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Exile Flight Midnight

On Tender Wings We Fall, Part One

By K.H. ObergfollPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 10 min read
Exile Flight Midnight
Photo by Natali Quijano on Unsplash

Night shift on a plane is never easy, especially when the manifest is littered with an assortment of Inmates— business men, hardened-criminals and the sickly who are sentenced or awaiting sentencing transfers.

Captain Jake Richardson’s voice sounded over the speaker— “flight crew prepare for boarding, remember to keep the front six rows separate from the rest of the passengers—a partition will go up as soon as the flight starts. Safety is our first priority so do not engage or interfere with the guards or their inmates unless instructed. The back of the cabin will house the infirmary patients; there is only a dozen or so of them on board so it’s not too bad. Keep in mind, we land in six-hours. If this is your first night-shift do whatever you need to do in order to make yourself right with god, and pray we get through this alive. Stick with a seasoned staff-member and you will survive.”

The Captain paused, his tone growing more somber— “also, before we board I want to thank each and every one of you for the sacrifices you are making to be here with us tonight. A fine crew you are indeed. You should know that the checks have all been deposited into your accounts on behalf of Royal-United-Sphere Air. That should bring you some hope that our work is not being done in vain. Your families and our country thank you for your duty aboard the non-stop exile flight so please, start the preparations now. The gates are being opened.”

With that Tressa Doyle clocked in from the back terminal nearest the cabin bathroom wondering how she got so lucky to pull this jacked-up lottery.

By saeed karimi on Unsplash

“It’s going to be another long night,” she mused looking out the line of windows towards the dreary sky. The boarding tunnel was being lifted and connected to the side of the plane as she spoke. Reflective glass obstructed her view of the likely gathering crowd as she watched the tunnel shake and shift with a flurry of passengers making their way closer and closer to the boarding deck—no doubt more anxious than she.

“Well that thirty-thousand-dollar bonus sold me. Didn’t ask a single question after I heard the numbers…” another stewardess Maddie Benson replied, tying a protective apron over her long pencil skirt and black short-sleeve button up. “Can’t believe we still have to use these…” she continued eyeing the rows of seats nervously before proceeding to instruct Tressa on how the rest of their night was going to go.

“The passengers are not to be touched, fed, or tended to in any manner until their tickets are validated and they are seated. Passengers are scanned several times throughout their flight. Keri does their on-and-off-boarding at the entry deck. Since you haven’t done one of these shifts, just follow close behind me and try not to make eye-contact. It’s better not to ask or answer any questions, just do what you were trained to do—smile, scan their card and give each of them a cup of water, their medicine and a pre-portioned dinner tray. We start serving promptly around take-off. It takes three hours for the full intake processing to occur. I take one row, you take another and so-on and so-forth; each passenger shoots their meds, does a quick tongue check in our presence and eats their snack. The rest of the flight is typically uneventful until around midnight when the plane lands and our shifts end. De-boarding is where most of the problems occur. The meds usually give passengers an unfavorable reaction once the half-life wears off. The come-to is somewhat jarring and unpleasant, or so I’ve heard. But remember, a guard will be with us at all times so we should be good…”

Something about Maddie’s tone made Tressa uncomfortable. It was strange to have such young, attractive women working in such dangerous conditions but Maddie was right—the money was hard to turn down. Only one or two more of these shifts and she would be absolutely debt-free, clear to the world.

“They’ve done studies on this sort of thing,” Maddie began as though reading Tressa’s thoughts— “criminals typically respond better to women, being young, attractive and helpful. We are just here to keep the peace, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. You will do just fine. Trust me.”

“Speaking of…Rodriguez…it’s good to see you, how’s the list look? Another busy night?” Maddie queried, brushing against a handsome, fully armed guard in tactical attire and a face-shield—her hand lingering over his forearm as though they’d known each other more personally than just in passing.

“It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure…”

A deafening sound filled the cabin, obscuring the rest of his reply—or maybe he didn’t have much more to say, either way, it soon became clear this wouldn’t be just any ordinary shift.

