The rose-water hippie chick slips into her parachute with the kind of ease that doesn’t come from devoted practice as much as repeated, casual experience. She loops her arms around the straps of her personal backpack and holds it to her chest moving awkwardly forward through the rumbling, rocking cabin.
“Who’s Kyle?” she asks the Scribbler. “Is he the pilot?”
The twitchy man ignores her and continues stuffing his notebooks away and frantically grabbing at loose scraps of paper that are blowing out of them in the increasing wind.
“I tink, rather, HE ees Kyle,” the Professional says from the seat he has taken next to the struggling, silent pilot. “Vell, Kyle. You may be found, but I fear ve may all be lost.”
The Scribbler looks up, red, over-exhausted eyes wide and snatches up the parachute. “Excuse me there, Boris. How does this thing work?!”
Passing him, Susie Flowerpot scrunches up her face. “You should be nicer to people, Kyle. It’s kind of off-putting.” She steps up into the cockpit and addresses the two men. “What seems to be the trouble, boys? I mean, aside from the fellow who knocked on the window?”
The lithe young man who handed out the parachutes is already standing, confident that he could not land the jet any better than the pilot and knows that there are few moments left to do anything even potentially useful. In addition, between the twilight, the rain and the disintegrating windshield, visibility outside the jet is zero.
“Hi, I’m Belinda,” the hippie smiles as the Grim Samaritan again heads to the rear.
“Belinda,” he says, grabbing his gym bag and bracing himself at the emergency door above the wing, “Come viss me eef you vant to liff.”
“Been saving that up for a while, have you?”
“Years,” is the reply and then calling out into the plane, “Eef you are comink, Kyle, and belief me ven I say I don’t care, now is ze time.”
He ratchets the door and pulls it in. The force of the wet air is magnificent and sucks any further chances of speaking out into the night, but even if it alone wasn’t strong enough to do so, the sights outside the jet would have been.
They are far too low to use the parachutes, only 200 feet or so, and that number is dropping quickly, but the pilot is miraculously keeping the plane as level as can be hoped.
Kyle appears between them and the three watch the rapidly nearing cityscape rush by below them. An errant sheet of equations is caught in the maelstrom and vanishes out the door, the Scribbler’s mouth moving in a litany of unheard, agonized cursing. The hippie turns to him and then looks to the cockpit and back to the two men.
The moment they share is mute but unmistakable. Whatever the pilot might do in the next seconds, they are all positive he is not leaving the controls.
All in all, your average jet crash isn’t usually quite so calm.
The photographer has begun navigating the bus, camera held high in front of her, firing nonstop in every direction. “All in all,” she remarks from behind the viewer, “your average cross-country bus trip isn’t usually quite so chaotic. Is it?”
The newly dubbed Corporal L’Enfant clenches her jaw painfully to keep it from falling open from both frustration and confusion and in her moment of stunned silence, the Man in Black asks the driver, “How far, or how much longer, until we arrive? If you had to guess?”
Keeping her eyes locked on the Cocktail Queen, L’Enfant calls over her shoulder.
“He has been going in circles for the last 74 minutes. So, yes, Rabbi, wherever it is we’re going, we’re already there.” She speaks to the woman again. “Do you have any intel of use here? SMEAC? Orders to pass on? If not, shut up before I put a .45 slug up your ass.”
She pauses and waits for a response. Any response.
The one she gets is not preferred as the Cocktail Queen’s sleepy eyes shut and then fly open, accompanied by a one of those giggles that really only come from drinking too much champagne in movies.
“Wow. That was weird, huh?”
“Yeah. Didn’t think so.” L’Enfant takes a breath and then turns back to the front, “Okay. Driver, you’ll be at the intersection, AGAIN, in less than a minute. Pull up to the the hotel there… And, ‘Nope’ is not an option.”
But, she is ignored. In fact, it is obvious to everyone on the bus that she has never been more ignored in all of her life.
The Man in Black has gathered his things and is speaking softly to the driver who shows no signs that he is interested in anything but the road ahead. “I assume you know that the lady in back has taken the weapon from behind you?” he coughs nervously. “Just in case you thought you’d need it for our arrival… or some… contingency.”
The driver simply pats the little box labeled “FMG9″ in his lap and hits the gas suddenly.
“Speeding up is not stopping!” the Beast barks behind them.
And, while there is no way of knowing if it is an error in judgment or just a good move gone bad, the driver swerves heavily to the right as a low-running shape breaks the headlight beams of the bus. Under other circumstances, the driver could probably recover just fine, despite the shallow flood of the rain in the road.
As it is, however, that veer broadsides the bus into an unexpected wave of heat as it passes through the wash of a C-102 Avro Canada. The jet kisses its landing gear on the emergency exit bubble-window in the roof and the bus is kicked into a low, airborne tumble that would have been a lot more dramatic had there been two working turbines instead of one.
“Seargent Majors eat sugar cookies,” exhales the Cocktail Queen from the back of the bus just before the first impact.
The windows of the hotel lobby rattle as the bus barrel-rolls past them, pulling Aubrey from her bag lunch and worn 35c “Frankenstein” paperback. When the grinding of the jet along the wet pavement tears the air, she sets her sandwich down on the check-in desk.
But it isn’t until the tin-can crumpled bus comes to rest, bumping into the nose of the still corpse of the downed airliner and the sounds of slowing wheels within wheels, that she stands up.
On the one hand, the bus is on time, even early. “Nice job, Patrick,” she says under breath, impressed. “Of course, on the other hand…”
Aubrey pops a grape into her mouth and smooths her skirt and apron as she walks to the front doors. It is hard for her to judge the scene as good or bad, as she has never seen it happen like this before. She has seen a lot, but not this.
The young woman checks keys and the pantry and the linen closet to unnecessarily reassure her that she has everything the new arrivals need. “I don’t care who you are or why you’re here,” she half-sings to herself, “But hot showers and clean sheets make everything better.”
A sopping man in very expensive adventuring gear slides into a crouch behind the low three-step concrete rise leading into the dilapidated diner catching his breath. The wreckage is massive, flaming and steel. He pauses, surveying the scene and talking himself through it.
“The airliner came from the south…ish, clipped the bus running down Hartattack, flipped it and then… finally crashed headlong into it. Bad, bad, bad, bad physics.” Keeping his eyes open to anything else that might drop from the air, he scans for survivors. Nothing is moving yet. “See, Kyle, this is why you stay away from the city,” he mutters to the rain.
“We’ve lost them.”
“We lost them.”
“Both gone. Catastrophic.”
“Be specific with me. Are you saying that both the bus and the jet are destroyed?”
“To the best of our knowledge, sir.”
“Good. Lock it down.”
End of Chapter One.