Fractured Time:

Chapter One

Stranded

Billy Brock waited patiently on the porch and watched as rain fell steadily in the early morning darkness. In one hand, he held an eight-by-ten picture and, in the other, his leather briefcase.
A Yellow cab stopped in front of the house, catching his attention.
“You call for a ride to the airport, buddy?” the driver shouted.
“Sure did,” replied Billy.
The cab driver hurriedly opened the rear door.
Billy stepped off the porch into the driveway and paused by a steel trashcan. He glanced at the picture of himself and his former fiancée one last time with a scowl.
“Sayonara, bitch,” Billy muttered under his breath.
He lifted the lid and fired the picture into the trashcan. The sound of shattered glass in the can brought a contented smile to his face.
Billy splashed through puddles in the driveway, not caring at all, and climbed inside the cab.
The driver closed the door for Billy and rushed inside the cab.
“What airline, sir?” asked the driver.
“US Air.”
Billy stared at the passing streetlights as the cab sped away. He looked younger than twenty-four with his wavy blonde hair, baby face and lean figure. Underneath his gray London Fog raincoat, he was dressed casually in a tan turtleneck sweater and brown corduroy pants for a business presentation in Philadelphia.
Billy recalled his disastrous wedding a few weeks earlier. Charlene, his long-time girlfriend and fiancé, left the church just as the ceremony started without saying a word to anyone. He hadn’t seen or heard from her since. Billy bit his lip in frustration as it was just one of many problems in his life of late.
At the engineering firm where he worked, he was overwhelmed with extra duties of late. To make matters worse, his boss assigned a new software engineer, hired to ‘help’ with his fieldwork, to join him on this trip. The company never had more than one field engineer on staff and, with major cutbacks in the works, the writing appeared to be on the wall for him.
“It’s just a matter of time before they let me go. What the hell am I gonna’ do then?” fretted Billy.
His boss directed him to meet the engineer at the airport and to be cooperative, whatever that meant. He opened his briefcase and thumbed through the pages for the printed email.
“What’s this guy’s name- Nichols? Yeah, that was it – P. Nichols from CAE Corporation,” he callously recalled.
Billy crumpled up the email and disgustedly threw it on the floor of the cab.
There were few delays on the way to Logan International Airport at five-thirty in the morning. Traffic was fairly light and, with a gloomy weather forecast for the next few days. Billy was more than happy to get out of town.
The rain grew more intense as the cab parked in front of the airport terminal. Billy got out and glanced up at the sky. Rain splashed off his face and streamed down his neck and, oddly, he didn’t care. He had a strange feeling that it was going to be one of those days.
Billy paid the driver and entered the terminal. After passing through the security checkpoints and monitors, he continued down the crowded concourse to the gate and checked in at the counter.
He picked up a newspaper and noticed two attractive women sitting at the end of a row of seats. One of the women wore tight, black jeans and a green sweater, standing at about 5 foot-ten inches tall with long, dark hair. She carried a red satin jacket, embroidered with lettering for a rifle club tournament. Billy was impressed and figured she was about twenty-two.
The other woman had long, auburn hair in a ponytail, blue bell-bottom jeans, floral-patterned blouse and brown boots. She also had a satin jacket, which she carried over her arm. It was black with gold trim and lettering, from a martial arts tournament. She was tall and very shapely, making her all the more alluring. On her jacket was “2008 Champion.” She giggled as the brunette spoke to her.
Billy ogled them, wishing he could join in the conversation. He missed the company of a friendly female.
The brunette turned her head and her eyes met Billy’s. She hesitated for a moment and smiled at him. Her friend noticed and smiled as well.
Billy blushed over the incident and retreated to a secluded seat.
“USAir Flight 637 is now boarding zones 3 and 4 for Philadelphia,” announced the stewardess from the podium.
Billy eagerly got in line with his briefcase and newspaper in hand. He browsed about the seating area and wondered which one of the many faces could be Nichols.
The line moved quickly and, once on board, Billy removed his raincoat and stowed it in the overhead compartment. He sat down and placed his briefcase underneath the seat. The plane was only half full, and boarding was soon complete.
No one took the seat next to him and he wondered if Nichols would miss the flight.
