This was for a submission to a writing contest, I don’t remember what it was called and I definitely wasn’t selected for it. I had thought of expanding upon it and making it a longer narrative, but I don’t know how to do that right now.
So I had done whatever I could to both make this fit the actual events (this is partly historical fiction and partly not, as you’ll see shortly) while leading into the little narrative that I actually wanted to follow.
The original name for this, when I was intending on it being something larger, and if it’s ever larger again, was Amelia and the Space Cowboys. Once you finish this, if you’re inclined to, you’ll guess why I thought of that first.
They had taken off at midnight. It would be a simple flight. She had covered many times the distance they would be traveling many times before. Amelia had not gotten that much rest before taking off, she could never rest before a major flight. It was what she got to do, she could never keep herself out of the damn cockpit if she could help herself. As always, she was advised by her team not to do this, not to abuse herself like this, to be reasonable. She had not gotten where she had gotten by being reasonable and so pleasantly ignored all advice. She did not get enough sleep and she spent the couple hours before liftoff at the strip of land she’d be taking off from. She had greeted Noonan cordially, far preferring him to his predecessor but still nowhere close to being friends with him.
Amelia was where she felt most safe and relaxed. A shame Noonan never quite felt the same way as she did. It was a simple straight shot, Noonan had told her, and he did not intend to steer her any differently, from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island, no interruptions of any sort. She’d gone along with it, of course, as much as she liked showboating she also wasn’t one to risk a life to do so. Take off from Lae Airfield at midnight, several hours in the air watching the sun rise, and she could marvel at creation even with a coughing and hacking older man behind her the whole way there.
What had made her nervous was that even though she knew the sun had come up, she could not clearly see it. They’d all been wrong. Clouds everywhere, blocking her view, as she sailed above them or through them. No rain or thunder that she could hear, but still so thick that she could hear Noonan silently cursing behind her as he consulted his charts and knew that was the source.
The time read 6:14 AM, though at this rate, Amelia wasn’t sure if she could trust it considering how many time zones they had crossed, whether it had been properly adjusted. The fear had risen that perhaps something aboard the modified Lockheed Electra 10E that was to be their shining chariot across the seas and oceans had malfunctioned. Something had broken and whoever was responsible had been negligent and now they’d never hear from the ship tracking their movements again. This was unfounded, the call quickly came in from the Itasca, awaiting their arrival.
“You’re within two hundred miles of the landing zone, ma’am. We need to get a proper read on your craft, is there anything you can do to provide a constant signal?”
Amelia didn’t know who the voice on the other end belonged to, but as procedures went, she caught Noonan a little off guard when she began whistling into her microphone in response. It was a song that she was sure Noonan would dislike but one she enjoyed immensely. She whistled the whole tune as best she could remember, the voice on the other end confirming that the continued whistling was letting them keep better track of her aircraft.
“Who the hell is that?” She heard Noonan hiss from behind her, the crumpling of papers and writing utensils and other such knickknacks he had gathered for his navigation work. Their relationship had started cordial and seemed to be getting gradually worse the longer they were together.
“Cab Calloway,” Amelia said in response, turning the microphone off so whoever was on the other end was not privy to any kind of casual conversation.
“Since when is a gal like you into jazz?” Noonan said in response, she could practically see the sneer on his face despite having been facing forward towards the horizon for the last six hours.
“Since I felt like it,” Amelia said flatly, then turned the microphone back on and said into the receiver, “need another one?” There was no response from the other end, signifying that either he previous whistling was sufficient or they’d simply forgotten the two of them even existed.
They had both ended the interaction hoping they’d hear something again from the other end, just so they wouldn’t have to say anything else to each other. Some kind of confirmation that they were making progress towards the island. Maybe a witty joke on the other end of the line. But there was nothing, it was as if the Itasca had vanished from the face of the earth. They were left in silence, said silence consisting of the wind whistling past their ears, nothing but looming clouds ahead.
What Amelia and Noonan had in common was their tendency to zone out, to lose themselves in the majesty of the sky. Even if that sky was mostly obscured, it was peaceful to go into autopilot mode for just a little while. She blinked at her place in the cockpit and realized half an hour had gone by, her mind occupied with rapid thoughts of fear and terror that followed her on her worst flights.
“We’re one hundred miles out,” Amelia said into the microphone, too nervous and cranky to even bother with the proper jargon anymore. “At least that’s what I think. Need to hear back from one of you, I’m beginning to get concerned. Please respond.” She shut it off again, craning her head back to exchange a worried look with Noonan for the first time during the flight.
It kept on like this. The clouds looked increasingly foreboding from below. She was used to storm clouds and flying through them, water and wind splashing her all over. Something was up with the clouds, now that she had time to really consider them for the first time. Now that her mind had nothing to do but wander around and find something to occupy itself. They were moving ever-so-slightly in ways that clouds just did not move. Amelia had been above clouds more than she walked on ground, and they did not swirl in this manner. They did not take on the shade of gray they took on. She could almost say it was a shade approaching a color she’d never seen before in her life.
A while, then, was spent wondering if she was hallucinating, her mind finally gone to waste, on the juncture of her greatest achievement. If you fly all the way around, her internal self had to go off reminding herself right then, and she shook her head to rid it of the notion. Amelia began to veer the plane as those clouds were getting awful close, drifting so slow that she suspected one not as observant as herself might not notice something out of the ordinary. Nothing else that could remind her where she was save the scratching of pencils and the ruffling of charts that signified Noonan was still living.
