Pan Am 617 Heavy
by Sean Monaghan
Chapter 1: Pan Am 617 Heavy
part 2 of 2
Dominic and Keyshaa attempt to recover documents and cash from Miterall in a dieselpunk world of propellators and atom smashers.
Dominic woke with a start, staring at the seat in front. The two refuelling stops, at Honolulu and Papeete, were behind them. They were on the last leg to Auckland. Hubs were a good idea, but it always felt weird to fly past the place you were going, then fly on back.
He leaned over and stared out the 7eve7’s window, looking into the shadow of the scalloped sheensteel wing above and behind. Through the blurred glaze of the whirring propellators, he could see a South Pacific thunderstorm hanging hungry and flickering, dozens of miles away. Forward, where the late afternoon sun glinted off the sea, he could see another aircraft approaching from the side.
“What’s that?” Keyshaa said, leaning over and rubbing his hand. He knew she liked the feel of the new ring, liked to click it with her own.
“A big glider maybe?” Dominic said.
“Hmm. How far out are we?”
Dominic looked at his watch. They’d been in the air for nearly two hours since the refuelling stop at Tahiti. The whole trip from San Francisco to Auckland took nearly a full day, including the other stop in Honolulu. “Maybe another seven hours,” he said. “We must be somewhere over the Cook Islands now.”
“The irony,” Keyshaa said.
The other aircraft was nearer and turning to match their trajectory. Dominic realised that it wasn’t a glider. It was narrow, and he couldn’t make out the wings. It kept heading in their direction.
“Whew, good. I’m exhausted. Can we get another drink, do you think?” She reached over to the steward call switch on the wall. She sat back into the leather seat and tried again to make the reclining mechanism work.
“Sure,” he said. “I’m parched.” The crew had long since packed away the breakfast and drinks trolleys.
A steward appeared in the aisle. “Let me get that,” he said, bending and shoving the lever forward. Keyshaa’s seat clanked back. “Enough?”
“Yes, thank you.”
The steward reached out and flicked the wall switch. “You paged me.” He glanced out the window, then said, “For the seat?”
Keyshaa smiled. “I’d like a root bee-”
The plane bucked.
The steward stumbled, jerked off his feet. He collapsed into their laps.
“Seatbelts on,” the pilot’s voice barked from the speaker. “Stewards to your...”
The plane shuddered. It dropped suddenly. Dominic grabbed the steward, holding him down. Luggage and people were thrown through the cabin. The plane tipped again, lifted. People screamed. The steward pulled back, tried to get to his feet in the aisle. He grasped at the edges of the seats.
Dominic saw something outside. The ketch was level, but the engines were whining. Pressing his face to the window, he saw the other plane again, paralleling them, about a hundred yards off the wing, just below, black kerosene smoke belching from its stern.
It was a long white cylinder, tapered at the front and back, with unslitted propellers at each end, spinning in opposition so the main fuselage stayed stable. The front end pointed up and the pilot sat in a pod strapped to the middle of the cylinder. The pod had stubby glider wings, but the craft’s angle of flight was what kept it up, like one of the new helithopters Sikorsky had been parading around California fairs.
A bright flash from the other aircraft. The pod burst away, shooting upwards. The twin-propellered aircraft kept moving towards the 7eve7.
It wasn’t a plane, he realised. It was a bomb.
“Dominic,” Keyshaa said.
He couldn’t turn from the approaching craft. It was heading right for them. “Guerrillas?” Dominic said.
“They would never attack a civilian airketch. They’re only interested in New Zealand military targets.”
The aircraft bucked again. Passengers screamed. A leather satchel flew down the aisle and smacked into the newsreel screen.
Dominic turned to her, saw her eyes. “We’ll be all right,” he said.
“They must think we’ve come from Japan.”
Dominic looked out the window again. The craft was closing the gap. The propellers had slowed and Dominic realised that the machine was winding itself along a wire which came out of the center of the forward propeller nacelle and terminated somewhere on the 7eve7’s wing.
Dominic had read about these things. It was some kind of semi-kami bomb. The pilot flew the missile in, latched it on, then abandoned. The strategy wouldn’t work on a military aircraft, but ketches and schooners lacked the maneouverability and speed to avoid anything like this.
The cable was growing taut and the wobbling machine was only thirty yards behind the wing.
“Miterall,” Dominic said. “From the island.”
“We need to get off the ketch,” Keyshaa said.
“It’s a drone32. When it connects, it will take the wing off. We’re twelve thousand feet up.”
“And how do you think we get off the plane?” Dominic’s mind raced. “There’s a loading hatch, right?”
“Survival packs. In the rear compartment.” Keyshaa leaned over him, looking at the wing. “We need to move now.”
