Chapters 3 and 4
A Taste From My New Book
Today is a special treat - chapters 3 and 4 - where Christine dies and arrives in Heaven. And things aren't exactly what you'd expect......
To remind readers, the year is 1971, and Christine has just died in a plane crash...
Over the Sea of Japan
“AF 3011 Heavy coming into flight level 29, Alaska.”
Rodger, 3011 Heavy. Proceed direct Bethel when able
Flight captain Rich Herschel nodded to his copilot upon hearing the directive from Anchorage ATC, and turned to heading 220 degrees before flipping on the autopilot. Both men relaxed and removed their headphones.
The new heading would take the Air Force KC-135 through the North Pacific corridor that bridged Japanese and Alaskan airspace.
The Kamchatka coast was only a few miles over to the west…Soviet territory.
Christine reviewed the NRO files in disbelief in the quiet flight cabin. She was the only civilian passenger, and the ten or so officers and enlisted personnel deadheading to Seoul or Da Nang sat several rows ahead of her.
The reports in her lap were from all over the world. The EB-65 Long Tom, which she’d thought up while in bed when one night back in 1959 – at a mere ten years old, was used to at first to record atomic testing in Bikini. After that, the Air Force had asked her to build more of the cameras for the Voodoo spy plane, as well as the Blackbird and Canberra. Her career with the CIA had actually begun with the Long Tom.
Every major American base across the globe had reported thefts of the 1,500 pound camera, stripped right out the aircraft. As smart as she was, Christine could not fathom a reason why anyone would want them. The Russians? How would they access the base? The Chinese? Even more unlikely.
Christine’s thoughts shifted to Josh and the upcoming wedding. It went against her grain to give up her CIA career, but that was not something Josh had asked her to do.
Quite the contrary, in fact. She knew he enjoyed showing off his genius girlfriend, and had never been threatened by her intelligence. She liked that about him very much.
Deep in her heart, however, Christine felt that a fresh start was the only right way to begin a family. She wanted children, and she wanted them with Josh, of that there was no denying.
She loved him. It was that simple.
And sixteen hour workdays at the Agency were in no way conducive to a new marriage, or any type of a home life. Teaching – and possibly a professorship - she could live with, even if it was a little tedious compared to designing super-secret weapons.
She would miss the excitement, but so be it.
Christine had spent the last year analyzing the facts – as was her nature – and came to the conclusion that the dream home with the white picket fence and children in the yard far, far outweighed anything she could accomplish at the CIA. She had it all mapped out. Kids, a dog, a sensible car…everything was in order.
There was another reason that remained unspoken, except in the recesses of Christine’s mind – a biological factoid that she’d shared with no one.
She was a demure, shy girl born in London. Josh was an outgoing, strapping lad from San Diego…and something about him caused her private woman parts to stand up straight and salute the American flag.
God bless the USA. This – of course - she kept to herself.
Christine smiled slyly and gazed out the dark window.
“Rico, did you reset the autopilot course to INS?”
Rico Mendes, Herschel’s copilot shrugged. “Sure. The HEADING bug was at 220 magnetic. We’re within seven miles of the parameter. What’s wrong?”
Instead of answering, Herschel turned to their navigator. “Sid, we may have a problem. I think we’ve deviated into Soviet airspace.”
“Shit!” Lieutenant Sid Pascal, navigator and flight engineer, grabbed Jeppesen flight charts from the overhead bin. “Did you notice if the computer transitioned from INERTIAL?”
Herschel quickly scanned the navigation equipment. Autopilot computers operated in several modes, HEADING being a magnetic compass direction, VOL/LOC was a course selected by ground localizers and INS followed a preselected waypoint. The problem was that occasionally the flight computer didn’t ‘capture’ the changeover from HEADING to the inertial navigation system, and the aircraft could wind up way off course.
“It didn’t change over.” Herschel said. “That means we’ve been flying toward Kamchatka for roughly fifteen minutes.”
Pascal nodded. “Drop the nose and turn to 168 magnetic. We’ll pick up some airspeed and be back in - ”
Outside of the dark cockpit, the sky lit up for a moment with blinding tracer shells.
Christine was just starting to doze when lightning blazed outside of her cabin window. The Air Force stewardess stopped and smiled.
“Nothing to worry about, honey. Summer storm - happens all the time.”
The stewardess had just finished speaking when the cabin was suddenly pierced by the shrapnel from an air-to-air missile. Rapid decompression instantly sucked every scrap of paper, along with shredded seat cushions and other debris, toward the breaches in the windows and hull.