A well-dressed African-American couple took their seats in front of Billy. The man was in his middle fifties, bald-headed, somewhat muscular and wore a suit. The woman reminded Billy of the actress Pam Grier with thick, black, shoulder-length hair tied back in a ponytail. She wore a black, mid-length skirt and matching vest with a white blouse underneath.
Billy glanced at the man and recalled seeing him before. He opened his newspaper to the Sports section and disregarded the thought.

“USAir flight 637 for Philadelphia, last call for boarding, all zones,” the announcement came over the PA system again.
Penny hurried down the corridor to gate C-29. She stood about five feet-six inches tall and was petite with shoulder-length brunette hair.
A young, male attendant closed the door to the jet way and returned to the counter. He noticed Penny rushing toward him and rolled his eyes.
“Wait, I’m coming!” she shouted.
She stopped abruptly and presented her ticket to the attendant.
“Please don’t let me miss my flight. My boss will fire me,” she pleaded.
The attendant picked up the phone.
“I’ve got one more – seat 21B,” he said passively.
Penny leaned against the counter and listened anxiously.
“Thanks, Captain. I’ll send her back.”
“Yeah, you made it – just barely,” he said as he scanned her boarding pass.
“Thank you so much,” said Penny excitedly.
The young man opened the door to the jet way.
“You’d better hurry before the pilot changes his mind.”
Penny smiled at him and rushed down the jet way.
Now that she made the flight, she pondered her boss’ last words: “Don’t worry. Billy Brock, is quite a character. You’ll be fine with him.”
“This guy had better be something special,” she thought bitterly. “Traveling wasn’t part of my job description.”
Penny hurried inside the plane and turned down the aisle. She felt uncomfortable as everyone glared at her for delaying the departure.
Billy was engrossed in the newspaper when Penny settled into her seat and opened her briefcase. He looked up and immediately noticed her big brown eyes.
“Good morning, ma’am. Close one, huh?” he said politely.
“Good morning, sir. It sure was.”
Penny’s heart raced, as she wondered, “Maybe Epstein wanted me on this trip just to meet him.”
She pretended to browse over her notes and summoned her courage.
“You wouldn’t happen to be Billy Brock, would you?”
“I certainly am,” said Billy as he put down the paper.
Then it struck him that she was his partner.
“You’re not Miss Nichols, by chance, are you?”
“Why yes, I am. I’m the new software engineer from CAE Corporation. I’m here to assist you on your sales presentation.”
“I don’t mean to be rude but I really wasn’t expecting a woman.”
“Well, this is a business trip so don’t get the wrong idea,” kidded Penny.
Billy was embarrassed by her implication.
“I’m good with that. I just wasn’t aware they hired a female engineer, that’s all,” he said innocently.
“I want us to stay focused on this presentation. It’s my first trip with the company and I don’t want any problems, okay?” she explained.
Billy became annoyed with her interpretation of his civility.
“I got it already – strictly business.”
Penny realized that her response didn’t come out the way she intended by the tone of Billy’s voice. She humbly focused on her paperwork.
Billy looked out the window and watched the terminal fade from view as the 757 ascended into the rainy sky. He opened the newspaper and browsed at the front page.
A picture on page two caught his attention. It was the man sitting in front of him – Dr. Kirkland (Doc) Smith. Billy curiously read the accompanying article.
“A leading scientist in the field of physics, Dr. Smith discovered an energy source, believed to be the first real evidence to support the existence of portals in space. ‘Although it isn’t clear what kind of portal this source could represent, it’s an amazing first step in understanding the cosmos,’ says Smith. Several other renowned scientists have worked with Dr. Smith in an attempt to understand when and how this source appeared at the edge of our Solar System.”
“Wow! This guy’s into some cool stuff,” thought Billy.
Penny glanced at the paper and saw the article.
“Can I borrow that for a moment, please?”
“Have at it.”
Penny stowed her briefcase and took the paper from him. She anxiously scanned the article and flipped to the next page for the remainder of it.

“You should see these pictures, Maggie!” Doc Smith said to his wife beside him. “I think we’ll have an opportunity to explore this little speck of hope real soon.”
Maggie leaned over the armrest and peered at the drawings on Doc’s lap.
