With only two days left, Jason sprung into action. He drove to Charlie Parker's in Winchester, asked Charlie's advice, and picked up supplies at a local AutoZone. The last few miles on his return he opened her up and straightened a few curves. Finally, doing about 110 with a 30 mph curve sign vibrating in his face, he hit the brakes hard and almost lost it in the trees. "Stupid." He said to himself, as his heart came up in his throat and he fought the wheel to keep control. He drove sensibly the rest of the way home. When he returned to the cabin, his gas gauge read near empty. That was okay. He was going to drain the gas tank anyway.
He wasted no time, driving Betsy directly into the shed. The wood blocks that Uncle Jim had used were still there, so all he had to do was jack her up on all four corners and place the blocks underneath. Crawling underneath, he drained the remaining gasoline into a pan and then poured it into one of the large red steel cans that they always kept at the cabin for a reserve. He had been using Mobil 1 synthetic oil, so he decided to leave that in the crankcase. Opening the hood, he removed all the spark plugs, cleaned them and put them in a box on a shelf for safekeeping. He removed the battery and placed it on a shelf near a charger that he could use to recharge it, if possible, in the future. Through the spark plug holes, he filled all the cylinders with Mobil 1. Charlie had given him some old spark plugs. He screwed them back in to keep moisture from entering and getting in the oil in the cylinders. Finally, he took a grease gun and greased all the joints that had zerts on the car.
He applied heavy grease to the battery cable ends, and all the spark plug wire connections after plugging them back into the old plugs. He applied a coating of grease to any part in the engine compartment that looked like it might rust. He sprayed the rest with a silicone spray designed to protect surfaces from corrosion. Covering the engine with a large towel to keep dust off, he closed the hood lid for the last time. Removing the wheels one at a time, he hung them on the wall on the same nails that his Uncle Jim had used so many years before. Finally, he went to the trunk and took out the car cover that his father had given him last Christmas and carefully covered the car with it.
As he closed the door to the shed, his sadness returned and he couldn't help but cry. There was something about leaving that car and made him feel that he was losing yet another part of his former life. He dried his tears before he left, not wanting his grandmother to see them.
Back in the cabin, he packed his duffel bag according to his military instructions, checked his bus tickets, and joined Grandma Gail for his last evening with her. She had been going all out––cooking all day,––to make his last evening as pleasant as possible. "You know, Jason. This should be easy for me; I've done it so many times before when your grandfather and uncle left to go off on military tours. But it's not." She stopped cutting onions and cried in spite of them. "You are so young and have so much to look forward to. I am old and face only loneliness when you are gone." She was sobbing now and Jason came to her, hugged her, and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.
"I'll try to get messages through to you if they allow me. Even if I have to defy orders."
"Not unless you're willing to go the to the brig for it. Your grandfather did that when he was young and foolish. You don't need to make that mistake." Back in her usual mood, Grandma Gail had recovered quickly from her latest anxiety attack. No use worrying. Jason got the grill going and she served him a tossed salad, baked Idaho potato, and the best venison steak she could find in the freezer. She topped it off with green apple pie a la mode.
That evening, she made him some popcorn and they looked at old military pictures from World War II and Vietnam. They cranked up the old Victor Victrola and played the World War I songs that made her cry. “When Johnny come marching home again… Hurrah! Hurrah!” By 9pm she was shooing him off to bed.
Jason couldn't sleep. Thoughts of his upcoming trip to Leonard Wood, mixed with terrible dreams of the tragedy mocked him. It was only after he forced himself to think of Shauna and Elizabeth and masturbated that he dropped off to sleep.
"Wake up! Wake up! It's 4am. George is here!"
Grandma Gail's call jarred him out of bed. It seemed like he just got to sleep. Dressing quickly with the clothes he had laid out, he grabbed his duffel and headed for the kitchen. George, looking very cheerful for so early, was sipping a hot cup of coffee. "Ready to go, boy?" He questioned.
"I think so, George. Let me get washed up and brush my teeth first. Grandma, could you pour me a cup of coffee? I'll have to catch something to eat at the bus station in town before I leave. Excuse me."
