all_hands_on_dekk 07/10/2022 (Fri) 18:23:12 #91827401

I've always fantasized about the world being mine.

The first influence that I can remember was my grandfather who, God rest his soul, had fought in the Second World War. He survived the Battle of Britain, remaining mostly unharmed despite the numerous aerial encounters he faced. Though he was not a man who, by any means, saw war as anything other than the tragedy it was, he'd often tuck me into bed with his stories of the great sky. The one he had so often seen during his time as a master pilot.

The vast, open ocean of nothing but blue and white. That's how he described it. He often remarked just how quiet it was up there. As if the entire world died, and you hadn't noticed you were the only survivor. There was a certain beauty to it, he said, to be above the entire world. To be so lonely on top of everything and everyone, and feel no worry, no fear, no dread; to be so disconnected from actual reality as to envision yourself as just another part of something else, that was what he craved above anything else. Of course, that beauty was only there if you weren't getting tailed by a Nazi.


I suppose it won't come as a surprise to say that when he died and left us his beloved Betty, I was the first to sit behind its steers.

My father had never held the same passion my grandfather and I shared. He saw what the war did to his dad, so I couldn't blame him for resenting the sky with such a burning hatred. He never had any problem with grandpa telling me his stories or my own growing love for the vastness above, but he avoided the topic like fire. Unsurprisingly, he felt no ill will towards my grandfather once he saw that Betty would be inherited by me.

In just a few years, I moved from dreaming about the sky to actively living in it. Nearly every waking moment I had was spent up there, exploring higher and higher altitudes until I was so above as to be in a different world. From the very first time that old rusty red thing fired up, I knew that this was all I wanted to do. So I did everything I could to make that dream a reality.

I graduated at the top of my class and earned my license shortly after. Ever since mom passed away, dad has always told me to become a commercial pilot. That is where the real money was, he said. But I knew that wasn't what I wanted. With all these people aboard, you could never truly feel the loneliness I craved so much. You could never live it.

I guess he's better off for not making it long enough to see me make my decision.

It was tough, living off nothing but your skills to fly. You have to understand, I'm not an idiot or some sportless slob, but a job accounting just wouldn't cut it for me. Neither would any other job down there, for that matter. In every moment I spent down here I thought about the great sky above, and what it would take to get up there this week. So putting my head in papers and documents was never an option.

So when I was offered a job as a tester of experimental aircraft, I jumped at the occasion without a single thought.

I know what most people who frequent these sites see when they head "experimental aircraft," but this was by no means any secretive government thing or anything. It was your standard, public tester job, just in the air. Every now and then, the company I worked for — SiFlights — would give me a new vehicle they wanted me to hop into and tell me how it felt to operate it. To fly it.


Whether it was how comfortable the seat was up there or whether the layout was alright, it was an easy job. All I needed to do was get into one of their new products once a week or so, and I could walk out of there with eight grand a month easily. Sometimes they even let me fly one of their older models just for the fun of it. It was practically a dream come true.

Until one day, it wasn't.

I have to reiterate: there was nothing off about SiFlights. I've been here long enough to know what conclusions you people immediately jump to, but you have to understand it was a real, honest company. One that genuinely cared for its employees. That cared for me. They would never do this intentionally. Not any of it.

It was the 31st of October when it all happened. I remember the date specifically because I remember thinking how lucky I was I had a work excuse to not go to the stupid SiFlights party organized every year. I hated it. They always used it to scare the living shit out of me. Even that year, they couldn't stop saying some nonsense about how I had to remember the barrier between the world of the living and the dead was the thinnest that time of the year, in early November.

I guess in some sense, they were right.

That day, the sky was the cleanest I can ever remember. A cool breeze orbiting around 19 Celsius and not a single cloud in the sky as far as I could see. No crosswind at all, just a nice headwind all around me. Maybe a little strange for Autumn but nothing out of the ordinary. From the standpoint of work conditions, it was perfect. I couldn't ask for anything better. So I fired up the newest model they wanted me to try, and in just a few seconds, I was up there.

The first thing that hit me was the silence.

