She closed her eyes and took another deep breath.
“You know it as well as I do,” Michael continued while she fought the urge to tear the yoke out and smash her first officer’s head in with it. “Bianca?”
She opened her eyes, control winning over fury. For now. This time Michael had not just said some ridiculous. He had insulted her and he should have known better. He should have known where the line is that must not be crossed. And yet he had crossed it.
“Thank you for this input,” she said, willing her hands to stop trembling. “It’s not particularly useful but I’ll bear it in mind.”
“Beanie, don’t.” He was shaking his head again, the way he did when he was hurt, usually by something she’d said.
“No. Enough with the Beanie. You tell me I know as well as you do we are dead. But, Mike, you know as well as I do there is no such thing as life after death, don’t you? We can’t be dead because we are still here!” She punched the controls she couldn’t see and gritted her teeth. She’d scraped her knuckles. “I have no idea what is happening but I know it isn’t death. And you know it too. There is no life after death.”
“Then how come you can control a plane – a passenger plane, Bianca – with your mind? Your mind!” he almost shouted the last word.
“Keep your voice down, please,” she said. Her heart rate had picked up and her pulse beat in her temples.
“I’m sorry,” he said more quietly. “But you have to allow for the possibility. I know you’re nowhere near religious, neither am I but, Beanie, I don’t see any other rational explanation. If you have one, I’d be happy to hear it.”
“Did you just say rational?”
“I did, yes.” Michael spread his arms as if asking the Alps to be his witness in this argument.
Bianca shook her head. She shook it some more. A giggle escaped her lips and made Michael finally tear his eyes off the landscape.
“Are you laughing?”
The only response was the giggle escalating to full-blown laughter, complete with tears that first pooled in Bianca’s eyes and quickly overflowed and streamed down her cheeks. She was wiping them and laughing.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Michael said. “Are you being hysterical?”
Bianca stopped laughing and gulped a lungful of air. And again. After the third gulp the urge to laugh her guts out – hysterical, she would admit it – subsided. She wiped her face one last time and turned her wet fingers to Michael.
“Tears. Can ghosts cry?”
Michael gaped. A moment later he shook his head.
“Depends on the author, I suppose. What was that?”
Bianca breathed deeply again and put her hands on the yoke. The smooth, unyielding plastic comforted her.
“You said being dead is the rational explanation. But there isn’t a whole lot of rational here right now, is there? How does a plane suddenly become invisible, can you explain it? How can I control it with my mind?”
“I already explained it,” Michael said with a sigh of exasperation. “I just can’t find another explanation that makes sense, so…”
“So, you’re doing a Sherlock Holmes. Okay, then, tell me this: where are most of our passengers?”
“Maybe they survived, I don’t know.” Michael shifted in his seat, which squeaked.
“Survived what? A crash in the sky?” Bianca tilted her head and smiled at her first officer. It didn’t take a lot of effort. Michael was going from absurd to absurder and after the initial shock of his suggestion Bianca was feeling better. Knowing the difference between possible and impossible was, she had always felt, one of her strongest points.
“Don’t tell me you really believe this is possible,” she said. “Rationally.”
“It’s been known to happen,” Michael said, looking away again.
“Yes, when a plane does an emergency landing or the pilot ditches it in the sea. Not with mid-air collisions. Come on, Mike, you’re the one talking about reason and rationality. Be rational.”
Michael gazed at the mountains.
“So I can’t call you Beanie but you can call me Mike?” he said after a while, quietly, with no hint of a smile or a humourous twinkle in his eyes.
“What?” Bianca was also looking at the mountains and something in them made her shift in her seat and grip the yoke more tightly.
“You heard me.”
“Everybody calls you Mike.”
“No, they don’t.”
“What?” Bianca blinked at him and shook her head. “Really? Anyway, what does this have to do with anything?”
Michael ran a hand through his hair and looked at the mountain peaks again, narrowing his eyes at them. Then he turned to Bianca.
“I’ve been thinking about… well, things. But if we’re dead, it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t.” He ran his hand through his hair again, tousling it. It didn’t need much, his unruly hair, to break free from any attempt to keep it in order unless Michael used unhealthy amounts of styling products, which he hated. Bianca smiled at the memories of so many mornings.
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.
He shook his head.
“It doesn’t matter. There’s something wrong with these mountains.”
“I was thinking the same thing.” Bianca straightened her back and threw all thoughts about the past out of her head. It happened faster now. Faster and more easily. “They’re too similar to the ones we saw twenty minutes ago.”
“They do look alike,” Michael said. “Too alike. And I didn’t feel us turn.”
“Neither did I.”