In five minutes he'd washed the sleep out of his eyes, brushed his teeth, dabbed a little deodorant under his arms and combed his hair. When he came out of the bathroom, Grandma Gail handed him a big Styrofoam cup of coffee for the road. He put it down, hugged his grandma for the last time, tears streaming from their eyes, and followed George to his car in the cool, damp morning air. He threw his bag in the back seat and slid onto the too soft cloth covering of the front seat to buckle up. When Jason looked for his seat and chest belt, he found none. George turned up the radio playing classic country hits, put her in drive, and they crunched their way out on the rocky drive to Pfeifer Road.
Jason rolled the window down and waved back at Grandma Gail standing in the light on the porch. She was still standing there, waving, until they passed the first bend and she was out of sight. It was foggy––the kind of dense fog that comes up in the mountains in the early morning. George drove on through it like it wasn't there. He knew every bend in the road. Jason found himself putting his left hand on the glove box door and pushing his right elbow into the door rest. His right foot pressing on the floorboard as if it were pressing on a brake, hanging on for dear life while his coffee slopped around in the cup in his right hand. The old car was smooth but soft––in need of shocks. It careened around the curves like a sailboat at tack, tires squealing protest. An hour and many foggy, scary curves later, they arrived in Winchester, 15 minutes before the bus. Jason thanked George, handed him 20 bucks for gas, and walked into the station. He got an Egg McMuffin from the McDonald's vendor inside and another cup of coffee. The bus was late, so he had time to eat his breakfast slowly, sip his coffee and look out of the grimy windows at the few cars and trucks passing on Interstate 81. He had never been on a Greyhound in his life. It all seemed so seedy, like a movie. The bomb hadn’t changed things in the country.
The bus arrived and was gone in 10 minutes. Jason settled into a seat near the back of the near empty coach and finished his coffee. They were headed for Hagerstown. In five minutes, he was asleep.
"Hagerstown Station! Transfers to Cumberland, Bedford, and Fredricksburg here!" The bus driver announced. Once again, that morning, Jason was jarred awake. The penetrating light of dawn was streaming through the windows. Passengers were getting up and exiting the bus. After a two-hour wait and thorough security check, Jason was back on the bus again, this time headed for Bedford and Pittsburgh beyond. The rolling hills, rocky outcroppings, and scrub cedar of the rugged Maryland countryside gave way to larger farms, and finally, heavily wooded stretches in rolling mountains as the Pennsylvania Turnpike took him through tunnels and river valleys toward Pittsburgh.
Somewhere before they got to Monesson, just after they left the Turnpike, the bus slowed and Jason saw a long line of traffic pulling off at a truck weigh station. Gradually, they made their way to a National Guard checkpoint. Everyone was ordered off the bus, asked questions about their travel and destination and searched with metal detecting wands. Dogs went through the luggage to check for drugs and explosives. Once the guardsmen knew that Jason was going to basic training, they lightened up and joked with him. “Give ‘em hell, soldier!” Soon, the bus was on its way again. Checkpoints had become a routine part of American life. Jason thought of old movies he’d seen of Eastern European communist countries. What had become of us?
Jason wanted to see Pittsburgh, but I-70 ran thirty miles south, through Washington, PA and downhill, until he could look down on to the Wheeling bridge crossing the Ohio River. His family had always flown to various destinations on outings and holidays. It was new for him to see the country this way. It was bigger, and less populated, than he expected.
By late afternoon, the bus arrived in Columbus. Much flatter than Pennsylvania, Ohio farms were large and filled with growing crops in neat, straight rows, stretching out as far as the eye could see. Here, he rode west on Interstate 70 to Dayton and Indianapolis and beyond. It was getting dark now, but he learned quickly how to grab a bite to eat or use the restroom in the brief stops or transfers. After it got dark, he tried to read for a while from a book he got about Surviving Basic Training on the Internet, but soon fell asleep. He woke briefly as they crossed the Mississippi at St. Louis, seeing the Gateway Arch lit up by spotlights in the night. Later, from the station, he walked a few blocks south to get a better look at it.
His orders were to report to St. Louis University Hospital for his physical. Medical personnel in Virginia were just too pressed with casualties to do induction physicals. It was after midnight, and Jason had no desire to go back to the station, so he wandered around the city and took in the sights. Twice, police stopped him and asked him why he was out after midnight. After he told them who he was and showed them his orders, they let him go with the admonishment that there was a curfew and he should find shelter until morning. Finally, just as the dawn broke, he arrived at University Hospital. The clinic wasn't accepting appointments until 8am, so he found the hospital cafeteria and had something to eat. Later, he woke up in a waiting room chair in the clinic with people around him. A bit embarrassed, he went to the restroom and cleaned up. When he came out, he found that the room was full of other young people, like himself, who were there for the military physical. Because he was late to sign in, he didn't get in until noon.
