THE INCANDESCENTS by Graham M. Irwin
Excerpt from Chapter 4
Inside the dimly-lit airship, rows and rows of purpose-built seating stretched across the positively cavernous space. The seats, floors, and walls of the airship were covered in a beige felt that had a calming, sedative effect on the passengers as they found their seats and settled in for what was going to be a long flight.
Marion found and took her own seat, almost in the very middle of the cabin. She stowed a small shoulder bag under the seat in front of hers and then sat down and buckled in.
“It’s too tight,” she said to Efton, pulling on her shoulder harness.
“Then loosen it,” he said. “I can tell you’re worried; don’t be. Everything is going to be fine. You heard Elliah.”
“I did, I did,” Marion sighed. She tried to force a sincere smile but didn't look to see if Efton had bought it. Opening a book to read, she found that she was too distracted to follow what her eyes were scanning, though she flipped through the pages as if it were registering.
“Greeting, fellow colonists!” announced Admiral Colis Read, as he stepped into the passenger cabin. His enthusiasm was met with a few muted hellos in response, but the quiet, dark environment was already working its intended magic and lulling the passengers to sleep. At finding his greeting rebuked, Colis curled his lip and scoffed. He found his row, all the while eyeing the rows and rows of passengers with sneering contempt. He finally flopped down in a chair directly next to Marion's.
“Hi,” Marion said, feeling pity for Colis’ rejected enthusiasm.
“Madame,” Colis said. He fussed in his seat, twisting around and punching its back angrily to try and mold it to his hulking frame.
“This is pretty exciting, isn’t it?” Marion asked the admiral, trying to put him at ease.
“It is,” he said, smiling brightly and stopping his business. “And thank you for saying so. Looking around, you’d think that everyone was here against their will.”
“Not all of us are, no,” Marion said.
“What do you mean, not all of us are? Who is?” Colis asked.
“Well, I know that some of the men and women here were drafted from the Virvi,” Marion answered.
“Well,” Colis huffed, “if it’s not complaints from them, what is it? I'm positively sick of hearing gripes from Virvi. Those people should be happy for what we’ve done for them.”
“And what’s that?” Efton shot across his wife. He had been listening in on their conversation.
“Well, we simply brought them civilization,” Colis said. "That's all."
“And you think...” Efton began to argue, but his wife cut him off.
“Yes, it should be quite an adventure,” she said to Colis. She glared back at her husband to let the issue drop.
“And where is it you are from?” Colis asked Efton across Marion.
“Fjird,” Marion answered, leaning forward to interrupt the sight lines of the staring contest between Efton and Colis.
“Oh,” Colis said. He settled back into his seat. “Oh that’s good to hear. People of some caliber along for the journey, good. We’re going to need your help.”
“We’re going to need all the help we can get,” Efton muttered under his breath.
“What’s that?” Colis asked, stomping his foot. Just then the captain’s voice came booming through the intercom.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the captain began, “we’re due to take off in about ten minutes here. I would ask you all to make any and all final adjustments, to take what you need from the overheads before we lock everything down. We also need you to turn off any communicators or informational devices for the time being, until we reach cruising altitude. My name is Captain Flynn, and me and my copilot Captain Joy hope to have you all safely down in your new home by this time tomorrow. After take-off we’ll reach maximum elevation and then a steward will be by to take your drink orders. So sit back, get comfortable. Again folks, we’ll be taking off in about ten minutes.”
Marion leaned forwards past her husband and caught Elliah’s wide eyes. “You’re being so quiet!” Marion whispered. “Is everything okay?”
The girl just nodded with a huge smile. She had seen so much in the past few days, over the course of the trip from Fjird to Proterse. The whole world was now open to her, but there was just too much of it to take in for her to have anything to say about it just yet.
A muted alarm sounded, and a ring of blue lights around the upper walls of the flight cabin began to glow. The flight crew began moving around the cabin, asking the passengers to take and buckle into their seats. And then the engines of the airship started to fire up, winding from a subsonic rumble into a huge, terrible noise than drowned out any attempt at conversation. The ship taxied down its long runway, as crowds along the shore cheered and waved. The Anteon turned around at the far end of the airfield and then began to accelerate. It gained more and more velocity until its nose lifted ever so slowly up into the air, and the impossibly massive airship was completely clear of the ground. It soared, over the cliffs that dove down from Jaidour’s north-western edge into the sea, upwards over the endless ocean stretching out towards the new life waiting over the horizon.
