Ryan Lau | United States
In many ways, Dan was unlike those around him. With an incredible intellect, lithe build, and handsome face, the young man of 22 was certain to make it big. Already, he had amassed a small fortune on a number of critically-timed investments, and it showed. An impeccable Ralph Lauren polo framed his narrow shoulders and an exquisite Salvatore Ferragamo belt kept his Vineyard Vines from slipping to the dirt of the aircraft floor.
All around him, commoners, as he so liked to refer to them, bore sweats and faded tees. A faint smell came from the economy cabin, which Dan chose to maintain his riches. Jammed-in crowds of businessmen, families, foreigners, and vacationers packed the plane to its capacity, all yearning to touch down in Los Angeles after a turbulent flight from Montreal.
Suddenly, the seatbelt sign buzzed twice, and the loudspeaker began to crackle. “Attention all passengers: at this point, we will be beginning our initial descent into Los Angeles International Airport with about twenty minutes to landing. Please stow any loose baggage and power down all large electronic devices. Thank you for ch…”
But before the pilot could finish the customary remarks, two gunshots rang through the air from the front of the craft as it started to tumble out of the sky.
Screams of pure terror rang through the craft. Some scared passengers threw themselves to the floor, while others raced to occupy openings in the plane’s rear. One fearful woman even went to the trouble of closing herself into the overhead storage bin.
While yells and frantic attempts at phone calls flooded the plane, the intercom stayed silent. Dan, too petrified to move, momentarily thought himself so lucky for not choosing a first-class seat. He then remembered his predicament with a thought of horror. I’m going to die here, he thought.
Miraculously, or so he believed, the plane soon stabilized, guiding itself back into a standard trajectory. Seven seconds of silence followed. But when a gravelly voice barked commands in an unrecognizable language, the entire aircraft filled with dread.
Fadel sat in the cockpit, autopilot switched on, door locked. Prepare for Phase Two, he had just announced. With heightened security, he was shocked by how effortless the operation had been. Not that there were many opportunities, but he had seldom seen this much success in a takeover. In fact, he recalled, it has now been nearly two decades…
Glancing at the floor, he looked at his Liberator. The tiny, 3D printed handgun had proved successful. The pilot and copilot lay strewn on the floor, bleeding profusely from tiny wounds in the backs of their heads. Fadel fleetingly hoped that the two were alive and just unconscious from the weak firearm. But thinking of Phase Two, care for his victims vanished into the air.
Flawed as these Americans are, they sure know how to produce weapons. The thought made him chuckle briefly before remembering his mission. If successful, God himself would praise him. Fadel would be a hero, worshipped in the streets by peasants and elites alike! His heart filled with pride as he shouted some more Persian into the mic. “Almarhalat Alththania!”
Back in the main cabin, tears streamed from Dan’s face like water gushing from a spring drain. For once, he didn’t care if they landed on his designer clothing or caused him to break out. At that moment, he sought but one thing: a phone call with his father.
Dan’s mother had died tragically, years before. His sister Amy and he had severed ties three months prior after a particularly nasty fight. Dan viciously believed the doctors mistreated his mother after her heart attack. But a member of the medical community, Amy defended the doctors’ actions to a T. Her resulting heart failure, she believed, was an incalculable side effect of a generally reliable medication.
As the plane sped through the air faster than Dan’s own thoughts, he forgave his sister in a heartbeat. It was no use, though. Not a device on the plane had cell service, and the internet was suddenly down. As he wept silently, seeking solace from the frantic plane. But out of the corner of his eye, he couldn’t help but notice something.
Two men, both dressed in black, were walking away from the rear. They both had long beards and olive skin. And they both held small white handguns. Though they looked plastic, Dan shuddered at the thought of more weapons, more hijackers on the plane.
As they passed Dan, he could tell that the two were harshly whispering in another language, heading for the front of the craft.
He looked around. The other passengers appeared not to notice, too busy in their own suffering. Those that saw didn’t care. After all, their own stories had ended from the moment the first shot rang.
“Commoners”, he muttered to himself, trembling slightly. His fear of perishing intensified as the two walked to the front of the plane, tearing back the curtain separating economy and first-class and vanishing to the front of the plane.
In the cockpit, Fadel heard a knock on the door. tap tap TAP tap TAP. He smiled, opening the compartment for his two compatriots. Gesturing to the now-open seat, he congratulated them on their quick work. One of the men, Bari, took the seat excitedly, guiding the nose of the plane down ever so slightly and reducing the thrust in the same manner.
“Eshrwn daqiqatan ealaa alhubut!” The new pilot looked happy as a saint, but equipped with a falling plane.
Twenty minutes to landing.
Dan, horrified by the men, poked the woman next to him and gestured to the front. “Terrorists. It’s 9/11 all over again!”
The woman responded only with a defeated sigh.
Angered, Dan vowed vengeance against the three men in the plane. He crept forward, rummaging around seats as he moved. Enraged but outwardly calm, like a volcano ready to explode, he found a safety pin and a plastic knife. Hardly a gun, he thought, but as he sensed the plane beginning to dip, he had few options.
