The aeroplane was different; wide-bodied but with seats just around the side and darkness where the cockpit should have been.
There were no seat assignments, no one to show us to our places, so I sat next to my friend Engle Lander. From behind Francoise tapped me on the shoulder.
“I don’t like this, Scott” she said in the perfect English that was stock for our trade. “The cockpit is so dark.”
“Are you afraid of the dark?” I asked.
“Not normally” she replied truthfully. And I knew it to be the truth even though, in the seat ahead of her, I could not see her eyes.
We were journalists who scribbled for a living. As the fat plane taxied on its tiny wheels, we scribbled in our minds, ignoring the safety briefing that came by video link.
Francoise tapped again; her whispered voice now two whole tones higher.
“There are no people, no cabin staff.”
“That is strange”, I admitted, not wanting to.
I looked forward at the dark. It seemed like the opening of a cavern without the remotest borrowed light.
And we were heading straight for it.
Then, the very moment the plane left the ground behind, there was a transformation. The deep black veil lifted to a flood of light. We blinked like prisoners from solitary.
And with the light was a voice, deep, alluring and warming, like sunshine on our backs.
“Welcome travellers” the voice said “This is your captain and it is my pleasure to fly you to a new world today. We are flying at seventy thousand feet, higher than any plane has gone before. Sit back and enjoy yourselves. You may switch on your computers now.”
One hundred and ninety-four laptops gave their glow to the cabin, but it was as nothing to the glory from the front of the aircraft. We were going to a new place, a place we had not been to before. The cave, once so black, was now full of flash and burn, like magic in the making.
When we leveled off, the captain came back, just as they used to on long haul flights, before terrorists and shoe bombers had their day.
“See, I control the plane from my phone” the captain said proudly, flicking between apps with the surest of touches.
Then he served us dinner from his phone. Three quick clicks and a central rail started buzzing, bringing us dishes and wine on tiny train carriages, reminding me of my childhood.
“See, it is my new invention. It takes away the need for people in my plane.” And it was his plane. That much we knew.
Afterwards, while we tapped our scribbled thoughts, he added, “We’re going to a good place, you know. It will be good where we are going.” He seemed to want to reassure us.
We responded by tapping some more. Could the captain tell whether they were taps of reassurance or clicks of anxiety as our fingers found our keyboards and wore themselves out?
“Are you all comfortable?” our host, our driver, our captain asked.
“Actually, I am a little hot” said Engle Lander, voicing the opinion of us all, at least I imagine so for I was hot with the sun right there in the cockpit forty feet ahead.
“Okay” he said, “I’ll sort that out.”
The light glinted on the axe as he raised it high. I blinked, first due to the glare, then in astonishment. But others were faster than me. Russ moved his huge bulk and stayed the axe before the second blow.
The first time the window had rocked in its joints, the inner skin of fake glass had cracked, revealing its true identity as plastic. The second blow would, without doubt, have broken through and caused the nothingness outside to rush in.
Then I moved, saw Gerry Many out of the corner of my eye. Without needing to discuss our plans, we worked together, restraining the captain and guiding him to a spare seat, the one hundredth and ninety-fifth on that fat plane. As we sat him down, Oz took the axe and found a safe place for it.
Indie sat next to the captain, just as I sat next to Engle Lander. She comforted and soothed the grey-white man who wept with sorrow.
But what, we scribbled and tapped, did he weep for?