Nothing works the way it should.
I’ve got hoses taken from helium pumps standing in as fuel lines. The chief told me the fuel will corrode right through them. I told him I’ll land before then. He didn’t say anything.
All day long I’ve got people coming in here, asking me questions. I like that, it’s a good sign. Means I’m not as crazy as they say. Still, sometimes I wish they would just give me some space. It’s always the same questions, and I still have to figure out why the rudder is sticking before I can get some sleep.
Sleep is hard to come by. One, two, three in the morning… sure I’m exhausted, but there’s too much to do. I’ve given up on caffeine altogether. I run this show on pure, nervous adrenaline.
Mornings are the hardest. The hangar used to be an observation deck, and the big windows are still there. Coming down the stairs I see this view of what’s under us, thirty thousand feet of nothing and a damn hard landing at the end. Once I launch, those thirty thousand feet are all I have to make this bird fly.
Or find out the bad way that everyone was right.
“You’ve never built a plane before,” one fellow reminded me.
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“As best I can, sir.”
“Well it’s a long drop.”
“That’s what I’m counting on.”
Another lady asked me why I don’t just stay on the airship like everybody else. She had her little kid with her.
“I can’t tell you,” I said.
“Because your daughter’d want to come with me. Then you’d be upset.”
There’s nothing wrong with living on an airship, I guess. All your needs are met, more or less. They feed you as long as you do your job. You get to know everybody and that’s a nice feeling. Seeing the kids play makes me smile.
But sometimes I see them looking out the window.
“What’s down there?” they always ask.
“Monsters, bandits, savages,” come the answers. I don’t think they really know.
But the kids want to know, and so do I. And at some point all the made-up stories just stop doing it. Didn’t we used to walk on the ground? I asked. Sure, but it was dangerous, they told me. Yeah well I think I can handle a little danger.
But this—this? They’re right, I’ve never built a plane before. I don’t know anyone who has. I had to learn from books and scavenge parts and cobble things together. In two days we open the bay door, I do the last systems check, the engines kick on and I have to pull that lever.
That godsdamned red lever.
When I pull it, the hook on top of the wings detaches. The bird falls through the bay door, out of the hangar, and into freefall. I have thirty thousand feet to pull her out of nosedive. Thirty thousand feet for something to go wrong. Thirty thousand feet to prove I know how to fly.
But only if I pull the lever. Never been more scared of something in my life. It’s a one-way, irreversible act. Pull lever, drop. No do-overs. Like any other slot machine.
What if you pull it and you die? Worse: what if you don’t pull it? Ha, I guess I’d live a long time.
These are the thoughts that go through my head every day while I work. Grinding, welding, riveting, smoothing – a plane takes a lot of work. That means a lot of time to be alone in your head with those thoughts. Sometimes I don’t even notice when someone comes in.
Like the day Lex stopped by.
I was testing the engines for the eighth time. They ran but I didn’t like the sound of them. The propellers roared and came up to speed. Eleven hundred revs and this time it was a nice smooth hum. Okay. Okay. I sat in the cockpit and stared out the hangar windows.
“DREW!” The shout was so close I almost leapt out of my seat. I turned to see Lex on the ladder, wearing suspenders.
“WHAT?” I had to yell to be heard over the props.
“ARE YOU REALLY LAUNCHING THIS THING?”
I looked back at the lever. “Yeah. YEAH.”
“I’M COMING TOO.”
“WE MIGHT DIE.”
I waved for her to get in. I cut the engines.
“You ever flown a plane before?”
“No, but I’ve read about it.”
On August 31 I pull the lever and launch the Great Adventure. A lot of people ask me what it feels like. This story is my answer.
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