"Everything will be alright in the end. If it isn't alright, then it isn't the end."
Author's Preface: Originally written on August 09, 2011. They say you write what you know and I wrote this story when I was a flight attendant working for JetBlue Airways so the in-flight procedures are true to those times. A lot of my SC stories feature people I know or have known. I'll never admit whom, but I remember I wrote this because at the time I had the biggest crush on my friend. One of the few real friends I've ever had. She was with me in the best and worst times in my life and love is something I've had bad experiences with. I didn't want to risk losing her. This story was a projection of those emotions and my internal conflict. It's interesting reading it again after all these years, I didn't change much while editing it, I did substantially fix a ton of grammatical errors.
7/23/2018 - Michael Mangual, NYC
New York City, United States of America, Earth [Sol] 30062060
“Welcome to Virgin Galactic!” Alice smiled at her reflection in the mirror and was impressed at how professional she looked. Her tailored scarlet dress was the iconic uniform of one of the most successful airlines in the world. She was extremely proud of herself.
Alice had passed the rigorous fifteen weeks of training and was now about to work her first official flight. She wasn't an official flight attendant yet; she had to complete five more hours of supervised inflight training known in the industry as the “initial operating experience.” She checked her schedule on her phone for the millionth time and sighed when she saw it hadn't changed. Her I.O.E. flights were going to be just an MCO turn while most of her other classmates were given West Coast overnights. She checked her flight crew again and expected to see the same unfamiliar names as before, but was pleasantly surprised by a familiar name recently added on the schedule. “Robert!” She was instantly elated at her good fortune.
She tied her long, silky black hair in a bun and applied makeup, slipped into her black high heels, and tied a golden scarf around her neck in a bow. She went through a mental checklist to see if she had everything: her passport, flight attendant manual, flashlight, wristwatch, company ID, uniform, RON bag, and wings. She patted the wings on her chest and felt the outline with her fingertips. She had finally made it. With the economy as brutal as it was, she had found a good job. Her dreams were finally coming true after so much hardship.
Alice collected her things and left her small Brooklyn apartment. She locked the door behind her and walked down the dimly lit stairway. Outside, she strolled past shuttered stores, drunk vagabonds, and graffiti-strewn walls. She stopped short of the subway entrance and looked up at a new graffiti mural painted on an abandoned billboard. The mural consisted of a rocket flying out of the Earth with the words, “Where is the American Dream? It's OUT THERE!”
John F. Kennedy Spaceport (JFK), New York City, United States, Earth [Sol] 30062060
Alice presented her company ID at Terminal 5 and walked down an employee corridor that scanned her for contraband. After being cleared by security, she strode confidently through the terminal as if she were walking a runway. She smiled at everyone that passed her by. Most smiled back, but the occasional passenger grumbled at her because of a delay or cancellation beyond her control.
“Virgin Galactic Flight 41 to Luna City calling all ticketed passengers. We will begin general boarding for this flight after we provide courtesy boarding to our Virgin First Class passengers, uniformed military personnel, and special needs passengers,” the Virgin Galactic Gate Agent called over the PA system.
She stopped in her tracks and watched with fascination as the passengers boarded the flight to the Earth's moon as if they were going to a small city like Syracuse, New York. More than fifty direct flights to the moon left from JFK almost every day. Most of the passengers looked normal enough in their business suits or mining clothes, but she noticed a few of them seemed to carry everything they owned. The gate agent bickered with those people over their carry-ons, and they either grudgingly threw some of their contents away or paid the exorbitant price to check them at the gate.
“Alice! Is that really you, Alice?!”
She turned to see who was calling her by her name, and she instantly recognized her old friend Robert. She ran up to him and hugged him tightly. “I've missed you.”
“I've missed you too. It's so good to see you again.” Robert looked down into her eyes and smiled. He stood a full foot above her even with her high heels on. He wore a neatly pressed black business suit with a single red stripe on the sleeve, white shirt, scarlet tie, and black, polished shoes.
“Robert, have you been to the moon yet?” Alice asked with an eye on the Luna City gate.
“No. I wish. Only the most senior flight attendants get to go to the colonies, and those trips are never on open time. They are good money, though. Can you just imagine the per diem on a Mars turn?” Robert chuckled. Alice had stopped listening and her attention was focused on a family boarding for Luna City who were arguing with the Virgin Galactic gate agent over a small child. “Alice?” She barely noticed as he turned to see what she was looking at. “A lot of people try to sneak all sorts of things on board off-world flights. That is probably a family trying to pass a three or four-year-old off as a lap child. It’s happening a lot more often nowadays. These people act like the world is going to end or something. I've talked to a few of them, and a lot of them spend their entire life fortunes just to buy a one-way ticket to the colonies.” At the gate, the family screamed loudly as the gate agent and security personnel arrived. Robert continued, “Commercial flights to the colonies are booked for months, and the prices get higher and higher every day. No wonder they all try to sneak kids in as lap children because a child ticket costs somewhere in the area of fifty thousand dollars.”
“What do you think they're going to do to the child?” Alice asked.
