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At the End of the Runway

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The turbulence jolted me from unconsciousness. Somewhat dazed, it required a couple of blinks and a shake of the head to remind me exactly where I was. Another jolt. My stomach was liking it about as much as I was.

“You look a bit pale, love,” a woman’s voice, young, perhaps mid 20’s, brought me back to reality. I turned sharply to detect where the voice came from. The cabin was pretty empty. One of the perks of paying premium I guess. But where the hell was that voice coming from? Sounded close. I looked over the back of my seat. No one.

“You OK?” There it was again. I spun around so sharply, I thought I would give myself whiplash and there she was, on the row opposite mine.

I swear she wasn’t there a second ago. Must’ve missed it.

Although I have no idea how I could have; she was stunning. Her blue eyes shone like diamonds, almost brightening her fair skin. Her perfectly conditioned blonde hair fell to her waist.

I like long hair. No, I love long hair.

As far as I was concerned she was my kind of lady. In fact, she was exactly what I would look for. Oddly, she seemed a bit familiar.

What are the odds?

“So-sorry, what? Yes I’m fine, thank you.” Good start Nathan, sound like a gibbering derp. I know this wasn’t exactly my forte.

Sod it, what’s the worst that could happen?

Clichéd, I know, but how often is it that you get to speak to the girl of your dreams?

“Sorry, I’m not a good flyer, at least my stomach isn’t anyway.”

She giggled, the sweetest sound. I extended my hand, was this the right thing to do? “Nathan. Nathan Tucker.” She took my hand. Her skin was smooth, moisturized. It felt like silk.

“Hannah.” She shook my hand gently.

“So Hannah,” I began, failing to sound like I knew what I was doing, “how come you’re headed to Dinard?”

“Looking for something.”

“Anything in particular?”

“Nope, just looking.” She gently smiled.

Wow, she is unlike anyone I’ve ever met.

Even the ambiguity of her vague answer had me enthralled. “How come you are heading there? Not exactly a tourist spot at this time of year.”

“Work, unfortunately.” I glanced down. I was wearing a black blazer that could’ve done with a dry clean, my lavender shirt was a creased mess and my black trousers had definitely seen better days, the ends were frayed. I’m so glad that corporate dress is not a requirement for what I do.

“What kind of work do you do?” she enquired. I’ve been asked this question a million times before and I never get out the words I want to say and so always end up with the most basic version of what I do.

“I’m a computer engineer, not that interesting really.” I wish I could tell her more. I wish I could tell her what I do. I get the feeling she’d understand. I don’t know why. She just would.

“I wish my job was that glamorous.” she sighed “I don’t get to do anything like that being a waitress.” She slumped back into her seat. You could tell she hated what she did, it wasn’t where her passion was. Not at all.

“Nothing wrong with being a waitress.” I tried to be encouraging, although I got the feeling she saw through me. “Bet you meet all sorts of people.” She stared at me, just for a moment. I felt her eyes boring into mine.

This was a bit odd.

Then she chuckled softly.

“Yeah, sometimes. On the odd occasion you get chatted up by strange men on plane flights.”

Bugger. Rumbled. Ok, let’s go for broke.

“You got me. How did I do?” I asked. Hannah was grinning.

“Not bad I guess. I think I’ll give you an….8 out of 10. You went wrong when you told me about your work, you could have said anything and I might have believed you.” Her grin almost stretched from ear to ear. Her cherry lips parting to reveal a set of perfect teeth.

That’s it. I’m in love.

“Damn, should have said astronaut. What can I do to get myself to a 9?” I put on my best cheeky chappy voice. She started playing with the ends of her hair, twiddling them around her fingers. Looking down at her feet, she thought for a moment and then tilted her slightly to look at me.

“How about you give me your number and I’ll think of something and let you know,” she said, cheekily.

Jackpot.

I fumbled around inside my blazer pocket and pulled out my last business card.

Djinn Industries, Nathan Tucker, Computer Engineer.

I passed it to her outstretched hand. She took it and looked it. “Not many computer engineers with a personalised business card, you must be pretty important,” she noted.

“I wish, I think they do it just to keep me quiet,” I replied. She giggled once more. Before I had any chance to follow up, the tannoy broke through with a discordant bong and a staticy female voice emitted from the speakers. I instinctively turned my head to look at the front of the plane.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are now coming into land at Dinard Airport. Local time is 8:15am. Please return to your seats as we are experiencing some slight turbulence on our descent,” the voice bellowed. I began to buckle my seatbelt.

