The Boeing 767 plunges down towards the ground far below. Pedro and Angela push the throttle forward, increasing the engines' thrust. The dark ground below just keeps getting closer and closer. The two pilots can see individual features on the ground, such as the outlines of large boulders. The airplane shakes and shakes, like a building in an earthquake. Some of the passengers hold hands, while others clasp their hands in prayer.
Don't fall apart, thinks Pedro.
The next few seconds, they see the ground heading right for them.
And then darkness.
"Are we…dead?" asks Angela.
Pedro looks at the altimeter; the 767 is climbing steadily. He sees the fire warning light for the port engine. Instinctively, he reaches up for the lever, to shut the fuel. The fire warning light turns off.
"Our port engine was on fire, so we're alive," he says. He reaches for the radio, changing the frequency. "Let's find out where we are." He picks up the microphone, still shaken from the events in the past hour. "Delta Flight 2 to SoCal Approach Control. Do you copy? I repeat; this is Delta flight 2 to SoCal Approach Control. Do you copy?"
"We copy, Delta Flight 2," says a voice. "We don't have a Delta Flight 2 scheduled."
"SoCal Approach Control, I am declaring an emergency. I have only one working engine and we are almost out of fuel. Vector us in. Do you copy?"
"Copy that," replies the air traffic controller. "You will land at LAX. We are switching you to LA tower. Copy?"
"Copy," says Pedro. He looks at the RCA/TL color radar monitor, seeing the ILS beacon for Los Angeles International Airport. He swings the plane around to the west, noting that it is much more difficult to maneuver with only one engine. He can soon see the carpet of lights than make up southern Los Angeles County.
Even at this time of night, the air traffic control center for Los Angeles International Airport is busy as ever, with air traffic controllers watching the radar screens.
"We got a call from SoCal TRACON," says an air traffic controller, holding a cup of coffee. "Delta Flight 2 has declared an emergency and they are landing here."
"Delta Flight 2?" asks another air traffic controller, clad in a blue shirt and khaki pants. "I thought they would never re-use that number."
"Doesn't matter." The supervisor picks up a microphone. "All units, we have an emergency."
Firefighters inside the garage of a fire station go inside the huge red fire engines of the Los Angeles International Airport Fire Department. The drivers start the fire engines and they roll out, their headlights shining and emergency lights flashing and sirens blaring. As the fire engines drive along the tarmac, they are joined by Ford Crown Victorias used a police cars by the Los Angeles World Airports Police.
"You are cleared to land on Runway Two-Five Lima," says the air traffic controller. "We have foam trucks and ambulances standing by."
"Copy that," says Pedro. He picks up the microphone to address the passengers. "Once again, I ask that you make sure your seat belts are fastened and all trays are in the upright position."
Amid the sea of artificial lights on the ground, he can see the runway lights in the distance, and the dark expanse of the Pacific Ocean beyond. He glances at the fuel gauge; the fuel is already running low. More detail becomes available as the 767 approaches the ground, its flaps down. The lights appear to be in a grid. Descending further, moving lights can be made out, indicating vehicles. Pedro does his best to maintain control, as there is only one engine running.
The passengers of the jet can make out outlines of buildings, and can see the logos of stores like OfficeMax and Vons and Sears, and landmarks like the Hollywood Park racetrack.
Pedro and Angela look ahead, seeing the moving lights that mark the location of San Diego Freeway. Behind those lights is Runway 25L, which had emergency vehicles parked on the edges, their lights flashing. And further ahead and to the right is the tripod, shaped building that is the centerpiece of Los Angeles International Airport. Pedro puts down the landing gear and controls the plane's descent, his palms sweating. San Diego Freeway disappears under the plane, leaving a clear view of the runway with the fire engines and police cars.
"Everyone brace yourselves!" he yells into the intercom.
The main landing gears of the Boeing 767-300 strike the concrete surface of the runway with a hard thud, jolting everyone in the cockpit and passenger cabin. A few seconds later, the nose landing gear makes contact equally hard. The 767 now barrels down 25L, with fire engines, police cars, and ambulances giving chase.
The reverse thruster for the starboard engine blows hot gas in the direction the airplane is traveling, causing it to slow down a lot. The act of one engine doing a reverse thrust sends the plane veering towards the right. The engine only thrusts in reverse for a short time before it runs out of fuel. Now the flaps are the only things slowing the plane down.
