Island Above: Zonoku – Chapter 1

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     Flying was my life. Since I was young, I remember looking up at the sky, seeing contrails in the distance, thinking “I want that. I want to be there.” The idea of being able to take the helm of an aircraft and fly far, far away seemed like the greatest dream imaginable. Being able to go wherever I wanted, wielding the power only birds have naturally perfected. Or so I thought. I guess you could say I accomplished my dreams, but why, why did I have to move into an apartment a block away from the airport?
     “Shiiiit. I’m late.”
     Once again, I had slept through an alarm. I had a tendency to do that whenever it started going off right as a plane flew overhead. I rolled out of bed, not even bothering to deal with the blankets, and sprinted into the kitchen. I wasn’t wearing any socks. The floor was cold. I pushed the red button on my coffee maker. Then, in a half run, half tip toe, I made my way back to the bathroom, dropped onto the toilet, and ran a comb through my hair. I had no time to make it look right.
     At this point, I was done running, but that didn’t mean I was done rushing. After slipping on some barely matching clothes and a jacket that was always slightly too small, I hurried back into the kitchen, antsy, waiting for the coffee maker to finish with a meager 2 cups. It said 2 cups, anyway, but it barely filled my mug. I poured it into one of the many to-go cups sitting on the kitchen counter, capped it off, then rushed out the door. I grabbed my keys on the way out, thankfully remembering them this time, so I wouldn’t have to walk over to the jeep, just to walk back to the house.
     And, well, that was that. I was on my way to my dream job. Only, it wasn’t exactly the dream I was wishing for. I was indeed a pilot, but of course, flying high and free doesn’t pay the bills. I worked for Federal Shipping, a nationwide shipping company that handled, among other things, most of the packages that people would send to their loved ones. I handled special cargo.
     I held up an ID badge when I got to the gate. “Late again, Anne?” The guard said, as he waved me through. I barely feigned a smile, as I gunned the engine as politely as I could to my hangar’s parking lot. Being late had its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was, I didn’t have to deal with fighting for a parking spot. The disadvantage was, it’s because I was the only one there, and all the spots were already taken.
     “Great. More late.” I drove around, found a spot at the back end of the lot, and hopped out. I’m pretty sure I forgot to lock the doors as I broke into a full sprint to the back entrance of the hangar, but in all fairness, the plastic windows weren’t going to stop anyone serious. As I reached the door, out of breath, I pulled out my ID badge, yet again, and was allowed access to the hangar. I was tired, out of breath, and fuck, I left my coffee in the Jeep. God damnit.
     “I’m here! I haven’t missed my window, have I?”
     “What?” A man walked out of the office to my right. “Oh, uhh, naw. Shipment’s changed, priority customer, so we’re still loading it up.”
     Great. I rushed, missed breakfast, could probably make up for it with a cold coffee, and I’m exhausted before the job has even started, all so I can just wait around, anyway.
     “Any coffee in there?” I asked. The apparent shipping manager looked around.
     “Sorry, looks like we’re out.”
     “Right, great.” I huffed. “By the way, where’s Tommy?”
     “Oh, your normal guy? He’s out sick, or something. They sent me here from warehouse duty. I hope you don’t really need my help with anything though, I’ve never done this before.”
     “No,” I replied, as I looked over at my plane, as two guys were loading it. “I do this at least once a week, so I know what to do.”
     “Oh… good. Great.”
     I walked over to the plane, watching the two guys latch up whatever it was that I was shipping into the back of the cargo bay. It looked like a few very large containers, each of which looked very expensive. I mean, most of what I fly is just boxes or crates, but these were really fancy latched metal containers. It almost looked like military equipment, or something. I wasn’t really sure.
     “What are you flying today? This shit is heavy.” One of the guys called from inside the back of the plane.
     “I’m not really sure,” I said. “Apparently my shipment has changed from yesterday’s plan. I haven’t looked at the chart, yet.” I turned around. “Hey new guy! Look on the computer and see what I’m hauling!”
