Rating: PG - Gen
Spoilers: General (for all aired episodes)
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: Sam takes a flight in a small airplane to gain a little overhead perspective...
The brightly lit room of tables sort of reminded Sam of a truck stop.
The usual vending equipment with day old sandwiches and soda machines lined the hall by the entryway. A cluttered bulletin board had notices and For Sale ads all over its well worn cork. The white linoleum floors and scent of coffee was the familiar territory of the blue collar professional. Though he’d never quite equated aviation with the type, there was a similar practical atmosphere of casually dressed men speaking in low voices about routes and traffic hang ups. Stern discussions on questionable oil levels and various prices for fuel. Hushed disputes over new federal regulations. Some laughter over unfair scheduling practices.
But that was where the resemblance to a big rig load station ended.
The maps here didn’t have many roads on them. In fact, they weren’t called maps. Sam overheard the folded paper referred to as a 'sectional' and in place of a chain, all the keys came with a clipboard and check lists. Instead of a football game, the television bolted up on the wall had the weather channel permanently playing on a low volume. A few dozen flat screen computers on a table nearby had a more dramatic layered grid of what projected in much simpler terms on the overhead screen. Green blobs and lots of code that Sam for once had absolutely no clue at even how to begin deciphering. The spread sectional on the table before him held color coded compass roses and a tangle of symbols all in a language he’d never seen.
Sam shifted uncomfortably in his chair while he listened to the man seated across from them say things about nautical miles of visibility, low density altitude and their mean sea level. Exchanging a brief look with his brother, he felt a measure of sympathy for Dean’s blatant unease that he’d never had before.
“You boys aren’t gonna get to see much.”
Although the tiny general aviation airport boasted airplane rental they obviously didn’t get many sightseers walking in through the front doors.
“That’s okay.” Sam assured the pilot on hand. “Just always wanted to try it.”
“Yup.” Dean added when the man still appeared doubtful. “Only got a day left before school starts anyhow.”
Sam was unprepared when the guy asked for his weight.
However, it made perfect sense that flesh and bone equated to added cargo in a machine that depended on a fine degree of balance to move properly through the air. When it came Dean’s turn to divulge this odd bit of personal information Sam could see the gears move quickly and efficiently through his brother’s head. It wasn’t a huge shock when Dean announced that he was about fifty pounds heavier than he actually was. The pilot looked at him twice before reluctantly scribbling the implausible figure down into the equation under his hand. Sam appreciated how swiftly the math came to the guy, the exercise obviously something he’d done so many times that there was barely an effort.
As his brother had already figured out, the laws of physics were unbreakable. The combined three of them would not be able to make a trip in the small plane that had been hired.
Dean grinned in defeat and patted Sam enthusiastically on the shoulder.
Sam was silently grateful for the pilot’s quiet dismissal of the obvious. He had been looking forward to the experience of Dean in a single engine aircraft about as much as a kick to the head. Leaving his brother to a pile of magazines and a decent looking couch, he followed the man out the glass doors that were buzzed open by a distracted woman behind the dispatch counter.
Deep winter in Florida felt like a cold spring just about everywhere else.
He’d never been out on a tarmac before. Not this close to the runways among the small craft he usually spied from the seat of an airliner. It had an oddly subdued quiet for a gigantic wide open space meant for the passage of massive machinery. Midnight was apparently not a hugely popular time for the only carrier that used the tiny terminal on the opposite runway.
Waiting uncertainly as the pilot walked around their ride to pull loose the thick ropes under its wings, Sam wandered closer to the nearby taxiway. The soft glow of lights on its border was radiating so much heat he could feel it from several feet away. Their cool blue color never seemed like it could be associated with blazingly high temperature. The pilot noticed him holding his hand over the knee high gauzy radiance of the large bulb.
“Had one made into a lamp once.” The guy flashed a smile. “Left it on one night and damn near burned my house down.”
