Our senses tell us what is real. Wind singing around us, the blazing noonday light of the sky above the clouds, the roar of an engine pushed to its maximum capacity. All of these told me that I was in a plane sailing through the air above Los Diablos. Beneath me, I felt worn leather that held the warmth of the sun and covered the hard seat at the front of the small aircraft Kari had managed to “liberate” from an flying circus that just happened to be in town.
We were pushing the edge of the envelope in more ways than one. From overdriving the plane’s engine in an attempt to reach Madelaine Deckard in time, to the various “coincidences” we’d each demanded of the world. I could feel in my bones that something was going to break very soon. The trick was going to be making sure it was the right thing.
“I see the dirigible!” Way shouted back to us from her perch on the wing, her voice barely carrying over the rush of the wind and the engine’s desperate whine.
The plane Kari had pilfered for us was a two seater. She’d included “flying experience” in her identity on Earth Glass (or at least she retroactively bullied the world into accepting that she could do it) so she was pilot. That meant she got the back seat of the plane.
I was still nursing a more or less non-functional arm thanks to Madelaine shooting me, so I got the forward seat and Way got to play wing walker. Our plan, as much as we had a plan, bordered on insanity. We knew the dirigible carried a compliment of well armed snipers. Any attempt to dock with it in flight would result in them shooting us to pieces. The snipers were located under the dirigibles balloon though, which meant they didn’t have a line of sight to fire at people descending on them from above.
“They’ve seen us too. They’re launching their escort!” I shouted back as I saw two small planes drop from the underside of the dirigible and roar to life.
The doctor I’d kidnapped from the Brotherhood had warned me about them but, since our options were limited by time and how much we could reasonably push the world to accept, we had to make due with Kari’s piloting skills to deal with them.
With our goal being the dirigible itself, Kari pulled us into a climb to buy as much advantage over the small fighter planes as possible. The Brotherhood’s planes were little more than high performance engines with guns and wings though so they were able to rise far faster than even the stunt plane we were flying could.
“Hang on tight!” Kari yelled. My stomach tried to turn itself inside out as she flipped the plane over so that we were upside down and then began diving towards the balloon.
The two fighters that were rising to meet us inverted as well and tried to match our dive speed. They had better engines but we had a lot more momentum by the time with passed them. As they turned to pursue us, the fighters lit up their machine guns, the heavy rattle of automatic weapon fire rising above the screams of the engines.
Hitting an enemy plane in a situation like this took expert gunnery skills. It also required that your targets be incapable of bending the laws of chance to suit their needs. The shots came close and even clipped our plane in a few places but none hit anything vital.
“We need at least a thousand feet!” Way called back, reminding Kari before we dove to low.
“We’re getting there.” Kari called back, barrel rolling us out of the path of more enemy fire. To say that having the straps dig into my shoulders was painful was like saying that walking on broken glass would give you a few scratches. I clamped my eyes shutter against the pain, growled some of the more colorful curses that I’d learned under my breath and did my best to remain conscious.
“About 1500 feet, get ready to let go.” Kari said.
My plan had seemed like a good idea while we were on the nice, stable, ground with a distinct lack of bullets zinging around us. As I unbuckled the restraints and felt Kari pull back into an ascent I began to wonder if perhaps a little more planning had been in order.
Like any good magic trick though, the key to the plan lay in misdirection. From the point of view of the fighters tailing us it looked like Way and I had fallen out of the plane and were plummeting to our doom as Kari raced skywards seeking a position above them again.
From my position, it looked like Way and I had intentionally leapt to our doom. My hope was that the fighters wouldn’t blast us full of holes before returning to finish Kari. I did my best impression of a panicking, falling girl for several hours to help encourage them in thinking we weren’t worth pursuing. Or at least it felt like several hours. In reality it was probably a second and a half at most before the fighters both peeled upwards in pursuit of Kari.
That’s when Way and I popped our parachutes.
A thousand feet isn’t actually that much room for a parachute jump. By the time the chutes opened we had precious little time to correct our course. Since our options were “manage to land on the dirigible” or “float gracefully past it and down into the sniper’s line of fire”, we were rather motivated to “stick the landing”.
My legs took the shock of the landing well enough, but getting out of the parachutes harness before it dragged me off the top of the dirigible proved to be problematic. I pulled the quick release cord, but I wasn’t able to move my bad arm well enough to get it untangled from the lines. I felt the wind catch the parachute and lift me up by my bad shoulder and couldn’t suppress the scream of pain that followed.
The pain was almost enough to make me miss the sense of weightlessness as I began falling over the side. Tangled in the lines of my chute and only able to hold on with an arm that was barely functional left me with no cards to play to save myself. Gravity was a very specific and very inflexible rule on Earth Glass. No amount of pleading, nudging or coaxing was going to convince the world to make an exception for me on the “falling to my death” question.
