I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been in a plane before. Commercial airliner numbers by and large, but I’ve been on small planes a time or two. Well, four times to be exact. Thrice working on films, to get to a remote shooting location. Once when a friend of a friend of a friend flew me in his private plane to a gig in Branson. Was it worth it to find out that I’m terrible at stand-up comedy? No, I could have told you that beforehand. I fired that agent but what I should have done is have Martialla twist his nuts off. Acting and singing wasn’t enough for you, Ben Reese? That’s the problem with Hollywood, they always want you to do something other than the thing you’re good at. You’re good at sports? You should have a talk show. You’re a good writer? Try directing. It’s like a disease they have.
In a big plane you maybe look out the window once during takeoff but after that you toss back your Xanax with a rum and coke and you sleep the rest of the flight. After that there’s nothing to see but clouds anyway. On a small plane you might watch the ground below you for twenty or thirty minutes but even that gets boring pretty quickly. That must be why birds are always hopping around on the ground. The air is lame. A small plane is the worse of the two because you can’t take a pill lest you put yourself in a position for the pilot to molest you. You just have to sit there awake and aware and bored the entire time.
This was the smallest plane ever but even so on this flight I had no desire to pass out, and not just because of the threat that Martialla might feel me up. I was fascinated by the land below us. Normally you get up in the air and the land below starts to look a lot better. Get far enough away and old Lady USA unveils her hidden beauty like a movie librarian taking off her glasses and letting down her hair. But that was before. That’s not now.
The land I saw was ugly and cancerous. It looks like a mass of scar tissue, as if what’s left of humanity is trying to build a new society atop a giant calcifying septic wound. The land looks so grey it doesn’t seem like anything could be alive down there, and the patches of bluish-purple that seem to throb like veins don’t give me much hope of life either. It was revolting and I couldn’t look away. Like watching Martialla strain to open a pickle jar.
Down on the ground the air seems gritty and hazy, like there’s a low-level dust storm happening at all times. You get up up a ways into the sky and that clears out, but what was revealed was even worse. There were no fluffy white clouds, just long banks of swirling air that seemed diseased and yellow. I wouldn’t call them clouds, they were more like floating mudbanks in a polluted river of air. Some of them seemed so solid that I could have stepped out of the plane and walked on them.
Martialla seemed unconcerned by all of this, when we landed all she had to say was “I’d call that a successful test flight.”
I looked over at her “What was that thing you were always going on about in the land before time, where you wanted everyone to have compost heaps and not flush the toilet because otherwise the land dies?”
She raised an eyebrow “Ecosystem collapse? The drastic, potentially permanent reduction in the land’s carrying capacity for all organisms, resulting in mass extinction?”
I nodded “Yeah, that’s the one. Do you think that has happened based on what we just saw? Is this all for nothing?”
She frowned “Is what all for nothing?”
I held my arms up “All of this, you know . . . everything, surviving, trying to rebuild society.”
She chuckled wryly “Rebuild society? Is that what we’re doing? I thought we were staggering from disaster to disaster like drunks with the vague goal of killing Duke Eagle the Vain for no real reason other than he seems like a dick.”
I frowned at her harder “First of all, what better reason is there for killing someone than them being a dick? And second of all, you know what I mean.”
She hopped out of the plane and started messing with the engine again “Not really. If there was ever any point to human existence I don’t know what it was. I’d like the world to return to a state where I could get some ice cream with chocolate syrup. I’m not sure that makes anything ‘worth it’. Fires, landslides, flooding, severe weather events, disease, invasive insects, organ thieves, California’s been collapsing for a long time. Either something else will take its place or it won’t. We’ve already seen a bunch of different freakshow animals so things are fine I’m sure, ecologically I mean. Life finds a way and Jeff Goldblum and so forth. Not like we can do anything about it anyway.”
“You’re a real breath of fresh air.”
“So you’re always telling me. Remember that movie where you played a colonial marine? You guys ran out of orders on Smarkulon Five so you just started making up your own. Think of it like that. Let’s not worry too much about the state of the biosphere. We just captured this literal Paradise, which is not an ironic name at all, and we have a plane now. Things are looking up for us finally and now you’re getting all weepy?”
I scowled at her “I’m not weepy . . . I’m just . . . you know . . .”
She smiled back at me “Ela I never know with you.”