"They're getting off the runway," says a firefighter driving a fire engine.
The 767 cuts across the taxiways and strips of grass, swerving around. Pedro slaps on the brakes, slowing the plane down. Up ahead, he and Angela see the outline of a Boeing 747 straight ahead, stopped on the taxiway due to their emergency landing. They both steer to the right, using the tiller and the rudder pedals. They manage to avoid collision with the other plane's fuselage; the tip of the left wing strikes the farthest port Pratt and Whitney 4000 jet engine, tearing it from the wing.
The 767 is now taxiing straight for the terminal building. Pedro and Angela continue to apply the brakes. The plane continues to slow down. They finally come to a stop, just shy of a Continental Airlines DC-10 jet parked at the terminal. The fire engines and police cars stop right next to the recently landed plane.
Pedro picks up the microphone. "Welcome to Los Angeles," he says. "I hope you had a nice trip. Thank you for flying Delta Airlines."
The passengers in the jet breathe a sigh of relief. Most of them embrace their neighbor.
The emergency slide on the starboard door is deployed, and one by one the passengers slide down, just as they did many days before. After all of the passengers disembark, the crew goes next. Angela slides down, and Pedro slides down after her.
He places his foot on the concrete surface of the airport tarmac between Terminals Five and Six. He had not stepped on Earth for a long time. He looks up at the sky; only the brightest stars are visible. To the east is an orange haze.
"Which one of you is the captain?" a voice barks.
"I am," replies Pedro. "Pedro Gomez."
"Come with me."
"That is a sick story you tell," says the man wearing a white collared shirt and black necktie; his khaki pants are hidden by the table.
Pedro has been inside this conference room in Terminal Five for over an hour. He had been grilled endlessly about where he had been for more than a week. The room itself is bare except for wooden tables and cushioned chairs.
"Listen," he says. "I am Pedro Gomez. Take my fingerprints if you want. And check the tail number of that plane."
"And we're supposed to believe that you were on another planet?" asks the man. "A magic portal brought your plane to another planet."
Pedro is not surprised by the man's disbelief, though it does not hurt as much as that phone call he made on his Nokia cellular phone just an hour ago.
"Delta Flight 2 disappeared over a week ago. Their families were devastated. The real Pedro Gomez left behind a widow and two sons. We are going to find out who put you up to this. Someone with too much time and money on his hands, perhaps?"
"We will be taking over," says a male voice.
Pedro looks and sees a man in a Class "B" Air Force uniform. A garrison cap covers the man's tightly curled black hair; the eagle pins on the hat indicating that he is a colonel. A nametag with the name "Sanders" is pinned to the left chest. Accompanying the man is a taller man in Class "C" uniform; his sleeve markings identify him as a staff sergeant.
"Colonel Sanders, U.S. Air Force intelligence," he says. "I want to talk to him."
"Sure." The man interrogating Pedro leaves.
"Pedro Gomez," says Pedro. "I'm a pilot with Delta Airlines and I was the captain for Flight 2."
"Staff Sergeant, if you could give us privacy," says the colonel.
"Yes, sir," replies the Air Force staff sergeant.
"Tell us what happened, starting from when you left New York," says Sanders.
"It started when I saw this flash of colored light as we were approaching Los Angeles. We made an emergency landing, and when we saw the stars, we knew we were not on Earth."
Forty minutes later, Sanders is finished. "Thank you, Mr. Gomez," he says. "I will contact you if I need any more answers."
Pedro leaves the conference room, walking along the hallways, and entering the concourse of Terminal Five. He can see many people waiting for their flight, some annoyed by the delays caused by his emergency landing. He passes the shops serving Terminal Five, including McDonald's, Creative Croissants, California Pizza Kitchen, and other stores that serve departing passengers. He gets on an escalator to the arrivals level, entering the baggage claim area.
Some of the passengers from Flight 2 are now waiting for their luggage to appear on the carousel, while others are talking on their cell phones. The unusual sight in the baggage claim area is the presence of television news crews. Vans with the logos for KABC, KNBC, and KTTV are parked outside, visible through the transparent automatic doors. Some of the passengers are embracing other people.