After hours and hours of smooth travelling that afforded little to see out the Anteon's small, round windows, the captain announced that the airship was within an hour’s reach of the Undiscovered Lands. It was then that a real sense of excitement took hold over the cabin. For whatever reason these men and women had boarded the airship, voluntary or not, to be so near the complete mystery of the new continent was remarkable. A loud buzz of discussion rose over the noise of the plane’s engines.
The airship dropped suddenly, just a few yards, but enough for the passengers to notice. The jerky drop knocked glasses over and woke up those passengers who had been sleeping. And then a second, more violent drop occurred. The happy conversational tone in the cabin turned more serious.
The captain came over the intercom system again. “Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sure you've noticed that things are getting a little bumpy. I just wanted to let you know that there’s nothing to worry about. We’re just experiencing a little turbulence. Please, everyone just hang tight in your seats. We should have a view of the continent in a little under an hour.”
“Is everything okay, daddy?” Elliah asked her father.
“It’s fine,” Efton answered, distracted by the thick, threatening clouds out the windows.
Two twin girls, nearly the same age as Elliah, had been staring at the girl and whispering since shortly after take-off. Elliah had tried to smile back at them at first, to make friends, but she was met with icy stares. It was as if the girls were dissecting her. Her mother and father had warned her of both the good and bad in other people, and so Elliah was ready for a reaction such as theirs, but the action of the twins still hurt. Why should they treat her like that? They didn't know the first thing about her.
The ship leapt up a bit next, in concert with a long whip of lightning that tore horizontally through the purple sky, setting off a second wave of panic.
“I don’t see why everyone is getting so worked up,” Colis said. "This is nothing at all in a but of turbulence, like the captain said.”
“So this is normal?” Marion asked the admiral. She was clutching the arms of her seat with white-pressed fingers.
“Certainly,” Colis answered. He fluttered the pages of the periodical he was reading and adjusted his pillow. “You've nothing to fear. Certainly, it is normal.”
The airship bounced along for another half hour, while the skies outside turned darker. Down below the ship, the Anir Ocean churned and swelled with whitecaps. The darkness was punctuated by occasional bursts of cloud lightning, though the din of the engines of the monstrous craft fighting against the winds were far too loud for the thunder to be heard over them.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Elliah said to her mother.
“Can you wait?” her mother asked. "We're supposed to stay in our seats. We'll be there soon." She was clutching a terrible stomach ache that had developed alongside the turbulence.
“I… can’t,” Elliah said, pulling her face into a terrified frown.
“Come on, then,” Efton said to Elliah. He began to unbuckle his belt.
“No,” Elliah said. “I want to go with mom.”
“You heard the girl,” Efton said to Marion.
“Ok,” Marion said to convince herself. “Ok. Let’s go then. Excuse me,” she said to Colis, as she and her daughter squeezed out of their row of seats into the aisle. The bathrooms were at the rear of the cabin, and so they staggered back down the aisle, thrown left and right by the jerks of the ship, which were becoming more frequent.
“You sure this is normal?” Efton asked Colis across his wife’s empty seat.
“It is totally and completely...” Colis started, but he stopped short when the lights inside the cabin suddenly went out.
The only illumination left was the dim auxiliary lighting, a strip of blue fiber optics around the top perimeter of the cabin. In the low light, faces turned to each other in confusion.
“That's odd,” Colis said.
“This is your captain speaking...” came the voice over the intercom, “It looks like we’ve lost cabin power temporarily. Just hold tight, and we’ll get that back online just as soon as possible.”
Efton saw the flight crew whispering worriedly when a blast of cloud lightning lit the ship’s cabin momentarily. And then there was another flash, and he saw what he thought was a cliff face behind the crew, out the nearest window.
“Colis… Admiral,” he said, “look out that window... is that...?”
