8 minutes fifteen seconds.
“Plenty of time,” she thought as she sprinted across the black runway, keeping to the shadows. The engines whined as she drew closer, the heat of the jet increasing with each step. Throwing herself the last few feet, she clutched the strut of the landing gear with all the strength she could muster. The brakes released, nearly jerking her arms from their sockets with the sudden acceleration. Bouncing wildly on the rough ground, she clung to the cold metal that supported the fifty five ton bird. Wind tore at her clothes, whipping her hair around her face.
What was she doing here? She had never been the type to go against the grain. That was dangerous. She wasn’t dangerous. She was obedient: a critical thinker, but obedient. She stayed within the confines of the law. But this was so far outside the confines of the law that she couldn’t believe she’d had the courage to follow through with her plan. Sneaking in to the cargo bay of a moving plane to disarm a bomb she helped design was not something she ever imagined doing. But it was too late to turn back now. Either she continued or she died. With white knuckles, she inched her way to the small opening in the belly of the plane.
Gravity pulled at her as the plane lifted off the ground. Airborne, she raced to get inside before the gear folded up. Her strength quickly failed her. Being a scientist, she wasn’t the most physically active. With one final surge, she pulled her body into the cargo area. She collapsed on the freezing floor of the hold. Shaking from the adrenaline she rarely experienced, she lay prostrate, attempting to recover.
Seconds later, a mechanical noise echoed in the near empty space. Metal screeched as hydraulics pulled the landing gear up for flight. Rolling once, twice, she stopped a safe distance away, watching the doors close under the wheels. The howling wind died.
She checked her watch. 6 minutes twenty two seconds—time to get to work. Worming out of the straps, she rummaged through the backpack she managed to keep on her back while she boarded. She pulled a headlamp over her head and scanned the cargo bay. The light fell on the dreaded device she’d come to destroy. It was the only cargo the plane carried.
Hurrying over to it, she unscrewed the control panel, bypassing the alarm system. That was her contribution to the device. She didn’t know much about weapons, but she could keep anyone out of anything. Anyone except for her.
Setting it aside, she pulled out the wires her panel had protected. It had been tricky getting the design plans for the wiring of the device, but she found a way. The only boy who had ever shown interest in her led the team that wired the device. Distracting him with uncharacteristic flirtations, she memorized the project design.
Shouting voices louder than the constant roar of the engines reached her ears. It was the first sign that she wasn’t alone. Coming from the cabin, they escalated in volume. She couldn’t decipher the words, but if she could hear them in the cargo hold, they were screams.
Turning her eyes back to her work, she lifted the wire cutters to a lone red wire. She knew it was the right wire. The design plans were ingrained in her memory, but with her life on the line, she was unable to control the doubt that ran through her. Breathing deeply, she lined up the tool and closed her eyes to sever it.
Shots rang out from the cabin above. The plane turned sharply, throwing her into the wall of the cargo bay. The heavy explosive strained against the rope holding it down. Something was wrong. Or at least different. The original flight had been wrong. It was wrong what the bomb was supposed to be used for.
The air pressure suddenly changed in the cargo hold. Steps echoed on the rungs of a metal ladder. Diving behind a support beam on the wall of the plane, she turned off her light and held her breath. The bright beam of a flash light swept the room. It stopped on the weapon. More specifically, it stopped on the control panel that now lay open and in disarray after her work on it. It shone on her backpack and the tools she used to prevent the Council from committing more atrocities.
“Someone’s tampered with the bomb!”
Boots pounded down the ladder. By her count, there were now at least four of them in the cargo hold with her. There was no place to run, no way to escape. She could only wait to be found.
“Search the place.”
She didn’t have the courage to reveal herself. She cowered farther into the metal beam. Lights bounced all over the bay until one after another they all found her. She kept her eyes on the ground.
“Who are you?” one asked. “What are you doing down here?”
Still pressing herself into the support beam, she spoke to the floor. “I’m called J. I was…” Chancing a quick glance up, she saw they all held guns in their hands, all pointed at her. She threw her eyes back to the floor. “…I was disarming the weapon.”
No one responded to her answer. She looked up again to see if she had spoken loud enough. They were looking from one to another, their guns hanging at their sides.
She watched them this time. “I was disarming the weapon before I heard gun shots and the plane turned, throwing me over here. I don’t want all of those people to die. It’s not right.”
Disbelief kept them silent. Finding his voice, the leader approached her. “J, is it?”
“You say you don’t want those people to die?”
“But you’re an insider. What does it matter to you?”
It was obvious they weren’t from the inside. “It’s not right to kill those people. It’s not their fault they’re in the situation they are. It’s the Council’s fault. The Council wants to be at the top of society, but that means someone has to be on bottom. Just because they’re poor and uneducated doesn’t mean they aren’t people too, with families and feelings, hopes and dreams. It’s just not right. So I’m disarming it and wherever it lands, there will be some damage, but it won’t kill everyone within a two hundred mile radius.”