“Well, it depends. Off-world flights are severely weight restricted, so many of the times these kinds of situations end up with the people just being left behind. There are literally a hundred others here at the airport every day waiting to jump on those seats,” Robert said, as the family was dragged kicking and screaming from the gate by security personnel.
“Attention all priority standby passengers for Luna City, Earth's moon: Virgin Galactic Flight 41 out of Gate 12 has four open seats. We will be auctioning these tickets off at the gate. Thank you for flying Virgin Galactic,” the gate agent said over the terminal’s PA system.
A large group of passengers ran to Gate 12 from all directions, some with half-eaten food from the cafe in one hand and the other dragging their luggage. They pushed and shoved each other, jockeying for position in front of the gate’s podium. They all shouted their bids at the gate agent, and she tried hard to keep up. Security personnel flanked her as she collected the money from the first winning passenger. The gate agent sold each individual ticket until she was left with one open ticket. The crowd surged forward and started shouting out desperately for that ticket. One man in a tailored gray business suit shouted out, “six-hundred and seventy-three thousand, six hundred and forty-two dollars and forty cents!” The Gate Agent declared him the winner, and he gleefully filled out the paperwork to pay for the ticket. He happily marched up to the gate and then up the Jetway, carrying only a small bag. As he walked to the plane a long line of toilet paper trailed behind him, stuck to the bottom of his shoe.
“Oh my God,” Alice said, completely sickened by the scene.
Robert looked at his watch and slowly walked away from the gate. “Alice, it’s getting close to our report time and we still have to check in. Do you know where the crew room is?” Alice nodded, and both of them walked down to the crew room together.
Virgin Galactic Flight 261 (MCO-JFK), High Above the U.S.A., Earth [Sol] 30062060
“I got signed off! I passed my IOE!” Alice happily entered the aft galley of the Airbus 321 NEO and gave Robert a hug from behind as he was in mid-pour. He almost dropped the coffee pot, but still managed to keep hold of it. “Oops, I'm sorry.”
Robert laughed and finished pouring the coffee. He turned to face her and drank a big gulp of it before he said, "Was there any doubt? Seriously?”
Alice playfully punched him on the shoulder. “Shut up. You know I was worried.”
“Worried over nothing. You’re a great flight attendant. How long have we known each other? Two years?”
“Three years,” she said, correcting him.
“Three years. Well, damn. That's a long time. Anyway, back to the point I was trying to make. You’re an amazing F.A. It is no wonder that we went from working in that regional airline for peanuts to working for the best airline in the solar system. We did in a few years what others usually take a decade to achieve and that's if they have the chops for it.”
“We still make peanuts, though.” Alice laughed.
Robert chuckled, “Well I can live off these peanuts. It'll be better once we’re off reserve and can get off-world lines.”
Another flight attendant walked into the back galley, and her smile dropped. She sat on one of the jumpseats with a heavy thud. “I just finished my section, and I got two screaming Johnny sons-of-bitches pissing everyone off. I swear to God they really should make an airline where kids under the age of fifteen are banned. Why pay so much for a ticket just to sit next to a screaming, spitting brat for hours? Rob, can you give me some of those chocolate brownies so I can shut those two up with them.”
“No, don't give them sugar.” Alice went through the atlas food storage units and retrieved a few bags of animal crackers. “These are sugar-free even with the frosting and won't have them bouncing off the cabin walls. Kids love them. Robert, where are those kiddie wings?” Robert pulled the Customer Service Unit out of the aft storage compartment and pulled out the bag of kiddie wings and handed it to her. “Thank you. Giving wings to the kids also helps to calm them down. Make a big show of it. Give the wings to the kids as if you’re giving them an award, and give them a 'special mission' to go with them. Want to come with me, Kristin?”
Kristin waved her off and shook her head. “No thanks, Alice. If I see them again right now I might just beat them myself. Knock yourself out, kid.” Robert poured another cup of coffee and handed it to Kristin. She accepted it and gave him a thumbs up.
“What seats are they in?” Alice asked.
“14B and 14C. Just follow the screams of 'My invisibility beats your laser eyes!'” Kristin said, rolling her eyes. “Before you go, Alice, congrats on passing your I.O.E.” Alice smiled at Kristin and left the back galley.
“I would fly that kidless airline in a heartbeat,” Robert said with a chuckle.
“You like her, don't you?” Kristin said with a catlike grin.
“Wha-?” Robert choked on some coffee and coughed loudly. “What? No way.”
“It's worse than I thought. You’re in love with her.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The way you look at her. A mother can pick up on these kinds of things.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Wow, I thought I did a good job of hiding my feelings for her.”
“Now, why the hell would you do that?”
“Well, kiddo, I'm bored, so spill the beans.”
“I'd rather not.”
“Fine. When she comes back here I'll tell her what you've been hiding from her.”
“She won't believe you.”
“You sure about that?” Kristin said with a big smile.
“Dammit, Kristin.” Robert looked out into the cabin to check on Alice's whereabouts and closed the galley curtain. “You have to promise you will keep this to yourself.”
“I promise.” Kristin made the cross-my-heart-hope-to-die symbol with a hand and smiled at Robert.
