The scenery was back. There was blue sky above them and dark grey peaks below them, some with snow caps, and a few probably deep blue lakes scattered here and there. Except the sky was now everywhere around them, too, because there was no plane to prevent the view. Bianca and Michael hung suspended in the air, both still sitting on invisible seats. Michael’s cursing stopped abruptly as both realized they were not falling.
“What the hell is this?” Michael whispered hoarsely. “What happened?”
Bianca shook her head and groped for the yoke. It was still there but she couldn’t see it. Bianca exhaled sharply and squeezed it, more to stop the shaking of her hands than any greater control over the plane.
“Yoke’s still here. The plane is still here, since we’re breathing,” she said, gulping air. “And we’re not falling.”
Michael didn’t respond. He was listening to something.
“Listen to the screams,” he said, raising his index finger as if the screams were coming from above rather than the cabin behind them. “Shouldn’t there be more people screaming?”
They both turned back to the now invisible cockpit door just as Samantha burst through it in a series of movements that made her look like she was miming opening a door and made their eyes hurt.
“What is this, captain?” the hostess said, her lips trembling. “Is it some kind of experiment? And shouldn’t we be informed if it was beforehand? I mean, the crew.”
“What are you talking about?” Michael asked just as Bianca said “I don’t know about any experiment.”
“The passengers are gone except a handful and the plane… We are still on the plane, aren’t we?”
“What do you mean the passengers are gone?” Bianca said. A streak of sheer freezing coldness crawled down her gut and settled in the pit of her belly. This could not be an experiment. They had to have informed her about any tests or studies that involved her plane and crew. And if it was an experiment, those in charge were going to pay. Through the nose.
“They have disappeared,” Samantha said and glanced nervously over her shoulder as if to make sure she was speaking the truth. “The seats are empty, not that you can see the seats, it’s all sky and mountains all the way down and in every direction,” She took a deep breath. “I counted five people besides me. And the rest of the crew’s gone as well.”
Bianca met Michael’s eyes she’d been feeling on her for a while. Then she felt for the radio panel. She could only see sky and the Alps but under her fingers she felt the flat surface and the switches. She keyed the microphone.
“Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.This is Skyhigh flight 311 and we have an emergency.” She paused.
“How do you explain this kind of emergency?” Michael said quietly.
“The plane has gone invisible,” Bianca said and winced. “I repeat, the plane has gone invisible and we cannot see our instruments.”
They waited. Samantha gingerly stepped forward and propped her hands on the invisible backs of their invisible seats. The screams from the cabin had devolved into sobs and sniffs now. They waited some more.
“Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is Skyhigh flight 311. Our plane has lost visibility. I repeat, this is Skyhigh flight 311 and our plane has lost visibility. We cannot see and use our instruments.”
She was midway through the fifth repeat of the distress signal when a new voice said:
“There’s nobody there.”
All three swung back. A boy stood at the door. His dark eyes looked like live embers on a sheet-pale face.
“I’ve read a story like this. It’s by Stephen King. In it a plane goes into another dimension and there’s nobody there.”
“I can assure you this is not a real-live version of The Langoliers,” Michael said. “What’s your name?”
“Are you traveling alone?” Michael continued.
“With my mum. She was selected for an exhibition at a museum in Copenhagen. She’s an artist. Was.” Gary sniffed.
“We don’t know yet what’s happened to everyone,” Samantha told the boy gently. “Come on, let’s leave the pilots do their work and go meet the other, um, passengers.”
“You were going to say survivors,” Gary said but took the hand she was offering him. “That’s okay. I know we’re survivors.”
The look Samantha shot Bianca before she led Gary out was one of alarm and confusion. That look reflected precisely the way Bianca herself felt.
“What’s this story you talked about?” she asked. “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is Skyhigh flight 311. Our plane has lost visibility. I repeat, this is Skyhigh flight 311 and our plane has lost visibility. We cannot see and use our instruments.”
“It’s a horror novella. A plane goes through a multidimensional tunnel in the sky and ends up in a dead world.”
“Right. Fantasy.” Bianca said and sighed. “I’ve tried every frequency. We seem to be on our own.”
“Yes.” Michael said softly.
“Yes,” he said with a nod. “Bianca, you sent the mayday signal half a dozen times. If there was anyone to hear it they would have responded by now.”
“So, you believe we’re in a stupid horror story? Is that it?” There was a shrill note in her voice that made the hairs on the nape of her neck stand on end. “So, what’s next? We fly forever in this dead world?”
“I have no idea. Also, if you think I’m not scared, you’re wrong. I’m shit scared but I know you can get us back on the ground.”
Bianca shook her head with a bitter smile.
“This is not the time for a pep talk, Mike. I can’t use my instruments. I can’t see the altimeter. I can’t see anything I need to land the plane.”
“It’s not a pep talk. It’s—”
The plane’s nose dipped. The plane was descending. Bianca gritted her teeth to keep the gasp of shock inside but the passengers screamed again. A woman’s “What’s happening?” clashed with a man’s “Oh, no!” Bianca pulled on the yoke with all her strength. Michael mimicked the movement.
“It’s not moving,” he said through clenched teeth after a couple of seconds. “Why the hell is it not moving?”
Bianca did not respond. She was still pulling despite the fact this had no effect whatsoever on the plane’s behaviour. She was pulling because there were only peaks below them. They had to continue cruising until they reached flatter land. They had to stay in the air.
The plane’s nose rose. Bianca relaxed her grip on the yoke.
“I don’t understand.” Michael was staring at the mountain range below them. “Do we have a mechanical problem? Why did it take so long to respond?”
“I wish I could tell you but I can’t see a bloody display.” Bianca wiped her forehead and looked in confusion at the back of her palm. It was damp with sweat but Bianca never sweat. Not in the cockpit, not in the gym, not in the heaviest, dampest heat of the summer.
“What’s wrong?” Michael had resumed his watch of her every move.
Her forehead furrowed.
“I don’t sweat, Mike. I never sweat.” She spoke quietly, tapping the last remains of energy that weren’t yet eaten up by shock, fear, and the weight of responsibility for more lives than just hers. “I never sweat.”
“Well, I can remember a few times you did sweat in a certain context. Why does it bother you so much?”
Bianca was shaking her head before he had finished.
“This is not the same. Not the same at all.”
“Okay. Do you feel anything else out of the ordinary?”
Bianca did not answer immediately. She gazed at the peaks below for a few seconds, the creases her forehead smoothing, mouth pressed tight. Her quick internal probe revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Besides the sweating.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “Sweating is out of the ordinary, Mike, that’s why it bothers me. On top of everything else that’s so out of the ordinary it’s practically fiction.”
“It could be the stress,” he said, shrugging. “I don’t feel any different. But I really want to know where all those passengers disappeared.”