What the hell? Jim thought. There were gasps of fear around him as he struggled to keep moving forward. Something was very wrong, but it couldn't be loss of control. The flight controls were operating but being jerked in crazy directions.
He moved with urgency, supporting his weight on the seat backs, his hands brushing the heads of startled passengers. In the galley ahead he could hear plates and utensils sliding and clattering, some spilling from the service carts as a wide-eyed young blonde in a flight attendant's uniform spotted him.
"Sir!" Her hand shot out, the palm extended. "SIR! Take your seat immediately and fasten your seat belt!" She moved into the aisle to block him.
"I'm a pilot!" he said, regretting the lame response.
"I don't care, Sir . . ." she began, stopping in midsentence as the gravity went fully to zero and she floated up before his eyes toward the ceiling.
Ahead of Jim, two dozen shafts of sunlight stabbed across the first-class cabin from each window and moved vertically from low to high as the aircraft rolled to the right. He grabbed the bulkhead and propelled himself past the flight attendant like an astronaut, his peripheral vision picking up the ocean's surface through the windows.
We're inverted! The potentially fatal fact was merely a benchmark in an impossibly bizarre sequence. His entire being focused on the cockpit door less than thirty feet ahead. The door would be locked. He had to get there, get in, and stop whatever was happening!
The huge MD-11 was still rolling, coming back right side up as gravity once again claimed the occupants of the cabin, and people and service carts and flight attendants crashed to the floor. Ahead of him half the overhead compartments had popped open, spilling their contents into the air, pummeling the passengers below.
An elderly woman had floated up from her seat during the zero-G maneuver, then crashed painfully to the floor. Her body was blocking the aisle ahead as Jim tried to step over her and tripped. The G-forces increased as the scream of the high-speed airflow outside rose, forcing the nose up as they continued to roll, undoubtedly hurtling now toward the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
Jim's hands clawed for a seat back, raking across a man's head in the process. There were sharp cries of fear from all around him. Once more he pulled with all his might, launching himself through the air and slamming into the back of the cockpit door with a painful thud. He pulled frantically at it and found it locked, as expected.
Time had dilated, seconds moving past like minutes, the feeling of running from a horror and getting nowhere overwhelming him. There was no way to tell if they were upside down or right side up, but they were diving, with only seconds left.
Jim braced his feet against the doorjamb and pulled.
It wouldn't budge.
He pulled again, harder, but the lock was too strong.
The airspeed increased. They couldn't be more than 10,000 feet above the surface. The whine of the slipstream was deafening. A mental snapshot of his bride-to-be alone in the cabin behind him drove him on. He tightened his grip on the door handle, willed himself beyond the limits, and heaved backward, feeling an explosion of pain in his hands as the rising, screaming sound of nearly supersonic flight washed out all other sensations.
The door broke open and he forced himself into the cockpit in time to see the windscreen fill with the sight of white caps and blue water as the MD-11 traversed the last few yards to the surface in the space of his last heartbeat.
Reprinted from Blackout by John J. Nance by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by John J. Nance. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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