“I haven't told her because I don't want to lose her. We've been friends for a long time, and I love being her friend. I don't want to mess that up, and I don't want to make things awkward for her.” Robert drank the last bit of his coffee and tossed the cup in the trash. “She is truly one of the few good friends I have in this world, and I don't want to ruin that based on a fantasy.”
“Maybe she feels the same way about you?” Kristin said in a comforting tone.
“I passed any chance I had with her ages ago. I am like a brother to her now and there is no going back from that.” Robert sat on another jumpseat and looked out through the aft service door's view hole. “Besides, I'm not her type.”
“That sounds like an excuse.”
“I think you should do it. I think you should tell her. You won't be happy until you do.”
“Thank you, Kristin, but I'd rather be just her best friend. I have to do what’s best for her. I'm a flight attendant for Christ’s sake; I don't exactly make the big bucks. Not to mention love doesn't always end well.”
“If you think like that you will never be with her or even have a meaningful relationship with someone else. What’s wrong with being a flight attendant? Are you happy with this job?”
Robert nodded. “I love this job. I travel much more than I did in the Army and it’s fun. Hell, one day I might be even lucky enough to live my childhood dream and go to the moon. Yet, Kristin, you’re absolutely right about the way I look at relationships.”
“You’re a good man Robert, and any woman would be lucky to be with you. You’re happy with what you do, and she'll see that. I didn't marry my husband based on his yearly income. I married him because he knocked me up.”
“Oh.” Robert looked at her, confused. “I thought you were going to say something to the effect of 'because I loved him.'”
“That too, kiddo. That too.” Kristin smiled and gave him her empty coffee cup.
The curtain swung open and a passenger stalked into the back galley and looked around, lost. “Where’s the bathroom?”
Both Kristin and Robert looked at him for a moment in amazement. Robert lifted his hand and pointed just behind the man. “Right behind you, Sir. There are two. Each of them is marked with a big sign that says 'Lavatory’.”
“Okay, thanks. You guys have any of those chips?” The passenger asked.
“Would you like those before or after you go into the lavatory?” Kristin asked.
The passenger thought for a moment and then said, “After. I gotta go.” He rushed into one of the lavatories as Alice dodged him and entered the back galley. Both Kristin and Robert were laughing until Alice arrived, and both suddenly stopped.
“Well, I better go check on my section. See you two turtledoves later,” Kristin said as she went off into the cabin.
“Um . . . Did I miss something?” Alice asked.
“You missed me being put on the coach.”
“What about those kids in Kristin's section?”
“Those kids are fast asleep now. The wings and food combo worked like a charm.” Alice removed a bottle of water from a galley cart and drank it all down. “Robert, you’re holding something back from me. I can't quite put my finger on it, but you are. What were you two talking about?”
The interphone suddenly chimed high and low and a red light illuminated over them. “Sorry, Alice. I got to take this.” Robert picked up the phone and said, “This is Robert. Yes?” Robert nodded and hung up the phone. “The IFE stopped working throughout the plane. The captain wants us to go to our sections and comp movies and drinks to compensate for the loss of the television signal.” Robert grabbed his comp card and went out of the galley without answering her question.
Virgin Galactic Flight 261 (MCO-JFK), High Above the U.S.A., Earth [Sol] 30062060
An hour passed, and the whole inflight crew met in the back galley. “Anyone else feels like we're flying in circles?” Robert said, thinking out loud. Everyone nodded in unison.
Anthony, the lead flight attendant, checked his watch and said, “We should have heard the pilot's descent announcement or the sterile cockpit chimes by now. What’s up with that? I guess I should give 'em a ring.” Anthony sat in an empty jumpseat and crossed his legs as he gave the pilots a call over the interphone. His legs nervously bobbed up and down as the phone rang with no answer. “They're not picking up.”
“You think they're all right? They could need our help,” Alice said in a whisper that only the closest people to her could hear.
“It could also mean they're both up there busy dealing with some sort of situation. We should wait a few more minutes before we initiate some sort of cockpit rescue mission. Besides, if the plane is flying in circles over New York City airspace then it’s obvious that someone is flying the plane. The FAA doesn't allow autopilot here because of all the traffic,” Robert said in a reassuring tone.
“Robert, I fucking love you. How the hell is it that you’re still single?” Anthony said with a chuckle.
“I ask myself the same question every day, Anthony,” Robert replied and then forced out a laugh.
“Hey, check that out.” Kristin was looking out of the aft service door view hole and pointed outside. She leaned back and let everyone have a glance.
Robert looked out the view hole and then back at Kristin, confused. “We've established that we’re flying around JFK in a holding pattern, but is there something else I'm looking for?”
“Look at the other planes. Specifically, the ones leaving the airport,” Kristin said.
Robert looked out again, and after a few minutes he said, “That's not normal.”
“What is it?” Anthony asked, almost frightened.
“All the JFK traffic coming out of the airport is heading in one direction. West.”
“Why would they do that?” Anthony said, looking worried. He picked up the phone again and tried to talk to the pilots, but still no answer.
“Could be a freak storm in the Atlantic or maybe a volcano erupted like that one in Iceland that stopped all European traffic in 2010,” Ellen said, tossing ideas out between swigs of her Sprite Zero. Normally the A321 NEO was staffed with four Flight Attendants, but since Alice was doing her I.O.E. training there were five instead of the normal four.
