Chapter 1: Shay's on a Plane

Dr. Richard Oswald Shay, PhD. I'm fresh out of med school and just started an internship at Lotek University Hospital. Despite taking on a double-major triple-minor, I had little trouble achieving my 4.0 average. Now I'm on my way to talk with a research investor about possible research projects at Lotek.

Honestly, I know the ideas I've been sent with are lame. My boss is a total technophobe, so all the worthwhile and interesting ideas are rejected. I think a lot more can be done for overall human health with the help of cutting edge computer technology than is yet known.

Two interns were sent. Me and February Springs. If it weren't against hospital rules, I might ask Feb out. She's smart, beautiful and we seem to have a lot in common. I have to ignore all that though, for as long as we both work at Lotek.

The flight is boring. There's no in-flight movie, and the only food we get are little packs of peanuts and cans of soda. I already drank my soda. I'm not exactly hungry, nor am I feeling sick to any degree, but I'm very bored. So bored, in fact, that eating these peanuts becomes a worthwhile endeavor.

Honestly, I've never had peanuts before. I'm kinda curious about them, even if it's a sort of boredness induced curiosity. I normally don't think twice about this sorta thing.

I open the package and find two peanuts inside it. I pick one up at look at it. It's small and roundish. It looks very plain and boring. I toss the nut into my mouth to eat it, but my aim is slightly off. The peanut lodges itself into my throat.

Out of soda, I leap from my seat and head for the front of the plane holding my neck with my hand and coughing. The sodas are stored up there. I quickly reach in and pull out a Diet Snakola. I hate diet, but that's not important at the moment. While the flight attendant is calmly trying to tell me to get to my seat, I open the soda and pour it's contents mostly into my mouth. In my haste, I wind up getting soda everywhere, but I've lubricated the nut enough that my coughing finally moves it out of my throat.

Running and aircraft also have a tendency to make one feel nauseous, and quickly drinking a can of soda doesn't exactly help for that. So, nauseous as I am, I calm down, tell the flight attendant, "I'm fine. I apologize for any trouble. I was choking on a peanut and needed the soda immediately."

"That's quite all right.", she said with a standard public relations smile, "I'll take care of the mess, you just return to your seat, OK?"

I lift my foot to take a step toward my seat and quickly slip on the soda spilled on the floor. As I spin backward, I get a bit more nauseous and reach out with my arms for something to grab on to. My hand found something alright, the door handle.

As I finished falling, pulling the lever to open the door, I saw the flight attendant's eyes suddenly fill with fear as she reached for a convenient handle to grab on to that was against the opposite wall. For a second, I wondered why she looked so scared, as I had no idea what I had grabbed. But my question was answered the second the door flung open.

The air pressure inside the plane is higher than that outside, as the air is thinner. So, to equalize the pressure, air flows out of the plane very quickly. Being so close to the door, this includes me. The only other person close enough to be in any danger, since it only lasts a second or two, is the flight attendant, who grabbed that handle so she wouldn't be sucked out. With the decrease in pressure, it should be harder to breathe because the oxygen is thinner. The people on board the plane have access to oxygen masks though, which takes care of that problem. Once the air pressure reaches the same value as that outside the plane, the door is no longer being held open by wind flowing through the doorway, so the forward motion of the plane slams it shut because that's now the strongest direction of wind against the plane door.

So, everyone in the plane is safe. I, however, just fell out of a plane. That's not safe at all. At the acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared, I'll reach too great a velocity for my skeletal structure to withstand the force of impact. I can change my angle slightly, but the change that would make to the overall force of impact is negligible. I would have to fall at a nearly parallel angle to the ground.

Hmm, nearly parallel to the ground is not always the same as nearly prependicular to the direction of gravity. I'm coincidentally over a very mountainous region. What if I aimed for a sloped mountainside? The ground would be nearly perpendicular, almost like a cliff. I could land slowly. This would mean that I'd be landing and falling at the same time for a while, but I might survive. The odds aren't at all favorable, but it's better than a sure death.

I look around and see a nice mountainside that might work. It looks to be made of reletively fresh igneous rock, so the slope is very smooth. This was probably a volcano that errupted within the past three years, so it might still be active, but the chances of it errupting on a given day, like today are slim.

