A land is at war due to magic's fading. Mages there look to our world for salvation.
As Kristopher removed the tube and nylon half wing from his trailer, he glanced up confirming the Aviation Weather forecast. The service promised high wispy Cirrus clouds and crisp, clear air. The intense blue sky made Kristopher smile. What a perfect day for a flight! Glad I'm finally getting up again even though I had to take time off work. Kristopher paused a moment just to breathe the cold air. The desert always had that crisp feel in the morning before the sun had a chance to make things uncomfortable. I wish Hailee were here. It would sure make this easier. Kristopher pushed the tubs together letting the retainer pins snap into place; he then inserted the locking pin. Hailee's help would have made assembling his Ultralight plane so much easier. Two sets of hands would be better than one. Kristopher tried to ignore the dull ache growing in his chest from her memory. Since we split, I have had too much time to think. He sighed.
Kristopher sincerely regretted that last fight and the resulting breakup. He had to admit that neither of them was at fault. Over time, they just grew apart. Both still cared, but now had different goals and interests. Kristopher felt that a couple needed to be best friends first. The memories surfaced easily now that he was here doing something they used to do together. One thing they had in common was their love of the outdoors. Hailee liked being outdoors "away from it all." She just disliked the sting of the icy air that pricked her face while flying in an open cockpit. She had never said so, but Kristopher suspected the idea of putting her life in the care of "fragile" nylon wings instead of modern composites or metal, scared her.
Eventually, the small nylon covered tube plane was ready. Kristopher topped off the tank and placed the tools and gas can into the back of his Cherokee. Locking everything up securely, he dragged the Ultralight through the knots of Brittle and Creosote Bush over to the dirt road he had selected for a runway.
Setting the choke, he pulled the starter cord. It didn't catch right away, which was no surprise since the engine needed to prime. He pulled a couple of more times and the little two-stroke coughed to life. Letting it warm up, Kristopher kept it running with little tugs on the throttle cord while adjusting the choke until it was ready to go. Putting on his helmet, he got in and fastened his seat belt. Kristopher caught himself hurrying the last checklist items in his eagerness to get off the ground. Chiding himself for being careless, he carefully retraced the list until he had completed it correctly.
The kick of the takeoff and the short ground roll always sent a bolt of excitement through him. He could get off the ground in under two hundred feet. Nothing like the thousands needed for commercial aircraft or even the five hundred or so for small planes. The ruts and grooves left by motorcycles made his runway less than perfect. As he bounced and bumped forward, he tried not to fault the riders. After all, he had ridden his dirt bike out here often enough, leaving a groove or two behind. With his teeth rattling clear to the end of the takeoff roll, the ultralight quickly reached the needed takeoff speed. With the application of back pressure on the stick, the ultralight leaped into the sky trading the rattling for smooth perfection. Keeping the Ultralight flying straight over the road, he waited until he was high enough to clear the Joshua Trees then banked away from the hills out toward the open desert.
Kristopher laughed. Now this is real "seat of the pants" flying. So different than the world of the closed cockpit when he flew one of the flying club's Cessna from Van Nuys Airport. He loved to go up with his friends in the club's single engine planes, but here he could feel the real thrill the early aviators must have felt when they had risked so much in those first fragile aircraft. When he had learned that the first planes had varnish shrunk linen wings, Kristopher had been surprised. Now he was flying in something similar, and almost as fragile.
Ever since his father had brought home a matchbox plane on his fourth birthday, Kristopher had dreamed of flying. When younger and poorer, he had done the closest thing he could afford that gave a similar feeling. Scuba diving let him fly in the water, free of the limitation of gravity. Diving in California's cold water required a quarter inch wetsuit. The neoprene wetsuit restricted his movement so much; it was like trying to swim tied up with rubber bands. Cold water diving just didn't quite give the feeling of complete freedom Kristopher craved. That one dive trip to the Bahamas where the warm water made a wetsuit unnecessary was the only time he had come close to the freedom for which he had always yearned.
Now, with his job at Litton, he was finally making enough to pay for a more expensive hobby. His first step had been to try remote controlled aircraft. Initially, he was only able to get the model up and down and do a few simple tricks. It wasn't until his flying lessons where he learned the real why and how planes flew that it started to go smoothly with his remote control planes.
Now here he was climbing to four thousand feet in a plane of his own. Alas, not exactly his own, since the finance company would own it until he could finish paying it off. Trying to forget all those mundane concerns was why he came up here in the first place. Reaching his desired altitude, he reduced power and leveled off. Kristopher settled himself down to enjoy the flight, hoping to forget life's troubles, at least for a while.