It almost seemed to happen again, the time almost jumping, she now saw that it was 7:3 AM in the morning, and she was not wrong about the second number being missing. The third slat that made up the Electra 10E’s internal clock was stuck in between two numbers, neither of she could identify, just that it must be in that ten minute range. Trying not to let Noonan notice, she leaned over and switched on the microphone again, but unable to hide the increasing urgency in her voice as she checked the amount of fuel they had left over.
“We’re running out of gas over here. Only got half an hour’s worth left, I reckon. We’re sending on the same frequency as before. It’s 3105 kHz as always, please pick up!”
Amelia was glad, in retrospect, that she’d remembered that much. The clouds were thicker than ever but the popping in her ears was suggesting they’d been slowly dipping lower and lower. They could no longer see the sun, just that unusual shade of grey all around. There wasn’t much else that could be done, and nothing seemed to be working on the aircraft any longer. The second number on the internal clock shifted up between the numbers three and four and stopped there.
“Itasca, we must be on you but we cannot see you! Gas is running low and we’ve been unable to reach you by radio. We’re flying at around…a thousand feet now, I reckon.”
This kept going, on and on and on. Amelia was having to fight at the controls to prevent the Electra from dipping even lower. She almost swore she could see the ocean below her, even as the clouds began to take shape, though they shouldn’t have a shape this close to her. Her lack of sleep was getting to her, and to make matters worse, she couldn’t hear Noonan at all. The wind was roaring louder than ever, her hands were beginning to hurt by how tightly she had to hold the controls to remain even a little stabilized on the aircraft. She felt her mind slipping away from her, dissociating to compensate for all the chaos outside of the little metal barrier of safety all around.
“I can’t hear you, Itasca! Can you send some kind of signal so I can try to find you? I know I must be close, so please respond if you’re hearing this!”
Nothing but static, yet again. Much worse now. She could audibly hear Noonan yelling out in terror behind her as the winds swept them up, now forcing her to push the controls in the other direction so the Electra didn’t go vertical and toss them straight out. These winds did not seem to obey any particular manner in which a wind might flow. She was far too overstimulated to be able to use anything other than her instincts to keep them living just one moment more.
All she could think to do was yell into the microphone, going by Noonan’s previous notes before this calamity began, “We are flying along the line of position! That line is north to south on 157–337 degrees, and we will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles.” It was everything Noonan had prepared her for, and as much as she had grown to dislike him, the man was hardly a fool.
And then it was upon them, and she yelled out “wait” into the microphone, the last word ever transmitted from that tiny device to the Itasca before it was torn, along with a good portion of the ship, completely free and into the abyss. Amelia was no longer flying a fully operational aircraft, she was now guiding a metal husk as best she could down towards the ocean within moments. The remnants of the Electra twisted and turned in the air in a spiral pattern, the swirls of what couldn’t possibly be clouds of unnatural greyish hue all around them. Amelia could only yell, ducking down as far as her body would allow her below the cockpit. The husk shuddered and shook with every impact of shrapnel coming off the former aircraft. She could hear Noonan yelling for his mother, then a particularly loud impact, a series of noises she couldn’t place anywhere, and then something warm against the back of her head.
Had Noonan’s arm not been wrenched out of place in the next moment and went around, slapping her listlessly in the face, she would not have known he was no longer alive. Amelia only had time to crane her head around and see just what the most recent bit of shrapnel had done to him. Perhaps this was a mercy, for it gave her an extra second longer to realize the Electra was no longer falling, despite the lack of engine or any kind of propulsion. It rose now, the swirls of gray cloud now tightening into tendrils, lifting and squeezing, narrowly avoiding Amelia herself.
With the tendrils came a high-pitching squealing noise, like the metal aircraft was almost screaming in pain, and then they tightened. The Electra began to crumple up like a tin can, forcing Amelia up and out of the cockpit, the plane moving slowly enough that she could avoid touching the numerous tendrils between cloud and slime now engulfing it and what was left of Noonan. She could only hang on for dear life, too exhausted to yell but too frightened to do much else, till she was left with no choice but to let go of the Electra for the final time and fall.
She did fall. Amelia fell, but not nearly as long as expected and there was no painful impact to greet her upon landing. She knew that a fall from this height, even if she hit the water, would instantly vaporize her body. Amelia did not fall such a distance, she could only blink and stare at the new arrival that had made its way out of the mass of tendrils to greet her. The closest approximation her mind could gather was that it looked rather like the periscope of a submarine mixed with a snake and the lens of a camera, circular slats of metal sliding open and shut rather like one of those. It was the only observation she had time to make until it shone from within with an inner light, and she did not fall so long as that light remained lit. Amelia did scream now, because she could feel herself moving upwards with it as the slats slid almost open and shut, coordinating the light that felt like it had mass around her. The light moved, and it had tangible properties, and she moved with it.
Faster and faster she went, the pressure on her head becoming immense, until the longest second of her life occurred. Amelia looked down. She saw the world down beneath her, and not just stretches of land and sea but all land and all sea, enough for one hemisphere. Amelia had memorized all the maps she’d been forcibly acquainted with for her ventures and she could see the dimensions of Papua New Guinea shrinking below her. She could see the Hawaiian islands, and she could see the west coast of the country she’d spent thirty-nine years calling home.
That single unblinking second left her in awe as she became, in the year of our lord, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, anno domini, the first human being to leave the surface of the Earth.