The jet almost leveled out. Pike pushed off from the bulkhead, and was able to stand again, though the cabin leaned to the left.
Pike’s first instinct was to run to the back of the jet. That was rumored to be the safest place in the event of a crash. The Ravenscroft jet was small, though. It was designed to hold 8 passengers. When it crashed, there wouldn’t be a safe place.
Unless Early Helton was a magician.
“How’s it looking?” Pike’s mouth was very dry.
“Not the best time for a conversation, partner,” Helton said. “If you want to be useful, why don’t try to put an eyeball on that Martian plane?”
“You never saw War of the Worlds with the Martian death ray?” Helton shook his head. “Kids these days.”
“I thought this wasn’t a good time for chit chat.”
“It’s not. I tend to babble when I’m lookin’ at certain death. Now leave me alone.”
“Certain death. Got it,” Pike said. He placed a hand on the door frame to steady himself and returned to the passenger area.
Gemma looked composed. She buckled her seat belt and nodded at Pike. There was no use whining about something you couldn’t change. Pike nodded back before taking a seat. He agreed. He and Gemma were more alike than either of them wanted to admit.
Elizabeth was on her knees in her seat facing the window.
“Uh, in case anybody cares, our wing is gone!” She turned around until her butt was on the seat cushion. “Did you guys get that? WE HAVE NO WING!”
Drake, in the seat next to Pike, looked vaguely amused.
“We still have one wing,” Pike said. “That’s something.”
He thought, but didn’t add, unless that bastard out there shoots it off.
Elizabeth shook her head rapidly, as if Pike’s words were the annoying buzz of a fly. She turned to Gemma. “Planes need both wings, right? Right?”
“Buckle your seat belt, honey, and shut the hell up,” Gemma said pleasantly.
Amazingly, Elizabeth obeyed.
The jet was losing attitude. Helton was trying to control their descent, something that was virtually impossible with one wing missing, even for the best of pilots.
Pike watched the patch of sky that was visible through the window nearest his seat. He did not see the enemy craft.
“What was it?” Gemma said from across the aisle.
“Some kind of experimental plane, armed with...with a weapon that fired a wave of black light. That’s what got the wing.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth. She thought better of speaking and shut her mouth again.
Gemma paled. Pike saw the truth in her eyes.
“You know something. What is it?” he said.
Now it was Gemma’s turn to shake her head. Pike got the feeling that she wasn’t refusing to answer his question. Rather, she seemed to be rejecting an idea that had just occurred to her.
“What?” Pike urged.
“That weapon. It’s sounds like–”
“This is it!” Helton’s voice was loud yet calm. “I’ll do the best I can.”
First, the jet tilted crazily. If not for their restraints, Gemma and Elizabeth would have been hurled from their seats. The back of Pike’s head slammed against his chair.
Then the plane spun. For a second they were upside down, and Helton’s curses could be heard from the cockpit. He managed to get the jet right side up, but now the nose was pointed at the earth.
They broke through the clouds and Pike saw the jungle below, a world of green getting closer by the second. Pike glanced at Drake. The only sign of anxiety in the older man was the frantic motion of his jaw as he chewed a stick of gum. He caught Pike looking at him and winked.
“Hell of a week, eh?” he said.
“You’re not the guy I’d choose to die next to,” Pike said. “On the other hand, at least you’ll stay dead this time.”
“We’ll see,” Drake said.
The jungle rushed up at them faster than Pike thought possible. The belly of the jet struck the treetops. The cabin was rocked and Elizabeth screamed. Pike thought Gemma would slap her, but Gemma – like the rest of them -- did not want to turn loose of her armrests.
The jet hit something else, wrenching Pike’s neck. The world outside the cabin windows had turned green. They were plowing through the upper levels of jungle growth. Pike wondered if the trees could possibly slow the craft without disintegrating it.
The roar of the engines and the crunch of shattering wood grew so loud Pike couldn’t hear Gemma as she shouted something at him. He could only make out the words “my father” before the jet struck something hard, bounced and turned on its side. A gigantic screech of wrenching metal told Pike the other wing was now gone. The limb of a tree, brown and green and deadly as a javelin, broke through the window between the heads of Pike and Drake.
The jet came to a stop.
Pike was at a 90 degree angle, with his knees above his head. He unbuckled his belt and used the arm rests to pull up. He climbed out of the chair and looked up at Gemma and Elizabeth, both hanging from their seats by their restraints.
“I’ll be right there.” Without the noise Pike felt like he was shouting.
“No. Help Drake first. He only has one good arm,” Gemma said.
Pike planted a foot between the backs of the two chairs. He punched the button that released Drake’s seat belt, then pulled the older man to the edge of seat.
