Friday, October 10, 2014

The Challenger, Continued

Greetings, Castaways on the raft in space we call Earth. This week, I want to continue in the same vein we started last week. What follows is the scene in Unalive that involves the aircraft type we discussed: The Challenger 604.

Real quick, here's the cover art for Unalive, my second novel. Feel free to click on it to find out more about the book. I'll let you buy it if you want. More about the cover: The Model (I've had many of the mechanics at work ask) is Danielle Harris, the Hollywood scream queen who gained her name in Rob Zombie's Halloween movies. I sent her a copy of the book. Let's see if she's sufficiently impressed to land me that movie deal, eh?

So, without further ado, Unalive, featuring the Challenger 604 jet.


Phil Baterson looked up as the Challenger jet’s galley door opened. A plump brunette in a
black and gold attendant’s uniform stepped through. “We’ll refuel in Hanoi and then Moscow. If
you need me, just press the crew call button in the VIP armrest. Dinner will be at seven. Can I
get you anything now?” A couple of hands went up; the attendant took some drink orders and
receded into the galley to prepare them.

Anna Spielberg rested, drowsing on the divan on the right side of the 604’s spacious forward
cabin. Her wounded arm was suspended in a sling and secured to her torso for further support.
Her face betrayed the drug-induced stupor and fatigue she must have been feeling. Sofi sat
quietly next to her mother, watching a movie on a small video monitor mounted on a swing-arm
from the drink ledge. Two other beefy men played cards at a foldout table. A sour-looking,
middle-aged woman lounged in another seat, reading.

Jenna came out of the office in the rear of the cabin and slid the door closed behind her. Phil
could tell she wasn’t in prime shape herself. He’d seen others coming down off of combat
stimulants, and it was never pretty. But Jenna looked like she would drop any second.
She’d sent her report upline, but he wondered how coherent it was. He knew she needed to
get it sent while the details were still in her mind, but still…if they had any questions, they could
always ask them later. Phil was sure there would be questions, judging from her current

He had seen Jenna Paine before, in better times. The dark circles under her eyes, and her
pale, sweaty appearance, the way she slogged across the carpet, told him these were definitely
not better times. How is it she’s still conscious?

Jenna flumped down into the leather seat and a sigh escaped her chest.

“Hey, you.” She lifted her head toward the source of the voice. Anna smiled at her from
across the aisle. “Thank you.”

“I’m so sorry, Anna,” said Jenna. “I should have…done something before—”

“Jenna, you saved our lives.” Anna sat up higher in the divan, straining from the effort. “My
daughter and I owe you, twice over from what I understand. Don’t sell yourself short. I don’t
believe anyone else could have seen that coming and taken the actions you did. I can’t even
begin to thank you enough, my friend. You are an amazing woman. Now, get some sleep; you
look like hell.”

“I’m all right, Anna. I’ll see you through to Prague, and then get some rest when we get
settled in. The hospital gave me these,” she said, and pulled out the bottle of stims.

“Let me see those.” Anna held out her good hand. Jenna handed the bottle over. Anna took
out one of the small blue tablets and examined it closely. “You shouldn’t be taking these, Jenna.
With your metabolism, there’s no telling what these would do.”

“I only took one, Anna, but if I have to, I’ll dose up again.”

“Phil,” said Anna, “Relieve this woman so she can get some rest, please?”

He laughed and shook his head. “I tried twice, Doc, but she don’t listen real good.”

Anna glared at Jenna. “I think we’ll be all right now, Jenna.” She gave the bottle to Phil.
“Now get some sleep; you’re worthless to me in your condition.”

He leaned over and whispered in Anna’s ear, just above the noise of the engines. “Just keep
those uppers from her and give it another ten minutes. She’ll be out like a light.”

“If she does drop off, I want a pulse and respiration check every ten minutes,” she whispered
back. “Seriously, Phil. Understand?”

The good-natured smile faded from his face as he comprehended her concern. “Yes, ma’am,
I get you.” He set the timer in his watch to repeat a ten-minute countdown before settling back
into his book. About a minute later, he looked up. Jenna’s eyes were closed. Her head lolled back
against the headrest of her seat. He slowly got up and approached her, watching for any sign of
awareness. Finding none, he pulled the release lever on the seat and reclined it all the way back
with his other hand. Jenna never even twitched.

Phil looked over at Anna. She nodded. He checked Jenna’s pulse. Finding a beat, he nodded
back at Anna, who closed her eyes and sank back under the influence of her painkiller. He
opened the cabinet at the back of the cabin, pulled out a blanket and spread it over Jenna, and
then sat back down.

* * * *

When Jenna opened her eyes again, the plane was on its final approach into Prague. Her
sweat-soaked blouse clung to her body, and her skin was clammy to the touch. “Anna? Sofi?
What the…” She twisted around in her seat and almost fell out. When she tried to stand up, her
vision closed into a tunnel in front of her face. She couldn’t find her balance. “Anna!”

Hands supported her as she fell in the aisle. They laid her back into her chair, and her head
began to clear. Her entire body tingled. Someone belted her in. She tried to get back up, but a
hand pushed her back down. She heard Phil’s voice reassuring her. “Miss Paine, just relax, okay?
We’re landing. We have an ambulance standing by, and we’ll make sure everything’s secure.”
Jenna didn’t remember the ride to the hospital. In fact, she barely remembered Phil carrying
her down the Challenger’s air stair. The ambulance waited on the ramp between two black
Mercedes sedans.

Another team of four waited in scattered array while the ambulance crew loaded Anna and
Jenna. The sour-faced woman carried Sofi’s sleeping form down the steps and placed her gently
into the backseat of one of the security sedans. The team members split up between the cars. Phil
jumped into the back of the ambulance, and the caravan took off across the ramp toward a chain
link gate leading out onto the highway toward Trebenice State Hospital.

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