“I can’t see anything... Oh no!” Colis shouted, when he too saw the cliff face rising up through the stormy darkness, not possibly more than twenty feet away. “We must notify the captain!”
“Don’t you think they know?” Efton called, as Colis unbuckled his belt and leapt up out of his seat.
“Sir, you have to sit down,” one of the flight attendants said to Colis, as the admiral attempted to reach the front of the airship.
“But we’re…,” Colis began.
“Sir, you have to sit down,” the attendant repeated, the last of her words in a much higher pitch as cabin suddenly pulled upwards at a sharp angle. The three attendants and Colis, those only people in the cabin not buckled into their seats, were thrown off balance. Colis fell and tumbled back, rolling down the aisle towards the rear bathrooms as the attendants struggled to get hold of some part of the front row of seats. As the angle of the Anteon's lift grew, the whole airship began to shudder and creak.
“It’s too high, we’re going too high!” one of the soldiers in the cabin cried, and then the rest of the passengers began to shout and scream in terror.
The force of the ship's climb pressed Efton back into his seat so powerfully that he could hardly move. He was just beginning to unbuckle his belt, to crawl over the seats to join his wife and daughter in whatever fate they were about to suffer, when a horrible noise, something the like the groan of the ground during a quake, sounded low and resonant, silencing the panicked voices inside the ship. And then the groan came again, steelier the second time. Some indistinguishable words began to come over the intercom, but were lost forever when, with a final, terrifying roar, the Anteon gave in to the forces pulling at it and ripped completely in half.
Immediately, passengers were sucked out into the gray mists, their voices disappearing quickly after them. The left half of the plane and the right managed to stay somewhat parallel for sometime as they expended the last of their velocity. This strange suspension of time allowed the passengers in the middle rows of the former Anteon to exchange horrified looks with the other side across the slowly widening separation. And then the left side of the plane met one of the many cliff faces lurching up from the unknown below in a thunderous explosion that obliterated the half-plane, and knocked the top of the cliff clear off. In that fiery instant, the lives of everyone on that half of the ship were over.
The ship’s right side continued its upward trajectory for a short while longer, before the momentum wasn’t enough to sustain it and it began to level off and then fall downwards. Elliah hadn’t stopped screaming since being slammed into the back wall of the bathroom, when the ship began its sharp ascent. Marion was with her daughter, but nearly paralyzed with fear. She was struggling to breathe, to stay conscious and be present for her daughter, but she could barely focus enough to think. When the bathroom door fell open to reveal her husband outside, she wondered if she had died.
“It’s okay, Elliah,” Efton screamed over the wind. “We’re together,” he said. And then the half of a ship knocked against something in the grayness, which sent it into a spiral. Faster and faster it spun, throwing out those who couldn't hold fast enough to their seats, as the plane descended into whatever lay waiting through the mists below.
Colis awoke from brief unconsciousness and started to scream. He would have stumbled completely out and into the mist if it weren’t for Efton, who grabbed him by the hand and began to pull him towards the bathroom stall. He almost had the admiral lifted up into the stall, when the falling wreckage hit another object in its tumble. The impact knocked Efton free of his hold on the sink ledge inside the bathroom stall. Colis quickly grabbed Efton's hand and the bathroom door’s handle at the same time, holding tight as Efton was picked up by the wind and the door swung wide and both of the men were almost swept away into the nothingness.
“Hold on!” Colis cried, the door to the bathroom banging violently against its hinges, shaking Colis and Efton out into the void like wet laundry.
“Hold on, daddy!” Elliah hollered, her face red with terror and flooded with tears.
“I...” Efton groaned as his sweaty grip began to falter, “I can’t...”
Efton Dahl looked one last time at his wife, who was staring straight forward into her own reflection in the bathroom mirror, and then his daughter, crying out to him, and then at Colis. His grip failed, and then he was taken lost in the fog.
The remains of the Anteon then ricocheted off of a third cliff, which shattered it into pieces. The bathroom door swung closed on its unbelievably strong hinges, jarring Colis' arm. He, too, lost his hold, and was sent flying off into the nothing. And then the pieces of the airship came to final rest, all atop and about the lush canopy of a forest, as Elliah fell unconscious from fear.
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