He flew away from Red Rock Canyon and headed north towards China Lake. He knew that Edwards Air Force Base was out there somewhere though he couldn't see it yet. The dry lake bed around Edwards was broad and flat. Just the perfect place for the runway used by the old Space Shuttle when weather conditions were not suitable for a Florida landing. Now wouldn't that be a kick, he thought. To have the Space Shuttle come zipping by faster than sound and knock me out of the sky. Kristopher intended to stay well clear of the restricted airspace around Edwards. He had heard stories of pilots getting military escorts with the associated problems when straying into Military Operations Areas.
The fighter pilots flying training missions from Edwards don't seem to have the same respect for our airspace. Kristopher had more than once been startled by a jet streaking just overhead on his desert cycle trips. He was sure they were flying well below the regulated ". . . Five hundred feet from any person or structure."
"I think those cocky pilots just liked to scare us," Kristopher murmured. It was still cool, and the air was smooth making the flight an extra joy. Kristopher marveled at the variety of colors on the ground. He could see off in the distance those circular watered areas that looked like a cluster of crop circles. Looking east, Kristopher saw the mine he intended to use as a pilotage reference. Now there are some unusual hues. Spilling from the abandoned shaft were a whole assortment of colors. No wonder his instructor had said that mines are one of the best navigation ground features. How could anyone miss that?
He passed over some fishermen on the aqueduct, their long poles whipping back and forth keeping the fly lures active. They waved at him when he passed just overhead. Seeing some early morning motorcyclists, Kristopher tried to fly alongside them. You could spot a rider miles away by the dust cloud that flew up in their wake. He tried fruitlessly to keep up with them, but when they saw him, they thought it great sport to try and outrun the small plane. Not too difficult since the ultralight only cruised at fifty knots and those bikes could easily do over eighty.
Kristopher did feel exhilarated and free from life's worries. He had come up here to clear his head. The flight mostly did what it was intended to, with the pain of the empty seat next to him only occasionally intruding into his joy.
Thinking it might be time to head back, he turned to check the fuel level in the tank. Just in time, it would seem since there were only sixty minutes of fuel left. It would take half an hour just to get back, so he banked to turn around.
He had always wanted just to land on the street, and taxi up to a gas pump and tell the attendant, "Fill 'em up with Ethel." The Ultralight's natural ability at short landings, along with the setup of some of these remote gas stations made such a scenario possible. He just didn't have the guts. He doubted the attendant, even if they still had full-serve attendants, would be pleased even if he knew what Ethel was.
Kristopher's attention returned to the flight when up ahead he noticed a dark ripple in the air. "What the devil is that?" he said. Heat refraction was not something unusual here in the desert, but this was different. It was perfectly round with increasing distortions that made seeing through it difficult.
Better steer away from that just to be on the safe side. Banking the ultralight away, he attempted to head around the disturbance. To his surprise, the thing moved when he did. Now, the center appeared to be getting darker. "This is getting scary!" he said out loud. Despite being fascinated and a bit curious, he thought it prudent just to turn around and fly away. I'm not going to become some NTSB statistic out of curiosity.
In pilot ground school he had been reminded not to take off, or turn around when unexpected condition arose, conditions you are unqualified to enter. The quarterly issue of FAA Aviation News always contained accounts of precisely that kind of error. The reason for the crash: Flight into conditions beyond pilot ability and training. Because of pride or embarrassment, a pilot kept flying into situations beyond their capability and paid the ultimate price. His conditions were not low visibility or a thunderstorm. Kristopher didn't feel anyone was qualified to fly towards an opaque object that could appear out of nowhere and seemed to want to chase you across the sky. Turning around was the prudent course.
Kristopher banked sharply, reversing course. With the mysterious object behind him, Kristopher felt much better. Glancing back over his shoulder to see if the thing had disappeared, fear gripped him. "Whoa!" he yelled shocked. The thing was chasing him! It looked much larger now, at least, the size of his plane. He was getting desperate. What is this thing? Some crazy experiment from the Air Force Base? The Ultralight's full speed was not great, but he had to do something quick. Afraid to cut power and allow the thing to catch up, he pushed the nose down, banked right and pushed the opposite rudder pedal. With crossed controls his Quicksilver dropped sharply.
Glancing back again, he realized it wasn't going to work. The thing was matching his movements all too well. He had heard that some people became paralyzed when faced with something terrifying; strangely he felt relaxed. For the second time in his life, he felt like he might die. Maintaining his composure, Kristopher continued to try to maneuver away. This thing was following him like something alive, creepy, and silent. Apparently, someone was directing its movements because it changed course every time he did.
I'm about to have a close encounter with a UFO. Kristopher was amazed how serene he had become. He wondered whether he would end up famous, or dead. He continued to dodge the best he could but realized it was useless. The disk grew to fill the whole sky, there was an icy cold, and then blackness.
Link to next chapter: "Chapter 2"