The physical was much more relaxed than say, his Uncle Jim had faced. His contract said that he could still serve if he had heart trouble, diabetes, vision or hearing impairments, along with the number of other conditions and diseases, as long as they were contained or corrected. The Corps wasn't interested in its soldiers being in top physical condition. Rather, intellect and the ability to survive psychologically for 20 years in the field were far more important. As far as he knew, Jason passed all the physical and mental tests they gave him. Finally, about 5pm, he was called in to see the doctor for his final workup.
The young doctor wasted no time in getting down to business. "Let's see now, Jason Forsythe, mustering in at Fort Leonard Wood. All your tests appear to be nominal except for one. Who have you been having sex with?
"Ah, Ah, I..."
"Your blood test shows that you have gonorrhea. We'll give you a shot to take care of that. It's a good thing that you don't have herpes or HIV. Herpes will stay with you the rest your life, and you know what HIV does. What were you thinking––having unprotected sex? A prostitute before you shipped out?
"No, no. I had sex with two girls. Both of them just mistakes, I guess. I don't really know either one, except that they come from good backgrounds and the sex was a result of the tragedy we faced in DC. I can't believe that either one of them would have gonorrhea. Do you want me to try to contact them?" He kept shaking his head in disbelief.
"No, I'm just trying to scare you into getting your priorities straight. Don't go around sticking your thing in every available hole. It's a dangerous world out there. Do you get my point?
"I sure do. Thanks for letting me know. I won't do that again."
"Good. Aside from that, you're free to go on to Leonard Wood."
Jason left the hospital and walked to the bus station. It gave him time to think. It had to be Elizabeth. She bragged about having unprotected sex with "virgins." How wrong she was. He wanted to call her and warn her. Since his orders told them to leave his cell phone at home, he didn't have it. He got to a pay phone at the bus station and called directory assistance for the number of Matthews and Forrester. When he called, he got a message saying that the office was closed. It was 7:30pm Eastern time. It would have to wait until the next day. He got on the next bus for Springfield. He slept badly as the bus rolled through the night. It was morning when he arrived at Leonard Wood.
There was a shuttle bus waiting at the station. Twelve young men and women got on. Jason noticed the fear of anticipation in their eyes. Only two or three appeared to be enjoying their last bit of freedom. At 17, he was probably among the youngest. Most of them had that wizened resigned look underemployment puts on carefree young minds. This was not a picnic or amusement park ride. Still, they looked too young to be soldiers. Most of them had acted on impulse. They had graduated from high school with nothing but no plans for college and few job prospects. The bomb gave them purpose. They followed their buddies and joined up. The military, in all its history, had never seen such a willingness to serve. Jason tried to imagine what these fuzzy chinned boys would be like in six months, what these girls with belly rings, low rider hip huggers, and tattoos without their cell phones would become under army discipline? Thinking of his Uncle Jim--something better, he hoped. He didn't feel a part of them now. But he was still eager to meet them and make new friends. For now, everyone had grabbed an individual seat, and no one was talking to anyone else. Most were just too scared, trying not to show it.
"Your orders are in order, Mr. Forsythe. We are overcrowded with new recruits, so you'll be assigned to tent Platoon 38. I'm sure you will enjoy the fresh air and outdoor showers. Please wait over there by the 38 sign." There was a certain tired cynicism in the private that checked him in. Everything appeared to be on a first-come, first-served basis, because all twelve on his shuttle were assigned to Platoon 38.
While waiting, Jason decided to open a conversation with the guy sitting next to him. "Hi, I'm Jason Forsythe from Reston Virginia. Looks like there's no turning back now?" Jason stuck out his hand and the guy shook it.
"Lo. I'm Don Lund from Nekoosa, Wisconsin. We're known for our paper mills."
"That's a strange name. Yeah, I learned in school that Wisconsin had a lot of paper mills, but a lot of mercury in the Wisconsin River, too."