“I hate this bit, worst part,” I said. Nothing. No response. I turned to where Hannah was sitting. She was gone.

Huh? She must’ve gone back to her seat I guess. But I thought she was sat in Premium? I suppose it was too good to be true.

With that, I resigned myself to making sure I wouldn’t need the sick bag in the pouch in front of me. The plane shuddered and groaned as I felt it descend rapidly. At this point my stomach decided it was going to be an Olympic gymnast and I felt the bile rise in my gullet.

Deep breaths Nathan, deep breaths. I hate this, I really really hate this.

After what seemed like an eternity, the airplane’s tyres hit the tarmac and I jolted forward. The tannoy bonged again and that same static female voice reverberated around the cabin.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have now landed; please remain seated until aircraft has taxied to the terminal.”

Thank Christ for that, it’s over.

I felt the plane gently trundle along the runway, make a slow, wide turn and slowly pull up to the terminal. Another bong on the tannoy. That same grating static voice.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is now safe to disembark the aircraft. Please gather your belongings. The local time is 8:15am. We hope you enjoyed travelling with Infinitum Airways and we look forward to seeing you again soon.”

Wait. 8:15? Wasn’t it 8:15 when we were descending? Must’ve misheard it. Wonder where Hannah is?

I slowly stood, steadying myself on the chair that Hannah was previously sitting on. I was about to turn to get my rucksack from the overhead compartment when something caught my attention. The pillow on the seat was completely intact. Usually if someone sat on a pillow, there would be some kind of crease in it, but here there was nothing. I quickly reached inside my inside jacket pocket. There was nothing there.

Come on Nathan, don’t be stupid. You didn’t give your business card to a ghost.

Putting it out of my mind, I opened up the overhead locker and felt around for my rucksack. I was only here for a couple of days so I didn’t bother with a suitcase. The only things I brought with me was a change of clothes and the most important thing, my laptop.

My laptop was key as to why I was coming to Dinard. Once I had gotten out of the airport I was to get a taxi down the N137 to the Research Institute of Computer Science and Random Systems in Rennes. My company had recently commissioned several research projects and this place was regarded as the best institute for the kind of research we were doing.

Random systems? Is that what they call it? Can’t they just call it what it is? Parallel Deadlock. How is that so different? Equally as vague. Equally as mundane.

After finally heaving my rucksack from the locker, I slung it over my shoulder and strolled down the plane towards the exit. Expecting to see a flight attendant ready to usher me out, there was no one. I halted and jerked my head back to the cabin. Nothing. Turning my head back, I could see the curtain separating premium from economy.

Must be letting the premium out first. One of the perks. Not too shabby.

The large aircraft was open and the metal stairs were already leant up against the gap. As I stepped out onto the stairs, I expected to feel the cool breeze of the French November winds upon my cheeks, but there was nothing. No wind, no warmth. Nothing.

This isn’t right. Something doesn’t fit here.

I made my way down the stairs and onto the tarmac. There were yellow arrows painted onto the tarmac as I headed towards to the main terminal. The terminal itself was a relatively small building compared to most other airports I had been at. Dinard Airport only flew two routes, one to Guernsey and the other to London so the airport was never busy. In fact, from what I’d read, the daily average of people was less than 500. As I entered through the open glass doors, I looked for someone to direct me where to go. There was no one there. Not one single person. I wasn’t expecting to see many passengers but there was no staff either. I looked behind me to see if anyone else knew where to go. But there was no one there either.

A thunderous crackling of the PA system startled me. That same robotic female voice from the plane blasted through:

“Would passenger Nathan Tucker, flight IN88 from London Stansted, please report to the customer information desk on Level 2?”

Finally, I have place to g…….wait, what the hell was that?

My brain was registering something else. Something else in that message. Something underneath what the woman was saying.

What the hell was it?

I scanned the information boards, trying to direct myself to Level 2. I suddenly noticed an up escalator appear out of the corner of my eye. I turned and began to stride over to it. Hanging down from the ceiling above it was a massive sign that read “Level 2” and a giant arrow pointing up.

Finally, now I’m getting somewhere.

The tannoy crackled again, but no voice. Just white noise.

No, not just white noise.

A voice. A male voice. He was saying something. I couldn’t quite make it out. But there were definitely words in the static

“Subj………….90……….Grid 11…………way t………….escala……………….”