“Then why aren't they heading south, missy? There a volcano down there too? You'd think some people would be going to Atlanta or something,” Anthony said in an irritated tone. He hated being left in the dark.
“There is no way to know what’s really going on since the IFE isn't working. It's not like we can flip the channel to CNN and see if something, if anything, is going on,” Robert said.
The interphone suddenly chimed high and low and a red light illuminated. Anthony snatched the phone from the wall. “This is Ant . . . um, okay." He listened patiently for a minute as the first officer spoke, "Is something wrong?” Anthony looked at the phone angrily and hung it back up. “Rude. They hung up on me.”
“Well, what did they say?” Alice and Kristin said together.
“We’re about to land. Get to our stations and get the people off as soon as we're on the ground. That's about it. They sounded like they were scared.” Anthony was almost trembling with fear.
“I guess we'll find out on the ground. Anthony, you okay?” Robert asked, concerned for him. Anthony nodded. “Great. Just chill for a second. Have a Coke or something, and come back out once you’re calm. We can't let the passengers see you like this.” Anthony nodded again and smiled half-heartedly. “Let’s go prep that cabin.” Robert opened a large red trash bag and headed out into the cabin followed by Alice, Kristin, and Ellen.
Virgin Galactic Flight 261 (MCO-JFK), High Above the U.S.A., Earth [Sol] 30062060
They prepped the cabin and now sat securely buckled to their jumpseats. Alice, Kristin, and Robert were in the aft of the aircraft, in the galley. They all said nothing as the plane descended and finally landed. As the plane taxied to the gate, Alice broke the silence. “Robert, in case this is all nothing, I have plans tonight to go to this awesome new place by Central Park. Amazing food and cheap drinks. John is taking me on a date, and you can come along if you want.”
“John? We’re not talking about the same John who left you for that other woman?” Robert sighed deeply. Kristin looked at him and just shook her head.
“Yes. That John. I know he hurt me, but things are different now. He loves only me.” Alice smiled at Robert.
“I would like to go, Alice, but I have plans for tonight.” Robert knew he was lying to both Alice and himself. “Have fun, but be careful.”
Alice laughed. “Of course.”
The plane came to a stop, and Anthony gave the command over the PA system to disarm the doors. Robert and Kristin slipped off their harness and disarmed the doors within seconds. The doors were now safe to open and on non-emergency mode. A knock came on the main aft cabin door, and all three aft FAs looked at each other, confused. The back doors were never opened stateside. The passengers always exited and entered through the front cabin doors. “We better call up ahead. Not sure what to do,” Robert said, as he picked up the phone and related their situation to Anthony. After speaking with Anthony, Robert pointed at the door and then gave a thumbs up.
The knock came back louder and Kristin looked outside. “There's a man outside and an airstair has been attached to the plane.” Kristin gave the man a thumbs up and he opened the door from the outside.
“All the passengers need to deplane immediately. Tell them to grab their shit and go. The front half through the front doors and the aft passengers through the back.” The man raced down the stairs and stood at the bottom.
Robert peeked out the open aft door and watched as the baggage handlers literally tossed the baggage and cargo onto the tarmac. They looked tired and dirty, but they moved at an unbelievable rate. The first passengers began to exit the aircraft. The ones leaving from the back took note of the manner that the baggage handlers were treating their luggage and started screaming at them. The baggage handlers completely ignored them and worked rapidly until the entire cargo hold was empty. A large black truck appeared and backed up near the back of the plane, crushing a few rollerboards under its wheels. The baggage handlers immediately swarmed the truck and began transferring the truck’s cargo into the plane. Two soldiers stepped out of the vehicle and went to assist the baggage handlers.
The last passengers left the plane, shepherded out by both Kristin and Robert, who now stood at the bottom of the stairs. They watched the baggage handlers and soldiers make a fireman line and pass along green metal box after green metal box into the A321 NEO's cargo hold. “Friends of yours, Robert?” Kristin asked.
“No, but those are ammunition cases they're loading into the cargo hold.” Robert seemed confused at what he was seeing.
“Robert! Kristin! Come to the front galley, quick!” Alice shouted from the top of the stairs and disappeared back inside the aircraft. Robert and Kristin rushed up the stairs and through the dirty cabin. They entered the front galley and sat down next to the rest of the crew who were waiting on them. Both pilots were also sitting, with blank looks on their faces.
In front of the assembled crew stood an officer from the U.S. Army. He wore his ACU uniform with a large sidearm strapped to the side of his hip. He waited until Robert and Kristin had settled in, and then he spoke. “Is that everyone?” The plane's captain nodded and the soldier continued, “Listen up everyone. CRAF has been activated all across the country. This plane and its crew have been commandeered by the Department of Defense under orders from what’s left of the U.S. government.” The crew all gasped in horror, and they looked at each other as if to confirm they had all heard the same thing.
“Sir, what do you mean by 'what’s left?'” Robert asked.
“What the hell is CRAF?” Kristin asked.
