Note - the whole thing is up now
I looked around at the group of us who had assembled near the back of the plane.
In their eyes, I could see an understanding of what we had to do; this I was thankful for, as discussing whether to sit and die or risk our lives in a futile attempt to save others would have been a painful and difficult ordeal.
“Alright then, it’s settled” I said. Pointing to the four biggest males in the group, I began to lay out my plan. “You guys will have to take the lead, bear the brunt of their counter-offensive. I’m not saying you won’t get hurt, but we’ll do whatever we can to help. I promise nothing, but I think you’ll make it out alright.”
A terrorist walked past us, cutting knife in hand. His name was Akbar, or, perhaps, Mohammed. The thought occurred to me to take him out right then and there, but I knew there were bigger things at stake. Besides, as long as they didn’t see us as an immediate threat, we could continue to plan our assault.
“Pardon me, but is any of this necessary?” said a meek, balding man from the middle of the group. I noticed earlier that he’d come up from business class sometime after the initial assault with a briefcase held tightly to his chest. Either his priorities were misplaced, or there was one seriously important set of papers in that briefcase. “They said they have a bomb and that they only want some prisoners released. If we just sit back, they’ll let us go.”
The man who’d been sitting across from me during the flight, Hans – a German, no less – replied.
“They are not having a bomb on the plane. Are you not to understand? It is to keep us quiet and peaceful in this back of plane so they can fly it into building”. He was a physically imposing man, and one of the few I’d chosen to lead my initial assault. The balding man winced at his words.
“It’s what they did on 9/11!” added a woman, an American from the South. Ignoring her, I continued.
“We need to break into the cockpit, subdue the terrorists, and take control of the plane. And we have to do this fast. The last time they tried this, the terrorists just downed the plane in a field.”
“What about the stewardess?”, asked the same woman.
“What is he, doctor?!” answered Hans, in my defense.
“We’ll see to her and the others when we can” I said, sternly. My tone seemed to affect her, but this was not the time for sentimentality. She went over to a corner by herself and began to pray. This was just as well, as there was no room for a housewife in the plan I was concocting.
“The cockpit door will no doubt be locked, and possibly reinforced from the other side. It will certainly take some doing for us to breach it fast enough-“
Suddenly, one of the terrorists made a run for the American woman. He pried her hands apart as she protested.
“American pig! You are to pray to nobody but Allah!” he shouted. Still clutching her hands, he wrenched her to her feet. “Pray to Allah, whore! Your death is upon you!”
“Now… now you let her alone!” said the meek businessman, charging forward. The terrorist dropped the woman to the ground and plunged the blade of his cutting knife into the man’s ample belly. He sliced it horizontally, cutting him open and sending his entrails falling onto the woman at his feet. With a look of shock, he fell to his knees, and then on his face. The woman, and several others throughout the cabin, screamed in horror. The fat man’s plan to impress and eventually have sex with the housewife had failed miserably.
Rather regrettably, the stronger members of the cadre began to exact revenge upon the terrorist. They ran across, some kicking him in the stomach while another bashed his skull in with a fire extinguisher. The assault had begun.
“Leave him be!” I shouted, aware that the moment to seize the plane was upon us, whether we’d been prepared or not. Amazingly, they followed my commands and charged the cockpit door. Two terrorists flanking the door began to hold them back.
For Hans’ part, he got a knife in his forearm. I noted that he didn’t flinch, and kept ramming the door with his shoulder. When the terrorist tried to pull the knife back out it wouldn’t move, apparently stuck in poor Hans’ bone. One way or another, that was one terrorist disarmed.
Not being a bulky fellow, I decided to remove myself from the initial assault. Whatever use I could be in this endeavour, it was certainly not now. But, seeing the disarmed terrorist, I decided to make myself useful. Running over, I wrapped my arms around his throat from behind. He was a strong fellow, however, and he soon had me flung over his back and on the ground. Instinctively, I launched my foot up into his groin, incapacitating him. Doubled over, he proved an easy target as I smashed my knee upwards into his face. I grabbed him by the hair and rammed his face against the wall. Fighting back with surprising agility for one whose face had just been bashed in, he grabbed me and we were soon on the ground.
Another passenger came to my aid. A teenager grabbed a pen his elderly neighbour had been carrying, and began to stab the terrorist in the back with it. With the elderly neighbour dead of a heart attack some while ago, I doubt he would be needing it. Distracted, the terrorist was unable to block my foot as I kicked it in his face. I took the pen from the teenager and sent it plunging into the terrorist’s left eye socket. I quickly pulled it out, and did the same to his right eye. He screamed in pain. Finally, I stabbed it into his neck, twisted it around, and severed his carotid artery. The stream of blood colouring the cockpit was my signal to move on to the next objective.
