Feliks looked closely at the man who had just stood in the middle of the galley in front of him, blocking the way for the other passengers to board. He recognised the cute brunette and his eyes lit up.
“Well if it isn’t “Mr. Champagne”! What a surprise”
Toris came out of his trance and laughed nervously, scratching the back of his neck while his face went completely red. Feliks was looking at him with a puzzled look and, before Toris could think of saying anything, he politely grabbed the ticket from his sweaty hand and looked at the seat number.
“Your seat number is 2-B. Come with me”
Feliks guided the stunned Lithuanian to his seat in the second row of the First Class cabin. As gently as he could, and with the sweetest smile in his face, Feliks took Toris’ attaché case and put it in the overhead compartment and made sure that he had fastened his seatbelt before helping other passengers when he felt something tugging at his shirt sleeve and turned around to see Toris holding onto it, with glassy eyes. He couldn’t believe he had found the love of his life, of all flight attendants who could have chosen this route, his beautiful golden angel had blessed him with his presence.
“W-What... wh-what... what is your name?”
Feliks smiled at him.
He said. And that name seemed like a name chosen by the angels for Toris, who let go of his sleeve and allowed him to continue with the pre-flight checks in the galley as soon as Arthur had closed the door and the last passengers were taking their seats. Arthur cleared his throat and, when Felix in First Class, Lovino and Feliciano in Economy were standing in the aisle in clear view of all the passengers, he took the interphone and a ding dong was heard throughout the cabins.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Captain Bonnefoy and his crew welcome you on board Pan Atlantic Airways flight 103 to Rome and London, then onwards to New York. Our flight time to Rome will be an hour and forty minutes and we will have a stopover of an hour at Fiumicino International Airport before departing to Heathrow Airport in London. Our flight time to New York will be, approximately seven hours and thirty minutes. My name is Arthur Kirkland and I will be your Chief Steward today...”
Farah and Gupta looked at each other. Gupta was sweating profusely, while Farah was calm although she was twisting her gloves in her hands because she knew that the doors had already been closed off and there was no way they would open them for Sadiq, so obeying the chain of command, she was in charge of the whole mission.
“... At this moment we would like your full attention to demonstrate the safety features of this aircraft Boeing 707, you can follow the flight attendants by reading the safety card located in the seat pocket in front of you. When the seatbelt sign is on, you must fasten your seatbelts. To do so, insert the metal pin into the buckle until you hear a click and, to adjust it, pull the strap”
The three flight attendants demonstrated how to fasten the seatbelt and Toris was mesmerized by Feliks, who occasionally stole glances of him, knowing that he was being watched intently from somewhere in the cabin. Of course, he was completely exposed standing in front of the aisle, but he knew that there was other kind of look in there.
In the cockpit, the First Officer was radioing Hellinikon Tower asking for permission to taxi to the runway and wait for instructions for takeoff.
“Roger, Pan Atlantic 103, this is Hellinikon Tower, clear for taxiway Eco. Wait for instructions. Over”
The thick Greek accent of the air traffic controller could be heard in the three pilots’ headphones. When Francis made sure that the stairs were removed from the aircraft, he drove the thrust levers forward an inch and the plane began rolling towards the assigned taxiway.
In the cabin, the flight attendants had finished the safety demonstration and pre-flight in English and it was the time to translate it for the Italian passengers, so Arthur gathered all the knowledge he had accumulated over the years of the Italian language and began speaking through the PA system.
“Buongiorno, signori e signori, benvenuti a bordo de Pan Atlantic Airways volo numero 103...”
In the Terminal, someone ran towards Gate 1-15, whose flight number was changed to flight 111 to Paris and New York. It was Sadiq, who had a telephone conference with their superiors in the Party in his safe house and had lasted more than he had expected. He was supposed to board flight 103 along with Farah and Gupta, but things went out of hand. And there was heavy traffic in downtown Athens, so he couldn’t make it in time. He addressed the stewardess at the gate.
“I need to board that flight, I have the ticket!”
Sadiq said, clearly out of breath. The stewardess was a little shocked at his aspect, as he looked like he had just ran a marathon. He was sweaty.