“Exactly what I meant by that. The CHICOMs hit us and hit us hard. The entire West Coast is being overrun, and the Civil Reserve Air Fleet has been activated to transport our soldiers to the combat zone. The military doesn't have enough lift capacity, so every American commercial plane and crew is now working for the DoD. The place we’re heading to will be condition red, so expect to be shot at by the enemy.” The army officer handed a paper to the captain and he read it himself.
“When do we leave?” The captain asked after he reviewed the paperwork that legalized the plane’s takeover by the government.
“As soon as my men get on board. We’re on a time-critical mission so any shortcuts you can find us in the air would be greatly appreciated, Captain.” The army officer said. “What the fuck's the matter with you?”
Anthony was crying openly and rocking back and forth in his seat. “This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening!” The other members of the crew sat silently, unsure what to think of the situation they were in.
“Cowboy the fuck up! I don't want my boys to see you crying like a schoolgirl. They got more than enough shit on their minds,” the army officer angrily ordered.
Robert stood up and looked the officer in the eyes. “Sir, with all due respect. We aren't soldiers. This is a lot to take in for us, and he is just reacting to the news like most of the civvies probably did. Until ten minutes ago we were just tarts with carts, and now we’re expected to jump into hell feet first.”
The army officer studied Robert with a pleased look. “Well then, that's the spirit. I want you in the front as the lead FA. I also want that pretty little black-haired vixen up here too. My boys need some eye candy.” The officer stepped out of the plane and walked up the Jetway at a fast pace.
“Asshole.” Kristin was clearly offended.
“I think you’re hot, Kristin,” Anthony said as he wiped a tear from his eye. Kristin gave him a hug, and they went off to the back of the aircraft with Ellen following close behind.
The pilots went back into the cockpit without saying anything, and both Robert and Alice positioned themselves by the main cabin door. The soldiers began pouring into the aircraft in full battle rattle: full ALICE packs, Kevlar armor, helmets and M-16 rifles. Robert and Alice greeted them as if it were just another flight full of tourists.
The soldiers said nothing as they entered and quickly placed their gear in the overhead compartments. They stacked their rifles along the bulkhead and filled the plane from the aft to the front. The army officer was the last man to come aboard, and the ground operations personnel closed the door behind him. Robert seated the man across from his own jumpseat and he armed the front doors with Alice's help. The back doors were armed by the aft crew, and the computer above the lead FA jumpseat gave them the all clear. They both sat in their jumpseats and buckled themselves in. Robert called the cockpit and hung up. That was the signal to the pilots that the cabin was secure and ready to go. The plane immediately took off and rapidly ascended. They leveled off at 30,000 feet and headed westward.
Both Robert and Alice sat silently in their jumpseats until the army officer spoke to Robert. “Do these TVs work?”
“You mean the IFE's?” Robert said.
“Whatever those things are. Can you get them on?”
“We checked them before and they work fine, but there seems to be no signal what-so-ever.”
“Streamed from the net via satellite?”
“The CHICOMs took down the internet along with most of our satellites. That's probably why you’re getting no TV signal. What movies you got?”
Robert sighed heavily and listed the movies off. “November Downs, Spy Kids 12: Toy Island, and Aquaman 2.”
The officer shook his head, “You have got to be shitting me.”
“So my boys are flying to certain death with only an anti-war movie, a stupid kids’ movie, and a movie about the most useless superhero ever created as entertainment?”
“We don't pick the movies. Virgin Galactic does, but we'll find another way to make the flight go smoother for your men.” Robert stood up and set the IFE movie system to “free” and motioned for Alice to follow him. They both walked down the long aisle and observed the soldiers staring either at the blank TV screens in front of them or out the windows. They were all in a trance, looking like they were drowning in their own thoughts. In the back galley, the rest of the crew sat in their jumpseats, also lost in their thoughts.
Kristin noticed Robert and Alice arrive in the aft galley and waved at them. “What brings you back here among the rubes?”
“This is such bullshit!” Anthony said in a high-pitched whine. “I didn't become a flight attendant to deal with this shit and possibly die. I did it for the glamor and the flight benefits.”
Robert shook his head. “Our main job is to deal with emergencies, and this is one.” Robert rummaged through the galley storage compartments and began setting up his service cart.
“Kiddo, what the hell are you doing?” Kristin asked.
Robert stopped and looked at Kristin. “There are two hundred soldiers out there. From the looks of it, all of them are shitting bricks and depressed. I would be too if I knew I was going into what essentially sounds like a suicide mission.” Robert continued setting up his cart.
“How does this help them?” Ellen asked.
“We need to give them anything we can to get their minds off where we’re heading. Make this flight as normal as possible. Talk to them. Joke with them. Hell, even flirt with them. Kristin, I'm looking at you.” Kristin shook her head and smiled. Robert continued, “It's up to us to give them one last moment of peace before they go into hell. That's my plan. It might sound stupid, but if you have anything better, I'm open to suggestions.” Alice, Ellen, and Kristin said nothing as they began to set up a service cart.
Anthony sat still in his seat and started to cry again. “This is impossible. The war was never supposed to come here to America. It was supposed to be far away, fought by other people. Not me. I am not supposed to be here.”
