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“Abruptly, the sound ceased.”

The plane suddenly stopped falling. It was absolutely still and terrifyingly quiet. Even the sound of the engines had stopped.

Joe opened his eyes slowly, still gripping the arms of his seat, and looked around. The woman who had spoken stood in the aisle, near the cockpit door, looking at a pocketwatch. She was a striking woman, with black hair arranged in a formal style, wearing a monocle and a pinstriped dress that seemed to be straight out of the Victorian age.He was absolutely sure she hadn’t been on the plane earlier.

She turned to the air hostess.

“Madam, are all of the passengers in this section?”

The air hostess nodded, her mouth slightly agape.

“Y-yes ma’am. We’re a small flight there’s no first class…”

The strange woman nodded, smiled, and patted the hostess on her shoulder. “Excellent.”

She turned to address the passengers in her refined, perfect English accent. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said loudly. “Please remain calm, remain seated, and do not raise the shutters on your windows until I say you may.”

Joe turned and stared at the window next to him. The blind was pulled down. Only a few minutes earlier he had been looking out at the clouds.

The woman glanced at her pocket watch again before continuing. “Time is of the essence, so I may not be able to fully explain all the details. I shall, however, do my best. This vessel is about to crash into the ocean. Your pilot- my colleague is speaking to him at the moment- is a talented man and has done everything in his ability to stop this but unfortunately the aeroplane is beyond repair and can no longer fly. You will, of course, have noticed that you are no longer falling. Through technology you will be unfamiliar with, we have been able to… pause events. If you raise your shutters you will see that we are motionless above the waves. I warn you, it may be a disturbing sight.”

Joe reached out for the blind and raised it. The sea was barely twenty feet below the plane, the waves frozen in place like a photograph. He stared, blinked and swallowed. It was an impossible sight. Slowly he lowered the blind again. Around the plane, several other passengers had done much the same thing.

“We are here to offer you a choice,” the woman told them. “Although I am afraid it is something of a Hobson’s choice.”

At that moment the cockpit door opened and a strange man walked out. He was dressed in a style reminiscent of a World War One flying ace, complete with an exceptionally long scarf, a black leather aviator’s hat and goggles. He had a completely white goatee beard, and a shock of white hair flowed from beneath his hat.

“Stand up chaps, those pilots,” he said to the woman, “Bit shaken, of course, but jolly nice fellows.”

A large American, sitting near the door, heaved himself forward in his chair. “Jus’ who th’hell are you? An’ what’s goin’ on?”

“I am Genevieve Moore,” she said, smiling politely to the entire cabin. “And this is my gentlemen friend and colleague, Havelock Manning. We are… travellers.”

“Adventurers!” cried Havelock, shaking one finger in the air as a kind of visual exclamation mark.

“We have come here, to this flight at this precise moment, to offer you all a choice,” Genevieve glanced again at her pocket watch. “Your aeroplane is suspended above the ocean, about to crash into the waves. It is no longer seen on radar, and it will be more than five hours before the airline decides the situation is serious. Rescuers will not even pinpoint the location for two days. There will be no survivors. They will not even find the bodies.”

One of the female passengers started crying. Genevieve stopped and placed a hand gently on the woman’s shoulder.

“These are the facts. I am sure that most of you realised the severity of your situation when you were falling. There is, however, an alternative.”

The woman looked up at her hopefully.

“We have just come from another world, very like this one, populated by people just like you. Their civilisation is teetering on a precipice because of one simple fact. There are too few people there. On this world, humankind is an endangered species, but one that could be saved by the arrival of a few dozen people.”

“Extends the gene pool, you know,” Havelock said conversationally to the nearest passenger. “Stops them all going batty.”

“We promised to help them,” Genevieve continued. “So we offer you a choice. And, as I said, it is a Hobson’s choice. You can stay on the aeroplane as it falls into the ocean and face your inevitable end, or we can take you to this other world, where you can begin a new life. Either way, any loved ones who are not on the plane with you are now lost to you. I am sorry.”

There was a stunned silence as the passengers tried to take in what the woman was saying.

“Tick tock, chaps,” said Havelock. “We can only hold this thing up for another ten minutes, and it’ll take, oooh at least five to get you all transferred.”

Genevieve looked at her pocket watch. “I’m afraid he’s right. We can only give you a few minutes to decide.”

Another passenger stood up. “Why us? Why choose us?”

Genevieve answered first. “We can travel through time, through space, and through realities, but anything we do, anything we change, has consequences. We chose you because transferring you to another world at this moment carries the smallest possible risk.”

“You’d all be goners by now if we hadn’t arrived,” Havelock said with a grin, “And since they never find any bodies anyway, nobody will be any the wiser. Standard, eh?”

Genevieve sighed, but nodded. “It is true. We chose you because you are doomed if you stay and the world will never know exactly what happened to you. We will give you a few moments to think about your decision.”

They moved to the back of the plane.

“It would have been so much easier to just whoosh them all straight over there,” Havelock said to Genevieve in a mock whisper.

She frowned at him. “And then we would have to deal with a planeload of traumatised insane people with no idea what happened to them. Much better to tell them in advance.”

“Hmm,” he said, sounding unconvinced. “Oh well, tick tock, tick tock. Time to get them moving!”

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note – Another piece that I wrote some time ago. You may recognise the names Genevieve Moore and Havelock Manning from previous stories – this is somewhat further along their timeline than the stories I’ve published before now, but with these two it’s all out of place anyway….)