“How so?” she asked.
“Joe Miller is working with NASA to see what kind of probe is available to gather data on the energy source for us. He expects to have an answer for me by the time we get to Philadelphia.”
Maggie noticed a picture of a colleague of Doc’s, Dr. Nikolai Athos, on top of a mountain with two other individuals.
“Hey, there’s your friend, Athos! What’s he up to?”
Doc pointed at the picture’s backdrop.
“He’s in the Appalachian mountains, collecting seismic data. Eight years ago, he postulated a theory that ancient civilizations like the Incas, Mayans and Sumerians, didn’t become extinct as many believed. He theorized that these civilizations might have somehow slipped into a time portal or alternate dimension. His theory wasn’t accepted very well by the scientific world and they labeled him an ‘eccentric’.”
Doc flipped to another picture of Athos in front of a pyramid in Central America.
“Back then, I believed in the existence of portals but I never thought about moving a whole civilization through one and the existence of parallel universes wasn’t something I could accept based on any of the data he produced,” explained Doc.
“So maybe there’s something simpler to that theory like a tractor beam from an alien spaceship behind the disappearance of those civilizations,” Maggie teased.
“Now why would you say that?”
“Imagine if someone up there could focus a tractor beam through a portal? They could pull us through it and maybe send us to another part of the universe, couldn’t they?”
“No way! Can you imagine how much power it would take to execute something of that magnitude?” scoffed Doc. “Since we know very little about altered or ‘fractured’ time, Athos’ theory sounds ludicrous. At this juncture, though, we can’t discount it as the consequence of a portal either.”
“Could it be a bad thing for us?”
“I don’t know. That little energy source might also be a doorway to another part of the universe. If so, then for whom and where?”
“This sounds fantastic, Doc. Imagine the possibilities.”
“Yes, and when we send the probe up, I hope to acquire enough data to provide some of the answers we’re looking for.”
Billy eavesdropped and was impressed with their conversation. Penny handed him his newspaper and stood up in the aisle by Doc and Maggie Smith. Billy wondered what she was up to.
“Excuse me, I’m Penny Nichols. I used to work with CAE,” she said politely.
Maggie looked up and immediately recognized her.
“Well, hello, Penny. It’s good to see you.”
Doc was pleasantly surprised and shook her hand.
“Well, young lady, it’s been a few years.”
“You remember me, Dr. Smith! I’m flattered.”
“Sure I do! You saved our Euripedes satellite project in Florida with your software program.”
“What the hell! She is a ringer,” thought Billy frantically. “I’m doomed!”
“I never worked with anyone who knew software programming like you. We kicked butt together on that orbital thrust control issue,” remarked Maggie.
“Yes we did.”
“That software package you developed has carried the program for us. I could never thank you enough,” said Doc gratefully.
“Thanks, Dr. Smith. Well, I just wanted to say hello.”
Doc handed her his card.
“Give me a call sometime. I could use your expertise on a new project.”
“I sure will. It was nice seeing the two of you again.”
“You, too, Penny.”
“Take care and stay in touch,” added Maggie.
“I sure will.”
Penny sat down and retrieved her briefcase from under the seat.
Billy stewed as he considered the repercussions of Penny’s affiliation with Dr. Smith.
“No wonder they brought her in to replace me. She has contacts in the space program.”
Penny stowed the card and browsed over her notes.
She reminded Billy of Charlene with her demeanor – bossy and arrogant. Billy recalled the time he spent with Charlene and tortured himself that their failed relationship might have somehow been his fault, but how?
Penny placed her hand gently on his arm.
“Can we talk about this presentation, Billy?”
“What’s the problem?”
Penny felt foolish for asking.
“I really need to understand what you’re proposing to these people.”
“Here’s how it works: We’ll go in and I’ll brief them on the system. You’ll give details on the software if they ask and that’s it. There’s nothing to it.”
Penny tapped her foot and fought back the urge to snap at Billy. She counted to three and took a deep breath.
“I was sent on this trip for a reason so there’s obviously something to it,” explained Penny defensively.
“Maybe Epstein wanted to make sure you’re capable of taking my place before he lets me go,” replied Billy angrily.
Penny was baffled.
“What are you talking about?”
