TRANS AMERICA Airlines Flight Two was twenty minutes out of Lincoln International, and in a steady climb which would continue until reaching thirty-three thousand feet near Detroit, in eleven more minutes. Already the flight was on its airway and great circle course for Rome. For the past several minutes the aircraft had been in smooth air, the storm clouds and accompanying turbulence now far below. A three-quarter moon hung above and ahead like a lopsided lantern; all around, the stars were sharp and clear.
On the flight deck, initial pressures were over. Captain Harris had made a progress announcement to the passengers over the p.a. system. The three pilots were settling down to routines of their long flight.
Under the second officer's table, behind Captain Harris and Demerest, a chime sounded loudly. At the same instant, on a radio panel forward of the throttles, an amber light winked on. Both chime and light indicated a radio call on Selcal radio system through which most airliners could be called individually, as if by private telephone. Each aircraft, of Trans America and other major airlines, had its own separate call code, transmitted and received automatically. The signals which had just been actuated for aircraft N-731-TA would be seen or heard on no other flight.
Anson Harris switched from the radio to which he bad been listening on air route control frequency, and acknowledged, "This is Trans America Two."
"Flight Two, this is Trans America dispatcher, Cleveland. I have a message for the captain from D.T.M., LIA. Advise when ready to copy."
Vernon Demerest, Harris observed, had also changed radio frequencies. Now Demerest pulled a notepad toward him and nodded.
Harris instructed, "We're ready, Cleveland. Go ahead."
The message was that which Tanya Livingston had written concerning Flight Two's stowaway, Mrs. Ada Quonsett. As it progressed, with the description of the little old lady from San Diego, both captains began smiling. The message ended by asking confirmation that Mrs. Quonsett was aboard.
"We will check and advise," Harris acknowledged. When the transmission ended, he clicked the radio controls back to air route control frequency.
Vernon Demerest, and Second Officer Jordan who had heard the message from an overhead speaker near his seat, were laughing aloud.
The second officer declared, "I don't believe it!"
"I believe it." Demerest chuckled. "All those boobs on the ground, and some ancient old duck fooled them all!" He pushed the call button for the forward galley phone. "Hey!" he said, when one of the stewardesses answered. "Tell Gwen we want her in the office."
He was still chuckling when the flight deck door opened. Gwen Meighen came in.
Demerest read Gwen the Selcal message with Mrs. Quonsett's description. "Have you seen her?"
Gwen shook her head. "I've hardly been back in tourist yet."
"Go back," Demerest told her, "and see if the old woman's there. She shouldn't be hard to spot."
"If she is, what do you want me to do?"
"Nothing. Just come back and report."
Gwen was gone only a few minutes. When she returned, she was laughing like the others.
Demerest swung around in his seat. "Is she there?"
Gwen nodded. "Yes, in seat fourteen-B. She's just the way the message said, only more so."
The second officer asked, "How old?"
"At least seventy-five; probably nearer eighty. And she looks like something out of Dickens."
Over his shoulder, Anson Harris said, "More likely Arsenic and Old Lace."
"Is she really a stowaway, Captain?"
Harris shrugged. "On the ground they say so. And I guess it explains why your head count was wrong."
"We can easily find out for sure," Gwen volunteered. "All I have to do is go back again and ask to see her ticket counterfoil."
"No," Vernon Demerest said. "Let's not do that."
As best they could in the darkened cockpit, the others regarded him curiously. After a second or so, Harris returned his eyes to the flight instruments; Second Officer Jordan swung back to his fuel charts.
"Hold on," Demerest told Gwen. While she waited, he made a check point report on company radio.
"All we were told to do," Demerest said when he had finished the report, "was to see if the old lady's aboard. Okay, she is; and that's what I'll tell Flight Dispatch. I guess they'll have someone waiting for her at Rome; we can't do anything about that, even if we wanted to. But if the old girl's made it this far, and since we're not turning back, why make her next eight hours miserable? So leave her alone. Maybe, just before we get to Rome, we'll let her know she's been found out; then it won't be a whole big shock. But for the time being, let her enjoy her flight. Give Grandma some dinner, and she can watch the movie in peace."