"It's Indian, I think. I'm an Eagle Scout and like to camp out. Also do a lot of fishing and hunting. We've got some big Northern and Musky in the Wisconsin River, but we can't eat them. I have a 43-incher mounted. My dad's got emphysema from working with dyes in the paper mills. They're closing down because of cheap paper from China. Have got to earn some money for my dad's medical bills. I'm good with guns, so I signed up."
"I come from the military family. They tell me back to the Revolutionary War. My uncle is a colonel in the Army. This is just my time to serve."
"Let's bunk together if we can. Okay?"
"Okay. But only if we reserve the bunk on the other side of me for that blonde over there." Jason whispered in Don's ear.
Don glanced over at the blonde, the only girl there in a short dress instead of jeans, and shook his head, Yes. "And I'll take that one over there." Be nodded his head toward a girl with braided hair, fiery eyes, and long bronze arms. The orbs of her breasts showing nicely above the chemise top she was wearing––no bra––abs showing as she played absently with the frilly chemise as if to fan her womanhood--or show those abs to the world.
Their discussion was interrupted when a sergeant came in and ordered them to get into the military bus waiting outside. They were driven to a large, gymnasium-like building, where they lined up for clothing. When Jason got to the counter the man said, "extra-large or small?"
Jason thought a minute. "Got any medium or large?"
"Nope, they're backordered. Don't have any boots, either. Too many recruits. What'll it be?"
Jason thought a minute. Didn't think that he would fit in anything small, so he said, "extra-large." He was glad that he was wearing sneakers. He noticed that some of the guys were wearing dress Oxfords. They would be hell to hike in. Once they got their clothes, the men were asked to go to one corner of the big hall where large video screens were constantly playing military commercials and crawls giving directions. The doorway led directly into a dressing room where they were asked to disrobe, pack their civies in their duffel and turn it in at a window where they got their dog tags. There was a large, group walk-through shower, separated for men and women. When they walked out the other end, they were examined, given shots, and asked to bend over. Since they were all naked, it was a bit humiliating. To add to the humiliation, they were given a quick military haircut. After that ordeal, they were allowed to return to the dressing room and put on their military clothes. Jason's hung like a bed sheet from his small frame. He had to roll up his pants and stuff them in his socks to keep them from falling down where he would step on the cuffs.
Leaving the dressing room, they were ushered to another large waiting room for orientation. The girls joined them again, and, while Don sat next to him, they saw their previously picked bedmates in a whole new light. The blonde had chosen extra-large and was still tripping over her pants rolled up to keep from tripping. The beautiful black girl had chosen small. Her pants where nearly splitting at the seams, and her shirt spread at taut buttons revealing her drab military issue bra. The blonde's bobbed hair was quite unattractive to her face and the black girl's braids had been pulled out into a short Afro. Jason thought about asking Don to switch wishes, but he decided not to say anything since so many people were listening. They just looked at each other and grinned.
A colonel came by and gave them a pep talk. The rest of the afternoon, they watched training films. Some were quite gory, Jason guessed in an effort to get those who were squeamish to quit now rather than go through basic and have problems on the battlefield. By that time they were all getting quite hungry. They were told to go to the mess hall at 16:00. It was a long walk past many barracks. There was a long line and they had to stand with their food until tables were vacated and cleared for them. Finally at about 17:00, they sat down to eat. Don, as usual by now, was right by Jason's side. Somehow, as if by magic, the blonde and the black girl were sitting opposite. With all the eyeballing that had been going on, they wasted no time in returning the favor. After they talked, Jason wasn't too impressed. The blonde, April, was a farm girl who seemed a bit dingy and the beautiful black girl, Rhonda, was brassy and loud, probably good staff sergeant material. Anyway, she was interesting to watch as she animatedly berated basic and everything around her, her boobs bursting to get out of her too-tight shirt.
They had to eat fast because so many were waiting to be seated. Fort Leonard Wood was clearly overcrowded. Jason wolfed down his food, overcooked and too salty. But it didn't bother him because he was so hungry. April barely touched hers. When they finished eating, they were given instruction on standing at attention out front of the mess hall until a bus came by to take them to their tents. The bus drove away from the area where the barracks were until they came to eighty tents near a wooded area. The bus pulled up in front of one with a huge wooden sign with 38 on it and stopped. Everyone was ordered out and asked to line up at attention in front of the tent in separate ranks of men and women. There was a roll call and the men were sent to one tent and the women to another. Jason and Don managed to find bunks next to each other. They were then shown how to keep their bunks for inspection and asked to read their manuals before lights out. Lights out came promptly at 21:00 hours. Jason was tired, so he had no trouble going to sleep. The openness of the tent to the night air suited him. Others, used to staying up all night or sleeping with their TVs on were not so fortunate.