Robert finished his cart and sat next to Anthony and put his hand on his shoulder. “I know it seems impossible, but it’s now our new reality. We have to deal with the cards we’re dealt right now, and we have to be strong. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone else on this plane.” Robert stood up and pushed his cart towards the cabin. He stopped short and turned to Anthony. “We will come through this alive. It's just a quick turn. You’ll see. Anthony, please stay here and get things set up for the food and towel service.” Anthony smiled and wiped the tears off his face with a napkin. Robert pushed the service cart forward and disappeared into the cabin with Ellen, Alice, and Kristin following.
DoD C.R.A.F. Flight 524 (JFK-???), High Above the U.S.A., Earth [Sol] 01072060
“Towel service! Really? I feel like I paid an obscene amount of money to get on this flight. Good job.” The army officer laughed and patted Robert on the back as he was drinking his coffee. Robert grinned and put his coffee down on the aft galley’s service table.
“Thank you, sir,” Robert replied.
“Please, I'm Captain Vetter. I am sorry I didn't introduce myself before. I was in a bit of a rush.” Vetter extended his hand and Robert shook it.
“It's okay, Captain.”
“My boys aren't staring blankly into the abyss behind the seat in front of them anymore, and most of them won't shut up now. Plus the girls are doing a good job of working the crowd,” Vetter said with a laugh.
“I am glad to hear it. They're all fantastic flight attendants.”
“I don't doubt it. I don't doubt it. Robert, I want you to be ready. We’re a few minutes away from flying over Kansas City. I just wanted to warn you and the other FAs, since I know a few of you have weak constitutions.”
“What do you mean, sir? What happened to Kansas City?”
“The same thing that happened to most of the West Coast.” Vetter left the aft galley and returned to his seat in the very front of the plane.
Robert picked up the interphone and was about to call the rest of the crew to come to the aft galley, when he heard every voice in the cabin cry out in unison. He went out to investigate the source of the commotion when he was pushed aside by Anthony and Ellen. They both covered their eyes with their hands and sat on the floor weeping. “You two all right? Is anyone hurt?” Robert suddenly forgot what Vetter had told him and assumed that either Kristin or Alice had been hurt.
He rushed out into the cabin and made it down halfway before he reached Alice. Robert stepped in front of her and put his hands on her arms. The color had drained from her face, and she stared, horrified, right past him. “Alice, are you okay?” Alice said nothing and was on the verge of tears. Robert stared at her and then looked around. All of the soldiers were looking out of the side of the plane where Alice stared. Their faces were a mix of anger and horror. Robert let go of Alice and turned around. Nothing could have prepared him for what he was seeing. The entire world outside was lit up like it was daytime from a million fires burning out of control below. The smoke from the raging inferno billowed far above into the night sky and completely covered the moon. It was like nothing he had seen before; it looked as if the ground below was the sun and the sky above was the void. “What happened to Kansas City? The same thing that happened to most of the West Coast,” Robert said, loud enough that only he could hear it. He felt Alice hug him from behind and bury her face in his back.
“They nuked us? They fucking nuked us!”
“I ain't taking any POWs.” A chorus of angry voices filled the cabin as the soldiers began to scream for blood. Robert turned, grabbed Alice by the hand, and led her to the aft galley.
“This shit is crazy? What the fuck is going on?” Kristin said, almost hyperventilating.
“Not you too, Kristin?” Robert said while holding Alice as she cried on his shoulder.
“What the fuck do you mean by, 'not you too?' Did you not see what’s outside?”
“I saw.” Robert shook his head as if he were trying to shake the memory out.
“I think my reaction is pretty damn normal. It fucking looks like the world has a burning cold sore,” Kristin said, finally catching her breath. Robert, Ellen, and Anthony chuckled in unison at her vivid description.
“Kristin, I just meant that we have to stay strong, and you’re the strongest of us all. If you start up like this then we're all fucked.”
“You’re full of shit.” Kristin tried to open a bottled water, but her shaking hands were making it difficult.
“It’s true. I wouldn't have said it if I didn't believe it,” Robert told Kristin.
Kristin opened her water bottle and drank it all in one swig. She looked at Robert as if sizing him up and said, “I'll be in the shitter if anyone wants me.” She left the aft galley with the empty water bottle still in her hand.
“That's not a bad idea, because I feel like I'm about to throw up,” Anthony said as he rushed out. Ellen went with him, patting him on the back.
“Rob?” Alice asked as she looked up at him with fresh tears rolling off her cheeks.
“I'm so glad you’re here with me now.” Alice hugged him tightly and pressed her face against his chest.
Robert wanted to smile, but he felt guilty. He was finally with the girl of his dreams, but it had taken a disaster to get there. He could only respond by gently stroking her back as she hugged him. He really wanted to tell her how much he cared for her. How he'd been secretly in love with her for years, but he couldn't make himself do it. It felt wrong telling her while the world outside was collapsing all around them. He wanted more than anything to protect her from both the hell outside and his own reckless emotions. So he stood there and just held her as she cried. He couldn't help but let out a tear himself.