Oxygen masks dropped from overhead panels and the lights flickered, dimmed, then came back on. The aircraft lurched like a drunken elephant, throwing the stewardess to her knees.
“Bloody Nora!” Christine hollered. “What happened?”
“Hull breach!” The stewardess screamed back. The shrieking, turbulent air made it nearly impossible to hear anything, but Christine kept her wits.
She knew that a breached hull was not necessarily a death knell to the Boeing jet, they were built exceedingly tough. Christine also knew that up in the cockpit were the best-trained pilots in the world, and they had practiced for just such emergencies.
That was what the analytical side of her brain said. The other side was screaming bloody murder and cussing like a sailor. Christine was frightened beyond imagination - the large aircraft leveled out, though, and she started to hope again.
But then she heard the starboard side engines cry out in agony, and begin to wind down as the interior lights failed. The second missile detonated in the tailpipe of engine number three, sending the big KC-135 into a spin.
Christine attempted to fasten her belt when the seat suddenly bucked hard, then again –
Christine’s seat bucked again, but this time she wasn’t seated in standard aircraft equipment, and the seatbelt had disappeared from her hands.
“Holy shit!” She shouted to no one in particular. “Shit, shit, shit!”
It took Christine a moment to orient herself. The chair she was sitting in was hard, wooden, and seemed – unbelievably - to be a leftover from a very old schoolhouse.
Christine squinted, peering around the poorly-lit room quickly, not recognizing a bloody thing. She didn’t remember the plane landing, or a trip to a hospital or military base, for that matter. Basically….she remembered being on the airliner….then here.
Wherever here was.
The room was unfinished, with sheets of translucent plastic hanging from ceiling to floor. A tile cutter sat in the corner covered with a heavy patina of dust. To her left was a large glass door, taped up with warning signs and very dirty, a darkened hallway beyond it.
A huge, scarred table stood in the center of the room, covered with files, antique telephones and coffee cups. The phones caught her attention, because they were disused types found in British aerodromes during the Second World War, and she recalled seeing them in her childhood.
Christine looked down. The floor was bare concrete with piles of sawdust and chunks of drywall scattered about, although about a quarter of the room had been tiled. Sodium lamps flickered overhead, washing everything in a somewhat sickly color.
Christine rubbed her sore knee, then glanced up and noticed the man sitting on the other side of the table.
The man smiled.
She took a few seconds to study the man, who didn’t seem threatening in the least. He had been handsome earlier in life, but now deep worry lines etched his face and his hair had gone to gray. He was dressed as a business executive or government employee, though it seemed as if the man had slept in his clothes – and had been doing so for some time.
“Good evening, young lady. That’s quite an entrance you made.”
The man’s voice reminded her of gravel in a washing machine. His eyes were warm, however, and exuded kindness.
Christine took gulps of air, trying to make sense of it all.
“That’s a very interesting question, Christine. To put it bluntly…you’ve just arrived in Heaven.”
Christine collected herself, giggled, then barked a laugh.
“Heaven? This craphole? Come on.”
The man chuckled, nodding. “Indeed. We still have a lot of work to do here. But…yes...the Air Force jet you were a passenger in went down into the Sea of Japan near Moneron Island – shot out of the sky by a Soviet interceptor. I seriously doubt any wreckage will ever be found.”
Come to think of it, Christine did remember her flight being in trouble – vaguely. It was all a haze, like trying to make out the details of a town through a thick fog.
“Uh-huh.” Christine said sarcastically. “I guess that makes you St. Peter.”
“Umm, no…Pete works at the gate. My name is Harry Moss.”
“Okay, Harry Moss. So what are you saying?”
“That you’re dead.”
“Let me get this straight…you’re saying that I’m…dead?”
Harry nodded. “Yes.”
“Dead, as in ‘dead in a coffin’ dead?”
“That’s correct, yes.”
“As dead as you can get.”
“So what are you…a dead person whisperer?”
“Oh-kay. And this…” Christine waved a hand, indicating the room. “This – is Heaven? Where God lives and all of that?”
“Well, actually, God has a nice place down by the sea. This is JHAD…or at least it will be once we’re finished with it.”
“The Joint Human Analysis Directorate,” Harry explained. “Really the reason you came here rather than anywhere else in Heaven.”
“Rather than anywhere else?” Christine, thoroughly convinced this was all just a very good dream, decided to play along. “What do you mean?”
Harry smiled. “I wanted to offer you a job.”
The glass door to the room swung open with a bang. A harried Spanish woman poked her head in as several people rushed past in the outer hallway.
“Harry, we have a problem.”
Tomorrow: Christine gets the
surprise of her...err...death