“Still here, Donny Boy,” Drake said.
“Don’t remind me.”
There was a thud and a moan. Pike whirled to see that Gemma had freed herself and landed on her hands and keens. He helped her to her feet.
“I’ll get the girl. You see to Helton,” she said.
Pike worked his way to the cockpit, stepping carefully through the tilted funhouse the jet had become. He found Helton slumped against the instrument panel. Pike felt his neck. The pilot’s pulse was strong. He sat Helton upright. A gash on his forehead was bleeding. Helton moaned.
“Helton, you with me?”
Helton’s eyelids fluttered open.
“How you feeling?” Pike said.
“Like I was in a plane crash.”
“What a coincidence. Let’s get out of here.”
Pike helped Helton to his feet. The pilot insisted on flipping a couple of switches on the instrument panel before they exited the cockpit. The others were waiting for them.
“He’s been knocked around, but he’s alive,” Pike told them.
“What now?” Elizabeth said.
“We assess the situation,” Gemma said. She sniffed the air. “Is that smoke?”
A dark cloud drifted out of the cockpit, followed by the crackle of flames.
“Let’s get outside. Figure out where we are and go from there,” Pike said.
The main door was on the port side of the plane, the side closest to the ground. Drake turned the handle and pushed. The door didn’t budge. He threw his shoulder into it, to no avail.
“Judgin’ by the scenery out there, I guess it’s blocked by the vegetation,” Helton said.
Gemma immediately went to the back of the jet and threw open the emergency exit on the starboard side.
“How far?” Pike said.
“Not far,” she said. Gemma jumped. There was a soft thud and a gasp. Pike left Helton leaning against the bulkhead and rushed to the emergency exit. Gemma was sitting on the brown and green floor of the jungle, rubbing her ankle. The drop had to be sixteen feet or more.
“It’s not broken. Just a sprain,” she said.
Pike turned to find Elizabeth staring over his shoulder.
“Come on, Red. Elevator’s going down.” She nodded, and he lowered her by her arms out the door. “Bend your knees and roll.” He let go. The young archeologist did as he instructed, tucking and rolling to absorb the impact. She hopped to her feet and waved.
Soon, they were all on the ground. Helton had recovered enough to go next. Then he and Pike helped Drake off the plane. Finally Pike dangled from the exit, then dropped. Gemma was up and limping around by then.
The passenger cabin of he jet was engulfed in flames. They moved away, in case of an explosion.
“Where do you think we are?” Gemma said.
“My best guess is southern Mexico,” Helton said.
“Next question: will anybody be looking for us?”
“Probably,” he said. “This crate has a beacon that should have activated on impact. And there’s another one that I manually keyed before bailing out of the cockpit.” He glanced back at the burning craft. “It worked for a while, anyway. Somebody will show up sooner or later.”
“Let’s plan for later,” Pike said. “We need water now and, eventually, food.” He turned to Elizabeth. “Feel like a walk, Red?”
Her face lit up. “Sure. I mean, I just survived a plane crash. Now I’m going trekking through the jungle like Indiana Jones. I wish Amanda Reeder could see me now.”
“A girl I went to high school with. Her daddy had more money than God. She always said I would end up working for her. Last I heard, the SEC busted her daddy and took all his money. Amanda is working at a hair salon doing manicures.”
“Amanda Reeder can suck it,” Pike said. Elizabeth whooped and gave him a high five.
Gemma sighed and rolled her eyes. “She’s still the enemy, Pike.”
“Sorry,” Pike said. “The enemy and I are going to look for fresh water.” He stepped close to Gemma. “You were trying to tell me something when the plane went down.”
“Later,” she said.
“Wait,” Drake said. He removed the big handgun for his shoulder rig and handed it to Pike. “Just in case.”
Pike stuck the gun in his waist band. “Come on, Red.”
That’s when they heard it.
“Choppers,” Helton said.
“More than one,” Gemma said.
“Probably Mexican military,” Helton said.
“We have a good relationship with the government,” Gemma said. “Maybe we can still get home today.”
The choppers landed south of them, on the other side of a dense wall of foliage.
They heard murmured voices and the tromp of many feet. Soon, the blade of a machete hacked through the brush and a white-garbed figure appeared. He carried an M249 light machine gun in his other hand.
“Not the Mexican army,” Pike said. Within seconds, twenty similarly dressed men faced them, each with a M249 pointed at Pike and the others.
A final man made his way through the opening in the growth. He was taller than the others. His black hair was slicked back and he had a thick black beard. He smiled when he saw Elizabeth.
“Gustav,” she said.
The man who had destroyed the pyramid at El Castillo pointed at them.
“Take the women,” he said. “And kill the men.”
To be Continued
© Mark Justice 2010