There is a certain quality to what you cannot hear up in the sky. Once you give into that white noise, it's nothing but the rushing wind, its calm movements encapsulating you like a caring mother. It's calm. It's gentle. It's beautiful. But that silence wasn't any of that. It was wrong. I could hear no rush of wind or even the sound of my own engines. As far as my ears could reach, it was just dead quiet. In every conceivable direction.

What broke me out of that trance was a gentle tap on the top of my cockpit. Within just a moment, that void of any meaningful sound was broken by a quick and almost kind knock above me. Then, by another. And another. And another. Before I could look up, the only thing separating me from that cold and silent abyss was being bombarded by something.

So I tried to see what it was.

I don't know what surprised me more — the fact that it was birds, or the fact that they were all dead. From the first to the last, all they were was bones, splattering on my previously pristine glass like some macabre parody of a flock. For a few seconds, all I could hear was their tiny little bodies breaking upon my machine, what was previously living beings getting crushed by the glass and steel of my plane.

And then, it was dead silent again.

I don't remember what I felt back then. Confusion? Fear? A mix of both? It's hard to tell. All I can recall was reaching for that mic button as I felt the silence weigh on me once more. The radio buzzed to life immediately, asking what was up. But I didn't respond. I couldn't respond. I just stared up at those minuscule skeletons — the only thing that broke up the blue monotony all around me — and listened, anticipating a sound that never came. A sound that couldn't have come.

So I ignored it, shaking my head and deciding I should finish my job. After I'd done all the tests I was expected to perform, I came back down. They didn't say a thing. I just told them something about the layout being wrong and causing me to click the wrong button or whatever. They asked no further questions.

That night, I couldn't sleep. Not because I was disturbed by what I saw — I wasn't — but because in that infinitely long moment it took me to answer the tower down, I was afraid of the sky. As that dead silence came down upon me and mixed with an infinite ocean of blue with no skyline I could see, for just a single second, I was afraid. And I hated that more than anything I could have seen up there.

But bills don't pay themselves. So I went to work the next week regardless.


Using a modified version of the machine from last week, I pulled back up into the sky. This time, the layout was fixed, and so were a few other technical tidbits I mentioned to them after my first flight. I hoped that, perhaps, the silence was just some quirk of the previous model, a silencing mechanism gone wrong, and that the birds were just a coincidence. That maybe some other plane got them before me, or that they had flown into a cloud of toxic chemicals or whatever. But deep down, I knew I was wrong.

The silence hit me again immediately after I stopped ascending.

As my hand reached for the intercom again, trying to tell them they didn't fix the issue I outlined, something deep down my stomach made me stop. The city SiFlights' experimental facility operates the closest to — which I am unable to reference by name due to confidentiality clauses — is quite big, you have to realize. Even from up there, you could see it buzzing with life as the myriad people living in it walked and parked and talked and laughed. Even in the cold, uncaring embrace of the sky, the welcoming heat of the city below was sometimes enough to break that isolation.

But today, it was quiet.

There were no cars, nor were there any people on the streets of the city. At first, I thought I was just in the wrong district, or that the citizens haven't woken up yet. But I checked my GPS, and my clock, and I realized I was looking at the city center at rush hour. I felt a cold mass build up in my stomach as I decided I was better off heading back and telling my higher-ups what I saw, in case something terrible has happened and nobody noticed. So I did just that, turning back and setting my propellors to max speed.

And then I noticed the water.

The city, you see, had been constructed near a river. It's by no means a large body of water or one that could support any infrastructure just by existing, but it had always been a nice break-up of the gray monotony of the concrete jungle next to it. Its small, sandy beaches contrasted with the monochrome of the buildings; so it was impossible to not notice it, really.

But today, they were littered with corpses.

From the very shores of the river to the edge of the dunes, skeletons were the only thing I could see. They were human, all thousands of them, and not a single one touched the water. They just lay there, as if someone had thrown out a cementary on the beach and left without making any notes. They weren't even located in any strange poses. It was like they just woke up, already there. Already dead.

My heart stopped for just a second before I reached the communication device in front of me. It buzzed to life, asking me if everything was alright, so I asked if they know if anything has happened to the city we were next to, nothing but terror in my voice. Confused, the voice on the other side said that everything was fine, and asked me whether I could come back down. As I have already finished all my tests, I just swallowed, and decided to listen to the request.