Creeping forward, he drew back the first-class curtain. Empty. The entire section was a desert, devoid of all life. Bags littered the floor and made his walk more difficult, but for the oasis that followed, it was worth it. Quite literally sitting on a silver platter in the front row was a half-eaten section of prime rib, complete with fork and knife. Dan hurriedly but silently pocketed both and prepared himself for what may lie beyond the cabin door.
As Bari guided the plane lower, the Los Angeles skyline broke into view, buildings racing to the clouds. Fadel and the third man, Khan, stood watch, their Liberators focused squarely on the door in front of them.
Despite their readiness, they were not expecting the youthful American to barge through the door with a weapon of his own. He caught them off guard, slashing at Khan, who howled in pain as the steak knife left a shallow gash in his thigh.
Wresting the door open, Dan pretty much knew what to expect. Yet, that didn’t make an ounce of it any easier on the young man. A brown belt in karate, he had some defense training, but not to take on three armed men, one of whom was his only chance of survival.
Two of them, however, were unlikely to be flying the craft, and at least one must not. So charging in, he was slightly relieved when he caught the bearded guard by surprise. With an expert slash to the leg, he fell to his knees.
Bang. White-hot pain raced through Dan’s knife hand as he dropped the weapon. Stars ran through his eyes as he fought back the pain. The guard, though, aimed a swift kick to Dan’s ribs and he fell beside the pilots, conscious but unmoving.
Stupid American boy! Fadel cursed silently after the shot rang out. Though momentarily incapacitated, the grimacing heap on the floor was at no risk of dying. A blow from a Liberator to the hand was painful, but not life-threatening.
Khan, regaining his composure, looked with contempt at the young man. “Bism allah! Ymknna ‘na nufasir.”
In the name of God, we can explain.
As the bearded guard spoke to Dan, he panicked suddenly, fearing a second, more lethal shot would be soon to follow its predecessor. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw a compact backpack laying within reach.
A parachute. His escape.
Mustering all of the strength he could, which surprisingly was a lot, he snatched the pack off the ground and bolted to his feet. Amidst rampant shouting in the foreign language, which he thought must be Arabic, he hauled himself through the door, slamming it shut while ignoring the throbbing pain in his injured hand.
Making his way back through and drawing the first-class curtain, he turned around. Amazingly, none of the hijackers had followed him through the door. Perhaps, as long as he steered clear of the cockpit, he was no threat to them. Or maybe they were tending to the bearded guard’s injury. Dan didn’t really care, making his way to an exit row for his escape.
Two rows away, an elderly woman, caked with dirt and raggy clothes touched his shoulder lightly. He turned, fist extended, ready to punch his assailant. Seeing the woman, however, he lowered them, apologizing with a pained facial expression. The woman smiled gently.
“Is that there a chute? Could you hap’n to allow my granddaughter here to have it? She’s ne’er been in a plane before and has got so much in’a young body, ya know.” The woman’s eyes were beautiful pools of gray, her smile laced with years of suffering. Behind her, the little girl tugged on her blouse, a near lookalike of her grandmother.
Dan, though, did not afford either of the two a passing glance. Upon realizing there was no threat, he swung open the exit hatch, filling the cabin with a roaring wind. As he departed the aircraft, flight attendants rushed to close the window, narrowly avoiding being sucked out themselves. The girl clung tighter to her grandmother’s shirt. Silent tears streamed down their faces as the door slammed back into place.
As this occurred, Dan breathed a sigh of relief, feeling little guilt for the strangers. After all, he had taken a bullet for that parachute. Smiling for the first time in what felt like weeks, the young man began his controlled descent to Earth.
Bari had his sights set on the city. After the skirmish with the American boy, he wanted to complete his mission as soon as possible, avoiding any other…complications that may ensue. He threw a stack of papers that had blown in his view aside. On top laid a confidential email from the slumped pilot to the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Director Hoffman: Message received. target set. U.S. bank tower will be compromised. This operation is weather dependent, though I imagine results by 07:00. Once I have safely exited the craft, I will communicate my location. Three Arabs will be on board. They are to be responsible for our attack. -PIC Brandon Michaels
Casting it aside, Bari smiled, knowing he had done a good deed to his own name, to God, and to the world. Landing with ease in Los Angeles, his heart warmed with the businessmen and families and foreigners and vacationers aboard who would all live to see another day.
Falling through the sky, Dan smiled. His escape, though difficult, had been quite rewarding. Reaching a comfortable altitude, he yanked sharply on the parachute. It extended suddenly, but his speed did not decrease. Shaking the straps, he frantically tried to get the chute to extend. But looking up, his heart fell faster than the rest of him.
On the inside of the parachute, a giant image of the bearded guard stared down. Where his mouth should have been, however, was a massive, gaping hole. Dan had a mere seven seconds of silence remaining.
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