Somehow the disbelief and awe on his face intensified. “Have you ever been to the Dredges?”
“Surely you have someone you love out there.”
“No. I’ve never been out there. I was born in the city and haven’t ever left.”
A smile replaced his amazement. “How did you get on here?”
“The landing gear.” She didn’t know what he was smiling about, but she wished he would get on with whatever he planned to do to her. An alarm beeped on her watch. Four minutes to detonation.
Apparently they weren't going to kill her right away. “What are you doing here?" she ventured. "How did you get on the plane?”
His posture relaxed, a signal to the guys around him to do the same. “We boarded from another plane a few minutes ago.”
And she thought her boarding was dangerous.
He continued. “We have different plans for the bomb. Daniel, check it.”
One of the guys, a scrawny boy, went to the control panel of the bomb. He moved some wires around, mumbling to himself as he did so. “Everything is still good.”
Tavin’s eyes never left hers. “Looks like you didn’t have time to disarm it.”
She shook her head. “One more wire to cut…”
“Look,” Tavin said, walking toward her. “You aren’t like any of the people I’ve met from the city. You’re smart, educated, yet compassionate. I’ve never seen that. Most of the compassion has been educated out of your kind. “I don’t know your reason for trying to save the Dredges, but we need people like you. There’s a movement to depose the Council. You don’t seem to be in line with their philosophy. Why don’t you join us?”
She knew what she had been doing was traitorous, but hearing that there was an organization that sought to eliminate the Council and all it stood for was alarming. “What are you going to do with the bomb?”
One of the guys behind Tavin spoke up. “Don’t tell her.”
“What does it matter? Either she joins us or she dies. Who is she going to tell?” Tavin turned to her. “We’ve changed course. The plan is to drop it on the people who built it. We’re dropping it on Lab 27.”
That was her lab. That was where she worked. That was where she contributed to the construction of the bomb. That was where she heard the plans for it. And that was where she made her own plans to destroy what she had created. But she had friends there. It wasn’t their fault they had been commissioned to make the bomb. It wasn’t their choice where it would be used. That was the Council’s fault. She was opposed to senseless killing, whether the targets were poor or wealthy, uneducated or scholarly.
Considering what he said about her options though, she kept her thoughts to herself. “Why don’t you drop it on the Council instead?”
“Ha! Do you know where they stay when they’re not oppressing the people with damning laws?”
Of course she didn’t. No one knew that. “Why use the bomb at all then? Isn’t there another way?”
A teenager behind Tavin spoke up. “If we can kill the people who built it, they won’t build any more, will they?”
She saw their logic, but it didn’t make it right. She could see she would lose this argument though. “How long until we’re in position?”
“Let’s go ask the pilot.”
Two of them led her up while two more followed her. She hadn’t given them an answer yet. She was still their prisoner.
The cabin was small and confined compared to the spacious cargo area. The light nearly blinded her as she emerged from the black hold. To her right, bodies lay strewn on the ground. The pilots were dead, bullet holes in the center of their lifeless heads. She turned away from the sight.
Led to the cockpit, J saw teenagers the same age as the rest manning the controls. “Time to target?” Tavin asked.
“ETA two minutes. We’ve set course and auto-pilot is engaged. Let’s suit up and get out of here before the fireworks start.” The new captain got up out of his seat and rummaged in a duffel bag on the floor. He pulled out a parachute pack and moved on out of the cockpit.
“That’s the exit strategy?” J asked incredulous.
Tavin smiled at her. “Yeah, but we only brought enough for ourselves. If you’re with us, I’ll strap you in to mine and we’ll jump together.”
She didn’t agree with them, but there wasn’t time to disagree. If she stayed alive, maybe she could make a difference, do things differently. “I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
He shook his head.
She sighed. “Strap me in.”
Grabbing one of the parachutes, he walked back to the cabin door, placing a hand on the small of her back to guide her. Once secure to the pack, he turned her around and pulled her back to his chest. His hands moved around her body, touching her where she never let another soul touch her. She tried to feel violated, but her mind was elsewhere. She had another plan for the bomb.
Putting his lips to her ear, he asked, “Are you ready?”
Before she could answer, the cabin door flew open. Her body was sucked out of the cabin along with everyone else. Tavin wrapped his arms around her. “It’s all right.”
She breathed twice, opened her eyes, and watched the plane fly away from their falling bodies. Touching a button on her watch, she detonated the bomb. The plane exploded into thousands of pieces. The blast pressed super-heated air against their bodies. She knew they would survive though.
“It’s not all right,” she shouted. “There has to be another way.”