By Richard Bleil
“Can I take your waste?”
Even on international flights, the flight attendants are very careful to keep the garbage clear. Five hours from South Korea, California still lies eight hours in the future. The cabin lights are dimmed as the flight crew is hoping to initiate sleep in the passengers, but it will still be a few hours before the cabin is darkened completely.
He turns on the screen embedded in the seat in front of him. As a series of choices flicker on, he selects a movie to watch. “What are you watching?”
He looks at the woman seated next to him. He hesitates. “It may seem odd,” he replies, “but I’m not sure. I just started a movie to let my mind wander. I think it’s some kind of comedy.”
The two had introduced themselves already, as they were not acquainted prior to the flight. She is returning from a business trip, but for him, it’s to recover from his divorce.
“I hope it’s good,” she says, thinking he was just on vacation. He puts the headphones in his ears as she picks up her book to continue reading.
Further dimmed lighting and the mediocrity of the movie makes him starting to feel like nodding off until something catches his eye. From his seat, he sees the flight attendants conversing with the pilots. The cockpit door is open, which is unusual. Their panic is clearly visible.
Suddenly, the cabin lights flash on full, and the flight attendants begin running through the isle, shouting “CLOSE THE WINDOW SHADES! CLOSE THEM! CLOSE THEM NOW!!”
They seem to stop in predesignated distances from the cockpit, one all the way towards the back, one near the cockpit, and throughout. “CLOSE THEM!” they continue shouting, as they start reaching unapologetically over the passengers who are not following instructions to pull the shades down.
He looks over as one passenger begins to raise the blind again. The flight attendant nearly took his head off, shouting “KEEP IT DOWN!”
The flight is tense. The flight attendants have interspersed themselves throughout the cabin sitting among the passengers. Once closed, they insisted everybody buckle their seat belt tightly, and put up their trays. Because of the intensity in their voices, and their “correction” of people around them, everybody is sitting quietly in the tense flight,
Without warning, an incredible glow brightens the plastic shades. Everybody closes their eyes from the brightness of the glare, which continues until the noise of explosions outside rattle the plane windows. Shortly afterwards, the plane is violently buffeted.
Rocked side to side was bad enough, until the feeling of weightlessness, followed quickly by an excessive heaviness. The pilots fight to keep the plane in the air, as its angle becomes far too sharp for its design specifications, and it falls and rises thousands of feet in violent lurches.
It’s hard to tell how long the buffeting actually lasts, but it feels like a lifetime.
As the buffeting finally begins to subside, the screaming and panic in the cabin continues. As the plane settles into a relatively smooth flight, the pilot comes out of the cockpit.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he starts, “please, ladies and gentlemen, calm down. We need to talk.”
The panic seems to be subsiding, but it takes a few minutes for the pilot to get everybody’s attention.
“I have…” he starts, while seemingly fighting a lump from developing in his throat, “…I have something to tell you. There…there has been a nuclear exchange…”
Screaming fills the cabin. Windows go up, showing a darkened sky with glows on the horizon. Next to him, his neighboring traveler puts her hand to her hand as she begins weeping. He turns the monitor on, which shows nothing but a blank screen with no content.
“Ladies and gentlemen, “here are the facts. We are five hours into the flight, and should have enough fuel to make it to our destination, return to Korea, or head to other locations in the Pacific. We were given a warning that the missiles had been launched, and to the best of our knowledge, it was not limited.
“Since it happened, we have been unable to raise either South Korea or the US on the radio. However, we have managed to contact New Zealand. They have asked for time before they can fill us in more thoroughly, but we do have the fuel to reach there. As the captain, I am diverting our flight path and heading there.”
“New Zealand informs us,” the captain begins, “that they have been unable to raise anybody on the radio. Their scientists claim that…” his pause is tense. He raises his head. “They tell me that they have maybe days before the radioactive fallout reaches their island, killing everybody left alive in…in the world…”
The gasps are audible.
“We only have a few hours of fuel left,” the captain says. “The decision is supposed to be mine, but i want to know…what are our options.”
“Survival!” one of the passenger shouts.
“How? Where?” another argues. “In an exchange like this, radiation will be global and kill everything, and what it doesn’t kill will die in the global ice age from the nuclear winter.”
“But we can survive for a few more days!” another argues.
“Only to die a slow painful death from radiation!” the arguing continues.
“I want to go home!” another shouts.
“To what? Rubble? Los Angeles would have been hit. Is it even possible?”
“Maybe,” the captain says. “We used a lot of fuel fighting the buffeting, but there is a chance we have enough to return either to Los Angeles or Seoul. Once we’re there, there is a good chance we could find no functional runway, though.”
“We could land in the ocean!”
“We could attempt it,” the captain replies. “But the ocean is very rocky because of the war. We would probably break up.”
“Maybe that’s for the best!”
Nobody seems to know from where those words originated, but it brings the discussion to an end.
“So here are our choices,” the captain says. “We can try to return to either Seoul or Los Angeles, and probably crash, or we have the fuel to go to New Zealand. We’ll survive for a few days, but will die from radiation poisoning. Or…”, he hesitates. “Or, we can nosedive the plane.”
The flight crew and attendants are all standing at flat surfaces with small pieces of paper writing furiously.
“As Captain, the decision is mine, but it’s too big for me to make for all of you. Unfortunately, we’re stuck together, so an answer for one of us will be forced upon all of us, even if we disagree.
“In a moment, we will be coming through the cabin. You will each be given a vote; return to Seoul, Los Angeles, New Zealand or…a quick end.
“The choice will be yours. To avoid fighting, once tallied, I will put the decision into action without announcing the results.”
The flight crew and attendants have collected the papers, and have been tallying the results. They hand the results to the captain.
“The decision has been made,” the captain announces. He opens his mouth as if he wants to say something more, then turns, enters the cabin, and closes the door…