“I’m sorry, sir, but the flight is full and is already in the runway”
The stewardess said. Sadiq cursed in Arabic and then grabbed her by the uniform, pulling her over the desk, alarming the security officers around the place.
“You don’t understand! I need to board that flight!”
The officers removed him from the stewardess, who took a step back in fear, trembling a little, and took him under custody. In the plane, which was rolling for takeoff after the flight attendants had finished the demonstrations, the situation between Farah and Gupta was tense, but they knew they had to act anyways. Allah and their superiors commanded them to do so. Farah looked at Gupta and whispered in Arabic.
“Sadiq is not here, so I’m the boss now”
She whispered to Gupta, feeling a little proud of herself. Gupta was surprised.
“Never in a million years!”
Farah said, looking at the front and avoiding eye contact with Gupta, which was fuming in anger. In the First Class galley, the flight attendants where already strapped in and Feliks sighed. Arthur looked at him, wondering.
“What is wrong?”
Feliks looked up through his bangs, which he pushed back behind his ear.
“I hate taking off from Athens. Greece is my favourite destination, I love it so much, and it’s even prettier in summer”
Arthur smiled, looking forward, at the passengers, who were, in turn, looking out the windows, and put a hand over Feliks’ knee in a reassuring manner.
“Don’t worry, you’ll come back. You always do”
Feliks laughed half-heartedly. In the cockpit, the pilots were busy with their pre-takeoff checklist until the voice of the Greek air traffic controller was heard through their headphones announcing them that they were cleared for takeoff.
“Pan Atlantic 103, cleared for takeoff. At 1-0 thousand contact Athens Departures at 128.950”
“Roger, Pan Atlantic 103, cleared for takeoff contact Athens Departures at 128.950. Thank you”
Francis and the Second Officer pushed slightly the thrust levers forward and the engines accelerated, the plane rolling up the runway. The passengers were mesmerized at how fast the plane was going and not even the slightest movement was felt.
The First Officer said, eyes focused on the shortening runway in front of them. Francis and the Second Officer released the thrust levers when the maximum speed for takeoff was reached.
Francis pulled slightly the yoke and the ill-fated plane finally took off into the Mediterranean sky.
At cruising altitude, the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign was turned off by the captain and most passengers got up to stretch their legs and go to the lavatories. The flight attendants stood up as well and, for the First Class stewards, it was time to prepare the welcome cocktail which consisted of, basically, champagne and canapés. Arthur and Feliks took off their jackets and tied up their black aprons behind their backs. Arthur looked down at his watch and smiled fondly. Feliks noticed when he was about to uncork the bottle of Dom Pérignon and smirked.
“Why is our Chief Steward so smiley today? I don’t think it’s because of the summer”
He said, without looking at Arthur directly. He, who was putting the service tray together, stopped in his tracks and turned around with his characteristic frown in his face.
“What are you talking about?”
He asked and Feliks turned around with a sassy expression in his face and his hands on his hips. He clicked his tongue with a loop-sided grin and pushed his hair back behind his ear. Arthur smiled and grabbed a glass of water to drink because his mouth felt dry.
“I know about your boyfriend in America... is he a hunk?”
Arthur choked on the water and almost spit it. Feliks laughed and turned around, successfully uncorking the bottle of champagne with a satisfied giggle.
“Did I tell you about the guy I was dating in Amsterdam? He was quite the hunk. Tall, spiky hair and with a strange obsession with tulips, but he was cute”
Arthur laughed and took the tray with him to the cabin to offer the canapés to the passengers when he heard a man and a woman yelling from behind the curtain that separated the First Class cabin from the Economy Class one. Several more screams and shouts followed. They were screaming in what Arthur recognised as Arabic, as he had taken classes for a couple months, but finally left for personal reasons.
“Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!”
Arthur approached the curtain, tray in hand and the passengers turned around to see what the fuzz was all about when a sudden kick to the chest sent the Englishman flying to the galley causing him a great pain and difficulty to breathe. Feliks ran to help him when Gupta pulled him up by the hair. Arthur looked up and he could see a cute woman, Farah, wearing a light blue skirt suit and a white shawl draped over her head and neck, covering part of her hair.
