The line of passengers was thinning, the crowd turned into a trickle of people and then there were none left. Rob sat on the nearest seat and rubbed his forehead. Marcello, the Anglican priest, peered into the tunnel.
“That was one big crash,” Rob said. “And it went surprisingly well, come to think of it.”
“I wasn’t sure about that for a moment when that – what was his name – that man refused to go in and the ones around him started hesitating. Did you really mean that about Heaven, captain?” Gabrielle said and turned to look at Bianca who stood just outside the cockpit.
“Maybe,” Bianca said. Michael wrapped an arm and around her waist. “It’s time?”
He nodded and stepped forward.
“Well, everyone, it appears my time has come, too,” he said.
“Oh, no,” Samantha said. Her face fell. “Not you. We need you, Michael.”
“He’s not going,” Bianca said. “We’re not letting him go.”
Gabrielle and Rob exchanged a wide-eyed look. Even Gary peered over the top of the seat he was slumped behind.
“How are we going to do that?” the boy asked.
“Maybe if we just wait the tunnel would close on its own?” Marcello offered. “What does it usually do?”
“It closes once everyone has gone in,” Gabrielle said. “But last time it stayed open because one of us had to go through. And now again… What if we start losing crew members every time? Who will take care of all the other people if we’re all gone?”
Everyone was silent for a moment.
“Maybe another plane will see a white light in the sky and then have to land by a lake in the Alps,” Bianca said. Her thoughts, slow at first, were beginning to canter now, bracing up for a gallop. “We’ll only go when we are all ready to go and not before that. I’m not ready, I won’t be for a long time. And when we all go, another crew will take our place.”
“I told you we were the Flying Dutchman,” Gary said, breaking the new silence.
“Welshwoman,” Michael said. “The Flying Welshwoman.”
“This is one more thing that will not happen,” Bianca said. “How’s your itch?”
Rob and Gabrielle looked up.
“It’s stronger. I think saying goodbye just in case might be the wise thing to do right about now.”
Samantha, who stood closest to them, threw herself in his arms and hugged him tightly. Michael hugged her back.
“You’re not going anywhere but if you do, I’ll miss you. But you’re not going anywhere,” she said as she let go of him and smoothed the shoulders of his shirt. “What do we do, captain?”
Bianca glanced over to the tunnel, its opening round and glowing.
“It’s certainly attractive, isn’t it?” Michael said and stepped forward.
“No!” Bianca tried to grab him but Michael jerked his hand free before she could take proper hold of it. “Someone stand in front of it, now!”
Marcello jumped in front of the tunnel’s mouth and spread his legs and arms like a caricature of the Vitruvian man. Michael shook off Samantha’s hand and kept going. Bianca rushed after him as Rob jumped out of his seat and stood in Michael’s way.
“I’m sure it looks great, man, but it’s not worth it,” he said. Michael tried to push him back but Rob stood his ground. “Sorry but you shall not pass.”
“Really? Right now?”
“Yeah right now. I could use some magical help right now but we’ll have to do without it, won’t we? You’re not going any further, man.”
Rob grinned as Bianca clamped her arms around Michael’s chest. They probably made for a comical sight but she couldn’t care less. He was not going into that tunnel.
“You’re not going anywhere. I’m not letting you.”
“It was funny,” Michael said. “It really was funny but I have to go, I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologising and try to fight it,” Bianca said through gritted teeth. Michael’s chest was wide and her grip was already slipping as he pushed against Rob. Rob pushed back. Michael pressed forward and Rob had to take a step back, closer to the mouth of the tunnel.
“Fight it, Mike,” he panted, planting his feet on the aisle and tightening his grip on Michael’s shoulders. “They can’t take you if you don’t want to.”
“Yeah,” Michael said. “The problem is I want to.”
Samantha squeezed between Bianca and the seats to the left, and grabbed Michael’s arm. He turned and smiled at her.
“Thanks, Sam, but I really must go.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Samantha said, pulling. “We need you.”
“Thank you,” Bianca said, using Rob’s push to tighten her grasp of Michael. But he was too big and too strong, and they were all moving to the tunnel, slowly but surely. Gabrielle, who had been watching their struggle with a mix of horror and fascination, now got out of the row of seats where she’d stood. She frowned and then turned and propped her back against her husband’s.
“Thanks, babe, that was very timely of you,” Rob said.
“I couldn’t believe he was beating you,” Gabrielle said. “How are you suddenly so strong, Mike? I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, you’re fit and all but there’s three of them.”
“I really must go,” Michael said. “That’s probably it. I really must. It’s my time, Beans, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“There is and we’re doing it,” Bianca panted. Her jaws hurt from her squeezing them as they surrendered inch after inch. “And don’t call me Beans. I hate it.”
“No, you don’t,” Michael said and chuckled. “Let go, Beans. Please.”
“I don’t think I could hold him back all by myself if you four can’t,” Marcello said. “Do you want me to help you stop him?”
“We’re fine,” Rob said through a laboured breath as he pushed against Michael and won a precious step. Gabrielle groaned. She was gripping the edges of the two aisle seats on her sides, pushing against Rob to provide him with much needed support as he fought Michael’s progress.
“You know, I think he may have a point,” she said when the hard won step was lost once again as Michael moved forward. “We can’t keep this forever and the tunnel won’t close until he’s in.”
“You don’t know that,” Bianca said. “It might close.”
“Don’t you know?” Gabrielle asked incredulously. “You knew everything about those people and you don’t know about the tunnel.”
“They were people,” Bianca panted, the grip of her hand slipping on the other one, both sweaty with the effort. “This is no person with a life history to glean from their mind. It has no mind.”
“We might need to consider another way,” Rob said. “The way it looks to me, we’re losing more than we’re winning.”
“We’re winning time,” Bianca said.
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