“Come on, Penny, they only hired you because you’re a woman and they’re trying to save money.”
Penny was stunned by Billy’s remarks. She desperately tried to keep her voice low.
“That’s bull and you know it. I was hired because I’m good at my job.”
“And, of course, they picked you to put me out of a job because you’re the company’s savior – the sure thing,” Billy said condescendingly.
Penny was appalled and hurt.
“I don’t believe that fro one second. You’re just paranoid.”
“It doesn’t matter what you believe.”
Billy turned his head away from her and stared out the window.
Maggie overheard their squabble and stood up to rebuke Billy. Doc grabbed her arm and nodded for her to sit down. She reluctantly obeyed.
Penny glared at Billy furiously. She covered her face with her hand to hide her tears. She wondered if taking this job was a mistake, especially since she was never good with office politics.
The plane started its descent and shuddered violently. Everyone became alarmed.
“What was that?” snapped Billy as the plane rocked again.
The cabin filled with the whispers of concerned passengers.
Penny became frightened.
“Something’s wrong with the plane, Billy. We’re gonna’ crash.”
Billy saw the tears in her eyes and felt bad for her.
“There’s nothing wrong with the plane. It’s just a little turbulence.”
Penny wiped her eyes with a tissue and felt embarrassed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to bother you.”
“Forget about it. It’s no problem,” replied Billy.
He stared out the window and watched the clouds change from gray to green pastel. The ocean below looked distorted and frothed.
Doc peered out his window and was amazed.
“This isn’t ordinary turbulence. Something’s happening to us!” he uttered to Maggie.
She clutched his arm tightly and gazed out the window, too.
Billy heard Doc’s remark and worried that this had something to do with his discovery.
Two bells chimed from the speakers, followed by the captain’s voice: “This is your Captain speaking. Please remain seated with your seatbelts on. We’re experiencing rough turbulence which should dissipate shortly.”
“See, there’s nothing to worry about,” whispered Billy soothingly.
“He can be civil when he wants to,” thought Penny as she glanced at him appreciatively.

Inside a hot, steamy cavern, a grotesque alien witch stared with great concern into a boiling cauldron. She chanted an incantation and dropped small pieces of dried flesh into the pot.
The witch, Diomedes, was part human and part alien resembling a reptile with her thick tail reaching the ground and her ears pointed. She was over six feet tall and had piercing black eyes.
Red mist formed over the cauldron, revealing the illusion of a young man with a sword. In the illusion, the man attacked Diomedes and beheaded her. He then pursued a cloaked wizard through a castle.
Diomedes shrieked angrily.
Four cloaked wizards entered the cavern and stood before her. One of them, Ruger, was the wizard in the mist. When the mist cleared over the cauldron, the illusion vanished.
“Ruger, you bumbling fool, you’ve started a chain of events that will lead to our destruction,” Diomedes chided.
Ruger, the elder wizard, wiped sweat from his brow as he looked befuddled by her accusation.
“But how can that be?” he asked.
“A stranger will destroy both of us unless you stop him soon.”
”Where is he now?”
“He’s on his way here, thanks to your incompetence!”
“One man is not to be feared,” Ruger said as he felt relieved.
Diomedes pointed a crooked, bony finger at two of Ruger’s companions. She uttered incantations in an alien language.
Blue smoke engulfed the two men. When it cleared, their faces were eerily similar to a beetle’s head and their hands withered into leathery paws. They quivered and groaned feebly like farm animals.
Ruger was horrified but struggled to maintain his composure. “Silence!” he ordered the squealing wizards.
The quivering wizards promptly obeyed.
“What would you have me do, Diomedes?”
“Can you control the device yet?”
Ruger rolled up his sleeve and held out his arm. Strapped to his wrist was an electronic device with two small imaging screens and two keypads.
“I need more time.”
“Thanks to you, we don’t have time. Find this stranger and kill him or you’ll join your friends!”
“I will send the planet’s own creatures after him immediately.”
He and his remaining companion, Pirocles, hurried from the cavern, followed by the two squealing creatures his accomplices had become.
Diomedes howled in a rage and retreated behind columns of flames.
Ruger hurried up the stone steps to his castle, followed by Pirocles. They entered the main chamber, lit well by torches along all four walls. The chamber had several wooden doors along two of the walls.