Looking up, I could see that no progress had been made in breaching the door, though the second terrorist was dead. Surprisingly, whoever was at the controls had not ditched the plane. Looking out the window, I could see central London. Perhaps the terrorist knew he was so close to his goal that it was worth seeing through to the end? That very fact might allow us the time we needed to get by.
I ran up to Hans. While some of the heavier fellows were still hammering away at the door, he was nursing his wound. I had him lay his arm flat on the floor while I placed my feet on either side of the knife lodged in it. Grabbing the blade between confident hands, I yanked it out. For his part, Hans remained completely silent as he wrapped his bloodied shirt around the wound.
“Move back” I ordered, sending the heavier fellows to the side. I’m not entirely sure they all spoke English, but the universal language of the body was all that was needed From the other side of the door, I could hear the shouts of the two terrorists I knew to be in the cockpit. They were the fevered screams of madmen singing praise to Allah and Mohammed. They even said “peace be upon him” every time they shouted Mohammed’s name. In spite of all this, the plane had by now begun a rapid, though controlled, descent into London. As some passengers were jostled from their seats, I took the knife from Hans’ arm and steadied myself in front of the door. Miraculously, the blade cut into the lock.
The group of men I’d assembled came over, including poor, injured Hans, and we gave each other one last look. There was Djnic, the Slavic labourer who had kept our spirits high after the death of the first stewardess; Ross, the American college football player - I had initially considered him too cocky, but in a fight to the death, such characteristics are meaningless; Rudolph, the Swiss teacher, whose profession hid the fierce warrior that showed himself today, and Hans, my now-trusted friend. Whatever befell us all in the next 30 seconds, I knew each of these men would find an honoured place in the storied halls of Valhalla.
Ross opened the door and charged in first, his footballer instincts getting the best of him. There were two terrorists in the cockpit to greet him – one at the controls, and the other standing guard. The second took his knife and stabbed Ross in the chest. With the momentum of a locomotive, however, Ross’ frame smashed into the hapless Arab and the two went tumbling on top of the co-pilot’s console. Ross continued to struggle, in spite of his wound, and the terrorist soon found himself contending with Djnic as well.
By now, the pilot had given up hope of reaching his objective and slammed the flight stick thing forward. From my days of playing the original Star Fox, I knew that up meant down and down meant up. The nose of the plane tilted another 45 degrees downwards, and the cockpit was a mess of flailing bodies, mine included. I looked out the front of the plane, aghast – not 400 meters before me stood the demure face of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster.
“Bloody hell”, I said, to nobody in particular. Before the clock ran the majestic River Thames. Below it, the streets of London were alive with the movement of lorries delivering nappies, birds pushing babbies in prams and estate wagons driving on the wrong side of the road. I dove for the controls and held on. With every last ounce of strength I could muster, I pulled back, nearly throwing out my back as I braced my feet on the floor. Gradually, the plane steadied itself, but could I move it out of the path of Big Ben?!
I began a turn to the left, but I was too late. The right wing clipped the clock tower, taking about, say, a fifth of it off. Off the wing, I mean. Big Ben was relatively alright. The plane shuddered, and nearly rolled right over, but my steady hands at the helm were able to set it right. With such a grave injury, however, I didn’t know how I was going to get us out of this one. I kept it on a course following the Thames, but the plane was steadily descending and losing speed at an alarming rate.
I felt a hand at my shoulder. I had been entirely immersed in my piloting and had not noticed what had occurred as I had saved the plane. I was relieved to see Hans standing over my shoulder. At his feet was the pilot, his head twisted hideously around, facing his back. The other terrorist lay motionless, his shirt covered in blood. Ross’ dead body lay on top of him. Damn you, terrorists! He was a good kid.
In the few moments of calmness I was experiencing, I noticed that the cockpit was drenched in blood. Curious, I looked around to find the bodies of the original, Western pilot and his co-pilot lumped on top of each other in a corner. They were good men too, I imagined. They didn’t deserve this.
Rudolph stood up, his hands covered in terrorist blood.
“Do you know how to fly a plane?” he asked, in very good English.
“No, I haven’t a clue!” I shouted, my rising voice betraying the fear I felt sitting at the controls. This was the moment of our operation that I hadn’t really planned for.
“I suggest you find someone who can.”
Following Rudolph’s helpful advice, I flicked a switch and spoke into a microphone. My voice broadcast throughout the plane.
“If anyone has piloting experience, your presence is requested in the cockpit immediately”. I wondered if emphasizing the last word would make a difference. Probably not, as not a single person came forward. “If you have any better ideas…” I said to the three surviving men around me. They did not. It was up to me.
How hard could it be?, I asked myself. My roommate was flying and getting out of tail spins after a few lessons back in first year. The principles of airflow and lift were the same – it was just a bigger plane. No biggie. Stick and rudder.
I flicked the radio on, and switched channels.