"And this just in," says a KTTV reporter. "I am here live at LAX, where the passengers of Delta Airlines Flight 2, missing and presumed dead for over a week, suddenly turned up here. Families are reunited with those whom they once thought dead and gone."
The reporter walks up to Corporal Lance Valens, in his dress blues.
"Hi there," he says to the microphone. "This is my baby girl. I met her for the first time today. Can you say hi?"
The infant girl held in his arms just stares curiously at the strange device.
"Well, boss," says Angela. "It was a great flight. I had better be going now."
"Take care," replies Pedro.
Angela heads out the door, with "What's My Name" by Snoop Dogg playing on her iPod.
And you better take care, Zen, she thinks as she waits for the walk signal for the crosswalk.
Just outside on the sidewalk, Colonel Sanders speaks into his Motorola cell phone.
"The best explanation, sir, is that a distortion in the space time continuum caused the flight to be over a week late…..I don't know what it means, but it sounds true."
Back inside the baggage claim area of Terminal Five, Lani gives a deep kiss to her new love, the man with whom she shared the most intimate part of her body, and would do so again.
"Goodbye for now," she says.
"I'll be calling you," replies DBZ. "And I can get you and your girlfriends backstage passes the next time I play here."
"Lani!" yells Jenna, "our parents are here. Let's go!"
"Coming!" she replies, rejoining Jenna and Katie.
Malachi Shomron sees his daughter, Ruth, accompanied by a young man whom he is familiar with.
"Dad," says Ruth, tears in her eyes. "This is a dream come true."
"Me, too sweetheart."
Ruth's mother comes to greet her.
Malachi looks at the young man, whom he knows is Isaac Blum. "So, I guess you're her husband now," he says.
"No," replies Isaac. "When we heard about your flight, Ruth couldn't go through with the wedding."
"Then let's get married now."
"How?" asks Ruth. "I don't even have a dress."
"I'm here, your mother is here, your sister is here, your fiancé and his parents are here, and we have a minister. Aaron!"
A man with a long beard on his face and a white shirt on his torso walks up. "Malachi," he says. "What may I do?"
"Ruth, honey, Aaron Horowitz is an ordained rabbi from L.A.; I met him when we were…stopped over. He can marry you and Isaac. Rabbi, this is Ruth Shomron, my daughter, and Isaac Blum, her fiancé."
"I'll be happy to do it," replies the rabbi.
"Ruth got her father back here today," says Isaac. "He might as well get a son here too."
"Then who gives this woman to this man?" asks Horowitz.
"I do," says Malachi, holding his daughter's arm.
"Do you, Isaac Blum, take Ruth Shomron as your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, for rich and for poor?"
"I do," says Isaac.
"And do you, Ruth Shomron, take Isaac Blum to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health, for rich and for poor?"
"I do," says Ruth.
"By the powers vested in me by the state of California, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Isaac and Ruth kiss.
The kiss is followed by loud clapping from everyone in the baggage claim area- passengers, the loved ones with whom they recently reunited, and the airport workers.
Pedro looks at the happy couple.
"So romantic, isn't it," says a voice. "They remind me of someone."
Pedro's feelings melt upon hearing the voice. He turns.
"Dana!" he yells, laying eyes on his wife for the first time since he left to fly his circuit. "It has been so long. He looks into her eyes, the eyes that captivated his feelings. He caresses her cheek and then kisses her, enjoying her closeness, her existence.
"Boys," he says, looking at his sons, who are wearing T-shirts and jeans.
"Dad," says the older boy.
"We never thought we'd see you again," says the younger boy.
"What happened?" asks Dana.
"I'll tell you everything," replies Pedro. "But we should go home now."
Pedro and his family walk out of the terminal and onto the sidewalk. The news vans are still parked, along with taxis and airport shuttles stopping at the passenger drop-off zones. Cars, trucks, vans, and buses drive along the loop that serves the Los Angeles Airport terminals.
Not far away from the reunited Gomez family, a brother and sister look about at the strange sights – the people in their strange fashions, the weird writing, the vehicles that move without being pulled by animals, and even the glimpse of a yellow sun.
"A new world," says the brother. "The flying ship brought us to a new world."
The sister banishes the horrible memories that led them on an aimless path that led them here. "We will survive, brother," she says.
And the two children dressed in drab clothing merge into the crowds.