On Wings | To The Sky

Mobius: Eyes Above The Clouds: Chapter 1

The engines of the craft rang in both my ears. They hummed with constant drone, a form of reassurance that we were aloft and moving in this strange craft. The various creaks emanating from the flying machine’s frame still worried me, but I would never allow myself to dwell on them. Richards turned back from his seat two ahead of mine to address me. I could barely hear his voice, but we had already a good deal of practice reading each other’s lips.

“Your face is flushed,” he enunciated, circling his face with a crooked finger. I had barely yet to even feel the heat on my cheeks, but obviously Richards had a sixth sense.

From behind, I felt Alice pull on my shoulder and lean forward to take a look for herself. “Indeed. You’re green, almost, Sami.”

I shook my head and pulled away from her grasp. “I’m fine,” I said my loudest, grasping my hand tight in my lap.

“The boy prob’ly wolfed down a great big breakfast, I’d reckon.” Joseph laughed loudly over the sound of the engines. “Yur momma wants to look after her boy, am I right?”

I glared back. “I can feed myself.” I mouthed slowly an deliberately.

“Well,” Richards added, “once we get back, we’ll be famous. You’ll find you a little lady who will want to cook for you… and more. Heck, I bet you’ll be the one having to turn those girls down, and not the other way around.”

I returned a smirk to the doc and leaned back in the seat. In my peripheral vision outside the window, I could see the edge of the wing dragging through wisps of a white cumulus that had ventured our way. Streaks and droplets of water caught on some of the glass and aluminum plating outside. Even under the thick lining of the flight suit, I could feel a shiver run up my spine and arms. I tucked my elbows in to my sides and leaned over my lap.

The plane began to steepen its incline skyward, likely to clear the thickest cover of the clouds, just like we had done during the practice runs. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Captain Daniels hunched over as he stepped out of the cockpit. He guided his way back down the fuselage, holding onto the upper struts of the structure. The engines roared louder as they struggled against the thin atmosphere outside. Everything was just as expected.

The Captain nodded to the others as he passed, the sound now too loud to let even a word or two by. As he stopped beside me, he shoved a heavy hand on top of my shoulder. I glanced up to catch his eyes looking into mine, the same assured look in his eyes. He proceeded to shove his self between Alice and I to peer out the window. The plane began wavered up and down as it adjusted to the altitude.

Just out of the corner of the window ahead of me, I caught a glimpse of it: Mobius. I caught Captain Daniel’s eyes looking to it the same. Drifting just above the rounded tips of a herd of cumulus was its gray carapace, floating, drifting, levitating, just the same as it always seemed to do. None had been as close to it as we were at that moment, and closer we were headed.

It was only four- and just a bit more- years previous that something like this- being this close to it- would have never seemed like a possibility, even in the slightest. The sky was largely untouched by man, and for good reason. The land belonged to us humans, and above it was the realm of the watcher. The creature- whatever it was- went by different names across the globe. Mobius is what was taught to us in school where I was raised.

For as long as I, my father, even my grandfather could remember, it had existed in the sky, slowly drifting from place to place. History books talked of it, ancient parchments had the thing illustrated upon them. For many, it brought a sense of safety, security- something that had been there for possibly all of recorded history or longer, was ever present, and always watching. People spoke to it, their eyes closed, asking for rain, or sun, for forgiveness, for luck, women asking for a healthy child to be birthed from their wombs. Others thought this pointless. No matter what one believed, the thing’s presence did not falter.

There were those who wished to take on the sky- some to attempt to join the creature, and some to defy it. Unfortunately, men and birds and far too different from one another. I remember the first news I heard of a proper flight, just a few yards in distance, unfortunately. The thing was simply tarpaulin and brittle wood, meant to catch the air and keep itself from weighing itself back down to the ground too fast. Far from perfect, but it was evidence that such things were possible.