Toris tried to get up from his seat to defend Feliks, but he was hit in the head with a gun by Farah and passed out in his seat. A woman next to him made sure his head was not too tilted back and tried to fix him as much as she could.
“Take me to the cockpit!”
Farah demanded to Feliks, whose hair was being pulled by Gupta, who, in turn, was holding a hand grenade. Panic took over the passengers both in First Class and Economy, where the Vargas brothers who had started the drink service with the trolley in the aisle, were watching intently. Lovino was scared shitless, but he wouldn’t let that show, and Feliciano was visibly in the edge of tears, as were too, some passengers.
“I don’t understand what you are saying!”
Feliks screamed when Gupta removed the pin of the grenade with his teeth, scaring the Pole and all the other passengers. Toris and Arthur were starting to recover conscience and the blonde flight attendant realised that they were being hijacked. Farah pointed the gun at Feliks’ head, whose eyes widened immediately at the prospect of being so close to death.
“Take us to the damn cockpit, now!”
She yelled and Arthur could recognise what language they were speaking and could understand the word “cockpit”, so he coughed and got up. Farah turned her attention to him, as did everyone.
“I take you”
Arthur said awkwardly. He couldn’t articulate well in Arabic, but it was enough for the terrorists to grab him and push him against the cockpit door, causing him an even greater pain. He looked at the gun pointed at him and at the hand grenade first before knocking on the door.
“Captain, please open. I brought you some coffee”
From inside the cockpit, there had been a tense silence when they heard the screaming and shouting in a foreign language, so the flight engineer got up from his seat and looked through the peephole of the cockpit door, where he saw Arthur being pushed around with a gun pointed at his head. He had told the captain, who had immediately changed the squawk code to 7500, the international call sign for hijack.
“Pan Atlantic 103, this is Athens Departure, please confirm squawk 7500”
Francis said through the radio. There was a long silence, only interrupted by Arthur’s nervous voice through the door, before the air traffic controller spoke again.
“Roger, I will inform the American Embassy immediately”
Francis turned around and nodded at the Second Officer, who took a deep breath before opening the door, knocking the hand grenade’s pin out of Gupta’s mouth, which fell to the floor. A tense silence overtook both the cockpit and the cabins when Arthur kneeled down, picked it up and put it back in the terrorist’s mouth. Farah pushed Arthur away with her gun and commanded the flight engineer to sit down.
“My name is Farah Dahan; I’m the new commander of this airplane... this plane... mine, now”
She struggled to say in English at last. The pilots understood, nevertheless, and Francis nodded. Arthur couldn’t keep his eyes off the captain while T0ris helped Feliks up and sat him down with the help of another man in the couch of the small lounge just in front of the cabin, while the terrorists weren’t looking. Arthur ran to his fellow flight attendant and made a gesture for the both men to sit down as he tried to calm Feliks down.
Said Toris, before sitting down next to Feliks and taking his small hand within his’. Arthur nodded and wiped the sweat from his forehead. This whole situation was stressful enough. Feliks’ eyes were wide open, his mouth was agape and he was not moving, only trembling.
“Feliks, please, calm down. Everything will be all right”
In the cockpit, Farah was threatening Captain Bonnefoy with his gun and Gupta with his hand grenade.
“I’ll take you anywhere you want to go, but tell your friend to put that pin back into that hand grenade”
The hijackers didn’t understand a word of what he had said, so they brought Arthur in forcefully to the cockpit to translate to them in his poor Arabic knowledge. Francis sighed and explained to Arthur what he had told Farah before.
“Tell him to put that pin in the hand grenade or will all die”
Arthur nodded and addressed Gupta, who was looking at him with a dark expression in his face. Farah was keeping a close eye in the pilots, pointing her gun at them.
“Please... the bomb, put it back...”
He tried to say, but he was very nervous and was tripping over his words, but apparently the hijacker seemed to understand, and he put the safe back in the grenade, making everyone in the cockpit sigh with relief.
“Now, fly to Beirut!”
Farah demanded, to which Francis looked at Arthur waiting for his translation.
“T-They want us to fly to Beirut”
Francis sighed and changed heading in the auto-pilot. By that time, the aircraft and the 180 people on board were doomed for disaster.