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The Pilot

By @zrscottz

Part One

 

I was the pilot of a C 130 transporting a giant squid to the museum of natural history in New York City. Several scientists from prestigious universities and federal agencies were on board the sixteen hour flight from Santiago, Chile. They were thrilled at the prospect of studying the giant, ten legged cephalopod. The behemoth of the southern Pacific. Two male scientists, biologists from a research facility in northwest Germany couldn’t wait for the eventual landing and complex transport. They convinced the lead scientist, Hans Brenner to allow them access to the custom-built tank in the cargo hold of the airplane.

“Ve only vant to zee zee eyes doctor, and our research is highly sensiteev, as you know. Vee von’t deesturb the creature, just a peak before zee uzzers.” The two men eagerly awaited permission while I attempted to unscramble their foreign accents.

Dr. Brenner waved the two scientists away and continued the conversation he’d been having on a state of the art satellite phone.

“Two hundered thousand dollars!”, Brenner protested.

“You have got to be kidding me Alfred, these people wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of money!”

I overheard the doctor’s exchange and it piqued my curiosity. It turned out he was discussing the payment which the tiny fishing village off Argentina’s southern coast desired for having caught the giant squid. I imagined what that kind of windfall could do for an impoverished village, possibly expanding educational programs and improving on their crumbling infrastructure. There had been strange lizards, rabid jackals, and exotic penguin species upon the villages one-lane, dirt and gravel runway. Nobody was qualified to man the ancient radio in their tiny control tower. Arrival and departure was quite treacherous, a mission I decided was worth undertaking. These scientists had a huge grant from NYC. I began to envision a brighter future for the hardworking people as Brenner relented on the phone.

I began counting my blessings, grateful for all the opportunities I’d been given in life

Cumulus, white, pom-pom shaped clouds began to crest the horizon, casting shadown across my cockpit as I recounted my harrowing adventures and looked back on my life. A wave of nostalgic contentment rushed over me while I thought of my time in the armed services and my time throughout flight school. I was good at my job and I enjoyed it immensely. I couldn’t imagine a different path for me and I shut my eyes for a moment. The hum of the aircrafts propellers buoyed me and i fell into a cozy slumber.

It could not have been long before I was awakened by the altitude change and my ears began to pop uncomfortably. My instrument panel was going haywire and an irritating alarm was sounding.

“WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON AIRMAN?” In my daze I looked up to see Dr. Brenner’s terrified, stricken face. Quickly, I adjusted the throttle, eased the control collumn back, and steadied the twenty-ton airplane, sweat beading upon my brow.

In my thirteen years transporting hazardous, often classified materials, this dozing had occurred just a handful of times. Only once did any loss of life occur. I was forced to conduct an emergency landing on the busy highway 101 skirting Los Angeles. Miraculously, I emerged from the wreckage unscathed. My cargo however did not evade the grim reaper. Sixty seven FBI recruits were unlucky and perished on impact. Fortunately, there were insurance policies in place to protect against such a tragedy and after a short investigation, some national media coverage, and a stint inside Army’s psych-tech unit I was permitted to resume flying.

I felt exhilirated by this current close call and explained to the good doctor,

“Everything is fine, relax, and please take your seat.”

Brenner looked worried but retreated back into the aircraft to rejoin his collegues, muttering under his breath.

Some coffee was certainly in order at this junction and I called back to the doctor,

“Hey Brenner!”

He peaked his face back into the cockpit.

“How about a cup a joe, will ya?”

The blank stare across his countenance told me he didn’t take kindly to requests from a mere pilot like me, but I knew he’d fetch the coffee. After all, the success of this entire trip depended solely on me. Once again Hans withdrew to the rear, muttering.

Checking the cabin pressure and consulting my GPS equipment, I determined we were somewhere above bolivia and had a long way to go.

Just then a young woman who I’d noticed before takeoff came right into the cockpit.

“I don’t know what it is you fink you’re doing but you’d better cut it out. You’ve got Brenner all in a state. He’s making us nervous.”

Her English accent and doe eyes had me ‘all in a state’ but I played it cool.

“Oh let him be, he’s fine, probably figuring a way to hoodwink those villagers. Name’s Mack, didn’t catch yours.”

I held out my hand. She looked at me, eyebrows raised.

“Didn’t frow it now did I?”

Sheesh somebody woke up on the wrong side of the fuselage, I thought. I withdrew my hand and fixed my gaze elsewhere. To my surprise she climbed into the empty copilots seat beside me.

“Sorry,” she said. “That was rude, I’m Maggie Grantham.”

She didn’t offer a hand and her eyes remained steady forward but I could feel the mood shift, the tension lessen.

Over the mountains and jungles of Bolivia and on toward Venezuela and Brazil our conversation flowed effortlessly. We laughed. She shed a tear recounting her parents tragic deaths. We even began to flirt.

“I feel as if I’ve known you all of my life,” she quipped, a radiant smile beaming my way.

I can remember thinking to myself how quickly time seemed to be moving. In the blink of an eye most of the passengers were asleep and we were quickly approaching the notorious Bermuda Triangle. Then, the plane lurched westward, took a deep dive about one thousand feet and I scanned the outside of my plane, searching for some cause. I recovered and found my bearings as Brenner invaded the cockpit once more.