     He popped his head out the office door. “How do I look it up?”
     I shook my head. “Never mind!”
     I looked back at the crew. They seemed done with their work, as they scooted backwards out of the rear of the plane. “Go ahead and inspect,” the other one said.
     “Nah, I trust you,” I waved my hand and walked around to the front of the plane, performing my pre-flight inspection. Typically, they had a crew that always inspected each plane before any takeoff, but I always performed my own just to make sure. Call it what you must; trust issues, or just being too careful, but I don’t know, I felt more comfortable flying the plane after I looked at it myself. I pulled at the door, only to find myself tugging harder than usual.
     “Damnit, is this the one with the door issues? I thought they fixed that over at Dosco when I flew there last week.”
     “Nah, mechanic called in sick. But hey, at least it’s just the door, and not the propeller.”
     I yanked the door open, and climbed inside. “Numbers, please.”
     “Alright, well, your mystery package is 360 pounds. You’ve been given 206 gallons, enough to get you to Napalo up north, and they’ll top you off there for the return trip.”
     “I’m headed to Napalo? Aw, damnit.” I hated Napalo Airport. It used to be a national airport, but they recently upgraded it to take international flights. Mostly passenger traffic, and frankly, air traffic, ground control, and I all hated when a Cessna would have to land there. Smaller crafts like mine just got in the way.
     “Yeah, your autopilot has been updated, not that we expect you to use it, but… yeah, have fun in Napalo.”
     “Yeah, thanks.” I exlaimed as I pulled the door shut. I reached over to the small headset, and switched on my radio. “Can you guys hear me alright?” One of them flipped a thumbs up, and I got to work.
     “Parking break… circuits… fuel tanks… radar… emergency power…” I went on and on, always aloud. I had long since committed this process to memory, but it helped to say it out loud. It helped make sure I didn’t forget anything, but more-so, I didn’t like how quiet it was, since I always flew alone. I had a tendency to talk to myself frequently on these flights. Once, when I was a rookie, I somehow forgot I was on the radio when I kept talking to myself. I got hell for that one when I landed. Not quite sure how I let it happen, but at least it hasn’t happened since.
     “…fuel boost… auxiliary pumps… starter switch… ignition…”
     I guess you could say this was the most ‘exciting’ part of the flying. I mean, for these few minutes, I had more stuff to do than for the rest of the flight. For the most part, you’re just kind of… sitting there. I mean, yeah, you communicate, you check different dials, but on these small freight runs, I sort of tuned the work out and flew the plane like I was driving a truck. Only real difference was that there was no road.
     Eventually, I was on my way out of the hangar. One of the ground crew members was waving me out, kind of half-assing it since he and I both knew what we were doing. He barely had to guide me, there was plenty of clearance on both sides and above the plane, so for the most part, it felt like he was only there for show. Within a few dozen seconds, I was outside the hangar, ready to leave. A simple flick on the radio, and…
     “Altimus Tower, Cessna Charlie Mike 161 ready for takeoff”
     “Roger 161, taxi and hold runway Bravo”
     Neat. The south facing runway. I enjoyed taking off on this runway, because it meant I had to make a wide turn to fly North, and I was able to fly right over Wanapo Peak, a really tall cliff on the other side of the city. I sped up the motor and began my taxi to the northern edge of the runway. Engine sounded fine, looked like this was going to be a good flight.
     “Altimus Tower, 161 holding short of Runway Bravo”
     “161… Roger.”
     I took a look around. This airport was definitely my favorite airport. Even though this was a huge tourist town, the airport itself was relatively small, and most passenger flights opted for an airport about 30 miles up north. We had a nice, smooth tarmac, and little traffic to ruin it. The holding time was hardly more than a few minutes. I could see a plane taking off from the cross runway that faced east to west.
