Bob Krissman had just landed his plane. It was his fourth sortie after Vern Glasgow’s plane had gone down.
Bob made a point of flying by the crash site. Nobody was going to get a close look at the crash for a while because it was in the middle of the hostilities. Bob had not been trained in forensics but he could see that Vern had been gone in at a far steeper angle than a dead-stick landing and based on the crater he had been doing more than a hundred-knots on impact. Much more than a hundred-knots.
The impact left a massive crater in the peaty soil.
Bob was a meticulous man. His fingernails were precisely trimmed and scrupulously cleaned. Bob was so persnickity that he refused to use cleaning products with fragrance. He believed that his aircraft could speak to him. Sometimes it was the smell of a hot wire. Sometimes it was the smell of coolant or a whiff of fuel.
Another thing Bob did is that he performed all of his checks EVERYTIME he went aloft, even if his previous flight had ended just two hours ago.
It drove his Political Officer, Maria-from-Boston nuts.
For some reason, Maria thought it was important that everybody she directed knew that she was from Boston, as if that somehow made her superior. Bob didn’t even try to remember her last name. She was known to the entire aviation wing of the Ann Arbor force as Maria-from-Boston.
Of course, she only had to open her mouth for everybody to know she was from somewhere back east. Frankly, every place in New England was interchangeable to the aviators. They simply didn’t care if somebody was from Cambridge or New Haven, Hanover or Worchester. The subtle graduations of caste and status between New Englanders were like shades of purple to men who were color-blind.
If anything, that increased Maria-from-Boston’s need to assert her dominance.
“I am going up with you on your next flight” Maria-from-Boston informed Bob.
“Why?” Bob asked. He did not relish the prospect.
Vern had been a good pilot. Perhaps even a very good pilot. Very good pilots do not fly into the ground at 4 in the afternoon on a regular basis.
“You haven’t sighted the enemy plane and I thought another set of eyes would be helpful” Maria-from-Boston informed him.
There was a reason Bob hadn’t sighted the enemy plane. He had very deliberately not been looking for it. His reasons were two-fold. The bigger reason was that he had plenty to do flying the plane and spotting for the mortar crews. That was two jobs and he was only one man.
The other reason was, well, what had happened to Vern. Vern had been talking big the night before. He was going to put the spank-down on the enemy plane that was rumored to be spotting for the defenders. In retrospect, that might not have been his wisest course of action.
“No need. I will find it eventually” Bob assured her.
He really did not want her in his plane. He had more than enough to do without having to mollycoddle a political officer who would second-guess everything he did.
The reasons were complex but it boiled down to the conflict about command. As a pilot, Bob believed that he commanded his aircraft. Every decision and every outcome was ultimately his responsibility.
Maria-from-Boston radiated the attitude that physics would bend to ideology. Bob had no issues with that hypothesis as long as it did not get tested in the plane he was piloting.
Maria-from-Boston had tried the “nice” way. She didn’t have the patience to argue.
“I am going with you. That is final” Maria-from-Boston informed him.
Bob had an exceptionally keen sense of smell. Maybe it was that the smells closer to the earth were stripped away with elevation. There were no discernable smells of earth or vegetation or food five-thousand feet above the deck.
Bob could smell Maria-from-Boston’s fear.
He first smelled the wave of fear when they staggered through some turbulence as they climbed to altitude.
To a pilot, a plane that did not respond to turbulence would be worrisome. It would be like a cork that did not respond to the whirls and eddies of a current.
To a passenger who was clearly experiencing her first ride in a small plane, it was terrifying.
It was enough to plant the seed of an idea.
Bob had taken enough passengers on rides, passengers who were not as enchanted with small, private planes as he was, to have learned what quirks tended to distress them.
The trick, in Bob’s mind, would be able to pack as many quirks into the ride as possible without Maria-from-Boston noticing.
Bob was ready when they hit the next pod of turbulence. Normally, he would have just flown through it and let the bumps average out. This time, he started hauling on the yoke and, unseen by Maria-from-Boston, churned the foot-pedals. The plane pitched, yawed and rolled like a seal dodging a Great White Shark.
Bob didn’t throw a glance toward his passenger.
“Is it getting worse?” she asked.
“It usually does as the day goes on. The thermals get more violent” Bob confirmed. Technically true, just in case she checked up on him once they were back on the ground.
Bob repeated the performance during the next pod of turbulence but then after things settled down he started side-slipping, first yawing one way then clocking to yaw the other.
“It must have been something I ate” Maria-from-Boston confided “but my stomach doesn’t feel so hot.”
“It will settle” Bob said with confidence. In his mind he finished the sentence….”after you throw up.”
“You might try looking at the instruments” he added helpfully. “It will give you something to focus on.”
Then Bob deliberately dropped the pen he had just pulled out of his pocket just as they were flying into a cloud. "Can you pick that up for me? I need to make some flight notes."
While Maria-from-Boston was trying to corral the pen as it skittered about he floor, Bob did mysterious things to the yoke and rudders to make the plane move in ways not meant for humans to endure.
Maria-from-Boston’s ears would be telling her one thing while her peripheral vision another thing and the pen dancing across the floor implied a third.
The reptilian brain goes into over-ride mode when it gets conflicting input. It voids our bowels and bellies to purge any food-poisoning out of our system.
Normally, Bob would have found the job of cleaning Maria-from-Boston’s vomit out of every crevice of the interior to be exquisitely distasteful. It had gone EVERYWHERE. She had vomited, and vomited and vomited some more. The sound of her heaving and the stink of her vomit almost made Bob toss his cookies as well.
While she was vomiting Maria-from-Boston was oblivious to Bob’s manipulating of the controls. While she was convulsed he went negative G and rapid change in yaw. Maria-from-Boston's heaving came from so deep in her body that Bob swore she was trying to vomit her toenails.
He wanted her to never, never, NEVER step aboard his plane again even if it meant he was wiping vomit off the headliner of the plane's cabin and out of the air vents.
He considered the price of having to clean up the interior and the lingering smell a small price to pay.
Note from the Author: Special thanks to The Shekel and Mr B for helping me with the flying scenes. All errors are mine and mine alone.