They proceeded to a circular stone stairwell which rose through one of the castle’s towers. When they reached the top, they passed through a narrow door into a small square chamber.
In the middle of the chamber was a large wooden table with a fancy silver chest on it. The chest was encrusted with rubies along the rim of the lid.
Ruger approached the chest and opened it. He reached under his robe and retrieved a small sack.
“If we don’t dispose of this man quickly, Diomedes will curse us, too,” complained Pirocles.
“Don’t you think I know that, you fool?”
Ruger sprinkled dust from the sack into the chest and watched anxiously as white smoke rose in the air.
Within the smoke appeared an image of Billy and Penny exiting the plane. Ruger snarled at the image.
“That young boy is no match for the creatures of Vesula. They’ll be ready when he arrives,” declared Ruger confidently.
Outside the castle, soldiers armed with spears and lances fought against Ruger’s demonic minions. The hillside behind them was littered with corpses of both armies.
Pirocles watched from the square window from high up in the tower and saw soldiers attempting to cross the moat below.
“The soldiers have driven the minions back inside the castle,” warned Pirocles.
“I don’t need these distractions right now. Summon more help.”
Pirocles bowed and left the chamber.
Ruger vanished into a transparent field against the stone wall. He emerged inside a dark cave and uttered a brief incantation. Torches along the entire length of the cave suddenly burned brightly.
The cave was made of a clay floor and stone block walls with a soil ceiling enmeshed with the roots of trees.
Ruger followed the cave to a flight of earthen stairs. He ascended them and emerged unharmed from a large fire in the middle of a massive cavern.
Hundreds of Neanderthals gathered in the cavern and were startled by his appearance. The creatures were ape-like in appearance with protruding jaws and long teeth. They warily approached him with crude weapons poised to attack.
Ruger pointed at one of the creatures and shouted a spell. The creature burst into flames. It shrieked and rolled about the floor in desperation until it burned to death. The other Neanderthals became frightened and backed away.
Ruger screamed at an ear-piercing pitch that brought the Neanderthals to their knees.
“You will bow to me now!” he ordered defiantly.
One of the creatures raised its spear to attack. Ruger hissed and pointed his finger at the creature. It burst into flames, screaming in agony until its death as the other did.
The remaining Neanderthals bowed obediently.
Ruger projected an illusion on the wall of Billy exiting the jet. He then displayed a Neanderthal attacking Billy and killing him.
Ruger howled again with an ear-shattering, echoing roar that toppled the creatures to the ground. He entered the fire and descended the stairs to the cave below.

As the plane descended smoothly, Billy stared out the window in awe at majestic mountains and dark green forests. He was confused by their presence on the east coast.
The plane shuddered again and lurched downward. Passengers panicked and cried.
“Please remain seated. The captain is handling the situation,” the stewardess announced sternly over the loudspeaker.
The passengers reluctantly quieted down.
Billy saw Penny’s tear-streaked cheeks and the frightened look in her eyes.
“What’s wrong? It’s just turbulence.”
“I’m scared, Billy! I don’t want to die?”
Billy reluctantly placed his arm around Penny’s shoulders.
“Thank you,” she said gratefully as she nestled against him.
“How could I be so cruel? I should be mad at Epstein, not her,” Billy thought.
He brushed Penny’s bangs away from her eyes.
“Don’t worry. We’ll be okay,” he assured her.
“We’re gonna’ crash. I just know it.”
“It’s only turbulence. Haven’t you ever flown before?”
“No, I don’t travel much.”
“Pretend it’s a roller coaster.”
“I don’t like roller coasters, either,” Penny replied shamefully.
“Gee, you must not be much fun on a date,” teased Billy.
Penny looked up at him sadly and nuzzled closer to him.
“I don’t date very often,” she said dejectedly.
Billy was amused by her comment.
The cabin pressure in the plane decreased as it descended to a lower altitude.
Penny felt safe in Billy’s arms. She hooked his arm in hers and wondered if a friendship might work out between them.
The airport came into view and the plane circled for a landing. It shuddered again excessively, despite the low altitude.
Doc stared out his window with a grave expression. Maggie looked down at her lap with her hands clenched and prayed.