     “Cessna charlie mike 161, you are clear for takeoff”
     I pulled onto the runway, and after taking one last glance at my console to ensure everything was in order, I pushed the engine to full throttle. The plane quickly shifted from a speedy lurch to a steady drive. I smiled to myself as I picked up speed, until I was basically driving the plane at freeway speed, at which point I pulled the yoke, and up into the air I went. This was it. This was my dream. This was what I wanted to do growing up, and every time I took off, the feeling of weightlessness, and the speed of the propeller, and the quickly approaching clouds reaffirmed my dreams every time I took off.
     I leveled off for a moment, preparing for my turn, and looked around. Altimus was a beautiful city, and although I loved flying, it was almost disappointing every time I had to leave, even if it was only for the day. It was an internal conflict, of sorts. I struggled with the idea of moving to a larger aircraft, because it almost definitely meant I would have to switch to another airport and leave this city. I guess I just had to snap out of the fear. After all, what good is flying if I wasn’t going to fly anywhere?
I turned the yoke to the right and adjusted my foot pedals. I was pointing south, but Napalo was up north. I steered the aircraft over towards Wanapo Peak, and continued to gain altitude. The point was maybe two minutes away, and unfortunately, seeing as how it was an hour and a half flight, the first five minutes of the whole flight were the best moments.
     So, I suppose you’re wondering what made Wanapo Peak so special. I mean, sure, it was a cliff, and it was a touristy location. There were some of those coin-operated binoculars, which were always dirty and never lasted as long as you’d like, and there was also a neat little restaurant pretty close to the peak. People would order food and sit outside. It wasn’t the peak itself that was special, it was the view. Oh, the view. See, in the distance, you could see the vast ocean, the sunset, and most importantly, the skyland.
     The skyland was a strange place. It was a huge, and I mean huge island… thing… that was quite honestly floating in the air, above the ocean. There was nothing holding it up. We couldn’t see pillars, there were no signs of anything physical or otherwise.
     It started as some sort of science experiment, some time about 50 years ago. Several tanker-sized ships were pulling this large manmade landmass across the ocean. It was built in parts, from different places around the world, and it was constructed in the ocean. Ultimately, it wound up here, off the coast of Altimus. People started gathering along the beach, just watching this entire project unfold. It was sitting in the middle of the ocean, probably for a good week or so, defended by the coast guard, until one day, all of the ships and personell nearby backed off.
     The news was all over it. Camera crews drove in, and people were tripping over cables up and down the street from the overflow of crowds on the beach. It was apparently a huge spectacle. Nobody expected what happened next. The skyland lifted up from the ground. Just like that. There were no explosions, there was no burst of steam, there were no cables, or even ships underneat the huge metallic mass. It just lifted up. Slowly, but surely, it lifted probably to a height of two thousand feet. It’s practically impossible to measure, but it was certainly the tallest stationary structure that isn’t being supported by anything. Heck, it’s the only structure not being supported by anything.
     Understandably, the public did not take this so well. People went a little crazy trying to figure out how science could make a structure the size of a city… float. I mean, it was really the size of a city. Over time, people watched as buildings cropped up on the structure. Really tall buildings, some at least a dozen stories tall. And ultimately, nobody knew what it was for. Planes would occasionally land and take off from the surface, but typical commercial traffic was (and still is) banned from getting anywhere near the skyland. It was strictly military operations only. I remember thinking when I was young (years later) that I would love to join the Air Force and land a plane on that thing.
     Then, about ten years ago, something bigger happened. Several explosions triggered yet another media frenzy, and suddenly, a flash of light brigther than anything we had ever seen before. I was lucky enough to be watching the events unfold on television. I have to imagine anyone there in person was at least temporarily blinded. When the light faded, the skyland was on fire. Just… completely on fire. It was a creepy feeling. Even though I was only seeing it on television, I was a young teenager and had trouble getting around the fact that there was only one floating island in the world, and the one floating island was entirely on fire.
     All of this happened shortly before nightfall, and as the night went on, the fire faded. Onlookers waited, miles away, on that crowded beach, wondering what they would find in the morning. And to their dismay, they found nothing. The skyland was still there, but it was merely a shadow of the booming city it was the day before. There were no buildings. There were no structures whatsoever. It was just a giant land mass once again, like it was fifty years before when it was first elevated to the sky.