"You know," Gwen said; she was watching him thoughtfully. "There are times when I quite like you."
As Gwen left the flight deck, Demerest---still chuckling---changed radio channels and reported back himself to the Cleveland dispatcher.
Anson Harris, who had his pipe alight, looked up from adjusting the auto-pilot and said drily, "I didn't think you were much of a one for the old ladies." He emphasized the "old."
Demerest grinned, "I prefer younger ones."
"So I'd heard."
The stowaway report, and his reply, had put Demerest in a thoroughly good humor. More relaxed than earlier, he added, "Opportunities change. Pretty soon you and I will have to settle for the not-so-young ones."
"I already have." Harris puffed at his pipe. "For quite some time."
Both pilots had one earpiece of their radio headsets pushed upward. They could converse normally, yet hear radio calls if any came in. The noise level of the flight deck---persistent but not overwhelming---was sufficient to give the two of them privacy.
"You've always played it straight down the line, haven't you?" Demerest said. "With your wife, I mean. No mucking around; on layovers I've seen you reading books."
This time Harris grinned. "Sometimes I go to a movie."
"Any special reason?"
"My wife was a stewardess---on DC-4s; that was how we met. She knew what went on: the sleeping around, pregnancies, abortions, all that stuff. Later, she got to be a supervisor and had to deal with a lot of it in her job. Anyway, when we were married I made her a promise---the obvious one. I've always kept it."
"I guess all those kids you had helped."
Harris made another minute adjustment to the autopilot. As they talked, the eyes of both pilots, out of training and habit, swept the illuminated banks of instruments in front of them, as well as those to each side and above. An incorrect instrument reading would show at once if anything in the aircraft was malfunctioning. Nothing was.
Demerest said, "How many children is it? Six?"
"Seven." Harris smiled. "Four we planned, three we didn't. But it all worked out."
"The ones you didn't plan---did you ever consider doing anything about them? Before they were born."
Harris glanced sharply sideways. "Abortion?"
Vernon Demerest had asked the question on impulse. Now he wondered why. Obviously, his two conversations earlier with Gwen had begun the train of thought about children generally. But it was uncharacteristic of him to be doing so much thinking about something---like an abortion for Gwen---which was essentially simple and straightforward. Just the same, he was curious about Harris's reaction.
"Yes," Demerest said. "That's what I meant."
Anson Harris said curtly, "The answer's no." Less sharply, he added, "It happens to be something I have strong views about."
"Because of religion?"
Harris shook his head negatively. "I'm an agnostic."
"What kind of views, then?"
"You sure you want to hear?"
"It's a long night," Demerest said. "Why not?"
On radio they listened to an exchange between air route control and a TWA flight, Paris-bound, which had taken off shortly after Trans America Flight Two. The TWA jet was ten miles behind, and several thousand feet lower. As Flight two continued to climb, so would TWA.
Most alert pilots, as a result of listening to other aircraft transmissions, maintained a partial picture of nearby tralfic in their minds. Demerest and Harris both added this latest item to others already noted. When the ground-to-air exchange ended, Demerest urged Anson Harris, "Go ahead."
Harris checked their course and altitude, then began refilling his pipe.
"I've studied a lot of history. I got interested in college and followed through after. Maybe you've done the same."
"No," Demerest said. "Never more than I had to."
"Well, if you go through it all---history, that is--one thing stands out. Every bit of human progress has happened for a single, simple reason: the elevation of the status of the individual. Each time civilization has stumbled into another age that's a little better, a bit more enlightened, than the one before it, it's because people cared more about other people and respected them as individuals. When they haven't cared, those have been the times of slipping backward. Even a short world history---if you read one---will prove it's true."
"I'll take your word for it."
