This is the beginning of an attempt to create a new story not connected to the Reckless Faith universe.
“Major, what the hell are you doing?”
The interior of the C-5 Galaxy had just become very quiet. Major Furlong stood next to the hulking prototype reactor, pointing an M9 pistol at his fellow scientists. The other men, both Department of Defense civilian physicists, glanced at each other in shock. They also peered past him toward the ladder that led to the flight deck, but the rest of the crew was topside, and unaware of the drama that was about to unfold.
Suddenly too warm, Major Furlong unzipped the front of his flight suit with one hand while keeping his weapon trained unwaveringly on the other men. The long, cylindrical reactor hummed calmly, though this reassuring noise was almost completely drowned out by the drone of the aircraft’s engines. He saw the uncertainty in their eyes as he accessed the main control panel on the reactor.
“I wouldn’t try it,” he warned.
“I don’t understand,” began the first man, an MIT grad named Leach. “You’ve done it. We’ve done it! Stable cold fusion. We’re all going to be famous!”
“And rich,” added Morton, a brilliant young man from Berkeley.
Furlong didn’t flinch. “If we make it through this, we can still be both.”
The major pressed a few keys, reversing an entire year of difficult and frustrating research in a matter of seconds. The hum of the reactor began to build to a whine, and the C-5 began to rumble even more.
“My God, what have you done?” breathed Leach.
“He’s deactivated the positron buffer!” Morton yelled over the noise.
“You maniac, you’ll kill us all!”
Leach knew he had no time. He rushed Furlong, betting his life that the Air Force officer was bluffing. The major resumed a two-handed grip on his pistol and shot him three times square in the chest. As he fell, Morton grabbed the nearest thing he could find, a wrapped up CGU-1B strap, and hurled it at Furlong. The heavy strap missed by seven feet and the scientist earned a bullet in the head for his effort.
Furlong swore to himself, and looked toward the ladder. If the crew had heard anything, they hadn’t responded yet. It wouldn’t matter. The whine of the reactor reached a crescendo, and it began to glow. A magnetic field appeared, emanating a beautiful loop of bluish photons. Major Furlong holstered his pistol and looked at the display. Everything matched the prior data set. It was going to work. He backed up until he reached the hull, and grabbed onto a support. He stared with wonder at the reactor, the culmination of his life’s work, then closed his eyes tightly.
“I’m coming for you, baby,” he whispered.
Furlong’s eyes were jolted open by a loud bang. A split-second later, time appeared to freeze right in front of him. Individual particles in the magnetic loop seemed to hang in mid-air. With an even louder crack, the reactor went dark, and the C-5 began to shake violently. He knew he had little time left now. He made his way to the rear hatch. Holding on tightly with one hand, he pulled the upper and lower emergency levers, and with a tremendous effort, opened the vertical sliding door. He held on as the cargo cabin depressurized, and grabbed an emergency oxygen cylinder from the bulkhead compartment. There was a tremendous crash from the rear of the aircraft, and he lost his footing. Freezing cold air and condensation filled the interior as he struggled to his feet and donned the oxygen mask. The engines began to cycle up and down in thrust as the pilot responded to whatever problem had just occurred. Furlong moved as fast as he could to dump Leach and Morton’s bodies out of the hatch, then looked outside. The night sky was all he could see. The aircraft began to yaw badly and the engines whined even more. He managed to secure the rear hatch and made his way to the flight deck.
Topside was a chaotic scene. The flight engineer, pilot, and co-pilot had also donned their oxygen masks, and it seemed like every warning light and buzzer was activated. The pilot wrestled with the controls and constantly worked the throttle.
“What happened?” yelled Furlong.
“We lost the port horizontal stabilizer,” cried the co-pilot, a captain named Reynolds. “The starboard elevator is barely responding. Colonel Taylor is trying to keep us steady by balancing the port and starboard engines.”
“Are we going down?”
“Shut up and let me fly,” replied Taylor.
“What the hell happened down there?” asked the flight engineer, a master sergeant by the name of Shumaker.
“Cascade overload,” replied Furlong, strapping himself in. “Just like last time. The rear hatch gave out. Leach and Morton were blown out. I managed to get it closed.”
“It won’t matter if I can’t increase our angle of attack,” said Taylor. “Hold on, and for God’s sake someone holler if they spot the airfield.”