The plane jolted again and the overhead racks opened, spilling pieces of luggage onto the floor. Many of the passengers were frightened and cried out in fear.
The airport and runway were wrecked as though a high-magnitude earthquake had struck. There was no sign of the surrounding city and suburbs which should have surrounded the airport.
The plane touched down on the fragmented sections of cement and taxied to the terminal.
Billy placed his hand under Penny’s chin and lifted her head. He looked into her eyes and felt a connection with her.
“I told you everything would be alright,” he said confidently.
Penny squeezed Billy’s arm affectionately.
“Thank you so much for being patient. It means a lot to me.”
Billy was touched that Penny appreciated his concern for her.
“Why couldn’t Charlene be like this? She never wanted anything from me except physical gratification,” he pondered but then realized, “We weren’t in love. It was just a physical relationship all along. That’s why she left the wedding. She figured it out but didn’t want to hurt me.”
Billy felt relieved. It wasn’t anything he did after all.
“I’m sorry if I sounded like a jerk earlier,” he explained apologetically.
Penny smiled and released her hold on his arm. She was satisfied to be treated with a little dignity.
Billy peered out the window and was stunned by the terrible condition of the airport.
The terminal was severely damaged and the south end disappeared into the ground. At the north end, the upper part of the tower had collapsed. The tarmac was an array of upheaved concrete sections.
Billy hid his concern from Penny as the plane taxied to a stop.
Everyone on board breathed a collective sigh of relief as the plane’s engines shut down and tensions eased. Most of the passengers, in their anxiety, failed to notice the damaged terminal. They scurried about the aisle, picking up their belongings
Outside the plane, the low cloud ceiling was an eerie green hue. The wind gusted and lightning frequently flashed across the sky.
The plane rocked again from a series of tremors and the remainder of the compartment doors popped open throughout the plane. Passengers stumbled about the aisle.
An elderly man gashed his head open on the corner of one compartment door when he fell forward.
“Someone help my husband! He’s hurt,” shouted his frantic wife.
One of the stewardesses urgently pushed through the crowd and made her way down the aisle with a first aid kit.
Penny stood up but Billy gently grabbed her arm.
“Stay here until we’re sure it’s safe to move,” he instructed her.
Penny obediently sat down and put her seatbelt back on.
As if on cue, the landing gears collapsed and dropped the plane onto its belly. It tilted onto its left side as it slid off the tarmac and down a muddy slope. Passengers were tossed across seats and into the aisle.
Penny trembled and placed her arm around Billy’s chest. When the tremors finally subsided, the plane was deathly silent.
“See what I mean,” remarked Billy casually. “You never know what could happen.”
“So you think you have everything figured out, huh?”
“Almost. I haven’t figured you out yet,” he teased.
She forced a smile.
“And you never will.”
“Is that a challenge?” he asked playfully.
“It’s a statement. Take it as you will.”
“Does anybody know what the hell is going on here?” exclaimed an irate passenger sarcastically.
Billy heard fragments of sentences with “earthquake” and “demolished”.
“We’ve crossed over, Maggie!” said Bob excitedly.
“What do you mean ‘crossed over’?”
“You’ll see when we get off the plane.”
Penny looked up at Billy with her big brown eyes and captivated him.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you’re okay while we figure out what’s going on,” he promised.
“Thank you, Billy. I’ll try not to be a pest.”
She wiped her eyes again and looked down shyly. “I didn’t mean to get off on the wrong foot with you. I’m terrible at saying what I mean,” she said humbly.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Maybe we could have an early dinner together before we fly back tonight. I’d like to get to know you better,” suggested Penny.
“Gee, Epstein will kill me if I mess around with his new field engineer. Maybe I should, just to spite him,” Billy thought.
“I guess we could. I’ll tell you a little about the company and the people in it.”
“I’d really like that. We can keep it professional if you like,” she offered.
“I’d prefer it that way. I’m going through a bad time and women aren’t my favorite topic right now.”
Penny became comfortable with Billy now that she knew why he was angry.
The plane rocked violently again, jarring everyone. Passengers screamed as the tumult engulfed them. Penny grabbed Billy’s arm and held it tightly.
