Click here for the entire story.Click here for the first series (Seeing is Becoming).
Click here for the second series (Second Stage of Something Started).
Click here for the second series (Second Stage of Something Started).
Click here for the previous installment...
“Are we feeling better?” The Shepherd asked of him. She was holding a clipboard and wearing a stereotypical nursing cap.
“Good enough.” He struggled to sit up. “What’s my next mission?”
“Now, hold on. You don’t even know if you did well enough on the last one. Hell, you don’t even know if you survived. I can talk to dead people.” She said that like an overconfident kindergartner who can now count to ten.
Vearden just sat there and waited.
“Okay, fine, you did great. The people on that planet are fine too, by the way. You cured them, and saved the better part of an entire galaxy.”
“That’s nice to hear,” Vearden said honestly.
“I thought you might enjoy that, because this next one is going to be more complicated, and you’re not going to like how it starts.”
“Does it matter?”
“I guess not,” the Shepherd agreed. “You could always quit. You came to me, this isn’t like the Cleanser with his tribulations, or Arcadia with Mateo’s expiations.”
“Arcadia who, and her what?”
“Don’t worry about it.” She paused before adding, “yet.”
Vearden sat up a little straighter. “I’ll be ready in a minute. I just need to find my clothes.”
“Clothes?” she asked. “Where we’re goin’...we don’t need clothes.”
“So, a nudist colony?” He had to admit, if only to himself, that that did not sound like something he would say no to.
“No, L-O-L.” She literally laughed. “You’ll just be wearing someone else’s clothes.” She looked at him over her fake glasses. “I must say, though—and you might call me a cliché—but I do love a man in uniform.” She waved her hand in the air and spirited him away.
He found himself sitting in the cockpit of an airplane, wearing a pilot’s uniform. The Shepherd was right. He wasn’t happy with this. It was giving him traumatic flashbacks to the time he lost Saga in the first place. He had to get over it though, because it was time to get into character.
“I’ll tell ya what, though,” the guy who was presumably his co-pilot said without looking at Vearden. “I sure wish they could put an air marshal on every flight.”
Vearden chose to stay silent. Either he had leapt into the body of the pilot, or they had switched places. He wasn’t quite ready to find out which. He could also hear someone banging on the cockpit door, yelling something about diverting the craft.
“King Dumpster would never—” the co-pilot tried to continue, but then did happen to look over. “My God, who the fuck are you!”
“Uh...” he couldn’t come up with a good excuse. He missed the days when the people he ran into weren’t surprised to see him. The people on Orolak had encountered aliens many times before, and the doctors on Vaidy didn’t dismiss the possibility of alternate universes. Vearden waved his arms in front of himself like a stage performance. “Magic.”
“I’m gonna call this in.” The co-pilot started speaking into the radio, and Vearden had to think quickly. Violence was never the answer, but since when did he ever receive a perfect score for anything? He punched the co-pilot in the jaw, successfully knocking him out.
He stood and turned up the volume on the little security camera outside the cockpit. The man kept yelling. “There’s a bomb! We have to divert the plane! Go south! Go as far south as you can!”
Curious, Vearden opened the door, shocking the man on the other side. “If there’s a bomb on the plane, how would flying south help?”
“Uh...” the man didn’t know what to say either, but then he composed himself. “The bomb is not on the plane. It’s over Kansas, and the resulting EMP will knock out all electronics for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. I can’t believe you opened the...” He trailed off when he noticed the co-pilot. “Who are you?”
“Someone who doesn’t know how to fly a plane. Do you?”
The man didn’t expect to be taken seriously. “I think I could figure it out. We just...we just need to go south. Then we can deal with the whole emergency landing problem.”
The flight attendant showed up from evidently having needed to calm down the other passengers. “What the hell is going on here? Where’s the captain?”
“It’s okay, um...Stevenson,” Vearden said, looking at the flight attendant’s nametag. “I’m an air marshal, and this is an emergency. We have to divert the plane.”
“Where’s your badge?” Stevenson asked.
“I’m under cover.”
He stared at him like he didn’t believe a word he was saying. But then he shrugged. “Whatever. I don’t mind being a hostage.” Stevenson left to sit down casually in his cute little jump seat.
“We better get inside,” Vearden said to the other guy.
“Taniel! Taniel! Come up here!” he called back to the fuselage.
“What’s your name, by the way?” Vearden asked.
“You can call me Kasabian.” They stepped into the cockpit, along with a young man named Taniel. Stevenson waved goodbye to them.
“What kind of world are we living in?”
“Have you been—” Kasabian began.
“...living under a rock?” Vearden proposed. “Let’s say I have. How would you explain this world to an alien?”
“Things have been going bad for years now,” Taniel explained while Kasabian sat down and tried to get a feel for the controls. “Now my father believes shit has finally hit the fan. So instead of taking me and my sister to safety, he left her behind.”
“I have my orders,” Kasabian defended himself. “She’s not a part of this.”
“She’ll die out there!” Taniel argued.
“I have taught her everything I know. She’ll be well clear of the blast, and radiation. She’ll survive, but we won’t if I can’t figure out how to get this thing turned.”
