6.

The inside of the plane’s cabin had degenerated into a state of barely controlled panic. Outside the storm raged on, and the remaining engine roared in protest as it was forced to compensate for the loss of its counterpart. The plane bucked and jumped wildly, flinging the passengers back and forth in their seats and continuing to lose altitude at a steady pace.

Alastair Stone struggled to keep his seatbelt fastened, then finally gave up and stood, gripping the seat backs to keep himself balanced against the plane’s pitching. Peter Hsu gave him a look of wild-eyed fear and was going to say something, but Stone didn’t give him the chance, moving quickly back and dropping into another vacant seat two rows behind and across the aisle just as the plane gave another mighty heave upward followed by a steep drop. Thankfully, this seat’s belt functioned correctly, and he got it fastened in just enough time to avoid being slammed into the ceiling.

Gina Kane was across the aisle from him. She looked over at him, her eyes full of fear, her hands gripping the arms of her seat. “I don’t want to die, Dr. Stone,” she whispered.

Stone shook his head. “We’re not going to die, Ms. Kane. Planes like these are designed to glide—they can make emergency landings even without engine power. It’s not like one of the big jetliners.” He forced himself to sound calm, even though he was anything but: he had no idea if his words were correct, or if he was saying them only to calm the student—and himself. “Besides,” he added, “We’ve still got one engine. If they can get down low enough before it fails, we’ll have a good chance. Who knows—they might even be able to land before it goes.”

“Do you really believe that?” came Peter Hsu’s voice from Stone’s former row. “That they can land, I mean? Look at the jungle down there. There’s no place to set down a plane.” His voice was strained, his expression suggesting that he was desperately trying to make himself believe Stone knew what he was talking about.

Stone glanced forward at the two guides, who looked terrified, and weighed his words. “I have to believe it, Mr. Hsu,” he said at last. “I’m not a trained pilot, so I have to trust that those who are know what they’re doing.”

Hsu looked like he was going to say something else, but he never got it out—the plane pitched sideways, the wing with the nonfunctional engine dipping down while the other tilted upward. All around them computer tablets, loose carryon bags, and other unsecured items rolled around on the floor and came to rest first against the left wall, then back into the middle of the aisleway as the plane righted itself again.

Stone listened, realizing that something had changed again. It took him only a moment to identify it: the remaining functional engine had changed tone, sounding very much like the way the other one had sounded before it gave out. He gritted his teeth and looked around, noting that once again Kevin Frasier appeared to have noticed while the others had not. He turned in his seat, trying to look out the window to see how far up they still were, but there was no chance: even though it was only mid-afternoon it was dark outside, made so by the roiling clouds that had taken over the sky and the sheets of rain that poured from them. He wondered where they were, how far they had been blown off course by the whipping winds.

The cabin lights went off, plunging them into deep dimness. Someone screamed, and then there was a popping sound from somewhere up front. The engine whined, screaming with defiance, and the plane tilted downward on a steeper angle. “They’re taking it down faster,” Frasier said unnecessarily. “That means—”

The engine’s whine grew higher and higher, louder and louder, and then sputtered and died. The absence of its sound was for a moment eerie, replaced by nothing but the unceasing patter of the rain hitting the cabin and the low moans of the passengers—moans that instantly became cries of panic. “Oh, God!” cried Dr. Whittaker, his voice bright with terror. “We’re going to crash!” As if heeding his words, the plane made another downward tilt and seemed to pick up speed.

Alastair Stone didn’t scream, though he did clamp his hands tightly on his seat-arms as Gina Kane had done. Think, damn you, he ordered himself. You’re no use to anyone if you go to pieces! His mind went over possibilities as fast as he could, but none seemed practical. He wondered at his own arrogance, thinking he could do anything to affect the situation. He was just a passenger. The pilots knew what to do—they would be relaying their location to the authorities via the radio, and soon after, someone would—

Suddenly Stone knew there was something he could do. Without a word to anyone, he re-checked his seatbelt to make sure it was tight, then closed his eyes and made himself concentrate. It wasn’t a difficult magical technique, but in a situation like this, even simple things required focus. He formed the pattern in his mind and released it, rewarding himself with a tight little smile as the air shimmered in front of him. He had done it! But he wasn’t done yet. Forcing himself once more to concentrate, he conveyed the necessary information, then with one final thought, released the shimmering ball of astral energy. It immediately shot upward, penetrating the roof of the plane as if it were not there. Stone didn’t try to follow it with his eyes, but slumped a little in his seat. There. Let’s just hope there’s something left for them to find when they get the message.