These activities caught the interest of my father- you’ve probably heard his name: John Hewett Rees. Since the time I became familiar with the word- skeptic- I knew he was one, although never foolish enough to doubt something backed with proper evidence. That was a quote he attributed to himself. It was such a mindset that allowed him to build the empire that was Rees’ Gunpowder- likely after he was told by my grandmother that he would blow all his fingers off if he kept to playing with fireworks. At the end of it all, he had built himself a fortune by pioneering a technique to produce dynamite that was stable, safe, and always ready to do its job when it was needed- even if drenched. He even kept all of his fingers- save the tip of his thumb, lost to a kitchen knife.

It was the success of a French-Canadian locomotive engineer that finally caught my father’s fancy when the man attempted an unprecedented powered flight with a steam-driven engine over the edge of Niagara falls, from Goat Island, all the way down to Navy Island on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. The man, named Robert Lorraine, made the landing, but only after the heat from the boiler caused the tarp along the bottom wing of the craft to catch fire. Somehow, that man would end up at the front of our immediate craft, piloting the controls.

After my father took him in, he was bathed in money with directions to experiment with different technologies and materials with which to perfect a flying machine. This current iteration that currently held our crew of ten, miles now above the land, is likely safer than ones previous, being made from metal rather than wood and cloth, and powered by an more sustainable engine burning a noxious concoction of refined petroleum. Since both the craft and the pilot have brought us into the sky and back several times now, I have allowed myself to draw breaths at a more constant rate while aboard.

Captain Daniels pulled away from the plane’s window, leveraging his weight off my shoulder. He began back up to the cockpit, fighting against the incline of the craft’s ascent into the sky. I looked back out the window just in time for us to level back off, right at the apex of the cloud formation neighboring Mobius’s location. The buzz of the engines died out slightly. I sensed for a moment the vibration still running through my limbs, carrying over from the craft’s frame.

Daniels stepped back into the compartment and cleared his throat, loud enough to be heard over the engines. I looked over the pile of supplies stuck in the middle of the sets of cramped seats. Mary and Chase perked up. Baber pulled up his head up, quickly rubbing his eyes. The man was as calm as a frozen lake, but how he can sleep on such a craft is beyond me.

“We’re nearly in position, folks!” Daniels announced. Samuel quickly ducked out of the cockpit after him. The copilot and I shared the same given name, and to avoid confusion, I got stuck with Sami, a nickname that seemed more appropriate for an elementary schooler. Actually, I believe he was never asked if he would have preferred the nickname, although being so few on words and generally stony-faced, nobody would have thought to offer him up the decision. “What are we looking at, Samuel?” Daniels urged him forward.

“Wind is northbound, 10 degrees.” He nodded, jutting his head in the direction. “If you happen to get taken off, open your parachute when you’re halfway down the clouds. Lean eastward and you have the best chance of avoiding dropping off in the water.”

I gulped and looked out the window. I could hardly see the land down below, but from the testing glance, I could see the whitecaps of the great lake below.

“Alright, then.” Daniels added. I pulled my eyes back to him. “Hopefully, we all stay on. We need all you, after all. Go tell Lorraine to cut the engines, Samuel.”

The copilot rubbed under his nose and made a round about to hunch back down into the front of the craft. “The water is not so cold this time of year, even if you do fall in.” Baber spoke up.

“Doesn’t seem like a favorable situation, still.” Richards called out. “Being all tangled up in the material of the chute, waterlogged.”

I was inclined to believe Richards was thinking more ahead in this instance. We had trained with the parachute two times before, each making sure we would be able to make it to the ground with the device should something bad happen, either from the plane, or atop the watcher. The first time I dove out of the sky, with the help of a forceful push, I was readily seeing the short twenty-eight years of my life flashing before my eyes. The free fall ripped all the air out of my lungs and deafened me with the whistling in my ears, but somehow through all my flailing, I managed to open the chute, jerking me to a more manageable descent. Somehow, even, I landed on the ground, only falling slightly on my face.

