This is another short story that I wrote last year, inspired by an article in the New Scientist.
I hope you enjoy!
'What the hell are you doing with that?' shouted Albert McFadden.
Captain Ellie Barking smirked, nodding at her gun pointed at the old chancellor and his fellow passengers.
'I think that's pretty obvious. I'm hijacking this plane.'
'Your own plane!' objected McFadden again.
Ellie could tell that he was a man who had stared down the barrel of a gun before. Everything in his demeanor was indicating that he intended to survive this encounter the same way he had done previously. And why would he not believe that, after all? Ellie knew that she was not particularly threatening, even with a weapon, and she had been thoroughly vetted before this trip. The chancellor, the other veteran politicians present in the plane and their bodyguards, knew that Ellie wasn't a dangerous person.
'I can't believe you are a Resistant!' shouted the oldest of the passengers, Beth Madeley, with a screeching voice.
Truly, Ellie didn't see herself as a Resistant. She was a pilot, one of the best in the country, and not only because she had managed to stay healthy after thousands of hours of flight. She had the bug for flying since she was a kid, in an era where nobody wanted to take off anymore. She had bought her mid-sized Cessna for the price of scrap metal and had spent months repairing the damages it had received in the clouds. Everyone had said she was crazy, that her first flight would be her last, but she hadn't listened. She had researched the clouds, their movements, their extents, all that she needed to avoid the radiations. And today, ten years later, she was the only one the richest people on the planet could count on to travel safely.
'You are making a terrible mistake!' protested Arthur May, an eighty-year old ex-president whose birthday was the reason all these people were taking the risk to fly. They wanted to enjoy the beauty of North America after years trapped in London like commoners.
'I know, thank you.'
It wasn't really the reply they expected but Ellie was too busy neutralising the transponder to pay attention to the conversation. She needed to hurry before anyone in the control centre of the small icelandic countryside airport they had used as layover could realise what she was about to do. She had chosen this specific airport because it was small and neutral. She could dump her cumbersome passengers without too much fuss and they would be safe there. Angry and betrayed, yes, but nobody would try to lynch them.
'It's time to go,' she said, emphasizing her demand with a quick movement of her weapon.
She didn't like guns, never had. They were dangers in aircrafts, noisy and useless pieces of metal. It was only because she knew she wouldn't get the cooperation of these politicians, and especially their muscles-to-rent, that she had acquired the Beretta. She had absolutely no intention to use it. If one of her passengers decided to rebel, she was screwed.
She probably looked convincing enough because none of them thought about discussing her order. They lined up next to the door, and waited for her to open it and deploy the ladder to the ground. The sun filtered through the opening when she pushed the door release button, and soon all could see the inviting grass below the ladder. Ellie had driven the plane far enough from all buildings to be able to debark ten people without being noticed. There was a voice on the radio asking why she was blocking the runway after having received the authorisation to take off but she estimated that she still had a couple of minutes before they'd send any security detail.
The last person to exit the plane, Chancellor McFadden, turned to her and looked like he was going to resist. Ellie tightened her grip on the gun, but the man didn't attempt to do anything. Instead, he sighed and asked:
Ellie wasn't sure if he was referring to the hijacking or the fact that she hadn't attempted to kill them in the process. They were after all the most despicable collection of politicians in their time. They had constantly denied scientific reports about the increase of cosmic rays in the atmosphere. Even when experiments destined to monitor high-altitude radiation had found out that radiation levels were much higher than any prevision, especially after geomagnetic storms, they had pretended it was still safe to fly. They had accused every foreign nation to conspire against them and make up facts. They were the reason why nobody did anything when the levels of dangerous particles were still controllable. They had formed a comity designed to stop any attempt at resolving the situation, arguing that the changes in radiation levels were natural and had always occurred throughout history. They were the reason why Ellie's generation had been forced to go back to sea travel to cross continents while fifty years earlier the whole planet could enjoy transatlantic flights. Many people wanted them dead, and that was how the Resistance had been created.
Ellie, as previously stated, wasn't part of the Resistance. She of course cared about the millions of cancers and deaths that had followed the initial increase of radiation, during that terrible period when no government was willing to forbid high altitude flights. Pilots, cabin crews, even casual passengers, all were contaminated and died in horrible circumstances. She also cared about the collapse of the economy that had followed the cancellation of most flights, with many airlines going bankrupt within months.
But all this was not why she was torpedoing her career today. No, her reasons were much more selfish.
The radiation clouds were expanding to the lower layers of the atmosphere. Soon, even low flying aircrafts like hers would be grounded. Only a handful of military lead-reinforced bombers would be able to take off, and only for short periods of time. Ellie had been warned that this flight was probably her last. After her return, she would be condemned to stay on the ground and wait for her death there, as the clouds were making their way to inhabited heights. Scientists gave the planet ten years, perhaps less for countries that were high above sea level. All humans, animals, even plants were going to go extinct once the radiations would settle on the earth.
They were all going to die, but Ellie didn't intend on facing her demise crawling on the ground.
'I want to be free,' she replied finally. 'I want to fly, really fly. One last time.'
The Chancellor's eyes widened as he understood what she had in mind.
'You are a fool!' he spat before hurrying down the ladder.
Letting out a breath for the first time since the altercation, Ellie pressed the closing button and sealed the opening. She rushed to the cockpit in time to see the first security jeeps driving at high speed towards her. She reset the engines and quickly moved the plane in position. Her pursuers were too far, they could not prevent her to escape. She pushed the gas at its maximum and took off, leaving everyone puzzled on the ground behind her.
She had done it! She let a little scream out of joy, pulling the control stick firmly. She had never ascended so quickly. It was wonderful to not care about the altitude or the route she was taking. Nothing else was important but the sensation of freedom, to be able to fly without constrains. The sun was shining on her left, warming her up and bringing a smile to her face. She felt happy, for the first time in years. It was so exhilarating that she wished it would never end.
She barely registered that she had entered a radiation cloud. They were invisible to the naked eye and she only knew because the alarm of her onboard detector started ringing. The sound was so annoying that she switched it off. It didn't matter anymore. At this level, her internal organs would start to fail soon, but for now she just wanted to appreciate the low roar of the engines and the pull in her stomach while she was still ascending. Perhaps she would have the time to pull off a few stunts, even attempt a full loop, before her body would fail totally.
It was her last flight, and she intended to make it memorable.