I saw Way fighting out of her parachute and desperately leaping for me. This time she was going to be too late though. We’d landed too far apart and I’d been blown off the top too quickly. There was genuine panic and concern in her eyes as I slid out of her grasp and started accelerating towards the ocean below.
Rationally, it was silly. The fall might kill “The Amazing Jin” but I would be fine. “The Amazing Jin” was only one tiny part of who I was. One name I wore, one version of me out of a countless multitude. As I fell though I understood why Way looked so scared. It was easy. I just thought of how I would feel if she was falling away from me.
Each part of us is small, but even the little bits matter to those who care about us.
Somehow that thought reassured me. I felt a fierce calm spread through heart. This wasn’t how I had to let things end. However it looked, I wasn’t actually powerless, and it did matter to someone that I wind up ok here.
I thought of the other perils I’d faced in the last few years. It would almost be embarrassing to die of a little fall like this. If the world wanted to kill me, it was going to have to take a whole lot better of a shot at me to get the job done. Gravity might suck, but even the planetary mass of Earth Glass wasn’t enough to bring me down if I had my friends to think about.
With a wild scramble I wriggled myself out of the cords of the parachute and let myself fall freely. I bounced off the dirigible’s side and pitched myself clear of it with nothing below me but the wide blue ocean. I had nothing to hold me up except pixie dust and happy thoughts so I plummeted like rock.
Even outside of Neverland though, happy thoughts can be a potent tool. One tiny nudge on the world was all it took to bring Kari and the two fighter planes screaming around from underneath the dirigible.
It was a million-to-one chance that one of the fighters would wind up underneath me at the precise location and speed needed to catch me. The world screamed at the notion until I pointed out that Kari was watching us and had a perfect spatial sense. Its how she was able to dodge two pilots in superior planes. It also meant that calculating how to put one of them under me was a piece of cake.
It wasn’t quite a good enough story to get me into the cockpit of the plane, but I was able to grab onto the tail as it flew by. As it turns out having a girl, even one of my unimposing size, hanging on to the rudder and elevators makes flying rather difficult. If the girl happens to be familiar with flying and decides to make the matter worse, say by forcing the plane onto a collision course with a dirigible, even a fairly seasoned pilot can get a bit unnerved.
The Brotherhood pilot tried shouting curses at me and when that didn’t work he tried to turn around and knock me off. When that failed, he jumped out of the plane himself.
I saw his parachute open as I forced the plane into a pure climb that quickly stalled out its engine. The climb put me just far enough above the dirigible that I was able to fling myself clear as the plane pitched over and began an unmanned power dive into the ocean below.
Unencumbered by a parachute this time, I rolled with the landing on the top of the dirigible and came to my feet an arm’s length from Way.
She looked at me, blinking in surprise. I looked back, smiling a silly grin. That whole maneuver had left my shoulder a blinding mass of pain, but the endorphin rush of still being alive was quite sufficient to make the pain take a back seat for the moment.
I thought she was going to turn and get on with the mission, but instead she lunged forward and grabbed me into a tight hug.
“Don’t do that again.” she said softly into my ear.
“But…” I started to say before she silenced me with a kiss.
“Please.” she added as she broke off the kiss. She was smiling too.
“Ok.” I agreed, an icy fear melting in me that I hadn’t been aware was there.
We stood there for a moment longer before pulling apart.
“They’ll know we’re here after that stunt.” I said.
“Let move then.” Way agreed.
There was an access door on the top of the dirigible that led to the inner compartments that balloon was inflated around. It was locked, which seemed weird given the lack of burglars one would expect to be infiltrating a dirigible. On the other hand we were dealing with a fairly paranoid group who did have people that were out to get them.
Like Way and I for example. Unfortunately for them, the locks they’d chosen only slowed us down for around ten seconds before we were inside the dirigible.
“I’ll take care of the guards.” Way said. We knew from the doctor that they’d be stationed in the publicly accessible areas of the dirigible. The secret compartment inside the balloon area was where the ritual was being conducted.
“And I’ll get Smythe and his inner circle.” I said.
“You lost your pack, do you need another weapon?” Way asked, offering one of the guns we’d managed to swipe off someone.
“Nah. I’m just going to talk to them.” I told her.
“Try to to leave something for the police to identify them with then.” Way suggested, serious but smiling even so.
“We’ll see how merciful I’m feeling.” I said. In truth, I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with Smythe and the rest of the Brotherhood’s inner circle, and there was a part of me that just wanted to go back to the top of the dirigible but I could feel the walls of reality groaning louder and louder under the strain of keeping Madelaine’s power in check.
“We should go take care of things.” Way said.
“I know. But it won’t be easy.” I said.
“Yeah.” Way agreed, and on that note we parted, each heading towards where we needed to be to save the world.