It was silent. It seemed silent.
He knew it wasn't silent - it was too loud. But it seemed as if it ought to be silent. As if there should be something different in the air, or in the colour of the world, or in the sounds or tastes... There wasn't any difference, and it felt both terribly wrong and terribly right.
They had all bailed out long ago - or had they just now bailed out? He didn't know - couldn't seem to remember. But he knew they were all gone - gone on his orders. Bob had stayed behind, had... Well, he had stayed behind, and would stay behind. Or was it better to say he had gone on ahead? He didn't know...
Instruments gone, wheels gone, weapons gone - not that it would make a difference now whether or not they were in order - the entire undercarriage gone, fire certainly not gone, failing gone...
He almost laughed - did laugh - but the situation was too sober. He seemed to be caught between two worlds, seemed to be drifting between worlds.
And it was too...quiet. Loud. Quiet.
It was too lonely.
"...Request your position. Request your position - come in Lancaster. Come in Lancaster."
He snapped out of his spiraling thoughts, answering the voice - too quiet? Too loud? No... - in the radio. "Position nil. Repeat: nil." He smiled slightly. "Age twenty-seven - twenty-seven. Did you get that? That's very important." He couldn't understand why he was telling this radio operator - this complete American stranger - any of this, but he couldn't seem to stop himself; couldn't let himself change worlds all alone. "Education interrupted - violently interrupted. Religion: Church of England. Politics: Conservative by nature, labour by experience." He paused for a moment. "What's your name?"
Her answer was nonsensical - she could hear him well enough - but perhaps he was the nonsensical one...
"I cannot read you - cannot read you. Request your position - can you see our signals?"
He ignored her, quoting an excerpt from a poem he had memorised once. "Sir Walter Raleigh wrote that. I'd rather have written that then flown through Hitler's legs!"
"I cannot understand you. Hello, Lancaster - we are sending signals; can you see our signals? Come in, Lancaster - come in, Lancaster!"
He looked away from fire outside the window, looking down at Bob and stifling the sudden, wrenching pain in his chest. He didn't have time to feel now - couldn't feel now. If he felt, if he felt...
"But at my back I always hear time's winged chariots hurrying near, and yonder all before us lie deserts of vast eternity." He sighed slightly. "Andy Marvel - what a marvel." He mentally straightened up again, ignoring the wind blowing through the cabin. "What's your name?"
"Are you receiving me? Repeat: are your receiving me? Request your position - come in, Lancaster."
"You seem like a nice girl." He glanced around the cabin again, smiling wryly. "I can't give you my position - instruments gone. Crew gone too, all except Bob here - my sparks." He looked back to the man lying on the cabin floor, seeing the hastily tied bandages and vividly remembering trying to save his life. "He's dead. The rest all bailed out on my orders, time 03.35 - did you get that?"
"Crew bailed out at 03.35.
"Station Warrenden, bomber group A G - George. Send them a signal, got that?"
"Station Warrenden, bomber group A, apple; G, George."
He drew in a shaky breath, still looking down at Bob - think of what a tragedy it was. Not that it would have made a difference either way as the parachute was gone - but nonetheless, he shouldn't have died. "They'll be sorry about Bob - we all liked him."
It still seemed unreal - detatched somehow, as if there were still a way out. He said that his crew would miss Bob - that there would be people missing Bob - but he seemed to have forgotten that he was in the same boat, so to speak. He wouldn't be coming back anymore than his Sparks would.
"Hello, G-George. Hello, G-George - are you alright? Are you going to try to land - do you want a fix?"
He shook his head slightly. "Name's not 'G-George', it's 'P-Peter'. Peter D. Carter - 'd's for 'David'. Squadron Leader Peter Carter." He glanced out the glass again. "No, I'm not going to try to land - undercarriage is gone, inner port's on fire." He stepped back into the aeroplane. "I'm bailing out presently." His voice caught on something for a moment and he repeated himself: "I'm bailing out."
Who will mourn me when I'm gone? Will I not be left to die alone - he shook his head sharply, hearing the girl breathe on the other end of the radio. It was rather bad luck that they should meet under these circumstances - she probably danced well, and he would have loved to take her out. Perhaps his mother would have even liked her...
