A sharp throb in the corner of my forehead woke me. I opened my eyes as I was shaken again and my head hit the window.
I sat up and grasped the arms of the seat. The turbulence seemed worse than before. I glanced around the cabin. All six people, though wide awake, seemed unperturbed. There was one couple who sat next to each other, quietly talking. The rest were scattered throughout the twenty-passenger cabin, happily entertaining themselves.
I glanced toward the control cabin, and found the stewardess staring at me. She was standing before the closed door, both hands reaching out to steady her balance. The knuckles to her left hand were white, as she clutched the galley counter. I met her eyes again. I could not tell if they were pleading or warning.
I stood and then grabbed the seat before me as the craft lurched again. The stewardess continued her stare. I slowly made my way toward her. When I reached her, she drew herself erect.
“Um,” I began, uneasy with her silent formality. “I was wondering if—” I didn’t even know what I was wondering, but before I could babble on, she stepped aside and opened the control cabin door. “Uh,” I mumbled, aimlessly pointing inside.
I glanced at the stewardess again for direction. Her eyes seemed to soften for a moment, but then the plane shook violently and all she managed was a harsh, “Go!”
I pulled myself through the door, and it shut quickly behind me. The turbulence seemed to have lessened here, but the room was all but silent. Clamorous beeps and buzzes trilled through the air. In response, flashes and blinkings jived along the flight deck. “What is going on?” I yelled to no one in particular.
“No need to shout,” came the terse, calm voice. Instantly, the beeps and buzzes and flashes and blinkings subdued. I searched for the voice and found an apparition in the co-pilot’s seat.
“Who are you?” I asked, suspicious of his translucency.
“The auto-pilot,” he said, plainly, not taking his eyes away from the controls directly before him.
“Where is the pilot?” I asked, quickly scanning the otherwise unoccupied cabin.
“Not here,” came the reply.
“And the co-pilot?” The apparition did not respond. “Right,” I mumbled. “Who needs a co-pilot when you’ve got an efficient auto-pilot?”
“This body is fully under control,” the auto-pilot stated. His hands and attention remained at the controls. “The passengers are content and undisturbed. There is no protocol to question my efficiency.”
“What about all those sounds and lights from this side of the cockpit? Or even some of the ones near you that you seem to be ignoring?”
“Non-essentials. And it is inconsistent that you question my efficiency.” Although the voice remained emotionless, the words betrayed a challenge.
“Well, I, uh,” I took a step back toward the door.
“Unless of course—” the auto-pilot paused, and for the first time turned away from the controls. He looked directly at me. His face was expressionless, but his eyes spoke the same ambiguous language as the stewardess. “—you are offering to direct this body.”
“Oh, uh,” I took another step back and felt for the door hatch.
“Are you leaving?” the auto-pilot asked.
“Yes,” I said, still unable to rip my eyes away from his.
But with my response he turned back to the controls. “Then I shall resume my post.”
Freed of his stare, I turned toward the door. The beeps and buzzes returned; lights danced, reflecting, upon the door before me. I yanked the door open and was shoved by the plane’s turbulent fit into the passenger cabin. I sensed the stewardess beside me but avoided her eyes and made my way back to my seat. Once settled I glanced again at the passengers. The turbulence seemed to have no effect on them. Then I dared to look again to the stewardess. She had resumed her position before the control room door, her arms again bracing herself, and her eyes again watching me. I sank down in my seat to escape her glare, and set my head against the window. The cap on my head shifted sideways. I pulled it off, and set it on the seat beside me. I hadn’t remembered putting it on. With my head against the window, I closed my eyes and urged myself back to sleep before another round of turbulence could awaken me.