It's 1979 and Justin Bieber has just bombed the Masjid al-Haram, Islam's holy site at Mecca. Pakistani students are storming the local offices of Bieber's record company, Island Def Jam. They are burning it to the ground. I am in a reinforced safe room in the basement and I am okay. I'm writing with a pen on some paper and there's a girl and she is painting a picture of a man without a face. It's a protest piece. Something about facial recognition technology. She asks me what I'm writing and I tell her that it is a script for a TV show. It's the final episode of Welcome Back Kotter.
"What are you talking about?" she says. "Welcome Back Kotter came on before I was even born."
I tell her what I'm talking about. "It's the one where Horshack is dealing with being married and Freddy and Epstein have a fight."
"What year is this?" the girl asks. Then she says "look at your phone."
"My phone says it is 1979."
And now things are weird between us. And someone is pounding on the door. It's Bieber.
"Let me in," he says.
"Let him in," the girl says.
"Don't come in," I shout. "You'll fuck everything up."
"Can't stop me," Bieber says. "I'm a member of the United States 361st Psychological Operations Company."
"Shit," says the girl and then she sends me a text message. He thinks we're terrorists.
The word is in my brain. TERRORIST.
And things are changing. There are thoughts. Memories. TERRORISTS.
This isn't a record company. They think I'm a terrorist. The music is loud. It's hard to think. Why do I have my phone? Why is she texting me?
"It's in the painting," she says. "Tell me about the painting."
"It's not my painting."
"Look at your hands," she says. "Tell me about the painting."
My hands are splattered with blood.
"It's paint," she says. "Tell me about the painting."
I'm closing my eyes and I can see things inside of my mind. Words and diagrams. Calculations. Code. Hardware. Wires and lenses and plastic casings. I'm inventing facial recognition technology.
She's sticking a needle into my veins.
"I'm an artist now," I say.
"Once a terrorist," she says.
"But I sold it," I say. "To the FBI."
"Indeed," she says. "But what came next. Ibiza, of course. But what after that?"
"Art," I say.
"You don't think we would track someone like you? Tell me about the Usuli Twelver Shī‘ah clerics."
"I packed it in after Ibiza. I swear."
"Tell me about the Hojatoleslam wal-muslemin."
"I was studying," I say.
"Fiqh, kalam, Bieber, tafsir, philosophy, science, language, literature. Please turn the music off. I can't think straight."
"You were Hawza."
"No," I say. "They wouldn't allow it. I was just learning. About myself. About the world. People."
"Bombs," she says.
"Bieber," I reply. "BIEBER."
I'm awake now. Bed. Hospital. Pakistan. The nurses are laughing and there is a soldier.
"You told them everything," the soldier says. "You should never tell them everything. Now come with me. We're going to see Justin."