Holly did not appreciate the irony of the moment.
Not even a little.
She’d been sitting one row from the very rear of the Airbus A330-900neo jet. If she didn’t hack off her legs to get away from the muscle spasms soon, it would be a Christmas miracle—too bad it was October.
Tall people were not meant to sit in economy on fourteen-hour nonstops. But National Transportation Safety Board investigators also knew better than to sit in the front of airplanes.
Statistically, the rear rows of modern jetliners were marginally enough safer that she couldn’t quite bring herself to sit forward, no matter how safe airplane travel in general had become. Far and away the safest form of transport—except when it wasn’t.
And her job as a crash investigator was all about when it wasn’t.
The very tail of all wide-body jets had a motion that seemed disconnected from the rest of the aircraft, and, at the moment, the vibration was almost as annoying as her legs.
Only six hours into fourteen, for a flight she didn’t want to make. It was lucky for whoever wasn’t there that the seat beside her remained empty; it was best that her need to vent her frustrations to someone, anyone, had no ready target.
Hell, at the moment she’d even vent to Mike, though their parting at the airport hadn’t gone smoothly.
Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you? And Mike had even insisted on driving her to SeaTac for her flight. As if he somehow knew how hard this trip was going to be for her—despite her not telling anyone anything about why she was going. Of course it was Mike, so he’d known even without being told.
Which was almost as annoying as how comforting his presence had been on the drive.
But the last thing she wanted was her past touching any part of her present.
It was a completely rank horror-show that she herself had been given no choice.
Then at the curb he’d gotten all clingy, like he was going to miss more than having her in his bed most nights. Like he…owned?…some piece of her?
So not her.
She’d already been with him longer than anyone before in her life. Maybe it was time they were done—just to avoid his getting too attached. Soon, maybe he’d be wanting more than she was willing to give.
The period of the vibration shifted.
Rather than the slightly annoying slow sway of the airplane’s butt—like riding in a big old 1970s station wagon that desperately needed new shocks—it took up a distinct rhythm.
One that accelerated fast.
With a periodicity that, in all her experience, should never happen to any airplane.
She opened her left-side window shade to glare out. Her eyes ached as they adjusted from the dim you-should-be-sleeping-now interior to the glaring dawn over the Central Pacific.
There was the source just at the edge of her view—the Number One engine was shaking visibly.
It didn’t explode or shatter like an uncontained turbine failure. Those happened in milliseconds; things occurred fast when meter-wide titanium fans shattered at thirteen thousand rpm.
This engine was swaying side-to-side on its mount.
She’d never seen that before. Or read about one doing that. Or even heard of such an event. Holly barely had time to wonder if Miranda ever had.
Three seconds later it broke free of the left wing.
Shit! There was an event she could go a lifetime without witnessing herself.
Just as the engine mount’s shear bolts were designed to do, rather than letting the engine destroy the wing, they sheared.
The suddenly disconnected Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 turbine— unburdened from doing its half of dragging the two-hundred-and-fifty-ton twinjet across the ocean—shot forward, then climbed up and over the wing. As it passed safely above the wing, the engine did finally fail. It shattered spectacularly before disappearing aft faster than she could track.
Holly cringed and dug her fingers into the arm rests, but no metal pinged off the main fuselage.
She held a deep breath for maximum blood oxygenation, ready to exhale with the abrupt hull decompression.
But there wasn’t one.
No oxygen mask suddenly dangled inches from her face.
Apparently the hull was still intact. The engine failure was directed downward from the inverted engine’s top, pummeling the wing with a single loud bang. The well sound-insulated plane muffled it to little more than the noise of retracting landing gear.
Holly’s fingers ached as she released the padded armrests, even though it had only been seconds.
She tried to remember the last aircraft she’d heard of suffering a complete breakaway engine loss, but she wasn’t Miranda Chase. Her team’s IIC—Investigator-in-Charge—carried the entire encyclopedia of aircraft accidents around in her head. It was only one small part of what made Miranda the best IIC in the entire National Transportation Safety Board.
Herself, not so much.
Holly took a slow, deep breath before she dared to look again.
The engine was definitely gone.
She focused on recalling her military training to remain calm in a crisis—because crisis was just the normal state of operations.
Then she looked down and lost the bit of calm that she’d mustered.
That was definitely the vast emptiness of the world’s largest ocean seven long miles below.
She looked over her shoulder at the two flight attendants. Still chatting quietly in their seats.
A glance up the long aisle revealed that most people were asleep, except for a few diehards watching movies. It was seven a.m. back in the flight’s origin city of Seattle—after a one a.m. departure; sensible people were asleep just the way any airlines wished their passengers to be. Always. She was surprised they didn’t just drug the coffee and be done with it.
The aisles were empty, and there was no splash of light from any other open window shade revealing the pile-driver sunrise pounding in her window.
She knew that from the angle of the cockpit it would be impossible for the pilots to check the engine visually. However, their instruments would certainly be reporting the loss with several catastrophic tones. Trained pilots would now be ensuring the integrity of the Number Two Engine.
But someone should be coming out to look out a window that could actually see the engine. Or at least a flight attendant should have been asked by the pilots to inspect it for them if they were too busy with alarms.
She would count to ten.
Holly made it to five before she punched the call button.
One of the flight attendants behind her, a male, reluctantly unbuckled and came up to her seat.
“You really should keep the shade down, miss. Others are all catchin’ a bit of shut-eye.” While she enjoyed the Aussie accent—it was a real relief after spending the last year in the US—she had other priorities.
“I didn’t want to alarm anyone, but you just lost an engine.” She kept her voice down and her tone even.
The attendant hadn’t started out looking friendly and now was looking less so. “I’m sure the pilots have everything well in hand.”
Holly grabbed the attendant’s pretty two-tone tie by the back strap, used her thumb to slide the knot tighter to make sure she had his full attention, then dragged him across the empty seat beside her and her lap to mash his face up against the window.
His choked-off squeak of alarm sounded ridiculous coming from a guy, especially an Aussie.
“We’ve lost a bloody engine, mate. See?” She thumped his face against the plastic a few times to make her point.
Holly looked up and into the muzzle of a Glock 19, the new Gen5, which she’d been meaning to check out. An air marshal must have been sitting in row 56 directly in front of her. He now knelt on his seat and had aimed his sidearm at her over the seat back.
Her former training as an operator in the Australian Special Air Service Regiment kicked in.
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