Sam watched the seat be cranked back as far as it could go before he climbed in after him. The extreme close quarters were quickly made closer when the guy leaned over his lap without any shyness about personal space and firmly slammed the one and only door shut. The radio sizzled to life. A low whine of the alternator clicked with static over the headset as Sam’s muffled silence suddenly filled with the invisible steady chatter of miles of surrounding airspace. The snug headphones didn’t do much to cut out the tremendous roar of the horizontally opposed engine. Sam let his fingers brush the vibrating control panel, thinking of the considerable power churning behind a firewall a mere few inches beyond his knees.
Something about the blur of the propeller made him much more keenly aware about the sum of the mechanical at work. There would be no shoulder to pull over onto if just one small thing decided to go wrong. The engine got impossibly louder after the exchange with the sleepy ground control told them it was their turn. Lurching down the broad centerline felt no faster than doing the usual violation of the speed limit. It was slightly amazed at how little was required to get off the ground. Some imperceptible back pressure on the controls and he felt the tires lift off the uneven asphalt.
Then just like that, they were on their way.
Unlike the jets he was accustomed to, the ascent was a slow one. The crowded coastline slowly became a glittering knife edge against the stark blackness of the ocean. On the other side of the meandering curve of the thruway, the nearly uninhabited interior of the Sunshine State mirrored the same.
The man’s voice crackled over the headset.
“Cape Canaveral is right up that way.” The guy causally pointed to a spot that just looked like a whole lot more of indistinguishable lights. “Too bad you aren’t in town for a shuttle night launch.”
Obviously liking the rare chance to play tour guide, the man gestured in the opposite direction and started mentioning anything else worth of note. Famous beaches. An Air force base that babysat the space program. Other landmarks and smaller interests. Sam could only nod and pretend he could pick out anything at all in the uniform lattice of sodium street lights that glittered sickly gold. He felt vaguely proud of himself for even being able to spot the airport they had just left. But this wasn’t what he was up here for. The sights he wanted to see were further west and weren’t of any common tourist interest at all.
The pilot seemed to sense his lack of curiosity.
“Hey?” He tentatively asked. “You heard about all those fires? On the news?”
Sam quickly nodded. He had been debating exactly how he was going to try to move the tour out over into the pure void that stretched outside the sparkle of the metropolis.
The man appeared a little embarrassed. The mediocre local highlights of a small community weren’t much to show off but it was all he had and the ride paid for wasn’t a short one.
“I can show you them if ya want?” He offered.
Hesitant to use the intercom, Sam made a thumbs up. Too relieved that the unlikely request to see some brush fires wouldn’t have to be asked, he didn’t care if the antiquated flyboy gesture made him look like some asshole.
The pilot gave a smile again and adjusted the throttle before twisting the yoke.
Sam tensed when the entire horizon suddenly shifted smoothly and completely onto its side, his view of the ground tipping straight down the wing's edge to the neat city grid. With no armrests, his hands used his knees to grip instead. The signs of civilization below quickly vanished. The town passed out from underneath them and the blank interior of the state began to unfold as far as Sam could see. If he had been asked he wouldn’t have known earth from water unanchored here in the dim red glow of the instrument panel and the steady wink of the strobes on the tips of the wings.
They made another steep turn.
Extraordinarily enough, the plan had all been Dean’s idea. Wondering how they were going to get the lay of the land not marked on an atlas hadn’t yielded many options. But what lay indistinguishable during the day was plainly seen by night. Electricity made the sea of jungle forest into beacons of widely spaced towns, headlights on roads and concealed isolated ranches. However, modern day necessities aside, ground fires would be as simple to see as a candle in a cave.
Especially the big ones that started way out past the unlit city limits. Most especially the ones that the forestry service weren’t used to handling during this season. There had been rumors that the burn sites were almost starting to make a pattern. The pilots that worked this patch of airspace noticed it first actually. Guys like them usually did. The confounding appearance of crop circles. Colossal hidden ruins buried under a tangle of jungle. Sprawling geoglyphs that formed enormous ancient pictures across the desert floor. All throughout the latest mobile century, flyers had been the first to notice from the air what couldn’t be seen even if you were standing right on top of it on terra firma.