By Grianghraf on Unsplash

“Cullen McGregor,” Rodriguez uttered under his breath. “He’s the worst of the worst. Being transferred to a top-secret location. Notice he has on a set of cinching cuffs…”

Tressa and Maddie both noticed the odd hand warmer type contraption that cuffed with locked buckles at the inmate’s biceps and connected to his waist and ankles by a series of thick metal links.

“That’s to keep him from being able to use his arms in any capacity. For our safety and yours. He doesn’t get food, water or medication once he is locked into his seat and strapped down.”

Tressa smiled meekly at the though of the reality she was being faced with. What had this man done that was so bad he didn’t get basic necessities. The line had even been halted for Cullen McGregor to board and from her view of the tunnel it appeared each passenger had been spaced out six-feet apart—for protocol purposes.

“So, he will be fully awake the entire flight?” Maddie queried, a hint of nerves in her voice.

“Well, he will be supplied a mask so he can’t spit or talk, but that’s about it. If he acts up, I have a back-up solution,” Rodriguez hinted, patting a clear, cylindrical container with a capped injector device on his hip. There were six in total on each side.

“Hopefully it never comes to that.” Tressa whispered staring curiously at the man with rabid crazy eyes, quickly diverting her attention to the floor. She’d accidentally made eye-contact.

Something about the chained man seemed kind beneath his rough façade. He was covered in colorful, bright tattoos, wild tufts of blonde hair and tanned skin.

She wondered what he had done to deserve such brash treatment.

“He murdered several people after a string of armed bank-robberies all over the western sea-front, dangerous man. The only one of his so-called “ring” to be caught. There’s active warrants out for twelve others.” Rodriguez said.

“He knows everything about all the inmates,” Maddie added, a beaming smile on her face as she swayed back and forth excitedly, blushing as she stared at Rodriguez.

“I need to know everything about these people, it’s my job.” Rodriguez replied matter-of-factly.

“Well, I am grateful for that,” another stewardess agreed, promptly stepping between them to the back of the cabin.

“Maddie, Tressa—sorry to interrupt but follow me, we need to get rounds started.”

“That’s Jenn, she’s the boss,” Maddie whispered, her lips cresting into a terse smile. “You don’t want to cross her.”

By Reza Aulia on Unsplash

Tressa watched as Maddie moved like clockwork, pulling trays of small sealed cups, each with one large pill—large enough to not be hidden in the folds of the inmate’s mouths—stacking them on the tip-top tiers of the trolley. The next sets of trays held exactly four-ounces of orange juice, those went in the middle rows, and then the final—pre-portioned dinner tray—it was nothing fancy, a half-cup of plain, unseasoned chicken and three salted-crackers if they preferred— just enough to settle the stomach for the duration of the flight.

“Start at the head of the cabin, bring this cart to the front guards,” Jenn ordered, pushing a smaller plastic cart with rounded edges towards Tressa. This cart had no trays, just small plastic cups of orange juice.

“Those passengers get liquid versions of the pills,” Maddie said, just quiet enough for Tressa to hear. Tressa wondered why they didn’t just do the liquid for all the passengers, seemed like it would be easier…but then again, there must have been a reason.

“Maddie, don’t interrupt Tressa.” Jenn hissed, checking her wristwatch. “We’re running out of time. Tressa—please hurry back to start the rounds. You will be taking the odd rows, Maddie gets even. You will need to work fast and keep up; we have three to get all the passengers contained.”

Contained? Tressa mused. They seemed contained well enough, each passenger was chained loosely in cuffs with just enough room to shoot back their meds, drink the orange juice and pour some chicken into their mouths.

Tressa carefully pushed the cart with cups of unlidded orange liquid towards the front of the plane, it appeared much farther out than she last remembered. The plane was just starting to taxi across the long runway, each hit from the grated concrete felt like a jarring speed-bump. Tressa gripped tightly to the cart handles as her hands fought to hold on.

She finally got to where Rodriguez and four other guards were standing.

“Melton, Smith, Taylor, Griffin—this is Ms. Doyle. She is new to the nightshift.” Rodriguez gave a slight smile, the first she’d seen as the four burly guards introduced themselves quickly. Tressa smiled in reply, curtly waiving before scurrying back down the left center aisle towards the cabin where Jenn was ready with two fully stocked carts. These were metal with brakes and a bumper.

