“Hello,” Michael said loudly. Those nearest to the Flight 311 crew zeroed in on the uniform and advanced on him, raining questions and observations.
“What’s going on?”
“What is this place?”
“Where is the plane?”
“Are we dead?”
“I want answers!”
“I lost my husband. Please help me. Ken? Ken!”
“Who did this?”
“Who are you?”
“That’s not our plane. What’s this plane?”
“Where are we?”
The crew waited for the verbal wave to lose momentum. One of the men in pilot uniforms stepped ahead of the crowd. He had a bemused expression, the look of someone deeply doubtful that what was happening to him was real. He frowned at Michael who offered the man his hand. He looked at it for a long moment and then took it and shook it.
“Captain Maarten Kist,” the man said and looked around. Confusion began to give way to curiosity. “I was…” He swallowed but didn’t finish.
“Michael Dahl. First officer on this here plane,” Michael pointed at the 737. “These are my colleagues: Samantha Feldman and Gabrielle and Rob… Sorry, guys, I never knew your last name.”
“Rudoff,” Rob said. “Not that it matters.” He also shook captain Kist’s hand.
The other man in white uniform joined his captain and introduced himself as first officer Olek Jansen. The exchange was attracting attention and more people sidled up to the little group. Somewhere at the back of the crowd a fight broke out by the sound of it.
“It was him!” someone from the throng shouted. “The Dutch captain! He did it! He crashed into us! It was him!”
Rob tried to spot the speaker looking over the crowd but there were too many people. More voices joined in with the accusatory shouts. Captain Kist hung his head.
“Okay, this is a problem,” Gabrielle said. “We don’t have much time and we have no crowd control training. What do we do?”
“Where is he? Where is the murderer?”
“Right there in the front with the other pilots.”
“Well, let’s get him, what are we waiting for?”
“Now listen here,” Rob said in a clear, loud voice, raising his hands to placate the crowd. “Nobody is getting anyone. We’re all in the same position here. Stay where you are.”
“Who the hell are you?” someone asked.
“I’m in charge of crowd control,” Rob said. “And who the hell are you?”
No answer followed and a couple of people chuckled.
Michael glanced back to the 737. Bianca was nowhere to be seen.
“So, I expect you have an explanation for all this?” captain Kist said as he looked up again and spread his arms.
“We do. You crashed into another plane,” Michael said. Kist looked away.
“We know that. We saw it,” the first pilot said. “That fucking Pan Am.”
“Hey, I was on that fucking Pan Am,” a man standing a few feet behind the pilots said. “You watch your tongue.”
“I’m sorry,” Jensen said without taking his eyes off Michael’s face. “We hit another plane. What are we doing here and where is here?”
“It’s the Alps,” Michael said. “This is where we crashed. Sort of. Not really. It’s hard to explain.”
“Bianca is coming,” Samantha whispered. Michael turned. Bianca was walking towards the crowd with no rush. When she reached the group she nodded at the other pilots.
“Bianca Griffiths,” she said with a curt nod. The rest of the crowd could be invisible for all the attention it got from her.
“What happened, Captain Griffiths?” the captain of the KLM said.
“You’re dead, which you probably already know” she said. “You will move on in a while, as soon as everyone accepts the facts and stops trying to will them into changing.”
“I’m sorry?” Captain Kist shook his head.
“You need to accept the fact you are dead and move on,” Samantha said.
Michael was frowning, his lips shaping around “What?” The Dutch pilots looked at each other and then turned to the crowd that was bubbling with grief, anger, and somewhere at the back, desperate violence.
“Go see what’s going on, please,” Kist told his first pilot. Jensen hesitated.
“Let’s go, I’ll come with you,” Rob said. He gestured to the first pilot and started into the crowd, gently removing people from his way. The first pilot kept looking over his shoulder for a while but a nod from his captain got him moving after Rob.
“Break it up!” Rob’s voice said from somewhere in the crowd. “Break it up right now.” More voices rose, arguing, demanding an explanation, wanting to know why.
Captain Kist waited.
“We had an accident mid-flight. We still don’t know exactly what happened. I suspect an explosion but I have no recollection of the events,” Bianca said. “We found ourselves with most of the passengers and crew gone, flying in a random direction. We could not reach any air traffic control centre. And then we landed here, in the lake.”
Kist’s brows shot up.
“In the lake?”
“It appears I can control the plane with my thoughts.”
Another brow jump, followed by a frown.
“You are serious?” the captain said with a fascinated spark in his eyes. He took a step closer to her. “How does it work?”
Bianca took a step back unable to suppress a slight wince at the proximity of the man she blamed for the deadliest plane crash in history.
“Excuse me,” Samantha said. “I think we better go and try to help these people.” She nodded at Gabrielle and the two left the little group.
“Well?” Kist said.
“It just works,” Bianca said coldly. This man showed no remorse, not a smidgen of regret for what he had caused. Hopefully, he would go into the tunnel first so she wouldn’t have to endure his presence for much longer.
“And it works at a cost,” Michael said. “She passed out twice when she got the plane out of the water and when she opened the staircase.”