     Considering the isolation of the skyland, we all assumed the worst. Whoever was on the skyland when it burst entirely into flame likely died overnight. There were no signs of life… no signs of anything left on that island.
     At about 5:45 AM, my I woke up to my father shouting “look, look!” Apparently I had fallen asleep, so they carried me to bed, but he was shouting at the TV to my poor mother, exclaiming that something new was unfolding. I, just as curious, ran out to the living room, to see that the skyland was now surrounded by ships. Coast guard, Navy, local police… from simple rescue boats to a massive aircraft carrier far in the distance. But they were all too late. As soon as enough daylight broke, a few of the ships launched helicopters, likely meant for search, and less likely, rescue. We thought it was over. It wasn’t.
     As the helicopters approached the massive structure from different sides, the first three, one by one, lost control of their aircraft. It was almost like they hit an invisible barrier around the skyland. At about an equal distance, their controls all just shut down, and their rotors came to a slow halt as the helicopters dropped. Two dropped straight into the sea. A third dropped onto a small crafter underneath, killing a few of the men on board. All other helicopters were called off, and backed away. A few hours later, a lone helicopter, one of those two-rotor chinooks, launched from a ship and flew high above the skyland. Radio communication, for whatever reason, was failing in the immediate area, which they never understood, so the helicopter was given instructions, and hoped to carry them out properly without any real guidance from the ground.
     It hovered high above the skyland, and a few moments later, we watched as one by one, men with parachutes dropped out of the back of the helicopter. It must have been thirteen men. My dad is convinced it was only twelve… ‘why would they send such an odd number?’ he said.
     The men dropped from the helicopter, and slowly drifted down. As they approached the same spherical barrier that the earlier helicopters had reached, they seemed to shift around a little bit. Almost like they could barely control their parachutes. One of them dropped something, like a backpack, or radio, and suddenly he was fine. The others did the same. The news conceded that they likely dropped any heavy metal equipment.
     Then, as they dropped further, they simply… disappeared. No warning, no signs of a struggle, no gunfire, explosions, flailing from the men… they just disappeared. The chinook watching over them hovered for maybe five minutes, then simply hovered a wide path around the barrier, and landed on a ship. They were pressed for answers. What happened to the men? What happened on the skyland?
     Supposedly, they saw nothing. The men merely disappeared, much like everyone else saw, and as for the surface of the skyland, they saw absolutely no signs of any current or previous life. They didn’t even see signs of a fire, or debris. No busted buildings. No dying embers. Nothing. It was as if there was never anybody on the skyland… ever.
     Since then, even up until today, the skyland has looked like a giant, lifeless chrome star, floating in the air. Only, it’s not exactly shaped like a star. It’s more like a circle, that has five rectangular peninsulas sticking out from it. It just sits there, motionless, about four miles off the coast of Altimus bay. Which brings us back to the peak. Tourists come year after year to explore the beaches, enjoy the sun, check out the view, but mostly, to witness the skyland. Many come here hoping that this will be the one day, or year… or decade… that the skyland will finally come back to life. And in the mean time, they look at the skyland through the coin operated binoculars, or they’ll check out the skyland themed restaurant (the theme is chrome stars, I guess), or they’ll buy trinkets from street vendors to bring back home. These trinkets can be anything from small scale models of what the skyland once looked like, necklaces with pendants shaped like the skyland, toy ships and helicopters so you can pretend you’re on a mini rescue mission… things like that. It’s mostly garbage, but I guess I can say that because I live here, so I don’t need to take the memories home with me.
     There’s also the occasional fanatic tourist, too. I can’t honestly say I’m surprised, but we’ve had cases where people are obsessed with the skyland. As if god himself was up there, and is beckoning them to visit. And with the crazy people comes the crazy behavior. More than once, I’ve told that I couldn’t fly the day’s shipment because yet another idiot stole a plane, took it up, and flew it out over the ocean, and straight into the face of the skyland. And sure enough, each time it happened, whatever plane they were flying bounced off the invisible barrier and flew straight into the sea. Sometimes, if the idiots were lucky, they’d survive, climbing out of their crash landed crafts. Most shared a worse fate.