Billy stared out the window in utter shock as part of the terminal crumbled. The tremors ceased and the plane became silent again.
The pilot, Captain Barnes, stumbled out of the cabin.
“Can I have your attention everyone? There’s been a major earthquake and the airport is badly damaged. We don’t have communication with the tower so I don’t have any information for you at this time. Assemble your things together and we’ll deplane in an orderly fashion.”
“Are we gonna’ be alright, Captain?” someone shouted from the back of the plane.
“I don’t know. In fact, I don’t even know where we are. It’s obviously not Philadelphia.”
Penny squeezed Billy’s hand tighter.
“Don’t worry. You’re with me,” he said calmly.
Many of the passengers ranted and babbled about their predicament.
Penny felt safe as she clung to Billy. His confidence impressed her, as he seemed unaffected by the chaos around them.
Outside the plane, smoke spewed from one of the engines and the fragmented wing leaked fuel onto the wet soil.
“I’ll be right back. Don’t move,” Billy ordered.
“Where are you going?”
“Don’t move,” he reiterated as he stepped over her.
He hurried up the aisle with his attention focused on the emergency exit.
“Come back, Billy!” Penny called out a second time.
Billy stopped at the emergency exit and recognized the two women sitting there as the girls from the airport with the fancy jackets.
“Excuse me, ladies but it’s time for us to get out of here,” he announced.
He grabbed each girl by the arm and hustled her out of the way. He attempted to unfasten the hatch door but it wouldn’t budge.
The brunette pushed him aside.
“Watch out, hero. This is how you do it,” she explained.
She systematically unfastened the door and opened it, leaving Billy embarrassed by his ineptitude. Fortunately, two of the flight attendants arrived and assisted in evacuating the passengers through the open hatch.
“Any more brilliant ideas,” the brunette teased Billy.
“No, I think… Oh, never mind.”
Both girls giggled at him. Red with embarrassment, Billy returned to Penny.
“I thought you left me,” said Penny nervously.
“I wouldn’t do that to you. We need to get off the plane and no one’s doing anything about it.”
Billy took her by the hand and helped her into the aisle.
“So why you?” she asked.
“Because somebody had to do it.”
Penny found his remark strange. It wasn’t the compassionate response she hoped for.
An elderly couple struggled to retrieve their luggage from the overhead compartment. Billy reached over them and pulled down the two small suitcases for them. They thanked him and filed up the aisle toward the emergency exit.
“That was nice of you,” remarked Penny.
Billy shrugged off her compliment.
“No big deal.”
The passengers exited the aircraft onto the soft, moss-covered soil. They struggled to keep their footing as the rain made traction perilous.
Billy and Penny were among the last to reach the exit. They looked past the captain and stewardesses at giant white cliffs in the distance.
“Where’s civilization around here?” asked Penny uneasily.
A blond haired stewardess named Sabrina suggested apprehensively, “This looks like the Andes Mountains in that movie about the plane crash and …”
“I think you should shut your yap, Sabrina, before you frighten the passengers,” Captain Barnes interrupted and chastised her.
Sabrina glared at him.
“Like they’re not scared already,” she replied sarcastically.
“Let’s get off the plane first and then we can talk about it,” suggested Billy.
The captain glanced at him with a sneer.
“Don’t tell me how to do my job, boy,” he warned.
“Then do it already, won’t you?”
Captain Barnes turned his attention from Billy.
“Let’s get whatever essential supplies we have off the plane now,” he instructed the aircrew.
The flight attendants quickly rummaged through the cabinets at the front of the plane.
Billy and Penny exited the plane onto the moss-covered ground.
“Will they send someone to pick us up? It’s pretty wet out here,” asked Penny.
Billy gazed at her as her hair blew in the wind. His impression of her was that, despite the front she put on earlier, she was innocent and caring.
“I can see you don’t get out much,” he kidded.
“What was your first clue, smart guy?” she replied shyly. “You know, Billy, I was thinking…”
“Uh-oh. This could be trouble,” kidded Billy.
“Let me finish. Maybe our boss set us up like a blind date,” she suggested.
“I doubt it. Epstein is all about business.”
“I heard that you were going through a tough time and the trip might do you good. I didn’t think it was in reference to me, though.”