Reynolds got on the radio and called out a mayday. The Arizona desert loomed ahead. They could see far more ground than sky at the moment. Furlong grasped the armrests of his seat for dear life and tried not to hyperventilate. For the first time since he drew his pistol, terror crept into his chest.
“God damn it Leach,” he whispered. “You always had to be right about everything, didn’t you?”
It was a clear, calm night in the high desert, so dark that the swath of the Milky Way galaxy was bright enough to cast dim shadows. Lilly and Jonah hiked up a familiar trail, their pace dogged, and their conversation sparse. For Lilly, the purpose of this trip was purely sentimental, and while Jonah didn’t share the feeling, he thought it wise to accompany her. Moral support was something that he gave easily, though there was also the slim chance of running into some unsavory individuals. Even though Lilly was well accomplished with a sidearm, two guns were always better than one.
Scavengers had discovered the crash site a few weeks after the incident, though Jonah doubted there was anything left by now larger than a dime. The Air Force had done an admirable job reconstructing the wreckage at the nearby Davis-Montham base, but they were still finding small scraps of debris even two months later. Now, on the anniversary of the crash, only the ugly furrows carved by the moribund fuselage remained. That, and a few errant radionuclides, though nothing at dangerous levels.
Lilly found a spot she liked and removed her backpack with a sigh. The cool air quickly went to work on their perspiration, so they grabbed extra layers and put them on. The crash site was dead quiet; Jonah could only hear his mild tinnitus and the rushing of blood through his head. He looked at Lilly and smiled.
“So, do you want to build a fire?” he asked. “Maybe throw down the blanket and look at the stars?”
“Do you believe it was a miracle that I survived?” she asked quietly.
Jonah considered the question. In the year since the crash, Lilly had never regarded the sequence of events as anything other than pure chance. Indeed, Jonah did believe it was a miracle, but never referred to it as such with Lilly in deference to her strictly scientific belief system. She didn’t even consider herself lucky, since to do so would acknowledge the unluckiness of her dead comrades.
Whether by the grace of some deity or sheer luck, Lilly’s survival was a one in a billion chance. As the C-5 hit the ground and broke up, the aft section separated, rolled, and heaved upward, balancing for a nanosecond on what was left of the tail. Lilly was ejected at that exact moment, with practically no forward momentum, and the wreckage continued on without her. She fell twenty feet and twisted her ankle. Most people didn’t hesitate to call it a God damned miracle. Unfortunately, the rest of the crew were mangled pretty badly and were probably dead before the aircraft came to a rest. And of course, the reactor was completely trashed.
“Yes, I do,” he replied. “We’ve both been given a second chance, Lilly. I can’t assign that to the random whims of a thoughtless universe.”
“A second chance,” Lilly murmured, staring at the sky. “It all seems so meaningless if we can’t get the reactor working.
Jonah’s heart sank. Lilly had a tendency toward obliviousness when it came to their relationship. In any other context she might seem rude, but he knew it was just the way her mind worked. In this case, however, he couldn’t help but feel slighted. He pushed away the possibility that she was starting to slip away from him, and said the only thing he could in reply.
“We’ll figure it out.”
There was a brief flash of light in the sky. Lilly and Jonah couldn’t have missed it, they were already looking in that direction. An object appeared, blocking out the stars, and a moment later a sonic boom echoed throughout the desert. To their astonishment they realized it was a C-5, coming in hot and shedding parts. It was too dark to see anything else, though they could hear the engines being worked pretty hard. The aircraft headed toward the field at Davis.
“What the hell?” Jonas said.
Lilly gripped his arm tightly. “I didn’t see any flights scheduled for tonight.”
Jonas glanced at Lilly. She was terrified. At that moment he remembered an important detail about her crash, and the same terror hit him.
“Oh, my God,” he whispered.
The pair had an excellent view of the airfield from where they stood, and gripped each other, transfixed, as the C-5 came in for a landing. Emergency vehicles had just barely started to stage up when the aircraft hit the runway. The pilot almost nailed it, but at the last instant the right wingtip scraped the ground. The huge plane turned in that direction and left the runway, digging into the earth. It finally came to a rest, no doubt battered, but mostly intact. It looked quite survivable though it was impossible to tell from so far away. Lilly and Jonah snapped out of it and looked at each other.
“Come on!” she said, and grabbed her rucksack.
She and Jonah ran recklessly down the trail toward their Jeep. Though typically an optimist, Jonah knew there was no good that could come out of this. His worst nightmare had just come true.