by Tony Noland
13-C gripped the bolt head with fingers he could no longer feel, in an ice storm that made it impossible to see. It was easier to work if he kept his left eye closed. There was something in there, maybe a sliver of glass, maybe a shard of metal from the fuselage. Whatever it was made his eye fill with a weepy mucus that messed up his vision anyway, so after two days, he'd torn a sleeve from 14-E and tied a strip around his head to keep the eye closed and immobile.
The two hinge rails from the overhead luggage compartments were the straightest, stiffest things he could find. The cold metal dug into his fingers as he tightened the bolt at the top of the V. Before continuing his work, he had to limp forward and warm his hands by the fire he'd made in what was left of the food prep area. He couldn't remember if it was called a kitchen or a galley on an airplane, so he used the more neutral term he'd made up. Even now, even here, 13-C was a meticulous and careful man.
All of the crew members in the cockpit, everyone in first class and in the forward business class were crushed together, a solid mass of frozen meat among the wreckage. He assumed the people who'd been seated behind the wings were scattered on the mountainside below, but with that part of the plane gone, it was just an assumption. He and the other people in rows 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 had fared better. It was only good fortune that those on the A-B-C side had done the best, since their impact had been cushioned by those in D-E-F. It was crazy blind luck that 13-C only had a fractured leg, a stabbed eye and a dislocated shoulder.
12-D, 14-A, 14-F and 16-F survived, but died within a couple of hours, in various degrees of agony. For two and a half days after the crash, 15-C sat and stared, blinking stupidly through his chopped hamburger facial wounds, saying nothing. When he died in the night, neither 13-C nor 16-A had noticed. They had their own troubles to bear, their own plans to make. 16-A had moaned and cried and prayed for three days before finally slipping into a coma; she died a few hours ago.
By the smoky plastic fire, 13-C ate packets of vegetarian lasagna and frozen croissants. He drank six little bottles of Smirnoff vodka, then six of Grey Goose vodka. When he could feel his hands again, he went back down to the ripped end of the plane and picked up his new tool.
He knew there was only one way to get out of there - it would take a miracle. 13-C wasn't a religious man, never had been, but even though it was a long shot, it was looking like prayers of supplication were his only hope.
No doubt, there was a formal prayer with a particular wording, but he didn't know it. The words of his prayer were simple and heartfelt; he hoped that was enough. Taking a final breath to steady himself, he hefted his tool and jabbed one end into 16-A's neck. The slushy, thick blood flowed and coated the cloth he'd wrapped around the steel. In the wide area by the escape door, where he'd exposed bare metal by tearing up the carpeting, he jabbed down with the sharpened end of the other leg. His crude compass traced smears in wide arcs on the frozen aluminum.
He'd had plenty of time to work out the geometry in his head. This had to be as perfect as he could make it.
16-A's praying hadn't done any good, but 13-C was going on the assumption that 16-A had been praying to the wrong god for salvation.
===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.
UPDATE: Read the discussion of this story, and answer a question about it.
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: The people have spoken. Read the sequel to this story, "Complex Geometry".