What the holy hell? Subject? Are they talking about me?

I bolted up the escalator. As I reached the top, it opened to a large waiting area. The walls were glass but I could barely make out anything that was outside. It almost seemed too bright. It felt, clinical almost. At the far end of the room was a semi circular desk protruding from the wall and stood behind it was a woman.

Thank Christ, I am not going crazy.

I approached the woman but as I got closer and my eyes adjusted on her features, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Long blonde hair, perfect skin, big blue eyes.

Hannah

“Hannah, what the hell? What are you going here?” The words just fell out of my mouth as I struggled to comprehend what was going on.

“I’m sorry sir, have we met?”

What? What the fuck?

“What do you mean ‘have we met?' I was talking to you less than 10 minutes ago on the plane.” She stared at me, but it felt like she was staring through me. It was as if there was nothing behind her eyes.

Christ! Is she a robot or something?

I thought I was joking to myself but looking at her, it didn’t feel right.

“So what now, the tannoy asked me to come over. I need to get my taxi.” I stared at her and she stared back for what seemed like a lifetime but was in actually a mere moment. but like a flash, her eyes darted to the left and darted back to me again. She leaned ever so slightly.

“You need to get out of here. I can’t keep doing this to you anymore.”

She reached from the under the desk and brought up a small brown envelope and returned to the formal posture she had before. Her eyes looked bereft of life once more.

“Your travel documents, sir.”

She pushed the envelope in front of me. I picked it up and opened it. Inside it was something very strange. My passport.

How the hell did that get there?

There was something else in there as well. I pulled it out. It was my business card and quickly put in to my inside jacket pocket

She does know

There was one other item, a post it note. Simply written on it, was the word “Run”. I looked at Hannah, she looked back and nodded ever so slightly.

I began to back away from the desk and jerked my head from side to side, looking for the right way to go. A door next to Hannah’s desk opened of its own accord and I moved towards it. I glanced back at her just before I went through it. She was staring straight ahead at nothing. Then, just as I went through the door, from the corner of my eye I saw her turn her head ever so slightly towards my direction.

What is going on here?!

I entered the door and ended up in another large room. The door behind me slammed shut. In front of me there were two open doors. One leading to the left, the other to the right. A speaker box was mounted on the wall.

Shit! Which way? What the hell is the right choice here?

The speaker box suddenly crackled to life. Through the white noise, the voice spoke again. A bit clearer this time but still muffled with static.

“Subje………grid 56…………choice ro………………right…….is right……..choice…….right……is right”

Right is right? No chance!

I bolted through the door left. I could hear the speaker box crackle once more just before the door closed behind me.

“Subjec………left door……….pursue……….”

I ran. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. I was in a corridor. A plain, beige carpeted corridor. I couldn’t see much, only that it was long, but I had heard the word “pursue” and I knew in my core, that I needed to run.

After what seemed like forever, I began to slow down. I was getting out of breath; I was tired. The corridor began to widen slightly. The carpet ended and it was replaced by corrugated metal. The walls had changed too, I wasn’t in the corridor anymore. It felt familiar, like I had been in one of these before.

Oh Christ!

It was aircraft departure tunnel. I had gotten on one of these only a couple of hours ago to come here. I turned behind me, I could see where the corridor had turned into the tunnel. Why hadn’t I noticed it before? I didn’t have time to think about it too much. I knew I had to get out of here.

I continued forward, the tunnel made a sharp turn to the left and sloped up ever so slightly. As I thought I might pass out due to exhaustion, I could see up ahead the end of the tunnel. The rubber lining at the end of the tunnel concertinaed onto a plane.

I gotta get out of here.

I walked through the aperture and onto the plane. I headed towards the front of the plane and slumped into one of the seats in the premium section. I looked around; there was no one else there.

The aircraft door closed and I could hear the whirring of the tunnel pulling back. I felt the plane began to move and it started rolling backwards, presumably to head towards the runway. I shuffled in my seat, trying to get comfortable. I was exhausted, my eyes began to close. The last thing I heard before I drifted off to unconsciousness was a crackle of tannoy speaker box.

“…….Subj………aircraf……………cycle 42…………experiment………………….restart”

Cycle 42, what the f………

I was gone, asleep, drifting to nothingness.

The turbulence jolted me from unconsciousness. Somewhat dazed, it required a couple of blinks and a shake of the head to remind me exactly where I was…



Written by Crashtech01
Content is available under CC BY-SA