I'm nearly there, bracing for impact, and just before I touch, I start moving my feet like I'm running straight down. It's best if my legs recieve whatever impact I recieve, as my head and torso contain things very important to my survival and my hands are essential for my work.

Though I've started to slow down a bit, I'm still going at a speed that could easily prove deadly. I'm relying on this mountain to have achieved a nearly geometricly perfect curve, which I'm not sure is possible, even with freshly cooled rock that was recently liquid and has had barely any time for errosion.

Sure enough, a large rock under my foot breaks loose and causes me to trip backwards. Luckily, I don't fall off the rock. The force of my motion has been transferred to this rock, so it is now moving at the speed I was. I am essentially surfing down the side of a volcanic mountain.

Surfboards were invented by Hawaiins long ago for this purpose. They would surf down the side of the volcano to settle land disputes, while onlookers placed bets on who would win. Surfboards have gained a far safer recreational use since then.

Since I'd rather not cut against the wind too much, because I want to stay on this makeshift surfboard, I stand up and assume the standard surfing pose. Looking down at the rock, I realize that it's a bit newer than the others. It's probably from where an offshoot was that wound up cooling last. It's sort of like a second eruption point that branches off from the first one. This second eruption point might have been hot more recently, so that small portion of the rock wall probably melted and resolidified, without a full blown eruption.

However, it worries me that this is the rock I disturbed. It's recent enough that it might have had hot magma not too far below it. In moving this rock, I may have caused other rocks to move and pressures to shift. That sulfuric smell doesn't give me much hope either. I haven't yet finished escaping death my first time, and I really don't need the stress of trying to escape two kinds of death.

It begins to become unbearably hot. Looking down, I see molten lava begin to surround my rock. This is bad for many reasons. The lava decreases the rock's friction, and therefore the speed at which my descent slows. The lava will also melt the rock, like an ice cube in water, and eventually burn me to ash once I've no more rock to stand on. On the bright side though, the wind must be going in the opposite direction I am, because I'm still able to breathe.

The air is cold enough to chill the rock if I'm able to get it out of the lava for brief periods. It's like melting an ice cube in hot water in a freezer. I just need some technique for causing the rock to pop up, out of the lava. In addition, I need the lava to not splash or touch the top of the rock on landing back in it. At this high speed, that's no easy task.

I see some bumps up ahead. These will certainly be melted soon, but a slight angling as I go over them could give me a bit of air, chilling my rock a bit. While in air, I lean back a bit so the lava that splashes is behind the board, and doesn't hit me as it falls. Also, by keeping the front of the board up, I keep it from going under.

After a while, the rock becomes longer and smoother with a more angled front. This is because of the effect of partially-melting and solidifying it while moving at this speed. It becomes more surfboard shaped and easier to handle.

After a while, I figure out how to use an abrupt change of angle to make the board hop a bit without any stray bumps. This is especially good because I stop seeing such bumps.

Eventually, I pass the lava, as it slows down while it cools. I also reach the base of the mountain. I'm still travelling fast, but fortunately I'm perpendicular to gravity, so I should slow down to a safe speed to stop at relatively soon. Unfortunatly, I seem to go over a nearby cliff.

On the other side of the cliff, the wall I'll certainly be hitting soon, is a building rather than rock. This is one of those buildings with all window walls. Assuming I don't hit between floors, I should bust through the wall, into the building, and be escorted out by security, so I can seek a hospital to tend to the glass wounds.

I realize, however, that I'm headed straight for a barrier between floors. By jumping off the board mid-air, I'm able to crash through the floor above and land safely on a meeting table, in the middle of some important meeting, while my board goes to the floor below.

I've finally stopped moving, I'm really nausious and everything's kinda blurry, but I think I see Feb and hear her calling my name. After I adjust to the lack of motion and eject the contents of my stomach, I realize that Feb really IS there, and she's asking if I'm alright.

"Oh, I'm great.", I tell her, "I just survived choking on a nut, falling out of a plane, and a volcanic eruption. After I get these shards of glass out of my skin, I should probably sleep for a while. Did I miss the meeting? I remember our schedule was kinda tight."

Feb giggles a bit before responding, "You missed most of it. If you want to catch the last few minutes your seat is over here." February points at the empty chair next to where she was seated.

"Oh!" I jump, startled to realize that I've crashed into the very meeting I was on my way to get to. As I go to my seat, I realize that I've made quite an impression, though certainly not the one I was supposed to make.