DoD C.R.A.F. Flight 524 (JFK-DEN), High Above the U.S.A., Earth [Sol] 01072060
“All right, gentlemen, you have your orders.” Captain Vetter hung up the interphone; he’d been talking to the pilots. He immediately picked up the interphone again and had Alice show him how to activate the planes PA system. His rough voice soon filled the entire cabin. “We all know just how TARFU the situation on the ground is. Our brothers and sisters on the West Coast are putting up one hell of a fight, but we kid ourselves if we expect them to hold. Our mission is simple: Protect the civvies at all costs and give them time to head east. The Rocky Mountains is where we will make our stand. We aren't expected to win but only delay. We are expected to DIP unless told otherwise by the brass.”
Vetter looked down the cabin where his men were solemnly nodding in agreement. He gazed out of the plane’s window and could clearly see the massive snowy summits of the first line of mountains that made up the impressive Rockies. “More than two thousand years ago a man by the name of Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar Barca of Carthage, led his nation's armies against Rome in the Second Punic War. In 218 BC Hannibal had done the impossible. He had crossed the Alps, the mountain range in Northern Italy that acted as a natural barrier for Rome, and he had done it with an entire army. He would lay siege to the Roman countryside and cause them untold grief for ten years, but what people always seem to forget is that in crossing the Alps, his army had taken a huge toll.
“Hannibal went into the Alps with 60,000 soldiers, and two weeks later only 26,000 came out. His army left the mountain range a shell of its former self, with none of the siege engines or famed elephant cavalry it so desperately needed to take Rome and decisively win the war. In the Alps, Hannibal's army didn't just face the cold and treacherous mountain passes. He faced the natives of that mountain range who resisted his passing at every turn. They rolled boulders into his formations or ambushed them from above as they were stretched thin going through a narrow pass.
“Many of the invaders were killed before they even reached Roman territory. Eventually, Rome would win the war after a long hard slog. Today the CHICOMs have done the impossible again. They crossed the mighty Pacific and landed their armies here. We will become the natives of the mountains and make them pay a heavy price to cross them. In time, because of our sacrifice in those mountains, we will win.” Vetter said as he pointed at the Rocky Mountain range outside the plane’s window.
The soldiers started to chant their unit’s motto in response, and Robert walked back to the aft galley. He took a seat in an empty jumpseat right next to Ellen who was staring at her feet. Robert said nothing as his mind raced, and he tried hard to keep his composure. He felt a light tap on his shoulder, and he looked toward the source. It was Anthony, and his face had lost all color. He was clearly afraid.
“Rob, what did he mean by 'tar-foo' and 'DIP'?”
“Things are really fucked up.”
Anthony laughed. “What about the other one?”
“Die in place,” Robert said sadly.
“Oh.” Anthony's short-lived smile left his face.
“We're going to be landing soon. I’d better head to the front.” Robert barely made it to the border of the cabin and the galley when the plane descended violently. The entire crew in the back—with the exception of Anthony in his harness—was tossed into the air and slammed against the ceiling. The plane righted itself, and they all stood up and brushed themselves off. “Is everyone okay?” Robert said as he rotated his sore arms to see if they suffered more than just bruises.
“What the fuck was that shit?” Kristin said as she strapped herself inside her harness.
“I don't care to find out. I better sit my ass down.” Robert stopped at the border of the cabin and looked down the long aisle to the front. He could see Alice alone in her jumpseat with a look of sheer terror on her face. She was fixated on something outside of the window. The plane began to shake and dip again in an erratic fashion. Robert focused on moving down the aisle; it may have been only the distance of three fire trucks, but it now seemed as long as the Brooklyn Bridge. Robert slowly moved forward against the very powerful forces of gravity. He felt his body lift off the ground and two strong arms grabbed his legs. Robert looked down to see the soldiers on either side of him in the aisle holding him down. The soldiers ahead of him in the aisle stretched out their hands, and he grabbed hold. The soldiers moved him forward one row at a time. He reached the front of the cabin and leaped towards his jumpseat. Alice pulled him forward and he strapped himself in. “Hi, Alice,” Robert said out of breath.
“Hi,” Alice said looking at Robert as if he were a madman.
The plane jerked upwards and both Alice and Robert were pressed against their jumpseats. Robert could now see the world below clearly from the windows, and it looked like thousands of streaks of light ripping up into the sky. The enemy was shooting anti-air projectiles at them, and the plane was moving erratically to avoid the incoming fire. He could also see hundreds of other commercial liners filling the skies around them, going both East and West. A Delta 767 just below them took a direct hit along its nose and spun down towards the earth in a corkscrew. On its way down the 767 took out a smaller regional jet.
Alice gave a loud yelp and Robert grabbed her hand. He smiled at her and squeezed her hand reassuringly. The plane rocked violently from side to side and sharply descended towards the ground. Alice seemed like she wanted to cry, to scream out, but he kept squeezing her hand. He kept telling her on the way down, “Alice, it’s going to be all right.”