The plane bucked hard again, jolting out of his concentration. His head smacked against the soft headrest of the seat, then jerked forward. He vaguely became aware that people were yelling, and then suddenly the voice of one of the pilots rose above the hubbub in the cabin, crackling over the speaker. “Everyone get into crash position!” he called shrilly. “Everyone into—”

Stone didn’t wait for further instructions. Even though he hadn’t listened to an airline safety briefing in years, some things just stayed with you. He bent his body forward, wrapping his arms around his tucked head, and waited, hoping desperately that his last-ditch attempt to get them help was successful.

The roar increased. The plane seemed to be going down at a high rate of speed, but it also seemed to have leveled out some. The anticipation was almost worse than the fear—not knowing when it was going to happen. Stone’s entire body was taut, his hands clenched together, beads of sweat growing on his forehead and running down his back. The passengers were silent now, except for the whispered mutterings of someone praying a couple of rows up.

“Here we go!” cried the pilot. “Hold on—”

Impact.

There was a loud scraping sound across the bottom of the plane and then an even louder thump followed immediately by a jarring crash that flung everyone forward against their seatbelts and then sideways. Stone barely even noticed as his head was slammed into the window. All around him people were screaming, but he couldn’t make out individual voices or even tell if his was among them. The plane jerked again, hard, wrenching itself first one way, then another as the wings tore off, then continuing to slide along slamming into trees and ripping them free of the ground.

It was all over in only a few seconds, but for a moment no one realized they had stopped. The screams continued, but the sound was both quieter and different now: some of the voices had been stilled, and some cried out from pain rather than panic.

Stone sat up slowly, assessing. His head hurt, but he didn’t have time to notice that now. His middle hurt where the seat belt had dug into him, his hands where they’d been clenched, and his back from being wrenched sideways. But he was awake. He was alive.

Slowly he unbuckled his belt and rose. The acrid smell of smoke hung in the air, but he didn’t see any evidence of fire. All around him people were either slumped in their seats, moaning in pain, or trying to get out of their belts. Kevin Frasier was already up—his face was bleeding and he walked with a limp, but otherwise seemed unhurt. “Frasier!” Stone called, then tried again when the first attempt came out as a weak croak.

“Dr. Stone.” Kevin Frasier quickly made his way back to where Stone stood in the aisle. Up front one of the guides, Santiago, was heading back as well. The other one, Corazón, lay on the floor, moaning.

“We have to get everyone out of here,” Stone said. He looked around. “I smell smoke.”

It soon became clear that no one else on the plane was going to be any help to them. Everyone was injured to some degree, but even those with minor injuries milled around in shocked confusion, unsure of what to do. Frasier, with the help of Santiago, pried open the cabin’s twisted door and looked down. “It’s a bit of a drop down,” he announced. “About two meters.”

“What about the pilots?” Stone asked. “Can they tell us about emergency gear?”

Frasier and Santiago turned their attention to the cabin door, but they couldn’t get it open. “They’re probably injured. We’ll have to go in from the outside.”

Stone nodded. “Let’s get started, then—we have to get people out of here.”

And so began a feverish period of activity as the three of them hurried back and forth getting the injured out of the plane, then herding the shocked remaining passengers to follow. Stone’s levitation magic was useful—he remained in the plane while Santiago helped or carried people to him and Frasier took charge of them down below. The rain still fell hard, drenching them all as they dragged the passengers into the small clearing the plane had made in its crash landing. Outside they could hear the cries of predators, but they didn’t seem close and the rescuers didn’t have time to notice them.

Nobody noticed how long it took to get everyone out, but after what seemed like an eternity the last passenger, Gina Kane, was lowered down into Frasier’s waiting arms. Stone dropped down after her. “That’s done,” he said grimly. “I doubt the plane will catch fire in this rain, but if something nasty and chemical starts pumping fumes into the cabin, we won’t be there to breathe them.”

Frasier nodded, looking every bit as grim as Stone. “True—but we’re not out of trouble yet.”

“At least it appears we’re all alive,” Stone said. “We—we—” He didn’t finish, because at that moment he was overcome with a sudden wave of dizziness that seemed to originate in the spot where he’d hit his head—the injury he’d forgotten about until now. “We can’t—”

Frasier caught him as his knees gave out and he pitched forward.


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Copyright ©2003 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of WizKids.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.