Flight of the Phoenix
(Disclaimer: I own nothing from the book or movie. I am making nothing from this except the sheer joy of writing.)
Odd Man Out
Elliott woke up.
For a moment he couldn't remember where he was until a trickle of perspiration ran down the side of his face. Wiping beads of sweat from his forehead, he looked around recognizing the inside of the fuselage. The reality of his situation came back to him and he shook his head in disgusted realization.
The plane, he had hopped a ride onto, had crashed in the Gobi Desert and now he and the others were stranded in the middle of nowhere, too far from civilization to get help and cut off from any form of communication.
It was early morning and no one was awake but him. It was already hot, but the day promised to be hotter as it progressed. Elliott walked outside and moved over to a dune where he dug a small hole in the sand and relieved himself, covering it when he finished. Turning back around he looked at the silver fuselage laying on its belly in the white sand. It looked more like a gutted fish than the remnants of a powerful airplane that it once was.
These past few days, while the others either slept or argued over water, he had spent his time looking over the craft. The thought of water caused him to lick his cracked lips and he headed for the plastic container that held the valuable clear liquid.
A.J. was already there pouring himself some into a metal cup made from a can. The co-pilot eyed Elliott disdainfully. To him Elliott had been the extra weight that had caused them to not be able to fly over the sandstorm. Never mind that that they had taken on heavy steel tubing and huge metal couplings as well as all of the supplies and tools used on an oil rig. Blame had to be somewhere and the eccentric little man fit the bill. No matter that he was a small man with a slight build, he was the unexpected passenger with the odd demeanor.
"How long you been up, Elliott?" A.J. asked him.
"I just got up and I'd like some water, if you don't mind," Elliott answered him in his soft breathy voice.
"Do it yourself," A.J. barked, as he walked away.
Elliott was fully aware of A.J.'s feeling towards him but chose to ignore the muscular black man's sneer. Pouring some water into a cup, he thirstily drank it down.
Sammi, the half Mexican who prided himself as the cook, fished some cans of peaches out of a box and opened two of them. "Hey Elliott!" Sammi called out.
Elliott, who was heading to a ladder that had been made from some steel tubing and was leaning against the wing, stopped to look. "Yes, Sammi?" he questioned, as he wiped his wire framed glasses with a handkerchief.
"Would you like some peaches for breakfast?"
"You know, I would much rather prefer the hearts of palm, if it's alright with you."
"Suit yourself," Sammi shrugged, as he reached for a can. Opening it, he handed it to the smaller man with a spoon. "You've been up on that plane for days. What are you looking for?"
"Just looking," Elliott gave him a small grin as he sat down on a crate to eat, and watched with curiosity as each of the crew slowly came out to drink their ration of water.
Towns was the Captain who had an arrogance about him that Elliott found distasteful. He had started to not let Elliott aboard as they were preparing to leave. He also refused to listen to Elliott when he tried to tell him they were too heavy to fly over the sandstorm and should go back. It was, after all, HIS plane and HE was Captain and HE wasn't about to let some little book worm, pip-squeak, know-it-all tell HIM how to fly HIS plane.
Ian was an upper class Brit who looked down on others because they were seemingly not of his social standing. In his words he was "... a very important man ..." He worked for the oil company who had sponsored the drilling. Speaking five languages, including several of the local dialects in and around Beijing, China, he was the perfect representative. He was also vain, selfish, very wealthy and extremely arrogant.
Kelly was the beautiful redheaded foreman of the oil rig. She had been raised by an oilman who had also been a foreman of several rigs. But she was also a lady. When she saw Elliott, she gave him a small smile.
After finishing his breakfast Elliott climbed on top of the airplane and began to seriously assess the damage before it go too hot.
"What the hell is he doing up there?" Towns asked both A.J. and Sammi, as they dined on peaches. Shrugging, they watched Elliott scribble on a small scratch pad and mutter softly to himself.
"I think the heats gotten to him," Jeremy spoke as he adjusted his eye patch. Jeremy was one of the laborers on the rig. "Hey, Sammi! You got any cottage cheese to go with these peaches?" he joked.
"Very funny," Sammi chuckled, giving him a sideways glance.
As the sun rose in the sky it beat down mercilessly on the white sand and the silver fuselage making it not just unbearable but dangerous to be out in it. Shortly Elliott descended to seek shelter under the parachutes that had been draped and tied up to the fuselage to give them some relief from the sun. It was amazing how much cooler it was under the shade, not that it was cool, but at least they weren't out in the sun. Elliott continued his assessment of the broken plane from under the wing measuring and calculating.
Liddle and Davis, two other laborers, played checkers while Ian dozed. For the most part Elliott stayed out of everyone's way as he mumbled softly to himself looking over the calculations on his paper. When Kyle had wandered off and his body later found sandblasted by yet another sand storm he kept his distance from the rest even when they buried him along side Dr. Gerber and Newman, who had both been killed in the landing.
Finally on the fifth day he made his announcement amid a scuffle between Towns and Jeremy over water.
"I can get us out of here," he told them. "We can build another plane and fly out of here." It was met with disapproval but he persevered and explained his idea to them. "If we work at night we will perspire less and drink less water," he told them. "If you stick tightly to my schedule we can be out of here in less than a week."
It took Liddle's leaving and return before they were convinced it could be done and so they adhered to the funny little man's schedule, despite Towns' and Ian's protest to wait for help.
Small amounts of fuel were poured into metal containers that circled the plane and lit to provide light.
By Elliott's calculations part of the right wing could be cut off and made to fit the left side if it were turned over and placed just so along with several modifications to make a new body for the plane. They'd all have to ride on the wings so he had configured small windows to protect each person and to cut down on drag. By the time the sun began to appear the next morning the crew had managed to fashion together part of the body. Soon it would be too hot to work so they stopped to try to rest.
Making his way into the fuselage where he had fashioned a bed for himself, Elliott laid down to get some sleep. Shortly Kelly made her way in to talk to him.
"I am truly impressed, Elliott," she said sitting down next to him. "I had no idea you were so brilliant. I would have never thought of building a plane out of the wreckage."
Elliott, who was laying on his back, looked her over. She wore a pair of faded gray coveralls with the zipper opened in the front. He watched a drop of perspiration trickle down the curve of her breast and disappear behind her dirty yellow top.
"Thank you, Kelly. I'm truly flattered," he grinned at her. There was a silence between them. Elliott would have been perfectly happy laying there looking at her but Kelly began to feel uncomfortable.
"Well," she cleared her throat, "I'd better let you get some sleep," and she started to leave.
"Tell me about yourself, Kelly," Elliott asked her as he put his hand behind his head to get comfortable. It wasn't that he was all that interested, he was enjoying the view.
And so, for the next ten minutes, she told him about her family and her hometown, her brothers and the business her father started and on and on and on she went. Elliott, who was not really listening, kept saying, "Uh-huh. Uh-huh," to her as though he were but in reality he was watching as perspiration trickled down her slender neck. If he had been a bolder man he would have sat up and kissed her neck tasting her sweet saltiness. But if he did that she would have been repulsed and it would have evoked the wrath of the other men. Besides, he was not a molester of women, just an admirer.
"Well, I'm going to try to get some rest," she finally told him. "It was very nice talking to you, Elliott. Sleep well." She gave him her best Kelly smile and was gone.
Shaking his head he watched her leave. Under different circumstances he'd would have been friendlier, much more friendlier. She had always been nice to him, even though he had showed up out of the blue. In fact, she had been his only friend, as the others had been either too busy or too cliquish to bother with him.