What these men didn’t know was that Sam had seen a pattern like this before. But instead of over miles of scorched forest, he’d seen hints of its shape neatly transcribed in the very back pages of his father’s journal.
Slipping out the notebook in his jacket, he started sketching down what he could see below. The sporadic seemingly random patches of fire that were slowly consuming the land took form under his pencil. It didn’t take long to catalogue the atypical shapes and suspect arc of their distances. But those details would be studied later with his books and computer to do the rest. Tapping his pencil on paper, he could see no other points on the land spread flat in every mile that required inclusion.
Tomorrow they’d drive the car to the sites that sat unseen far off the designated road ways. Sam sighed at the thought of the tires working in the loose white sand that furrowed the dirt paths down through the jumbled undergrowth. Glancing back at the position of the nicely lit freeway with their current location, he sat back and relaxed a little bit. The hunt was a worry for when the sun came up. For now, the task was done.
His gaze was drawn back to the mesmerizing landscape.
Sam knew the state saw its share of daily brush fires but seeing them from the air at night was dramatically different. From just a few hundred feet above, the dull orange glow didn’t seem all that harmless as the thin trails of smoke did from the far-off level perspective of the highway. Almost as soon as he thought of it, the scent rushed in through the air vents, the heavy smell of burning wood flooding the small cabin’s space. They started a slow circle around the largest of the blaze. The flicker of flames under the wing filled up his entire window with its soundless roar. What would be a few traces of haze in the daylight was raging through the dark unchecked as the brittle acres of pine trees settled slowly into dying red embers.
Sam spoke, hearing his own voice coming through over the intercom like he was somewhere else entirely.
“Ever read Dante’s Inferno?”
The pilot laughed, a soft breathy sound on the mic.
“Once or twice.”
Looking down at the chaotic illumination’s center, his gaze went to the surrounding shadow of woods. Other small fires were smoldering all around the deepest concentration, tiny and scattered. From way up here it looked like hundreds of people standing alone out in the middle of nowhere holding dim wavering lanterns.
Sam smiled a little to himself.
There was always a danger in finding design in nature. One man’s mystical find of a yin and yang carved by water into a rock might be the shape of a cosmic Coca-Cola ad for others. Their father had always warned them about seeing what wasn’t there just because you wanted so badly for anything at all. His gaze wandered to the folded map the pilot used. There was a comfort knowing that some lexicons were nothing but pure science. The icons of technology were closed off from fearful interpretation and irrefutable as the 360 spikes off the compass. Fixed and still, they were nothing but a straightforward idiom to keep the souls that traversed the atmosphere out of harm's way.
The throttle went forward as they began a steep spiral to gain altitude. Sam watched his dipped wing abruptly slice upwards for the maneuver.
Wisps of a cloud layer whipped past as brief and white as ghosts. As soon as they cleared them an enormous purple sky was suddenly revealed. Out over the vast nothing and thousands of feet closer to outer space provided a startling clarity. What had always appeared to be a faint splatter of stars wasn’t what could be seen all the way up here. Without the light pollution of the coastline, every twinkling sun and planet seemed close enough to touch. There were no spaces between the pinpoints, only shades of intensity, crowded and packed up across the heaven’s span. The plane leveled out again making the shimmering liquid dots of city light below almost as brilliant.
Sam didn’t know what this guy had been talking about when he had cautioned about the possible waste of a chunk of change. In fact, he wished Dean hadn’t figured out a way to avoid it.
It was one hell of a view.
This was incredibly difficult to write from an outside POV. Leaving out check lists and minute details was freakin’ killin’ me!1!!
Random Fun Fact: I’m a private pilot. (That means I have a private pilot’s certificate (aka license) not that I coolly privately fly people around like a cool Bond Girl. But if you ever wanna go up, let me know, I can take passengers if no money is exchanged? XD)