Reveille was at 06:00. Jason nearly fell out of his bunk. They had 10 minutes to assemble in front of the tent. It began with stretching exercises, calisthenics, and running in place. It was cool in the morning, but by the time they finished the sun was beating down on them and they felt the heat. Basic training had begun.
Two weeks into their training, Jason had established himself as the leader of platoon 38. He excelled in firearms, and his daily walks on the mountain had prepared him for the long marches. He was well organized and handled his equipment well. He took orders with ease and exceeded the Drill Sergeant's expectations. He was tested––drill Sergeant Daniels was especially tough on him--making him do 100 one-hand push-ups if his lapel was not straight. Jason spit those100 push-ups out so fast, Daniels was amazed. The only thing he didn't like was firing the 50 caliber machine guns and howitzers. It was just too much firepower--blowing the enemy away behind cover, out of sight, or over the horizon using drones and lasers to target.
Don's hunting experience paid off and he became destined to be a sharpshooter for the Special Forces. April turned out to be a pretty tough cookie, especially after she was issued the right size clothes so that she could keep up physically with the men. Rhonda became sullen and belligerent, fighting the Drill Sergeant Danial’s orders. After she spent some time in the brig, she came around. Three weeks into basic, she was outdoing the men.
Chemical and biological training was tough for everyone. When Jason was exposed to gas, he almost lost it, but managed to get his gas mask back on before he passed out. Knowing Jason's toughness, the drillmaster had left it off too long. When Jason came out of the tent and took the mask off, he tossed both his breakfast and his trail lunch by the side of the tent and passed out again. He woke up in the field hospital with a beautiful Army nurse gazing him in the eyes.
"Recruit Forsythe, are you...?"
"I,... (cough)... I'm okay... Okay I think. God, that tastes terrible. There's, what's going..."
"It's okay. You're okay now. You got too big a dose of that agent they use for gas mask testing. The drillmaster has been reprimanded for not letting you put your mask on sooner. We gave you the antidote and you should be okay tomorrow. In the meantime, just rest here and I'll keep an eye on you, okay?"
"Okay, I'll keep an eye on you too." Jason joked. He tried to follow her as she left with his eyes, but his eyelids grew heavy and he was asleep again.
Jason dreamed he was in a foxhole, held down by heavy artillery fire crashing all around him. The foxhole was half filled with water and so muddy that he kept slipping back down when he tried. He could see gas coming like a fog, only it was yellowish green and glowed. He didn't have a gas mask and couldn't crawl out of the muddy foxhole. The yellow green gas got closer and closer. Finally, it reached him and he was scared. He could feel its fiery breath as it crept into his mouth, his throat, and his lungs. He screamed out in horror....
She was shaking him awake. "Wake up! Wake up! Recruit Forsythe, wake up!" The dream faded and she was looking into his eyes, her hands on his shoulders, kneeling over him. She smelled like cinnamon and her lips were parted with crimson outlining her bleached white teeth. Her eyes open wide in concern. "You had a nightmare. From the sound of you, a bad one. Are you okay? Do you hurt? Are your lungs burning?"
"No,... no, I (Jason cleared his throat) guess I could use some water." His throat felt scratchy and dry.
The nurse went to get some water. It seemed like the middle of the night. Jason sat up and swung his legs off the bed. All he had on was one of those little cotton printed shirts, open in the back, that they give you when they take x-rays. What happened to his clothes?
The nurse came with some water. It was a warm night and she had unbuttoned the top buttons on her dress. As she bent down to hand him the water, even in the dim light, he got a great view of her small breasts cupped nicely by a small black bra. To his surprise, she sat down next to him as he sipped the water to wash the foul aftertaste of gas from his mouth and throat. He could smell that cinnamon smell again and her warmth as she sat so close to him.
"You were really scared. I thought you were going to wake up the whole ward. What was it about?" She whispered.