     One guy was smart, though. Apparently he brought his parachute with him, strapped it on, jacked a plane, and flew above the skyland, much like the chinook did a few years before. When he was just above the center of the landmass, he jumped out of his plane, letting it drift off into the distance until it ultimately crashed into the ocean a mile or two away. The man, according to some beach-goers, slowly descended until he disappeared, never to be heard from again.
     At least seven planes in total had been taken. Many more attempts were made. Thankfully, they never stole any of our planes, but whenever any plane theft occurred, they’d shut down the entire airport for who-knows how long until they fully investigated the incident. It was a pain in the ass, especially if I was really in the mood to fly. And of course, with each incident, they had to bump up perimiter security even more, which basically consisted of guards watching for people trying to cut into fences or sneak into cargo holds, or nonsense like that.

     So there I was, flying over Wanapo Peak, and I was able to see some tourists checking out the binoculars, and a young child pointing up at my plane. I bet that kid was jealous that I had the perfect view of the skyland. I got to fly parallel to it for a good ten minutes or so, and I got to see it from much higher up. Like many other pilots before me, I could see that it was nothing but an empty surface. If it was about an hour earlier in the day, the view would be blinding, as the sun would bounce off the reflective surface and shine twice the light, right at my face. Thankfully, it was about an hour later than usual.
     My yoke shifted. How odd. I’ve never had that happen before. I made a mental note of it and thanked myself that I wasn’t flying to Dosco. God knows they’d never fix whatever problems I might have. I hope it’s not a problem with the-
     What the hell… it shifted again? I tested the control of my aircraft, rotating the yoke left and right, testing the foot pedals, and pulling the plane up and down. Nothing seemed to be wrong. I looked at all my gauges. Everything seemed normal. I looked at the navigation system.
     “What the hell?” I asked aloud. The digital autopilot was disengaged, as I rarely ever used it, but the numbers were changing. It was making a course correction. I gently tapped on the screen, and tried to cancel out whatever changes were being made. Whatever I was doing wasn’t working. The buttons I was pressing were having no effect, and any time I tried to enter in the right numbers, they reverted to the new numbers being put up on the screen. And the new numbers were indicating a flight path straight to the skyland.
     I fiddled with my radio, as I was likely still in range of the hangar. Somebody was screwing with me, it was probably one of the guys just messing around, but it wasn’t funny.
     “Tony? Mark? Are you there?”
     Nothing. Son of a bitch. They’re probably laughing too hard to hear the radio.
     “Tony, Ma-”
     The autopilot suddenly kicked in, and the plane banked sharply to the left, ultimately turning directly towards the skyland.
     “What the fuck…” I said aloud. I tried disengaging the autopilot. Nothing. I tried turning off the navigation entirely. No dice. The plane was flying itself at this point. I was probably three miles away from the skyland, travelling at 120 miles per hour. I’d be there in no more than two minutes. I switched the radio again.
     “Mayday Mayday Mayday, Cessna Charlie Mike 161, I’ve lost control of my aircraft”
     There was a slight pause, then a clear response.
     “Cessna Charlie Mike 161, you are being diverted, stand by for additional instructions.”
     I could not be more relieved to hear an answer. At least I knew somebody was able to hear me, and seemed to know what was going on.
     “Identify, and be advised, my aircraft has defaulted to autopilot,” I replied.
     “We are controlling your plane, not your autopilot.”
     My heart dropped.
     “Repeat your last?”
     “Shut up, and just wait for further instructions 161.”
     Considering this was not proper radio etiquette, and I was flying straight towards my inevitable death, I did what any rational pilot would do. I panicked. Okay, so maybe that’s not rational, but I was seriously concerned. I struggled to pull on the yoke, and to adjust my flight path, I jammed my foot as hard as I could on the pedals, but nothing would give. I was no longer the pilot of my aircraft. Whoever was on the other side of the radio was in control at this point.