“Here’s your scan-gun, follow Maddie. Do not give any passengers their portion if the barcode doesn’t scan. Scan the inmate’s card on their left bicep, match the photo displayed to them, verify the names—it shows last name, first name. Once done with that, scan the pill container, watch them shoot it, do a quick mouth check. Scan the orange juice, same thing, and then give them their meal. They are to give you all the trash back, no exceptions. Trash bags are on the bottom of the cart—a black bin.”

Tressa nodded at each new instruction, seemed simple enough. What could go wrong?

The first few rows were uneventful, so much so that Tressa had gotten into an easy, mindless rhythm. The sound of beeping clicks, and crushing paper cups were all that could be heard as each inmate, three to a row, did as instructed. Tressa almost wondered if this was too easy, she felt herself doubting the work—had she actually checked the names on the badge to make sure they coincided with the names on her scan-gun? Had she made sure the inmates face matched the man sitting before her?

What if she made a mistake? The inmate seated before her— “Bronner, Cedric” had blue eyes in person but his booking photo looked green. Was this important? She couldn’t exactly stop and ask questions. She was halfway through the fifth row and came to a man—his tag read: “Walton, Skyler,”—the youngest of the passengers—barely twenty-one. The scanner hesitated to read his barcode—spinning slightly before loading the inmate’s profile.

Tressa slowed slightly, scanning the items as instructed and giving the passenger his portions. The young man smiled as he took the meds and showed his empty mouth. He drank his orange juice and chugged back the bits of shredded chicken. Life was good.

Nearby, Maddie’s gun was also scanning, clicking beeps every few seconds. Same with the other rows as four other young women set about tending to each of the passengers until a vast majority of the plane had gone silent.

Tressa was nearing the end of her passengers when her scan-gun failed to load. The Passenger, “Lucas, Miles” was mid-thirties by the looks of him with handsome features. He looked very similar to the first passenger—Cullen McGregor. They could have been twins. Tressa felt herself wondering what if any the connection could be.

A tapping on Tressa’s shoulder roused her from her thoughts once more— “what is the hold up,” Jenn demanded, hovering slightly over Tressa’s row.

“The passenger’s profile isn’t loading. He isn’t in the system.”

Jenn impatiently edged Tressa out of the way, producing her own scan-gun and attempting to scan the passenger’s badge. Nothing happened.

The clicking beep sounded different, it was quieter, muted.

By Tressa’s calculations they were only two hours into the flight. What else could go wrong? The passenger stared quietly at the two women; an oddly placed smirk on his face.

Static cut over the intercom but no further messages were relayed by the Captain or his crew. Tressa tightened as white-hot panic filled her. Even Jenn seemed miffed at the sudden interruption. Something was wrong.

Tressa stepped closer towards the large industrial sized cart as she locked the wheels in place. It was an instinctive move, one she was unsure as to why she’d even felt the need to do. She had just placed her hands on the railings of the cart when she felt the bottom come out from beneath her as the plane took a sudden dive. Dropping what felt like a thousand feet.

More static came over the intercom as they were plunged into silence, deafening, dark silence. The lights in the cabin flickered before cutting out completely, the bulbs bursting from their sockets. Tressa was thankful only a few of the passengers were awake for this. The meds seemed to have kicked in, knocking the rest of them out. She wished she was one of them as she clung to the trolley cart.

Terror seized over her as she realized what was happening. Maddie’s unlocked cart came hurtling down the aisle, slamming into hers—the force of it sending her into the nearest row of passengers.

The plane took a sudden spinning lunge, Passenger Miles Lucas’s hand grasped tightly onto the back of Tressa’s apron strings as she almost went airborne. From her angle it appeared she was the lucky one.

By Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Short StoryMystery

About the Creator

K.H. Obergfoll

Writing my escape, my future…if you like what you read—leave a comment, an encouraging tip, or a heart—I’m always looking to improve, let me know if there is anything I can do better.

& above all—thank you for your time

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