“Is this like the Soprano’s where you’re supposed to whack me and dump my body in the swamp? That’s one way to create an opening in the company.”
Penny punched him in the arm. “That’s not nice, Billy.”
“Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.”
The rain fell steadily and the air had a biting chill to it. The overcast sky made for a gloomy atmosphere and fog rolled across the tarmac from the huge forests.
The Captain called for everyone’s attention. The passengers anxiously gathered under large leafy trees away from the plane to hear what he had to say.
“Captain, what’s happened to us?” asked an elderly man.
Just as quickly, several others chimed in with questions and their voices grew louder.
“Please!” bellowed Captain Barnes. “Hold your questions for now.”
“What can you tell us?” asked a young woman.
“We lost radio contact with the tower during our approach. Right now, I don’t know any more than you do,” answered Barnes.
Billy and Penny became disinterested in the captain’s speech and gazed at the landscape around them. The treetops, some much higher than the others, covered the mountainsides like a lush, green carpet. Large, flying creatures glided over great white cliffs that rose into the sky like giant behemoths looking down at them.
Penny studied the ruined terminals, half sunken into the ground.
“Look at that, Billy. The terminals are sunken like ships in the mud.”
“They slid right into the ground,” added Billy as he eyed them curiously.
Penny shivered and folded her arms against her body for warmth.
“Captain, why don’t we get everyone out of the rain first, then we can talk about this,” suggested Billy.
“You got any ideas where to go, smart guy?” snapped Barnes.
Doc interceded and suggested, “Why don’t we move them inside the terminal.”
“That’s better than standing out here in the rain,” replied Billy.
Barnes was skeptical and waited for other suggestions but none came.
Doc and Maggie approached the remaining section of C Terminal and slipped through a torn section of steel in the wall.
Penny inquired uneasily, “Do you think it’s safe to go inside there?”
Billy took Penny by the hand and replied, “I think so. At least we can dry off for a while until we come up with a better idea.”
“So long as we’re out of the rain, I guess I’m okay.”
Barnes finally relented.
“Everyone into the terminal. We’ll organize after everyone’s had a chance to dry off,” he instructed.
Doc and Maggie sat in a row of seats near one of the gates.
Billy and Penny slid through the split section of steel wall and walked up the ramp to the gate area. Doc greeted them and invited them to sit down.
Billy was pleased to have a chance to meet Doc, especially after reading the newspaper article about him.
“I’m Billy Brock,” he said as they shook hands.
“I’m Dr. Kirkland R. Smith but Doc is fine. This is my wife, Maggie.”
Maggie shook hands with Billy.
“It’s nice to meet you. I wondered how long they were all going to stand out there in the rain.”
“Me, too. Thanks for the support back there.”
“Someone had to make a decision. You did well,” said Doc.
The jet exploded in a fiery mass and rocked the terminal. A wave of heat spread across the tarmac and warmed the concourse briefly. Everyone scattered away from the windows fearfully.
Penny clung to Billy tightly as bright light from the flames flashed inside the terminal and flickered eerie shapes on the walls.
“Gee, Penny, I hope you didn’t leave anything important onboard the plane,” Billy kidded.
“Always the funny one, aren’t you. I did leave my notes for the presentation under the seat, though.”
“For some reason, I don’t think you’ll need them anymore.”
“You’re not making me fell any better, Billy,” she said somberly.
“I’m sorry but it could be reality.”
“If I’m correct in my thinking, I don’t believe we’re going anywhere. We could be stuck here until we find out who is behind this,” explained Doc.
“What do you mean by that?” asked Billy.
“I don’t think this is a natural phenomenon. This was precipitated by someone or something.”
“Then let’s start looking for them.”
“You don’t understand, Billy. We’re not on Earth.”
Maggie and Penny looked at Doc with shocked expressions.
“Then where are we?” inquired Billy calmly.
“Look up at the sky. The answer is up there somewhere.”
Billy placed his hands on his hips.
“Well, that’s just great. How the hell did that happen?”
“We’ll talk about this later when I have a better understanding of things,” replied Doc.
He and Maggie got up and left them.
Many of the passengers were visibly upset, realizing that whatever possessions they left on the plane, were now gone.