They ran down the aisle into second class, then past people crammed in on burlap-covered seats in steerage. Keyshaa and Dominic splintered through the door into the stern compartment. Keyshaa yanked a locker open and pulled out two packs. She tossed one to Dominic, and strapped the other on. “Flitters,” she said. “Only the crew are supposed to access them.”
“That’s right,” a voice from the door said.
They turned to see the head steward there, with a gun levelled at them. Dominic put his hands up.
“No time,” Keyshaa said. She pulled one of her own guns and shot the man in the shoulder. He tumbled into the aisle. People cried out.
“No one is keeping me from my money.” Keyshaa kicked open the rear bulkhead. The panels cracked aside revealing a tiny, low compartment. Dominic stole a look through the window. The drone was barely a yard from the engine. Keyshaa grabbed a handle on the floor and began winding. It was stiff for a moment, then, with a whoosh of air, a narrow hatch opened in the bottom of the fuselage.
“We’ve got maybe four seconds,” Dominic shouted over the howling wind. Pieces of paper and food scraps fled past them into the gap.
“Ready to jump?” Keyshaa said.
The hatch clanked and stopped. It vibrated in the airstream, the space about a foot wide. Keyshaa reached out and grabbed the edge of the hatch. She pulled and flung herself out of the airketch.
Dominic glanced forward, saw people struggling from their seats, trying to follow into the rear compartment. He bent to the hatch and followed Keyshaa.
The air grabbed him and flipped him back. His ankle clipped the hatch edge. He spun and retched. Then he had his balance and the spinning slowed.
Something flashed, then a glow lit the sky. A second later the sound came. A crack, followed by a muffled thump.
Dominic steadied himself, looking around. He felt momentarily light-headed, but was falling into thicker air.
Above, and moving away, but dropping, he saw the flaming crippled remains of the 7eve7. A smaller remnant — the wing with the other propellator, he thought — spun away to the left, trailing smoke and flame. The main bulk of the plane sizzled on ahead, tipping up and spinning. Smoke and flame came from the wing stub, leaving a track of burning fuel across the sky. Fragments dropped towards him, propelled by the explosion. He saw bodies too, people tumbling, spat out of the plane and dropping with him towards the black sea.
Not all bodies, he thought. Some people were alive, conscious. And they knew what was in store for them in just moments.
Dominic looked around again, trying to find Keyshaa. There. Above, far back from the explosion, with the flitter wings unfurled, she was dropping slowly.
Pieces of speeding burning metal spluttered past below. Dominic checked that his harness was firm and pulled the riprope to release the drogue and unfurl the flitter wings. The small chute yanked him back, then the wings came open and he was able to direct his flight a little. The fabric rippled and snapped as it took his weight.
Dominic breathed hard, trying to relax, trying to get a feel for the flitter and trying to get enough air. It wasn’t a true glider, but it would allow him directed descent.
He watched the remains of the plane drop past him, perhaps only five hundred yards away, still spinning and spewing smoke. Fragments broke away with their own smoking trails. Keyshaa, he thought, probably would have done the steward a favor if she’d killed him, instead of letting him get sucked down like that. He couldn’t see falling people anymore, they were all too distant already.
“Hey,” Keyshaa shouted.
Dominic spotted her, about fifty yards away. “Hey yourself.” He angled a little. “They seriously do not want to give you your money back.”
She drifted nearer. “Yeah.” She glanced at the plunging wreck. “That all just makes me even madder.” She zipped closer, came up parallel. She’d always been a more confident athlete than he, always adapted to situations quickly.
They drifted together, passing through a band of thinning smoke. “Do we have a plan now?” he said. “Because we’re going to miss our connecting flight to Suva.”
“This,” she said, “is perfect.”
Dominic realised that she still had her carry-on bag strapped in front of her. It was smaller, tighter, as if she’d tossed away some of the guns. She’d have to, he realised, to cut weight. She would have ditched the NM22’s and the Gatling, kept all the Smith & Wessons. He had nothing.
“Perfect?” he said. He looked over the wide expanse of ocean below them. The sun would be setting soon. The plane was becoming just a speck, would hit the sea in moments. Things were very quiet, after the constant deep hum from the plane. The only sound was the wind rippling through the fabric.
“Over there,” she said, pointing.
Dominic looked and saw, below, in the distance, a small plane. “Rescue?” he said.
“Nope. That’s the pod. From the missile. It’s a glider too, so it can’t be far from home. They must have launched from Rarotonga.”
Dominic smiled. “So we’ve just got to follow that back to the island.”
“To Miterall’s complex.”
“That was not part of their plan.”
“They think we’re dead already. And that,” she glanced at the plunging Boeing again, “just makes me angrier.”
“But you had to lose some of the guns, so it might not go so well.”
Keyshaa laughed. “I saved you a Luger.” She turned a little, angling down and following the pod.
“Okay.” Dominic called. “My favorite.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2010 by Sean Monaghan