The engines of the craft sputtered and died, just as Daniels had directed. With the retreat of their mechanical cacophony came the whistling of the wings dragging through the air, and the popping and creaking of the metal frame.

“Mr. Lorraine.” The Captain’s voice was now lower and more gentle. “What is our ETA?”

The crumpled accent came back from the front of the craft. “In two minutes, I will begin to engage the airfoils. Be prepared to hold on tight.”

“Understood, Mr. Lorraine.” Daniels rubbed his hands together, blowing into the space in between. “That gives you all enough time to make sure you have a hold of any gear you should want intact and on you in the case of something going wrong.”

“Perhaps a pail for Sami to be sick into.” Alice spoke up.

I shook my head. “I’ll be fine,” I grumbled, looking up to the captain to look for his response. He was already pulling up at some of the restraints holding the crates of gear to the ground. I leaned forward in my seat to begin tugging at the knots holding the taught straps to the ground.

“Suit yourself.” Alice hummed. “Pass me a parachute, then.”

Just ahead of me, sitting atop one of the crates was the first stack of parachutes, folded and shoved into the canvas packs. With the restraint free, I began to yank at the closest of them. The pack held back, one of the shoulder straps caught on something.

Joseph reached his hand over mine. “Give it here.” He wrapped his palm around the free bit, liberating the opposite side with a hefty tug. He then tossed it over my lap, landing it in Alice’s grasp.

“I appreciate it. If anything were to happen, Sami, it would be a shame if you weren’t able to save yourself.”

Just as the words exited her mouth, the plane lurched, sending me forward into Joseph’s outstretched arm. I hastily pushed myself away, turning to look out the window. The wide flaps running down the length of the craft’s wings had been turned up perpendicular to the rest of the structure to cut the airspeed.

Joseph shoved the second pack my way. “We have more than enough strong folks here to take on the heavy lifting,” he offered. “We can pick up any slack, don’t’chu worry my boy.”

“We’re headed down to it.” Daniels rounded the remainder of the cargo. The others had their parachutes either in their lap or on the ground before them. The captain pulled the knit cap down closer around his ears and rubbed at his stubble. The craft began to shake and rumble. Daniels planted his feet and held tight to the brace above him. I felt my stomach begin to churn ever so slightly.

In the time it took me to blink and swallow down the saliva building at the back of my throat, the craft bumbled and shook, just as if we had landed on the ground. Except, outside was not the ground, but rather the gray carapace of the creature- Mobius. The wheels of the landing gear rolled for some time longer before eventually stopping. Daniels rolled his neck and back and forth and cracked his knuckles- one hand, then the other.

He approached the rear of the plane, reaching up to the lever holding the wide hatch shut. “Lomeli.”

Joseph stood up at the call of his name, squeezing past me in his crouched stance to find a spot at the other latch. “Got it.” He announced.

Daniels leaned his weight into the switch, the locking bits of metal releasing with a loud clack. The long ramp fell below, landing with a dull thump. The wind whistled by outside. I held my breath.

“Do…” Mary began. “…you think it felt that?”

Daniels sauntered down onto the alien surface, planting his feet carefully. “Doesn’t look like it.” He shrugged and scanned around him.

Alice stood up and slung the pack over her shoulder, nearly slapping me across the nose with it. I stood up after her, hovering my hand over her back in case I needed to grab onto it to steady myself. Each step forward caused my body to feel as if it were swaying back and forth. As my feet hit the ramp, I could feel the uneasiness rising up in my stomach once again.

Alice hopped down suddenly, her boots making a thump against the surface. “Remarkable.”

I caught a glimpse of Baber’s darkly tanned arm reaching up beside me as he steadied himself. I felt my legs go limp, causing me to stumble forward. The urge to release the contents of my stomach came once again. I rushed out and fell forward upon the would-be ground outside, taking deep breaths to hopefully abstain the feeling. I blinked the tears from my eyes and allowed myself to return to my surroundings. The material beneath my palms was leathery, but otherwise as hard as rock- the skin of the watcher.

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