4. Whale

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Farid dragged me to the exit, his fingers still irons hooked into my arm. The air outside was warm and humid.

Adriana was still back there.

He pulled the toggle on my vest. Its angry hiss filled my ears as it inflated until it was hard to turn my head.

"Ready?" he asked.

In my mind, Adriana's eyes still stared at me.

"But, that woman—"

A shove in my back made me fall forward. I lost contact with the plane and warm water splashed into my face. It burned in the wound at the top of my head. I swallowed some of it, its salty taste making me gag. The vest pulled me up, and I resurfaced.

What went through the flight attendant's mind as she was submerged and realized I wasn't going to rescue her? Had she felt the water entering her lungs?

"Come," Farid said, treading water at my side. "We need to get away from that thing."

What did she think when we abandoned her?

Quick strokes carried Farid away from me. I followed. He was making for a yellow, inflatable raft with some people on it.

When I reached it, I grasped a handle at its side. I didn't have the strength to climb, so I just held on to it.

A metallic creak made me turn my head back at the plane. Only its tail fin and part of the forward hull remained above the waterline, the parts connecting them hid below the waves.

The craft was a whale, heading for the deep—with death in its belly. Yet, in contrast to a whale, it sank tail first.

A flurry of raindrops struck the sea and hammered my hurting head.

The tail sank deeper. The front end was still afloat.

"An airplane shouldn't sink so quickly," a man said. "What's going on here?"

"The hull was breached in the explosion," someone answered.

The tail fin sunk away.

Air, smoke, and spray escaped through the front exit with a wail—the plaintive cry of a creature about to seek out its last resting place.

Then it sank, exhaling its last bubbles and taking its ghastly freight with it.

Adriana was one of them. How many others were still in there? How many didn't make it?

"Merde." A man's voice.

The French swearing was followed by silence. The only sound was the splatter of raindrops hitting water and the near-silent sobbing of a woman on the woman lying on the raft. The sea's undulating surface was pockmarked by their impact, all the way to where it merged with the gray of the rain-logged, hazy atmosphere.

"Bruna?" Farid had clambered onto the raft and crawled its length to the other end. The red-haired woman who had made the scene in the aircraft was lying there on the yellow plastic. Another woman with a long, dark braid was kneeling at her side and looked at her legs. Bruna groaned when she touched her.

For a moment, or for hours, no one said anything. I was still afloat in the water, one hand grabbing the rim of the raft.

"What's the plan now, pilot?" A familiar voice interrupted the mute shock. It was the lavatory seeker. His stare was focused on a black woman wearing the airline's uniform.

"I'm not the pilot. He's dead... After having saved our sorry asses." She swallowed. "I'm the co-pilot."

"I see," he said. "So, what's the plan now, co-pilot?"

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