"I was in a foxhole, half filled with water. Gas was floating in on me and I didn't have a gas mask. I couldn't climb out of the foxhole to escape it. I kept thinking I was my great grandfather in World War I."
"Your great grandfather was in World War I?"
"Yes, and members of my family have been in every war since the country began. I guess it is my destiny. It started with the big blast."
"You were in the bomb?"
"Well, not exactly. We were lucky to be far enough away. But I did hear and feel the blast, and it blew the windows out."
She was gripping him tightly now, her head nestled up against his chest. She looked up in his eyes in the dim light, inviting him. He leaned forward and kissed those crimson lips softly, so as not to disturb her lipstick. With his right hand he quickly opened two buttons and was gently releasing her budding breasts from the confines of that little black bra. She thrust her chest out, enjoying his attention for a bit, and kissed him again. And then, she reached out and grabbed his hand and stopped him.
"I can't." She whispered. "I'm on duty. We'd make too much noise. You've been through a lot, so I let you have a feel. If you want, I'll help you relieve yourself. But that's it, okay?"
"Okay." Jason whispered back. "I understand. The doctor told me not to mess around anyway." He smiled. Even in the dim light, she saw it.
Jason lay back down and swung his legs back up on the bed. The nurse began to straighten the sheet out to cover him, and when she did her hand lightly brushed his balls. It was a tantalizing feeling that made him hard almost instantly. Her hand meandered up and down and brushed him a few more times until it settled on his manhood and she began gently stroking him as she tickled his balls with the fingers on her other hand. He got harder than a rock and his tension built quickly until his sperm spewed heavily in an orgasm that took only a couple of minutes to come. She had deftly placed a small towel in the path of his sperm and soon had him wiped clean and the sheet covering him completely again. She reached for his hand and held it briefly. His groin was glowing and his thoughts were warm. He was asleep before she left his side.
Someone was shaking the bed. Jason woke to see an ugly, gnome-like woman standing over him in nursing clothes. "It's 05:30. You should be well enough now to join your platoon."
"Oh, she's with the night shift. Left at 4am. If you think you're going to get a little from me, you've got another thing coming, Sonny. Now get out of bed and get dressed."
His stomach still felt bad and he still had that taste of gas in his mouth, but he rolled out of bed, found his clothes in the locker and got dressed. Gaining his bearings, he jogged to his tent and made roll call at 06:00. Funny… but he kept thinking about how he might get injured so that he could spend a little more time in that field hospital.
Jason fell back into the drill. Learning how to use battle computers, clean and maintain equipment, and martial arts. The physical trials––the wall, the gauntlet, crawling in the mud under wire with live fire overhead, and the hikes––got longer and more difficult. The harder the trials got, the more he excelled. As their time in basic neared an end, his fellow recruits looked up to him and had nicknamed him, "Hardball," for the way that he stood up to the drill masters and took punishment.
Like a sponge, Jason absorbed it all. While the others took it was some nonchalance, Jason made sure that he understood what the drillmasters were teaching. Everything that he could learn now would be helpful for him in the future. Knowledge was power, and he needed all the power he could get. It was all over too quickly.
Jason congratulated Don on being selected for Special Forces training. "Thanks, Jason. I don't see your name on the roster. You're much better than me. How come they're not sending you to Special Forces with me? You going to Officer’s Candidate School?"
"Oh, Don. Don't worry. They've told me they have a special assignment for me so I won't see you in Special Forces training." They shook hands heartily. Jason knew he wouldn't see Don Lund again.
April, who turned out to be quite handy with machinery, joined the Tank Corps as a driver. Jason never doubted that if her tank failed in the field, she could fix it. Rhonda, who had gotten off to such of bad start in basic was tapped for Officers Candidate School. Jason was very proud of her as he hugged her and wished her well. Although they had all become great friends and buddies, he and Don's early expectations for bunkmates never realized. Jason knew that he wouldn’t see those girls again, either.
Jason's orders were unclear. Just that he was to report to headquarters at 17:00. When he arrived with his duffel, three others, two men and a woman were waiting. Soon, another man and two more women joined them. He recognized two of them as being his adversaries in war games. He didn't recognize the others. A bus pulled up and they got on. After a four hour drive, they arrived at Whiteman Air Force Base. The bus rolled directly to a waiting Hercules C-130. Everyone climbed aboard and strapped down. The plane took off.