Michael unbuckled his belt and stood up. As he walked to the door Bianca caught a whiff of freshly washed clothes. Michael’s smell, all too familiar even after three years. That Cambridge memory had entrenched itself deeply into her mind, details and all. Bianca shook her head to dislodge it. She couldn’t think of anything she needed less than a sweet memory from a dead past when she was trying to come to grips with a very sudden and radical change in reality. And she had people depending on her with their lives.
“Hi everyone, I’m your first officer, my name is Michael and I have an announcement to make.” He’d left the door open.
“What happened to the plane?” a woman asked.
“As you can see, it has become invisible and we don’t know why. But we can still control it. Our captain will bring us all down safely to the ground. However, we’ll need to make some preparatory maneuvers that might feel scary. I assure you the plane is under control. Yes, sir?”
“Where is everyone else?” A deep voice, that one, slightly cracked. An older man.
“We don’t know that either, I’m afraid.”
“Are we landing in the mountains? Because this sounds insane.” The woman again. A no-nonsense voice, the voice of someone who was quick to gather their wits and deal with a crisis.
“No, madam, we will wait until we pass the Alps and find a flatter place to land. Hopefully an airport.” This got a weak laughter from someone, maybe Samantha
“If this was some sort of experiment,” the older man’s voice said “you would tell us, won’t you?”
Someone clicked their tongue incredulously.
“This is not an experiment, sir,” Michael said. “I know of no technology that can do this to a plane, much less so in mid-air.”
“But maybe we’re not in mid-air,” the non-nonsense woman said. “It could be a simulation.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure we are in mid-air,” Michael said. “I was there when we took off.”
Silence followed. There were no more comments to be made at this time.
“All right then, buckle up and, I guess, enjoy the scenery,” Michael said. It didn’t get a laugh.
“How do they look?” Bianca asked when he returned to the cockpit and retook his place.
“Scared,” he said. “No one looks dangerously scared, though, and I’ll take this as a good sign.” He rubbed his head again.
“Yeah, my whole head is pulsing like a rotten tooth.”
“And you used to say you never get headaches. That’s old age for you.” Joking was Bianca’s last desperate attempt to get rid of the memory, which was now supplying unwelcome details about the night they stayed at a little bed and breakfast, a night they didn’t sleep at all. Her brain was trying to deal with the shock, she understood that. What she disagreed with was its choice of coping mechanism.
“I’d never got a headache before today,” Michael said ignoring her attempt at humour or possibly not even noticing it. Then he looked up at her and stopped rubbing. There was a large red spot on his forehead. “You sweat and I get a headache. Why do you think this is?”
“I’ve no idea,” Bianca said. “My head’s fine.”
“And I’m not sweating but now we have two unusual things happening to us for the first time.”
“And what is your conclusion, professor?”
“I have nothing,” Michael said, brushing off her second attempt at wit. “I have no idea what any of this means and I hate it.”
“Okay, let’s leave this for later and see what we can do with the plane,” Bianca said. She concentrated, the way she did at primary school, when a teacher said “Now listen carefully because this is very important.” She emptied her head of every thought besides those that had to do directly with the flight as best she could. The Cambridge memory resisted but Bianca was stronger. She fixed her eyes on the mountain peaks below them and gripped the yoke. On second thought she relaxed her grip. There was no need to squeeze it if it was her mind that controlled it and all the rest of the machinery. She had to be right about this. They had no other chance of survival.
“Let me know if I can help,” Michael said, cracking her concentration.
Bianca nodded. Speaking would only widen the crack and she couldn’t have that right now. She focused and visualized the plane making a ten-degree left turn. She saw it as it was before all this happened, with all gauges and indicators clearly visible, the yoke black and solid in front of her, and she saw how her hands turned that same yoke to the left ever so slightly, and how the plane responded. She and the plane were one, and there was exhilaration and joy in that but Bianca only half-felt them seep through her mental grip on the machine.
“Oh, god, this is working” Michael said quietly. There was something wrong with his voice but Bianca couldn’t place it. She was watching the plane, feeling it respond to her, and keeping her hands crossed tightly, away from the yoke. She began to straighten the plane. They had veered off course, so she tilted the plane to the right now for five seconds to try and bring it back as close to that course as she could with no instruments to show her exactly how much off course she’d gone. The plane straightened. The sense of unity that had tried to overwhelm her the first time the plane had turned began to subside.
“Are you okay?” Michael asked. There was still that wrong note in his voice, something unnatural. Bianca slowly turned her head to the right. It took her a second or two to focus on her first officer’s face. It had a greyish tint to it and it glistened with sweat.
“Are you?” Alarm erased whatever was left of that magnificent feeling of control. “You look like you’re going to puke.”
“That’s how I feel,” Michael said with difficulty. “I don’t—”
The greyish tint took on a green hue and Michael shot out of his seat and scrambled out of the cockpit. Bianca saw him stumble to the toilet and heard him retch. Samantha followed him asking what was wrong. They could only hope it wasn’t something contagious like a stomach bug. A contagion was just what they needed right now.