just become aware of the threat of another Tower shooting, you want to be there, because you want to be the guy laying suppressing fire on the tower, or spotting the shooter for the guy who does. Every UTPD officer must dream of pumping the lethal rounds into the shooter before they die, covered in bits of Kevlar and glory. Deep in the collective unconscious of the Longhorn, there is a Homo Bevonicus in a cave, clacking the ritual obsidian knife into the chalk heart of a crudely-drawn gunman, intoning "*never again" in middle-high Indo-Dripping Springs.

Shortly after they installed those sirens, some headcase walked onto campus with a Kalashnikov and penetrated as far as the PCL. Lucky for us, he came on a mission of suicide. He stood in an elevator with a couple of students, who perhaps tried not to look at him while Chuck Mangione played the flugelhorn solo on "Girl from Ipanema" over the Tannoy, and then he strode out into the 6th floor, past the Young Adult collection and a bunch of Dutch literature, and blew his lid off. We got lucky. But now, you can bet your sweet ass that everyone on campus, unless they're new, hears those sirens and feels some fraction of a cramp in the pit of their gut that others have, when they heard that howl and looked to the skies.

Farr's students would not be meeting for today's lecture, in Belmont, on the Treatment and Prevention of Athletic injuries. Nor would any other class.

Keep calm, and hook 'em.