"You don't have to. There are plenty of examples. We abolished slavery because we respected individual human life. For the same reason we stopped hanging children, and around the same time we invented habeas corpus, and now we've created justice for all, or the closest we can come to it. More recently, most people who think and reason are against capital punishment, not so much because of those to be executed, but for what taking a human life---any human life---does to society, which is all of us."
Harris stopped. Straining forward against his seat harness, he looked outward from the darkened cockpit to the night surrounding them. In bright moonlight he could see a swirl of darkened cloudtops far below. With a forecast of unbroken cloud along the whole of their route until mid-Atlantic, there would be no glimpses tonight of lights on the ground. Several thousand feet above, the lights of another aircraft, traveling in an opposite direction, flashed by and were gone.
From his seat behind the other two pilots, Second Officer Cy Jordan reached forward, adjusting the throttle settings to compensate for Flight Two's increased altitude.
Demerest waited until Jordan had finished, then protested to Anson Harris, "Capital punishment is a long way from abortion."
"Not really," Harris said. "Not when you think about it. It all relates to respect for individual human life; to the way civilization's come, the way it's going. The strange thing is, you hear people argue for abolition of capital punishment, then for legalized abortion in the same breath. What they don't see is the anomaly of raising the value of human life on one hand, and lowering it on the other."
Demerest remembered what he had said to Gwen this evening. He repeated it now. "An unborn child doesn't have life---not an individual life. It's a fetus; it isn't a person."
"Let me ask you something," Harris said. "Did you ever see an aborted child? Afterward, I mean."
"I did once. A doctor I know showed it to me. It was in a glass jar, in formaldehyde; my friend kept it in a cupboard. I don't know where he got it, but he told me that if the baby had lived---not been aborted---it would have been a normal child, a boy. It was a fetus, all right, just the way you said, except it had been a human being, too. It was all there; everything perfectly formed; a good-looking face, hands, feet, toes, even a little penis. You know what I felt when I saw it? I felt ashamed; I wondered where the hell was I; where were all other decent-minded, sensitive people when this kid, who couldn't defend himself, was being murdered? Because that's what happened; even though, most times, we're afraid to use the word."
"Hell! I'm not saying a baby should be taken out when it's that far along."
"You know something?" Harris said. "Eight weeks after conception, everything's present in a fetus that's in a full-term baby. In the third month the fetus looks like a baby. So where do you draw the line?"
Demerest grumbled, "You should have been a lawyer, not a pilot." Just the same, he found himself wondering how far Gwen was along, then reasoned: if she conceived in San Francisco, as she assured him, it must be eight or nine weeks ago. Therefore, assuming Harris's statements to be true, there was almost a shaped baby now.
It was time for another report to air route control. Vernon Demerest made it. They were at thirty-two thousand feet, near the top of their climb, and in a moment or two would cross the Canadian border and be over southern Ontario. Detroit and Windsor, the twin cities straddling the border, were ordinarily a bright splash of light, visible for miles ahead. Tonight there was only darkness, the cities shrouded and somewhere down below to starboard. Demerest remembered that Detroit Metropolitan Airport had closed shortly before their own takeoff. Both cities, by now, would be taking the full brunt of the storm, which was moving east.
Back in the passenger cabins, Demerest knew, Gwen Meighen and the other stewardesses would be serving a second round of drinks and, in first class, hot hors d'oeuvres on exclusive Rosenthal china.
"I warned you I had strong feelings," Anson Harris said. "You don't need a religion, to believe in human ethics."
Demerest growled, "Or to have screwball ideas. Anyway, people who think like you are on the losing side. The trend is to make abortion easier; eventually, maybe, wide open and legal."
"If it happens," Harris said, "we'll be a backward step nearer the Auschwitz ovens."
"Nuts!" Demerest glanced up from the flight log, where he was recording their position, just reported. His irritability, seldom far below the surface, was beginning to show. "There are plenty of good arguments in favor of easy abortion---unwanted children who'll be born to poverty and never get a chance; then the special cases---rape, incest, the mother's health."