     “Mayday Mayday Mayday, Altimus tower, 161, my aircraft is possibly being hijacked.”
     “They can’t hear you, and you’re not being hijacked. We’ll return your controls in a minute. Stop talking now, and await further instructions.”
     My heart was racing. I was on the edge of my seat, watching as the skyland grew closer. Once again, my plane changed course, towards the northern most peninsula of the floating island.     Considering my lack of control, the plane was lining itself up pretty accurately with the extension, as if I was to land there. I was, however, moments away from hitting the invisible barrier.
     “Okay 161, you will land on the runway that appears before you momentarily.”
     More panic set in.
     “What? I’m going to crash!”
     Suddenly, the voice was different.
     “You will not crash, we’re going to power down the shields and bring you in. Land on the only available runway. We’ll return your controls after we power down.”
     Thoughts were flooding through my head. Shields? Power down? Are these people talking to me from the surface of the skyland? I didn’t know how to respond. “Roger” was all I could muster. Then the worst of the news set in.

     “If you try to divert, you will be shot down. Acknowledge.”

     “161… Roger.”

     My plane flew closer to the skyland. I felt like any second, I would die. I would crash into the silent wall that I’d seen destroy other planes, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Is this how it ended for the others? Were they reputable pilots who were taken as fanatics because they crashed to their deaths against their will?
     “You are now passing through the shield. In a few moments, you will pass through the visual barrier.”
     Past the shield. Relief. I couldn’t believe I was still alive. Were they sure I was close enough though? Was I still on the brink of death?
     “You’re about to see the terrain in front of you change dramatically. Be advised, a runway will appear in front of you, on the right side of the peninsula. As soon as you see it, you will regain control of your aircraft. The runway is clear, and you are ordered to land there.”
     I was speechless. The skyland. I was landing on the skyland. I was terrified and confused. What runway? One was going to appear out of nowhere? How was that possible? But on the other hand… how exciting! I was going to be the first person to land on the skyland since the catastrophe ten years ago!
     …or was I? Would I even land safely? What if the runway really wasn’t there? What if I panic, and they shoot the plane down?
     “You’re passing the visual barrier now.”
     I couldn’t see anything. Nothing cha-
     “Holy shit!”
     In a heartbeat, the skyland went from a bleak, empty landscape, into a bustling city. It all appeared out of nowhere, there were towers in the distance, houses, a rail system… I could see so much! And just like the man said, there was a runway, directly in front of me, but slightly to the right. And again, like he said, the plane’s autopilot beeped as it suddenly switched off. I was now in control of the aircraft.
     A part of me considered pulling up, I had to get out of here. But at the same time, the runway was right there, and clearly this was an opportunity I would never, ever in my life see again. How I could be so lucky, and whether that was a good or bad thing, I would never understand.
     “Remember, divert, and we’ll shoot you down.”
     That definitely made up my mind.
     “161, copy, coming in for a landing.”
     The pilot in me got serious again. Exciting or not, I was landing a plane, and it needed my full attention. I’d never landed at this height, so I wasn’t sure if climate at 2000 feet in the air would have any effect. Considering I didn’t feel any wind, and the temperature gauge on my console registered a warm 75 degrees, I had to assume this would be like any other landing. I pushed forward on the yoke, observed the center of the strip, and flew right in.
     Still nervous from before, and with the adrenaline having kicked in, I was a little shaky. I was afraid that because of how nervous I would, I would screw something up, but considering this looked like a perfectly clean landing strip in otherwise perfect conditions, I should have been pleased with how easy this would be. And easy it was. Aside from a small bounce upon touchdown, the aircraft’s wheels glided across the smooth surface of the runway. It certainly wasn’t the normal asphalt on a typical runway, but it was as smooth as it needed to be.
     “Bring the plane all the way to the other end of the runway.”