“Oh my God,” Taniel said. He shooed his father from the controls and started manipulating them himself. They could feel the plane make an uncomfortably sharp turn to the left. When he was done, the other two didn’t know what to say. “It’s not that hard,” Taniel said to them. “Parents complain about all the video games their millennial children play...until it comes time to call upon the skills learned in an airplane simulation.”
“Great,” Kasabian said with a nod. “Now that I know how to do that, we can turn again and go south, which is where we need to be, because we’re not going back to Houston, son!”
“You’re an asshole.”
“You’ll thank me when we’re in the—” he stopped short, apparently realizing that he had said too much. He just went back to making a much more dramatic turn than before, and pretended like they hadn’t been talking.
“In the what?” Taniel questioned.
“The safe zone, of course,” Kasabian covered. Taniel wasn’t buying it, but didn’t think he would get any more answers anyway. Besides, someone was knocking on the door.
“Don’t answer that,” Kasabian commanded.
“Why not?” Vearden asked.
“We don’t know who it is.”
“You don’t know who I am.”
“Exactly. I don’t any more variables.”
“I’m the one in the captain’s uniform,” Vearden said, with a slight smile.
“I’m the one with close-quarters combat training,” Kasabian countered.
“I’m here for a reason, and this women might be a part of that.”
“She looks familiar,” Taniel said, peering at the security stream. She was a pretty middle-aged woman who looked nervous and desperate.
Vearden opened the door, knowing that Kasabian was too busy to stop him.
“Are we going south?” the woman asked.
“We are now, yes,” Taniel said. “Do I know you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry but we will not be going to Atlanta,” Kasabian said, now looking through a manual he found. “This is a matter of national security.”
“I didn’t want to go to Atlanta,” the woman said. “I wanted to go to Brazil. Atlanta was just one of my stops.”
“We can’t go to Brazil either,” Kasabian told her. “We have to stop at the nearest airport, and from what I gather, that would be Havana.”
“Are you crazy?” Taniel asked. “We can’t go to Cuba.”
“Why not?” Vearden asked. “Did Obama not reopen Cuba?”
“Yeah, and then King Dumpster closed it again in 2019.”
“Who the hell is King—oooohhhh.” Vearden finally realized who they were talking about. “You guys reelected him in this reality?”
“Cuba wasn’t happy about the new ban,” the woman continued, ignoring Vearden’s strange remark. “They won’t be happy to see us. Let’s just go on to Brazil. Surely we have enough fuel.”
“Honestly, ma’am,” Kasabian said, “I have no idea. We’re playing this by ear. We too are trying to get to Brazil, but we may not make it, so we have to play it safe. No one anywhere is ever happy to see Trumpericans.”
“Is that really what—” Vearden tried to ask.
“No.” Kasabian sighed. “It’s not what we’re officially called. Man, that rock must have been heavy. Now everyone please stop talking. I need to learn everything I can about this so we don’t all crash into the gulf and die.”
“Fair enough.” Then Vearden added under his breath, “I’m just not sure what I’m still doing here.”
Vearden and Taniel sat on the floor while the woman, whose name turned out to be Candida, sat in the co-pilot’s seat. The co-pilot woke up a half hour later the jumpseat next to Stevenson; confused, angry, but with no way of getting back into the cockpit. A half hour after that, things got really insane. All of the sudden, the controls that were once lit up just shut off. Kasabian could steer the plane to a certain degree, but the electronics were all gone. It would seem that they were unable to get far enough away from the EMP he mentioned earlier.
“Oh my God, are we gonna die?” Candida asked, loudly, but not loud enough for the passengers to hear.
“We’ll be able to glide for a while, but it may not be enough to get to the runway. I don’t have that math, or enough education to, like, solve it anyway.”
“What can we do?” Taniel asked, but received no response. “Dad! What can we do?”
Kasabian frantically started flipping back through the manual. “Where do they keep the parachutes?”
“There’s no way this plane has a parachute for every single passenger,” Taniel said.
“I wasn’t talking about every passenger,” Kasabian said back. “Just us. In fact, just us two. Only you need to survive, and I only need to survive to protect you.”
“What makes me so bloody special?”
“I’m not having this conversation again.
And then they began to fight with each other, not one of them offering any viable solution. Candida tried to play mediator, but they started attacking her a little as well. Vearden remained silent before doing that thing where he shuts everybody up at once. “We can’t do this. None of us knows how to fly. Sure, you held onto the stick thingy, and kept it moving, but autopilot does most things these days, so I’ma hold onto your medal. Even if it had been programmed to land from a glide, it doesn’t work, because the power’s out. There’s only one person on this thing who can save us.”
It took some more persuasion, but eventually, they reluctantly opened the door and let the co-pilot come back in. Apparently, if they did manage to survive and make it to Cuba, they weren’t going to be punished as terrorists, because...well it was 2023 Cuba in a universe where a massive nuclear weapon was just detonated over Kansas. No one was in charge, so they might as well let the co-pilot do what he was trained to do. It wasn’t like he could stop them after that. He ordered them out of the cockpit, and they complied. It was out of their hands. More specifically, it was out of Vearden’s hands.
He stepped into the lavatory to splash water on his face. When he tried to step out, he found himself back in the magical suite from before. Housekeeping hadn’t even come in to clean.
“Oh, you did a good job,” the Shepherd said from the bathroom. “In the original timeline, no one thought to call the co-pilot back, and they all died.” Click here for the next installment...