"There are always special cases. It's like saying, 'okay, we'll permit just a little murder, providing you make out a convincing argument.' " Harris shook his head, dissenting. "Then you talked about unwanted children. Well, they can be stopped by birth control. Nowadays everyone gets that opportunity, at every economic level. But if we slip up on that, and a human life starts growing, that's a new human being, and we've no moral right to condemn it to death. As to what we're born into, that's a chance we all take without knowing it; but once we have life, good or bad, we're entitled to keep it, and not many, however bad it is, would give it up. The answer to poverty isn't to kill unborn babies, but to improve society."
Harris considered, then went on, "As to economics, there are economic arguments for everything. It makes economic logic to kill mental deficients and mongoloids right after birth; to practice euthanasia on the terminally ill; to weed out old and useless people, the way they do in Africa, by leaving them in the jungle for hyenas to eat. But we don't do it because we value human life and dignity. What I'm saying, Vernon, is that if we plan to progress we ought to value them a little more."
The altimeters---one in front of each pilot---touched thirty-three thousand feet. They were at the top of their climb. Anson Harris eased the aircraft into level flight while Second Officer Jordan reached forward again to adjust the throttles.
Demerest said sourly to Harris, "Your trouble is cobwebs in the brain." He realized he had started the discussion; now, angrily, he wished he hadn't. To end the subject, he reached for the stewardess call button. "Let's get some hors d'oeuvres before the first class passengers wolf them all."
Harris nodded. "Good idea."
A minute or two later, in response to the telephoned order, Gwen Meighen brought three plates of aromatic hors d'oeuvres, and coffee. On Trans America, as on most airlines, captains got the fastest service.
"Thanks, Gwen," Vernon Demerest said; then, as she leaned forward to serve Anson Harris, his eyes confirmed what he already knew. Gwen's waist was as slim as ever, no sign of anything yet; nor would there be, no matter what was going on inside. The heck with Harris and his old woman's arguments! Of course Gwen would have an abortion---just as soon as they got back.
SOME SIXTY FEET aft of the flight deck, in the tourist cabin, Mrs. Ada Quonsett was engaged in spirited conversation with the passenger on her right, whom she had discovered was an amiable, middle-aged oboe player from the Chicago Symphony. "What a wonderful thing to be a musician, and so creative. My late husband loved classical music. He fiddled a little himself, though not professionally, of course."
Mrs. Quonsett was feeling warmed by a Dry Sack sherry for which her oboist friend had paid, and he had just inquired if she would like another. Mrs. Quonsett beamed, "Well, it's exceedingly kind of you, and perhaps I shouldn't, but I really think I will."
The passenger on her left---the man with the little sandy mustache and scrawny neck---had been less communicative; in fact, disappointing. Mrs. Quonsett's several attempts at conversation had been rebuffed by monosyllabic answers, barely audible, while the man sat, mostly expressionless, still clasping his attache case on his knees.
For a while, when they had all ordered drinks, Mrs. Quonsett wondered if the left-seat passenger might unbend. But he hadn't. He accepted Scotch from the stewardess, paid for it with a lot of small change that he had to count out, then tossed the drink down almost in a gulp. Her own sherry mellowed Mrs. Quonsett immediately, so that she thought: Poor man, perhaps he has problems, and I shouldn't bother him.
She noticed, however, that the scrawny-necked man came suddenly alert when the captain made his announcement, soon after takeoff, about their speed, course, time of flight and all those other things which Mrs. Quonsett rarely bothered listening to. The man on her left, though, scribbled notes on the back of an envelope and afterward got out one of those Chart Your Own Position maps, which the airline supplied, spreading it on top of his attache case. He was studying the map now, and making pencil marks, in between glances at his watch. It all seemed rather silly and childish to Mrs. Quonsett, who was quite sure that there was a navigator up front, taking care of where the airplane ought to be, and when.