“You got the plane out of the lake?” Kist said, still oblivious to Bianca’s reaction to him. He was a researcher with a new object of study. “Can you all do this?”
“No,” Michael said with a slight smile.
“Impressive. But why are we here?” Kist said and scanned the crowd again. There were fewer shouts now, Rob’s voice carrying over them as he tried to placate more belligerent victims.
Bianca and Michael looked at each other. His face creased with worry. Hers was smooth.
“We collect souls and send them on their way. We didn’t choose it. We were picked and given the job.”
“By?” Kist said. “God?”
“I have no idea,” Bianca said. “We can feel when a crash is about to happen and we fly our plane there, then everyone who died in that crash, both those responsible for it and those who were killed in it comes with us here, usually on the plane itself but not this time for obvious reasons. And then we show them into the tunnel. A jet bridge,” she clarified to Kist who had frozen, staring at her with a blank face. “No one has complained so far.”
No one laughed at her attempt at lightening up the mood. The crowd was quieter now, there were no more shouts and wails. Those nearest to the little group were listening carefully.
“I know I caused this,” Kist said quietly. “I know I should have waited. But it’s no use now, is it?”
Bianca tipped her head to the side and narrowed her eyes at him.
“No, it’s not. And we don’t get a second chance.”
The KLM captain nodded. “So, how does it work?” he asked Michael.
“You just go into the tunnel when you’re ready,” Michael said, squinting into the crowd. Samantha was hugging an elderly woman. The woman was in tears but not hysterics. “And even if you’re not ready, the tunnel sort of calls to you and you can’t not go. At least that’s how it has worked until now.”
“How long is that?” Kist said, frowning.
“It’s difficult to say,” Bianca looked away for a heart beat. “We seem to be quite fluid in the temporal aspect.”
“We crashed in 2019. You crashed in 1977.”
Kist was silent. So were the people nearby.
“2019?” Someone said.
Whispers spread across the crowd with a voice occasionally exclaiming the year along the way. As people whispered the crowd thinned in the middle to reveal Samantha, who was coming towards them leading a line of people like a weird adult version of a teacher leading pre-schoolers on a trip to a museum.
“I think they are ready,” she said when she reached the group. She looked at Kist who had sat on the ground holding his head tightly with both hands. “Is he okay?”
“He will be,” Bianca said.
Kist raised his head.
“I’d really like to see your plane,” he said. “If you don’t mind, of course.”
Bianca hesitated. She could understand the fascination but she still did not want to spend a second more than necessary in the company of this man.
“You will see it when the tunnel opens,” she said.
“I understand. Of course.” He took his head in his hands again.
Bianca watched him for a while, biting her lower lip until it hurt. Michael touched her hand. She looked up into his questioning face and shook her head.
“Okay, I suppose it won’t make a difference if you get on board a little earlier.”
Kist looked up.
“You go, I’ll stay here in case anyone else decides to voice his opposition,” Michael said.
Bianca turned and led the way, Kist on her heels, glancing over his shoulder to Samantha and her charge who walked after them. The people were quiet now, nothing but whispered conversations between them. Another group emerged from the crowd, led by Gabrielle and Rob, Jensen tagging along, and passed by Michael on their way to the plane.
“This will be quite a queue,” Michael said under his breath.
“I’m not sure this is really happening. Could it be a dream?” Jensen asked.
The younger first pilot raised his head.
“No hope then.”
“I’m sorry,” Michael said.
More people walked to the plane, no longer in line but in small groups, some hand by hand or hugging and supporting each other. Jensen watched them shaking his head in confusion.
“How did this happen? They were fighting a second ago.”
“It’s the call. They are feeling this urge to go and they can’t resist it. It’s pulling them forward. It’s like an all-body itch, only it’s inside and there is no way to scratch it until…” Michael swallowed. “Excuse me, I have to go.”
Michael didn’t wait. He strode off to the plane, passing the groups, passing the queue, pushing the people on the stairs gently out of his way. Jensen rushed after him.
“Yes, it’s really not that different,” Bianca was saying when Michael walked into the cockpit. “Is everything okay?”
“No. Could you leave us alone, please?”
Kist hesitated for a second but nodded and slipped out. Michael went in and closed the door. Then he leaned on it and bit his lips.
“I think it’s my time to go,” he said. “I have this… itchy feeling. It’s not the same as the one when get when there’s a crash coming but it’s as strong. And unpleasant.”
Bianca stared at him.
“I was telling that KLM guy about the way things worked with this tunnel and about this pull you can’t resist and I realised I was describing what I was feeling. I don’t know how much time I have until I need to go but I’d say about five hundred and eighty people.”
Bianca continued staring at him.
“Beans? Say something, please.”
She started shaking her head slowly. Someone knocked on the door.
“Not now!” he said. “Give us a minute.”
Bianca had stopped shaking her head.
“No,” she said.
Michael stepped forward. He stroked her cheek.
“No,” Bianca said. She took his hand and squeezed it. “No.”
“I’m so sorry, Beanie. It’s… pulling me.”
“Then I’ll pull, too.”
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