“Shut up!’ I barked before he could say a word.

“Just some turbulence, we’re above water,” I explained.

“Uhm well, there’s a bit of a problem.” Brenner stammered.

Although we hadn’t gotten along pleasantly before now, I took his tone and demeanor seriously. Something was up. Once again, the aircraft took a heart pounding dip.

“Spit it out ********* I yelled.

Maggie looked from Brenner back to me and I could see the horror etched into her face. Her slender hand came up to cover her mouth, that universal sign of shock and trepidation.

Brenner began, “Our specimen is awake.” He paused before continuing. “And angry.”, he finished.

“So get it back to sleep, calm him down, that creature’s gonna put us at the bottom of the Atlantic!”

Of course there were marine biologists on board who could sort this thing out. I figured there’d be tranquilizers, restraints, maybe a soft ballad to soothe the disturbed monster. But alas, the team’s supply of heavy sleep-inducing narcotics were smashed, their glass vials shattered just as the squid’s supposedly “safe-tested” enclosure had. Now there was a veritable ocean, ten thousand cubic meters of South Pacific salt water squelching, sloshing freely in my airplanes lower hold.

I feel at this point in the story it would be prudent to elaborate on the unique design of my custom C130. This wasn’t just any old transport plane. The wingspan was fifty yards across, imagine half a football field! The body was about as wide as 3 school buses. Unlike the Airbus and popular passenger plane, the Boeing 787, my aircraft didn’t utilize the latest lightweight alluminums and poly-carbons. Good, old fashioned American steel and a kevlar coating was necessary. At the base it was nicknamed ‘the battleship’ and onlookers, no matter how many times they’d seen it airborne, were truly dazzled by its ability to fly. The gunmetal grey paintjob added to its naval mystique but its official mandate was secret and not necessarily commissioned by any of the branches of our military. The giant aircraft contained two levels, the upper being small, cramped, and exclusively for passengers and crew. There was a ramp that folded down and out at the back of the plane to accomodate Humvees, tanks, advanced weapons systems, or any other large loads. The cavernous cargo hold, or “belly of the beast”, which held the giant squid was retrofitted specifically for the journey. Because of the large volume of salt water the squid needed to remain alive, a waterproof spray was applied to the walls, floor, and ceiling before the squid’s humongous tank was secured within.

When I first took this assignment, my only hesitation was about the immense volume of water. Surely the plane would be more difficult to operate, and a thin margin for error made this endeavor a risky operation at best. Now, faced with the prospect of a writhing, tentacled, and angry squid, negotiating the craft was nothing short of suicidal. Something had to be done.

Then it hit me. While in Argentina I made a personal purchase. I met Juan Carlos in a saloon about half a mile from the tarmac. Procured by Juan Carlos were four hundered fifty, sixty milligram quaaludes, a bygone intoxicant completely unavailable stateside. The leather jacket I had hung on a hook behind my seat contained the pills. I knew from firsthand experience the sedative properties of the quaaludes, just five of these could knock an elephant unconscious quite easily. Certainly a dozen or so could act the same on the squid.

I clambered behind my seat, spilling my untouched coffee. As I grabbed for my jacket I relayed my plan to Brenner and Maggie. Amid shouts of protest I exited the cockpit and made my way to the hold. I prayed the short lesson I’d given Maggie had sunk in.

“Just keep us in the clouds!” I shouted.

I climbed down the staircase. Before I reached the floor my entire body was submerged. There was no sign of the researchers from Germany. Fluorescent running lights flickered above me creating an eerie sense of doom. I worried about electrocution but quickly stowed the thought away. Any fear now would paralyze me thus dooming the entire flight. Armed with the sedatives and a strong sense of valor, I plunged into the frigid depths.

Immediately I became disoriented as I was gripped round the waist by a tentacle and flung helter skelter around the hold. As the beast brought my writhing body toward its chomping beak-like jaws, I grabbed the only thing within arms reach – a crowbar. The intentions of the squid were clear, I was to be the dessert which followed the two scientists who woke the beast. As oxygen quickly left my bloodstream I lashed out, forcing the crowbar into the squids beak, jamming it open and force-feeding the quaaludes into its gullet. I felt the tension subside and the tentacle release me. I scurried to the surface, grabbed hold of the ladder, and took a huge gasp. I had done it. The immediate threat was over.

Now what were we to do about the loose water, unbalancing the plane every second, putting our lives in jeapordy. Soaking wet, I collapsed into the cockpit and resumed control of my airplane. I explained to Maggie and Hans the circumstances we found ourselves in.

We would have to dump the squid.

Hans turned white as a ghost. He had just released the two hundred thousand dollar payment to the fishing village. This mission was the culmination of over two years of field work and exploration. He put up a token resistance but he knew it had to be done. The lives of him and his crew were at stake.

I took the aircraft slowly and steadily down toward the waves of the Atlantic ocean. We became dangerously close to the surface when Maggie yelled,

“Stop, hold one minute!”

She tore down to the lower hold before I released the ramp and she secured a tracking device to the squids tentacle.

“We’ll find him again Dr,” she said soothingly, patting the scientist on the shoulder.

“We’ll find him again.” He repeated with conviction. They returned to Mack’s cockpit with a new mission beneath the sea.

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