When I landed again, flight control was more than concerned. I told them what happened, but all they did was look at me with the most suspicion I've ever seen in a human being's eyes. After filling in some papers, they asked me if I was feeling alright or if I needed a break. Whether my personal life was bad recently. They knew that ever since dad died, I'd been holding up pretty badly, so they just wrote it off as a stress symptom as they put me on two weeks of paid leave and gave me a counselor.

For a while, I genuinely believed them. Looking back, I realize that was just because it was easier. So I took a break from everything I was doing and cleaned my mind. Used the time to finally clear up things dad left me. I was more than ready to come back to work after my inadvertent vacation ended. I believed that up until the third flight.


This time, the model was perfect. It was a thing of beauty, I have to give them that. They really took those three weeks I gave them with my leave to polish the hell out of this previously rusty machine. I was almost happy that I got to fly such a wonderful thing as I got into it and fired it up. But the joy only lasted as long as the silence hadn't settled in once more.

From the very first moment back up in the sky, I knew they were wrong. Something inside me just broke as I realized I had been lying to myself, looking up into that mockery of the sky I had beloved so much. It was cold, once more, and it was so awfully silent. As if everything but the sky has just disappeared.

But the worst part only came when I flew past the city again.

This time, there weren't any corpses near the beaches, because there weren't any beaches to speak of. Where there had previously been a river was now an empty, dried-out scar in the earth, oozing with thick, black dirt. The buildings that had littered the skyline were now nearly gone, their metal bars and scaffolding put out against the uncaring coldness of the still sky. Their concrete was now melting, falling off onto the cracked streets below. But even there, nothing but silence filled the air around me.

The skeletons were now everywhere, littering every part of the city with their broken bones and opened skulls. I gulped and turned back when I noticed them, too terrified to spend even a moment too long looking at those that were buried in the cement and dirty soil of the cities they had once inhabited. So I ran away. This time, I didn't tell anyone down there about what I had seen.

I hated the thought of going up for SiFlights again. But I really needed that month's pay. And all I needed to do to get it was perform one more test, and I could be out. I popped open a bottle of Whiskey, held my head up in my hands, and drank all of the worries away. I needed to do a job. So I was going to do it right.

In the end, I did what was required of me. I didn't have any misconceptions about what I was going to see when I inevitably flew up again. I was fully expecting the dread the silence would present me with, but I needed to get through it. Just one more test, I told myself as I parked near SiFlight. Just one more, and I was out.

But what I had seen was so much worse than I had anticipated.

The model remained almost unchanged. But the city didn't. There no longer was anything I could ever call a city, even — just an infinite expanse of that dirty, awful, dark soil, stretching up into the horizon beyond. The skyscrapers were gone, and so were what had previously been rivers. All I could see, in every direction, was flat terrain. And this time too was it filled with the dead. I tried to swallow, remembering the words of my coworkers, but found my throat too dry to have even that little luxury.

Every single square meter of that horrible dirt was swiped away by the nonexistent wind to reveal nothing but corpses, the skeletons not always human. Their hands reached out, as if in some desperate attempt to get out from their shared graves, but the world remained indifferent. The only thing that could answer them was the sky, but it was too occupied with being filled with long stretches of vibrant, cold colors to do that. And even then, it was silent.

I think I was weeping as I came back down.

I don't remember much of what happened later that day. All I can recall is quitting my job, citing some bullshit family reason for doing that, and then sitting silently in my room, alone, unable to get that technicolor sky out of my head. I didn't go for even a single flight more, that November. I was too afraid that what they had told me was true.


Many things have changed since then. I moved out, got married, and earned myself the license my father had always so dreamed about me getting. I still live in the sky, but I don't do it alone anymore. The flight attendants and passengers make sure of it.

But even those ten years later, I still haven't forgotten what I've seen. Every time I speak to my crew and assure them everything is fine, all I can think about is that awful silence pressed up against a sky that isn't like it should be.

I don't know what I fear more these days: that those I now carry alongside me will one day experience that horrible, wrong sky and all of its horrors with me, or that they never will.

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