The plane landed like a hammer hitting a nail into the ground. The entire plane bounced repeatedly from the trauma, and its tail lifted up off the ground and almost put the plane into a spin on the runway. The blunt force from the landing shot up Robert's and Alice's spines, and they both cried out in pain. The plane came to a rest, and both Alice and Robert disarmed the doors. The lights went to full brightness, and the ground crew placed an airstair on the door. The main cabin door opened from the outside, and Robert smelled the heavy stench of burning jet fuel. The airport outside buzzing with thousands of soldiers mobilizing on the runways and moving towards the mountains around the city of Denver. The runway was full of burning planes and wreckage. A few had taken enemy fire as they descended, while others—in the confusion—had run into other planes on the runways. There seemed to be little order to the madness and not much firefighting capability. Off into the distance to the west, just beyond the skyline, an eerie orange glow illuminated the back of the mountains.
Captain Vetter stood up, grabbed his gear, and stood by Robert and Alice just by the door. “Oscar Mike!” Vetter shouted. The soldiers quickly geared up and rushed out of the plane.
Alice tried hard to suppress her fear and suddenly found a strength inside of herself she didn't know she had. She smiled and waved with a tear in her eye. “Farewell! I'll be here to pick you up on your way back home.” The soldiers looked into her beautiful smiling face and smiled themselves. Many bowed their heads and thanked her. Robert was inspired by her and started shaking the hands of the soldiers leaving the plane.
The soldiers formed up by the aircraft, and Captain Vetter was the last man off. The doors to the airport terminal opened, and a throng of people ran towards their aircraft. Captain Vetter stood in front of the stairs and then walked through the large crowd of refugees with his soldiers. One of the pilots of the aircraft opened the cockpit door and looked like he had aged ten years since the last time they saw him. “We’re going to take as many people as we can. Anything we don't need, toss.” All five flight attendants went through the cabin and galley and tossed everything overboard that they didn't absolutely need—from galley carts to coffee pots, from safety instruction cards to their own luggage.
Robert tossed out the onboard wheelchair and glanced out the door as he saw some of the men in the crowd of refugees form up with Vetter's soldiers and given rifles. A few other men were saying their goodbyes to their families and crying in their arms. They finished their goodbyes and were embraced by Vetter's unit, then sent to the back of the formation.
The first refugees came on board, all women and children. All of them were dirty and some of them bloodied. Small children sat on the laps of women. Within minutes, every seat and jumpseat was filled. A woman was pushed off the airstair by Vetter's soldiers and cried out in agony, “My babies are on board! Let me on!” The soldiers wrestled her to the ground and began dragging her away.
“Let her go! We have one more seat left!” Robert called out. The soldiers looked at him, confused, and let her go.
Alice looked at him and glanced around the inside of the aircraft. “What seat?”
“Mine.” Robert took off his Virgin Galactic wings.
Alice grabbed his arm and tugged at him. “Please. Don't do it!”
“This flight only needs four flight attendants.” Robert smiled.
Alice hugged him and started to cry. “Please don't leave.”
“I have to do this. I want to do this. Please.” Robert looked down into her beautiful blue eyes. “Do me a favor.” Robert placed his Flight Attendant wings into her hands and closed them. “When you go to the moon, please take them with you. I've always wanted to go there.” The refugee woman boarded the plane, and Robert took her to his seat. He quickly showed her how to work the harness and doors, then left. He could hear Alice crying as he descended the airstair. The door closed behind him, and the plane began to back up.
Captain Vetter looked at him sternly and reached out to shake his hand. “You don't even have to say anything, soldier.” He barked an order. “Give this man a weapon.” Another soldier gave Robert an M-16 and he accepted it. The formation of soldiers and civilian volunteers marched towards the mountains. The skyline ahead of them glowed, and the occasional flash of light could be seen. The earth beneath them shook from distant artillery and the winds from the west blew the smell of burning flesh into their faces. Robert turned his head and watched as the plane ascended into the air. He knew he would do anything to protect Alice. Anything to protect the woman he loved.
Virgin Galactic Flight 41 (JFK-LUNA), Above Luna City, Earth's Moon [Sol] 17122061
The large lunar city came into view. Its massive structures towered into space itself. This was going to be this spacecraft's last flight. All aboard were refugees from Earth, including VIPs from the highest echelons of America's fledgling government. The situation on Earth was hopeless for the United States, and they were being evacuated to the safest place they could. America's only real victory in the war was maintaining its hold on the moon, although it cost them dearly to push the Hegemony off of it.
The spacecraft landed softly in a crater which opened up to be a concealed hanger. The doors opened and the people poured out. Some kissed the ground. Many hugged random strangers and began to openly thank their God and sing happily. They were born again and safe. They had made it out of the cauldron. They had made it, where many had not.
A beautiful woman in a scarlet uniform stepped out of the aircraft with the rest of the crew. She slowed down in front of a large window, and the others went ahead. The captain turned around and shouted at her, “Alice! We'll miss the shuttle. Hurry!”
Alice smiled at him and waved him off. “Go on ahead. I have something to do.” The captain and the rest of the crew disappeared into the terminal, and she dug deep into her rollerboard. She found what she was looking for after nearly tearing apart her luggage. Robert’s tarnished, broken Virgin Galactic wings. They had lost their shine because they had been with her everywhere she went. She looked out of the window towards the vast expanse of the lunar plains. Above the gray craters hung the yellowish brown orb of Earth suspended in space. She lifted the wings up to the glass and smiled. “We finally made it Rob. We finally made it.” She lowered the wings to her lips and gave them a kiss. “We made it.”