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A rather pretty girl was seated across from George Cleland, on the other side of the aisle. They were in the rear compartment of the gigantic, four-motored Fokker passenger plane, just taking off from the Alhambra field at Los Angeles, for the three-hour flight to San Francisco--or rather, to meet as weird and astounding an adventure as ever befell human beings. George was returning to his office in San Francisco, and to his engineering work after a summer's vacation.
He watched the girl with interest as the steward handed her the little package of absorbent cotton with which to stop her ears against the oppressive roar of the motors. Clearly it was her first long flight. Her smooth cheeks were flushed with excitement; her shining gray eyes looked up quickly to see what the other passengers were doing with the cotton.
Her eyes met George's. She smiled at him as a companion in the adventure of the flight. He grinned, instructing her to twist the soft cotton into cylinders, and fit them into her ears. She smiled her thanks.
Already the great plane had rolled across the field with ever-increasing speed, powerful motors thundering, had left the ground to rise easily through the low, gray fog, into the brilliant sunlight of the August morning.
George liked the girl. She was pretty. Soft brown hair, glistening with ruddy lights, tastefully arranged. Bright face flushed with excitement. Gray eyes shining. She wore a dark green traveling suit, neat and trim. The body beneath it seemed to be neat and trim, too; athletic and well-developed. She looked like a co-ed. He remembered that the University at Berkeley would open in a few days, and supposed that she was flying up toattend it.
Two other men were sitting in that rear compartment with them--the great plane did not have a full load and four of the seats were empty. Facing George was a slender, meager, little man, whose black suit was polished with wear. He wore enormously thick-lensed glasses, and his face was narrow, pinched, bird-like, so that he gave George's imaginative mind the suggestion of a grotesque, goggle-eyed monster.
Presently he leaned forward, however, with the map of the route that the steward had handed him, introduced himself as Howard Cann, said that he owned a dry goods store in Oakland, and asked George to help him locate the observatory which, according to the map, should be in sight on Mt. Wilson. His voice sounded thin and bird-like, above the unceasing roar of the motors.
George pointed out the silver domes and towers shimmering on the crest of the mountain, in the bright August sunlight. Cann nodded his thanks, and bent over the map again.
The other man was sunk sullenly into a seat facing the girl. George did not like him. His clothes fitted his bull-like form loosely, grotesquely. His heavy-jowled face was black with a short stubble of beard. From beneath a disreputable cap, pulled low over his forehead, he was staring at the girl, rather to her discomfort.
His ferret eyes were black, shifty. George noticed that he swept the compartment watchfully with them, at intervals, always resuming his annoying gaze at the girl. I wouldn't like to meet him on a dark night, thought George.
They had been up a little less than an hour when the astounding catastrophe took place.
The little, spectacled man who said his name was Cann had persisted in his high-voiced questions. George had pointed out to him the San Fernando and Santa Clara valleys, and Tejon Pass, and Lebec. They were just coming across the last gray mountain range, over the southern tip of the great San Joaquin Valley.
The air had been smooth, though the ship seemed to rise and fall with a slow, almost regular motion. The girl had seemed to be enjoying her flight immensely, peering out of the windows with a lively interest. Once or twice, to George's pleasure, she had leaned over to watch when he was pointing out something of interest on Cann's map.
Once she had asked some little question. Her voice, above the mighty, overwhelming roar of the four great motors, had seemed clear and pleasant. George began to regret that the flight and their companionship must end in a few short hours when the great plane glided down to the Alameda airport, across the bay from San Francisco.
But the plane, and most of her passengers, never reached Alameda.
George happened to be peering out when it occurred, trying to locate for Cann the town of Maricopa, which lay a little to the left, and ahead of the plane.
The air before the ship was suddenly filled with a blinding purple light, as though a great shell had burst, releasing a vast volume of incandescent violet vapor. A moment before, the sky had been clear. The purple cloud appeared suddenly, as if from thin air.
Its diameter must have been many miles extending from the ground into the cloudless sky above them. The great plane was plunging almost at the center of it, and far too close for the pilot to turn aside.
George thinks, however, that the ship was suddenly tilted up, at the last instant, as if the pilot had attempted to zoom above the purple cloud. But it was only a moment after the cloud appeared that they struck it; the tragedy was occasioned by chance, not by any want of skill--and no display of skill could have averted it.
But as they pierced through it, George saw the purple cloud contract swiftly. It became a great, smooth-surfaced sphere of violet-red radiance. Then, somehow, it seemed to flatten, become thin, until it was only a disk of red-blue light.
It became a circle of purple flame, a hundred yards and more in diameter--we can judge its size only from George Cleland's guess based on that quick glimpse of the amazing thing. A disk of amethystine fire, hanging in the air, with the great plane plunging away from its center.
A long, dreadful instant went by, after George knew that they had crashed through it. He had time to wonder what it was, to wonder if it could be only some trouble with his eyes, then he realized that others could see it, for Cann shrank back from the window and clutched at his arm.
Without a sound or a vibration, they had passed through the purple disk, into a flood of crimson light!
George was dazed.
One instant, the blue sky was above and the green-blue fields beneath. The next, they were flying at some crazy angle beneath a sky that was red, plunging toward the foot of a precipitous cliff of jet-black rock.
The cloud of purple had been like a gate to another world. They had flashed through it, into another plane of existence that seemed to lie co-existent with ours, yet more distant than the Andromeda nebula. To the science of a few decades ago, such a thing would have been incredible. But Einstein's relativity, with its four-dimensional continuum, with its destruction of the old conception of space as an absolute dimension, brings it much nearer to understandable phenomena. And it is confidently trusted that the implications of the incident narrated here will result in a farther modification of the changing theories of relativity.
The plane was hurtling toward the base of a rugged, towering wall of grim black rock, which had suddenly appeared beyond the purple disk. A crash was inevitable. The pilot had time only to bank the ship, causing it to strike the ebon cliff obliquely instead of head on.
George was stunned by the crash.
His last recollection was of their plunging flight toward the sheer, soaring wall of black rock, of the attempting turn that had failed to save them, of the splintering crashes and the merciless bruising shock of the collision with the mountain.
Posted October 16, 2010
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