Mrs. Quonsett then returned her attention to the oboist who was explaining that not until recently, when he had been in a public seat during a Bruckner symphony performance, had he realized that at a moment when his section of the orchestra was going "pom-tiddey-pom-pom," the cellos were sounding "ah-diddley-ah-dah." He mouthed both passages in tune to illustrate his point.
"Really! How remarkably interesting; I'd never thought of that," Mrs. Quonsett exclaimed. "My late husband would have so enjoyed meeting you, though of course you are very much younger."
She was now well into the second sherry and enjoying herself thoroughly. She thought: she had chosen such a nice flight; such a fine airplane and crew, the stewardesses polite and helpful, and with delightful passengers, except for the man on her left, who didn't really matter. Soon, dinner would be served and later, she had learned, there was to be a movie with Michael Caine, one of her favorite stars. What more could anyone possibly ask?
MRS. QUANSETT had been wrong in assuming that there was a navigator up front on the flight deck. There wasn't. Trans America, like most major airlines, no longer carried navigators, even on overseas flights, because of the multitude of radar and radio systems available on modern jet aircraft. The pilots, aided by constant air route control surveillance, did what little navigation was needed.
However, had there been an old-time air navigator aboard Flight Two, his charted position of the aircraft would have been remarkably similar to that which D. O. Guerrero had achieved by rough-and-ready reckoning. Guerrero had estimated several minutes earlier that they were close to Detroit; the estimate was right. He knew, because the captain had said so in his announcement to passengers, that their subsequent course would take them over Montreal; Fredericton, New Brunswick; Cape Ray; and later St. John's, Newfoundland. The captain had even been helpful enough to include the aircraft's ground speed as well as airspeed, making Guerrero's further calculations just as accurate.
The east coast of Newfoundland, D. O. Guerrero calculated, would be passed over in two-and-a-half hours from the present time. However, before then, the captain would probably make another position announcement, so the estimate could be revised if necessary. After that, as already planned, Guerrero would wait a further hour to ensure that the flight was well over the Atlantic Ocean before pulling the cord on his case and exploding the dynamite inside. At this moment, in anticipation, his fingers clasping the attache case tensed.
Now that the time of culmination was so close, he wanted it to come quickly. Perhaps, after all, he thought, he would not wait the full time. Once they had left Newfoundland, really any time would do.
The shot of whisky had relaxed him. Although most of his earlier tension had disappeared on coming aboard, it had built up again soon after takeoff, particularly when the irritating old cat in the next seat had tried to start a conversation. D. O. Guerrero wanted no conversation, either now or later; in fact, no more communication with anyone else in this life. All that he wanted was to sit and dream---of three hundred thousand dollars, a larger sum than he had ever possessed at one time before, and which would be coming to Inez and the two children, he presumed, in a matter of days.
Right now he could have used another whisky, but had no money left to pay for it. After his unexpectedly large insurance purchase, there had been barely enough small change for the single drink; so he would have to do without.
As he had earlier, he closed his eyes. This time he was thinking of the effect on Inez and the children when they heard about the money. They ought to care about him for what he was doing, even though they wouldn't know the whole of it---that he was sacrificing himself, giving his own life for them. But perhaps they might guess a little. If they did, he hoped they would be appreciative, although he wondered about that, knowing from experience that people could be surprisingly perverse in reactions to what was done on their behalf.
The strange thing was: In all his thoughts about Inez and the children, he couldn't quite visualize their faces. It seemed almost as though he were thinking about people whom he had never really known.
He compromised by conjuring up visions of dollar signs, followed by threes, and endless zeros. After a while he must have dropped off to sleep because, when he opened his eyes a quick glance at his watch showed that it was twenty minutes later, and a stewardess was leaning over from the aisle. The stewardess---an attractive brunette who spoke with an English accent---was asking, "Are you ready for dinner, sir? If so, perhaps you'd like me to take your case."