Home > The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1)(4)

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy #1)(4)
Author: Guillermo del Toro

She whimpered, just like a child, but couldn't help it. She was paralyzed. A throbbing rush of blood, rising as though commanded, tightened her throat...

And she understood it then, unequivocally: something in there was going to eat her...

The gusting wind started up again, as though it had never paused, and Lo didn't need any more prompting. She backed down the ramp and jumped inside her conveyor, putting it in reverse with the alert beeping and her ramp still up. The crunching noise was one of the blue taxiway lights beneath her treads as she sped away, half on and half off the grass, toward the approaching lights of half a dozen emergency vehicles.

JFK International Control Tower

CALVIN BUSS had switched to a different headset, and was giving orders as set forth in the FAA national playbook for taxiway incursions. All arrivals and departures were halted in a five-mile airspace around JFK. This meant that volume was stacking up fast. Calvin canceled breaks and ordered every on-shift controller to try to raise Flight 753 on every available frequency. It was as close to chaos in the JFK tower as Jimmy the Bishop had ever seen.

Port Authority officials-guys in suits muttering into Nextels-gathered at his back. Never a good sign. Funny how people naturally assemble when faced with the unexplained.

Jimmy the Bishop tried his call again, to no avail.

One suit asked him, "Hijack signal?"

"No," said Jimmy the Bishop. "Nothing."

"No fire alarm?"

"Of course not."

"No cockpit door alarm?" said another.

Jimmy the Bishop saw that they had entered the "stupid questions" phase of the investigation. He summoned the patience and good judgment that made him a successful air-traffic controller. "She came in smooth and set down soft. Regis 7-5-3 confirmed the gate assignment and turned off the runway. I terminated radar and transitioned it over to ASDE."

Calvin said, one hand over his earphone mic, "Maybe the pilot had to shut down?"

"Maybe," said Jimmy the Bishop. "Or maybe it shut down on him."

A suit said, "Then why haven't they opened a door?"

Jimmy the Bishop's mind was already spinning on that. Passengers, as a rule, won't sit still for a minute longer than they had to. The previous week, a JetBlue arriving from Florida had very nearly undergone a mutiny, and that was over stale bagels. Here, these people had been sitting tight for, what-maybe fifteen minutes. Completely in the dark.

Jimmy the Bishop said, "It's got to be starting to get hot in there. If the electrical is shut down, there's no air circulating inside. No ventilation."

"So what the hell are they waiting for?" said another suit.

Jimmy the Bishop felt everyone's anxiety going up. That hole in your gut when you realize that something is about to happen, something really, really wrong.

"What if they can't move?" he muttered before he could stop himself from speaking.

"A hostage situation? Is that what you mean?" asked the suit.

The Bishop nodded quietly...but he wasn't thinking that. For whatever reason, all he could think was...souls.

Taxiway Foxtrot

THE PORT AUTHORITY'S aircraft rescue firefighters went out on a standard airliner distress deployment, six vehicles including the fuel spill foamer, pumper, and aerial ladder truck. They pulled up at the stuck baggage conveyor before the blue lamps edging Foxtrot. Captain Sean Navarro hopped off the back step of the ladder truck, standing there in his helmet and fire suit before the dead plane. The rescue vehicles' lights flashing against the fuselage imbued the aircraft with a fake red pulse. It looked like an empty plane set out for a nighttime training drill.

Captain Navarro went up to the front of the truck and climbed in with the driver, Benny Chufer. "Call in to maintenance and get those staging lights out here. Then pull up behind the wing."

Benny said, "Our orders are to hang back."

Captain Navarro said, "That's a plane full of people there. We're not paid to be glorified road flares. We're paid to save lives."

Benny shrugged and did as the cap told him. Captain Navarro climbed back out of the rig and up onto the roof, and Benny raised the boom just enough to get him up on the wing. Captain Navarro switched on his flashlight and stepped over the trailing edge between the two raised flaps, his boot landing right where it said, in bold black lettering, DON'T STEP HERE.

He walked along the broadening wing, twenty feet above the tarmac. He went to the over-wing exit, the only door on the aircraft installed with an exterior emergency release. There was a small, unshaded window set in the door, and he tried to peer through, past the beads of condensation inside the double-thick glass, seeing nothing inside except more darkness. It had to be as stifling as an iron lung in there.

Why weren't they calling out for help? Why wasn't he hearing any movement inside? If still pressurized, then the plane was airtight. Those passengers were running out of oxygen.

With his fire gloves on, he pushed in the twin red flaps and pulled the door handle out from its recess. He rotated it in the direction of the arrows, nearly 180 degrees, and tugged. The door should have popped outward then, but it would not open. He pulled again, but knew immediately that his effort was useless-no give whatsoever. There was no way it could have been stuck from the inside. The handle must have jammed. Or else something was holding it from the inside.

He went back down wing to the ladder top. He saw an orange utility light spinning, an airport cart on its way out from the international terminal. Closer, he saw it was driven by blue-jacketed agents of the Transportation Security Administration.

"Here we go," muttered Captain Navarro, starting down the ladder.

There were five of them, each one introducing himself in turn, but Captain Navarro didn't waste any effort trying to remember names. He had come to the plane with fire engines and foaming equipment; they came with laptops and mobile handhelds. For a while he just stood and listened while they talked into their devices and over each other:

"We need to think long and hard before we push the Homeland Security button here. Nobody wants a shit storm for nothing."

"We don't even know what we have. You ring that bell and scramble fighters up here from Otis Air Force Base, you're talking about panicking the entire eastern seaboard."

"If it is a bomb, they waited until the last possible moment."

"Explode it on U.S. soil, maybe."

"Maybe they're playing dead for a while. Staying radio dark. Luring us closer. Waiting for the media."

One guy was reading from his phone. "I have the flight originating from Tegel, in Berlin."

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