“To whoever this is”, I began, “this is British Airways flight 23. We have just recovered from a terrorist takeover. Our plane is severely damaged, and we are without an experienced pilot. We are heading South along the Thames and request further instruction. Uhm… over.”
“Say again, flight 23”, said a voice over the radio.
“I said we’re going to crash and need somewhere to land”. At this point, the plane had lost so much height that I could make out store signs. I thought maybe I could see a few license plates, but, no, still too high for that. Still, I mean, reading store signs from a plane? That’s pretty low.
“Go ahead flight 23, you are cleared to land at runway 8B at Heathrow.”
“Sorry to say, chap, but I don’t think we’re going to be making it out there.”
I looked at the city around me. The plane was going to go down. Where could I crash it so as to minimize the loss of life? By now, heads were turning on the streets. People had been alerted by the crash at Big Ben, and the thundering roar of the jet engine blasting its way down the Thames. We were about a hundred metres off the ground, but the plane was rapidly losing speed. Any moment now, we would just plummet downwards and shatter into a million pieces. People ran in terror, well aware of what was to happen.
Suddenly, it came to me. I nosed the plane forward and rapidly pulled back. By the time we leveled out, we were a dozen feet over the Thames. I eased the plane into the water, and we made a perfect landing. As the rush of pure adrenaline subsided, I was aware of the screams of horror coming from the cabin. I exhaled for what seemed like the first time in a minute, and the cries petered out. Djnic was the first to break the silence.
“You’ve done it!” he exclaimed. Cheers echoed throughout the plane.
“No so fast”, cautioned Rudolph. “We’re still sitting in the middle of a river.”
Outside, I could hear the sound of water lapping against the plane’s fuselage. Looking out the window, I could tell that the plane wasn’t as buoyant as I was hoping. With a broken wing, we could not expect to stay afloat for too long. The remaining stewardesses forced the doors open. Passengers began to pour out of the plane as the muddy Thames flowed inside.
“Hans, I think it’s finally time you asked Gretel to marry you” I said, looking over my shoulder. Horrified, I saw his lifeless body crumpled among the other ones on the floor of the cockpit. “No!” I gasped, barely audibly.
“It was his time”, said Rudolph. “He did his part, but we must go.”
I looked at my friend one last time as water began to make its way into the cockpit. Djnic ran off and out of the plane. For him, freedom had arrived.
Suddenly, there came murmurs from the second terrorist in the cockpit – the one who wasn’t the pilot. Sensing the water coursing about him, he made an attempt to stand up and collapsed into another unconscious heap. I walked over to him and wrapped his arms around my shoulders as water came to my waist.
“Leave him be, you fool!” cried Rudolph, heading out of the cockpit door.
“If we let him die, we’ll be no better than they are! The difference between our culture and the one they seek to impose upon us is that we value the sanctity of all life, even for those who have wronged us. It’s a mark of a civilized society.”
“Have your civilization, boy!” cried Rudolph, swimming way. “You are signing your death warrant!”
I found myself alone in the cockpit, the unconscious heap of a terrorist hanging from my back. The plane was now almost completely submerged, though there was an ever-shrinking pocket of air by the ceiling. I swam to the open door – or do they call them “hatches” on planes? – the thankless terrorist hindering my progress. Was Rudolph right? Was risking my life to save this murderer a fool’s errand? The plane’s steel frame groaned as it slid under the surface.
Every sort of water craft imaginable was coming to the aid of the survivors making their way to the surface.
From pleasure craft to tourist boat, people were being plucked from the water by selfless Londoners.
The same British pluck that had saved us at Dunkirk
was showing itself once more today.
“Rudolph! Where is our friend, Michael?!” asked Djnic, desperately as the two met up on the deck of a floating restaurant.
“He’s died a hero’s death. A foolish hero’s death” replied the Swissman, shaking his head.
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that!” I said, making my way over to the two of them. I dropped the terrorist to the deck, relieved to be rid of his physical burden. But was it also a moral burden? Who knows. At any rate, his life was not on my hands.
“Michael, I thought… you…” began Rudolph, pathetically. He had left me to die, but I understood his reasoning. It was the wrong reasoning, but understandable.
“My fellow survivors!” shouted Djnic, holding my right hand aloft, as if I’d won the marathon. “This is the man who saved your lives! This is the man who saved London!” Every pathetic, wretched, soaking person on the deck of the floating restaurant looked to me and began to clap. A tear came to my eye, but I showed no further emotion.
“Why, the Queen will surely speak to you!” said the captain of the floating restaurant, clambering up from a lower deck. “I reckon she might even give you a knighthood, she will!”
“That was a bloody fine mess you made of Big Ben!” said one of the stewardesses, coming over to thank me. She was a fine British lass, plump in all the right places. I was unsure if she was being playful. I hoped she was.