The captain wakes to the dim glow of the emergency light and a band of pain over his shoulders and down his front from the seat-belt. He lets out a small hiss and groan as he reaches down to unbuckle. He peels back the straps and pulls himself to his feet, squinting out the window as he leans forward, but there is nothing to be seen outside. Condensation lingers in front of the stark black background. He hears a groan from his right. Justin is in a similar state, one hand over his eyes.
“You alive over there?” He puts a hand on Justin’s shoulder.
“I guess so… what in the world happened? Where are we?” The captain lowers his hand and gets up, leaning forward onto the control panel.
“Well, let’s get these lights on and take a look.” He reaches down and flips the switch for the the floodlights on the outside of the plane, revealing grey, crenelated walls, stalactites glinting from above. There is a fog that obscures the ground and extends back into the darkness in front of them, though the already uniform surroundings suggest that there would only be more of the same – grey stone coated in moisture.
“Did we land in a cave? But the altimeter says we’re still at around 36,000 feet.”
“Everest is only 29,000 feet, not to mention we’re nowhere near it. Let’s try the radio.” The captain flips a switch and the low sound of static fills cabin.
“Radio this is flight 197, we are currently in a forced landing situation while passing over the Sakha Republic. Please come in, we are in immediate need of assistance.” They stand in silence for a minute or so. “I repeat, we are in a forced landing. Please respond.” Again they wait, frozen and silent, but the minutes pass and no response comes from the rectangular metal grille on the dashboard.
“Well, there goes that. Navigation looks to be out as well.”
“Where the hell are we?”
“May as well get outside and take a look around at this point.” Justin nods in response to this sentiment and they both stand up and turn to leave the cockpit.
“Shit, Julie!” She is slumped in the harness, gash bleeding down the side of her face, eyes closed and mouth slightly open. They hurry over to her and the captain stares closely at the wound. “It’s doesn’t appear to be too deep, but it was enough to knock her unconscious. Ugh, I hope the rest of them managed to buckle up in time. Keep an eye on her, try to clean her up a bit while I go back there and check on them.”
He opens the door to the cabin, metal sliders screeching as it is pried open. Low talking filters in through the opening, and the sight of stirring passengers greets the captain’s eyes. He walks down the aisle, looking from side to side at the groaning people, nodding at them as he passes by. They are almost uniformly groaning and holding their foreheads. He walks until he is at around the center of the cabin and then takes a deep breath.
“Everyone! I’m your captain, Gabe, you may remember me from when this flight took off. It appears that we have landed, though my copilot and I are still trying to determine where exactly using the radio. Is anyone in need of medical attention at this point?” No one replies to him, just staring passengers with unfocused eyes and open mouths, and a few whispers. “I take it from you silence that you all buckled up earlier–”
“Yeah, and a good damn thing we did, Gabe!” Gabe raises an eyebrow at the man in the visibly creased gray business suit who has stood up near the back of the cabin, stringy black hair disheveled and dark-rimmed glasses askew. “Your irresponsible flying nearly killed me! I tried to get up there earlier to complain about it but they wouldn’t let me.”
“Woah there.” Gabe holds his hands out, palms down. “We’ve landed safely now. I’m sure we’ll reestablish communications shortly and then it’ll just be a matter of waiting for help to come to us.”
“Wait, so we’re currently cut off from everyone? Where did we land? We were passing over practically a wasteland.” The man raises his voice and Gabe lets out a sigh.
“Yes, we’re not exactly sure where we’ve landed, but judging by time we’re a little under halfway through the Sakha Republic. So yes, it may be some time before anyone reaches us. That said, we have plenty of supplies on-board and it’s only a matter of time before we get radio communications back up.” Justin is walking up behind him as he says this and lays a hand on his shoulder. Gabe turns to face him. “Good news?”
“Still nothing from the radio,” Justin whispers in response, “and judging from the view of outside we may need to actually take the handheld into the open air.
“What are you two muttering about?” the businessman yells, and starts to walk over to where they stand. The other passengers stare at him, tracking his progress toward the pilots. Gabe steps to meet him and the man stops mid-step, looking up at the man who is a good two or three inches taller than he is.
“We’re going to take our portable radio outside, try to pick up a signal. You’re welcome to join us if you don’t feel safe on my plane… I’d bet my license you’re the one who was causing trouble for my crew earlier.” He glares, and the man in the suit folds his arms and halts his advance. “Now, let’s see about getting outside. Excuse me.” He takes a few steps back and motions for the three passengers in the row in front of the emergency exit to vacate their seats. They stand and move as though the plane is still in motion, holding on to the seats in front of them and stepping slow. Gabe walks to window and pulls the lever. The emergence door pushes inward with a suction sound and then slides up toward the ceiling of the plane. The air outside is neither hot nor cold, but the mist causing the condensation is immediately evident. Gabe recoils a bit as it touches him. He hops down from the opening and lands with a squishing noise. He holds his arms out to either side and looks down at the gray surface.
“How is it?” Justin looks down at him.
“It’s not quite… solid?” He furrows his brow. “It’s almost… spongy.” Justin’s eyebrows go up and the passengers watching from behind him look at each other. “Stable enough to stand on, though there goes our cave theory. Pass me that equipment so we can figure out where we are.” Justin passes down the portable radio, and Gabe does not set it on the ground once he has it, choosing to instead carry it by the strap attached to the top.
“None of this makes sense,” Justin says as he crouches down to drop from the doorway, looking to the left off into the impenetrable darkness.
“Be careful, don’t slip.” Justin lands with a sound of footsteps in mud, and when he moves the impressions left by his shoes visibly fill in and are gone within seconds. They walk towards the tail end of the plan, Gabe with the detachable speaker stretched on its spiral cord. The ground squishes with each footstep, almost imperceptible moisture seeping out like squeezing fruit that has just begun to rot.
“Radio this is flight 197, we are currently in a forced landing situation and in need of immediate assistance. Do you copy?” Once again, there is nothing but white noise returned, though it increases in volume as they approach the tail end of the plane. The static continues to increase as they walk until–
“There’s no way.” Gabe’s gaze travels up.
“That’s impossible!” Both stare, mouths open and eyes wide, at the solid wall of smooth gray material that curves up over them. There is no sign of impact, no cracks, nothing to indicate the planes entry into the cavern. “Then how did we get in here? This doesn’t make any sense.” Justin shakes his head and reaches a hand out to touch the wall. He withdraws it as soon as it makes contact and rubs his palm. “The wall… it stung my hand–” All of a sudden the radio crackles and they jump.
“Fligh- … 7 this is… do you… -py? … puts you at…” The message is punctuated with static, parts of it unintelligible. Gabe presses the outgoing message button on the speaker.
“Yes, this is flight 197, we’re not sure what our coordinates are at this point–” His message is cut short as they hear yelling back at the plane.
“What are you doing? Get back in here!” The words are faint. Gabe and Justin look at each other and start running back to the plane.
( ©2016 Sean Dorsey )