The obviously important fellow at the head of the table begins to speak, "Ah-hem. As I started to say before the interruption: Based on the research ideas you've suggested, we don't feel that you're hospital has it's priorities in order to do any worthwhile research. And I'm not gonna make my decision out of sympathy for a tall tale by someone who arrives late to a meeting and smashes my window in the process! Unless he has something great to suggest, I'm afraid I'm not putting any money into research at Lotek."

"Hmm...", I begin, "I'll agree with you that the ideas we were sent here with are a bit stale. They lack the edge of newer technology. I, however, have a few ideas of my own."

"Go on...", the important looking man encourages.

"Are you familiar with catepillar cocoons?"

"You're kidding me, right?"

"They allow the catepillar to undergo a drastic physiological change in a relatively short time, based on their DNA. I believe that with further research, we could create a sort of cocoon for humans that would heal them based on their own DNA. And as we all know, DNA based medicine is the way of the future!"

"Hmm... That IS kinda interesting... But it's a stretch, don't you think?"

"Not at all! It's currently theorized that living things have the traits of many other living things hidden in their DNA. This explains why we see gills and other non-human qualities in human fetuses. By isolating this in catepillars, we might be able to find it in human DNA and simply activate it."

"It's better than anything else I've heard today... Fine, I'll fund it. I need to put that money SOMEWHERE or I don't get any tax break. Just know, I'm a bit reluctant on this decision."

"That's understood, sir."

"The meeting's over, you can all leave now."

Everyone gets up from their seats. Feb immediately looks at me and says "You know our boss won't accept that project!"

"He doesn't have to. He just has to accept the money. You know full well who'll be doing the actual research."

"Yeah, he always puts everything on Jim. Poor old Jim... I'd retire if I was treated like that at work at that age!"

"By the way, did you happen to notice a hospital on the way in, Feb?"

"Oh, sure, it's nearby. I'll help you along a bit."


When Rick and I boarded the plane, I was dissapointed to find that there were no pairs of seats together. We had to sit apart. I sat behind him a bit. I kept looking over at him. I guess I was almost staring

When I saw him begin to choke on his packet of "Just Plane Nuts", I jumped to my feet. I ran to him with the water I ordered, but he was faster than me and reached the front of the plane by the time I had reached his seat. In my haste, I spilled water all over myself and his seat.

As his hand hit the door handle, before it even opened, my mind just screamed a piercing "NOOO!". I stood there, frozen, barely able to grasp what had just occured. I became very dizzy, and felt ill. I sat down slowly in his seat and cried quietly to myself the rest of the way there.

I saw him in my chemistry class in my first year at Lotek. He was so handsome. We were partnered for the lab portion of the course, and I had some trouble speaking to him in anything more than a near-whisper. I figured he wouldn't ever be caught talking to me if I wasn't his lab partner. It was an easy A, because Rick found everything to be so easy. He always knew what to do and why it worked. My penmanship was better, so I wrote up the reports.

I took more classes with him and we became friends. I didn't talk much; I mostly just listened to him. He always had something really smart or witty to say. It always seemed like there was nothing he didn't know. On top of all that he was always quick with a nerdy joke.

I never quite got up the nerve to tell him how I felt about him. I didn't want to scare him off or anything, so I settled for just being a good friend. And now... Now he's just gone...

I still had a job to do, so I cleaned myself up a bit in the Airport's bathroom before heading to the meeting. I tried my best to concentrate on what I had to talk about, but it was very difficult. I didn't really expect to do any talking. I was just gonna leave it up to Rick because I know anyone would listen to what he has to say. As I talk, they just keep picking apart the ideas, explaining how they're not very innovative and finding flaws in the theories. I was too unfamiliar with the material and already having trouble thinking so I got very flustered. I felt so embarrassed and just wanted to melt onto the floor and seep out the door unnoticed. I began to stutter and mumble as I tried going from one idea I was sent with to the next. I'm pretty that sure I was shaking.

When Rick crashed into the meeting though, I just couldn't believe it. It took everything I had not to jump at him and hug him as tightly as I could. I didn't have any clue how, but I was sure he used that big brain of his to survive the landing.

Chapter 2: Return of the Shay ->


Copyright 2006 Sean Breslin