NEW FICTION: Power and Irresponsibility
July 25, 2003
It's 3:02 PST and I've just finished up a rather short story. Not quite 1,000 words. I'm really not sure how this tale began. I suppose it began out of necessity. A need for me to get back to writing, back to being creative. I suppose it began out of guilt. When I talked with Frank today--one of my two older brothers--he asked me with quite a bit of encouragement how the writing was coming along. And I've felt more than a little guilty at having been lax and was a bit embarrassed to say that "it's not." But there are plenty of excuses. I'm still finding my footing in Venice. Still getting to learn my way around the city. Still trying to adjust to Pacific Time. Still wondering what it's going to be like without East Coast winter weather. Though really, these are only excuses.
And while I have about a dozen short stories in development, I wanted to do something spontaneous to kind of thrust me back into writing fiction. So I created a new home page image and wrote this story around it over the last few hours. I don't know if it's any good. I'm not even sure what qualifies as "good" any more. But it's done--unless I think it's worth continuing--and it's just a few hours of "practice" in the game of writing. That's really all it is--practice.
The stewardess walks through the narrow aisles of the Boeing 737-300 while the passenger in seat 8-A—a balding little man with three-day, five-o’clock shadow—barks an order for another Kentucky bourbon. He’s beyond drunk—he’d been drunk before they left Chicago.
“I’m sorry sir, we’re on final approach and are no longer serving beverages.”
He grunts an incoherent obscenity and picks at a sesame seed that’s been lodged between his front teeth for the last several hours. His appearance is rodent like as he squints, frantically trying to free the object from his mouth with a fat, useless fingernail. The attendant, blissfully oblivious, continues toward the rear of the jet.
Seconds later the head steward’s voice resonates through the intercom system.
“Ladies and gentlemen we are on final approach to Pittsburgh International Airport. At this time we ask that you fasten all seat belts, and turn off all laptops, cellular phones, and other electronic devices. We will be arriving in approximately 15 minutes at Gate C. Thank you for flying US Airways.”
The 737 banks left and continues its descent, leveling off at 6,000 feet at a speed of 180 knots.
Several thousand miles distant an object too small to be detected by air traffic control radar screams across the skyline at a speed nearly thrice that of the 737. His colleagues have dubbed him the Impossibilist, a name he abhors, but one that has stuck since his first appearance 12 years earlier in 1982. He is unlike anything the world had ever seen or will ever see. No one—not even he—knows the limits of his body and his mind. His brain functions on several thousand levels simultaneously and his thoughts range from the most mundane childhood memories to the most sophisticated challenges facing modern science. At a young age he was told that with great power must also come great responsibility. To that end, he’s changed the course of mighty rivers, bent steel in his bare hands, torn through rock as though it were paper, swum in lava as if were bath water. His accomplishments are unparalleled by man, even by the “peer group” super-humans with whom he generally associates.
He’s fought “villains,” both super and not so super, though he would be insulted to be considered a “crime fighter.” The Impossibilist knows he is so much more than a crime fighter. In 1987 he assisted researchers in producing colony-stimulating factors by recombinant DNA technology. In 1990 he saved the space shuttle from certain annihilation during a flawed reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. By 1991 he perfected precognition.
Which is how he knows that in years to come the debate over what caused the crash of US Airways Flight 427 will have no conclusive ending. He knows that the National Transportation Safety Board’s findings will differ from those of the Air Line Pilots Association, which will differ from the findings of the Boeing Company, which will differ from those of US Airways.
He knows that the airplane’s demise will be attributed to wake turbulence encountered from a preceding aircraft. He knows the debate will rage over why Flight 427 did not recover from the effects of the wake vortex. He knows the cause of the 737’s full rudder deflection will be argued, with Boeing concluding that there is insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion as to the rudder deflection’s probable cause, and with US Airways citing Boeing’s failure to advise operators that there is a speed below which the aircraft's lateral control authority is insufficient to counteract a full
rudder deflection. He knows that all 132 persons aboard Flight 427 will perish today, September 8, 1994. He knows that 12 seconds after the first indication of trouble, Flight 427 will plunge to the Earth at a speed of 240 miles per hour.
The Impossibilist—along with Boeing, US Airways, the NTSB, and the ALPA—knows that Flight 427 encountered a wake vortex created by a preceding plane at 6,000 feet while on descent to Pittsburgh International Airport. Only he knows that the rudder deflection will be the result of his own wake as he passes the 737, invisible to all, as he speeds west toward the Pacific Ocean.
And he knows it is wrong. He knows that with his power, his unspeakable, awful power, there should also be responsibility. He knows this.
But he no longer cares.
It is the ill-fated aboard Flight 427 who cannot possibly know that today the Impossibilist has ascended to a higher level of awareness, a higher state of being. A self-realized distinction has been drawn between mankind and hiskind. And although he is nearly one-hundred miles from the 737 as it begins its fateful, vertical plunge, he hears their voices as they call out for salvation. He hears their pleas and he ignores them all.
Because he can.
Because he has great power, and with it, chooses to exercise great responsibility—to himself. They call him the Impossibilist; tomorrow, perhaps, they will call him God.
Author's note: The story depicted above, while fiction, is based on the crash of US Airways Flight 427. This story was not written to trivialize or belittle that tragedy, just as NYSS: Post nine-eleven was not written to lessen the WTC attacks in New York.
Some of the facts outlined in this story were obtained from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (July 7, 2002), and AVWeb (October 26, 1997). Additional information about the 737 series was obtained from www.boeing.com.
Next week: The better-late-than-never post-SDCC report...