     I listened without responding, and I brought the throttle down to a nice coasting speed. I taxied the plane, my heart beat rising as I got closer to the other end of the runway. Sure, this was exciting, but this was certainly no social call. I was called to land under threat of death, so I couldn’t imagine their intentions were more positive once I actually got to the other end.
     As I rolled along, I could see a group of people standing at the edge of the tarmac. One of them stepped forward, waving me towards the group. I pulled the plane up, he shook his hand in front of his neck, I parked, and cut the engine. The guy waved everyone else over, and they filed up on both sides of the plane. I stared at all of them, not even taking off my seat belt. I was excited, but I was none too eager to hop out and face whatever they had in store for me. The leader of the group seemed to be instructing them all. I could only hear muffled talking, even after taking off my headset. He flicked his hand and they all walked around to the back of the plane. Then he approached the door, and tried pulling on it.
     “Unlock it, open up.”
     “It is unlocked, it just-”
     We both struggled to push and pull on the door, it was actually quite comical. Eventually, the man yanked really hard, and the door popped open.
     “It’s kind of jammed, they were supposed to fix it up at Dosco but”
     “I don’t care,” he interrupted me. “Just hop out.”
     Nervously, I unclasped my seat belt, and started rearranging my things. I reached for my car keys on the passenger seat, more out of habit than anything.
     “Leave them.” The man said. “You won’t need them here.”
     I looked at him blankly, then after a pause, he extended a polite hand to help me out of the plane. I didn’t really need it, but to appear courteous, I took it. If he was being nice, then things might not be so bad after all.
     “So, your cargo. You switched it this morning, right?” He got right to business.
     “Yeah, apparently, priority client up north.”
     “Yeah, don’t worry about that. We’re the client.” He looked over to the men at the back of the plane, standing around patiently. Oddly enough, I felt compelled to speak up.
     “It’s unlocked,” I said, kind of surprised at my immediate participation. Some of the men shrugged, and unlatched the back. “There’s some under the belly, too. A few smaller containers.” The leader of the group smiled at me, and then became very serious.
     “So, I guess you’re wondering what happens next.”
     I was floored. I actually had no idea what to expect at this point. Once they mentioned the package was for them, I kind of forgot where I was for a moment, and started to think of this as a normal package delivery. Nonetheless, I tried to guess at whatever he was implying.
     “Am I working for you now?”
     “Well… sort of.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Well, here’s the issue. Have you heard of anybody in the past ten years who has successfully left the skyland?
     “Well, no…” I started to see what he was getting at.
     “Exactly. Now that you’re here, you’re not going to leave.”
     My heart sank. I wasn’t going to leave? Ever? I mean, this was an exciting place, I was amazed just to be here, but I could never return home?
     “But I… what about my life? My job? My plane?”
     “Look, you basically have two options. You can either stay here and work on this flying rock…” he paused, then looked me straight in the eyes. “Or we can kill you right now.”
     All of the men unloading the cargo stopped, put down what they were carrying, and stared at me. If I felt nervous before, it was nothing compared to know. I swallowed whatever little moisture I had left in my mouth.
     “You’ll… you’ll kill me right here?”
     He laughed. “Of course not. We have a room for that.” He grew serious again. “It’s your choice.” Some choice. It was obvious that I had only one option, and I was going to take it. He knew I was going to take it.
     “I guess…” I stammered. “I guess I’ll work for you.”
     “Excellent!” He clasped his hands together. “Well, you can start by helping with this cargo. I’m going to go report to my superiors, and when I come back, we’ll get you situated.” He turned towards the other men. “Go easy on her, guys. Give her something light.” I turned towards the group. Not knowing what to expect, I just walked over, as one of them immediately handed me a small, metal box. I didn’t even know what was inside it, but I guess it was always my job to transport these things, anyway. I sort of stood there, my eyes wandering aimlessly, as each of the men grabbed hold of something individually or in pairs.
     “Oh, and pilot…”
     I looked over at the man, who had walked away, but was now looking back.
     “Welcome to the skyland.”

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