"Take a telegram."
He could hear the catch in her voice as she replied, although she covered it up quite well.
"Got your message, recieved your message - we can hear you."
He wanted to cheer her up - to make her laugh and smile again, and to make her forget all of this - but he couldn't shake the tightness in his chest and the dread that seemed to surround him thicker than the fog below. "Telegram to my mother: Mrs. Michael Carter, eighty-eight Hamstead Lane, London North-West."
The scratch of her pen was faintly audible. "Eighty-eight Hamstead Lane, London."
He sighed. "Tell her that I love her." The regret seemed to grow deeper, to become a sharp pain. "You will have to write this for me, but what I want her to know is..." He hesitated. Even were this to arrive while he was still alive, it would worry her - to hear from him without any reason, simply to tell her that he loved her. He should have told her that more often - he should have honoured her more. "That I love her very much. That I've never shown it to her - not really; but that I've loved her always."
Perhaps if this radio operator had the telegram sent immediately, perhaps it would arrive before the other telegram. Perhaps it would arrive before he died... At least before she knew he died. Perhaps. "Right up to the end..." He took a deep breath. "Give my love to my two sisters too - don't forget them."
"Received your message." The scratching finally stopped, but the waver grew stronger. "We can hear you - are you wounded? Repeat: are you wounded? Are you bailing out?"
Ah, and there was the question... "What's your name?"
She hesitated, and he thought that she would ignore the question again - he couldn't imagine it came up before in her time as a radio operator - but then she answered: "June."
He smiled slightly, picturing her; willing the iron bands around his chest to loosen. "Yes, June; I'm bailing out." He glanced at the parachute lying crumpled in the corner of the cabin, remembering his assurance to his crew that he would be directly behind them in escaping - that he would be there for their next mission. "I'm bailing out, but there's a catch." He paused for a second again, still not entirely understanding why he felt it necessary to tell her this. He could have simply appraised her of the situation and then bailed out, but he couldn't seem to be able to do that. "I've got no parachute."
"Hello - hello, Peter, do not understand. Hello - hello, Peter, can you hear me?"
He smiled again, hearing her soldiering on even as she realised what that meant for him. "Hello, June. Don't be afraid - it's quite simple." He breathe was slightly shaky, but when he stretched his hands they were perfectly still. "We've had it, and I'd rather jump than fry - After the first thousand feet, what's the difference. I shan't know anything anyway."
One death was merely agonising pain and the anticipation of it, and one was the accelerating fall and the sight of fast approaching ground - he wasn't entirely certain that hoping for cardiac arrest to take him first wasn't illogical. "I say, I hope I haven't frighted you."
Her voice was steady again as she answered, and he mentally cheered for her. "No, I'm not frightened."
His smile was more real. "Good girl."
"Your Sparks - you said he was dead, hasn't he got a chute?"
He didn't bother glancing at the roll of silky material and strings. "Cut to ribbons - cannon shell." He glanced out at the fire again. "June? Are you pretty?"
Perhaps if they had been face to face she would have slapped him - perhaps he would have never spoken to her. Of course, if they were speaking in person, he could have seen for himself - he would have know whether her hesitant 'not bad' was modesty or pride.
"Can you hear me as well as I can hear you?"
He mused for a moment on how she would even know, as she could not hear her transmission on his side of the radio.
"You've got a good voice - you've got guts too." He wondered about her family - wondered if they approved of the work she was doing. He wondered if she had a family to go back to, or if they had disowned her for her choice. He wondered if she had considered being a nurse, or working in the factories; or if this had been her first and final decision. He smiled slightly - he could ask her, but certainly he had imposed upon her enough.
"It's funny - I've known dozens of girls, I've even been in love with some of them; but it's and American whom I've never seen and never shall see who'll hear my last words." He heard her sharp breath and paused. Who will mourn me - will I not be left to die alone? He shook the words out of his head, focussing instead on the picture of the girl on the other end of the radio.
She would be wearing a dark green and brown uniform - brown oxford pumps likely, and a skirt. No stockings - but brilliant red lipstick and kind eyes. He sighed, not willing to guess what her hair or eye colour was, and especially unwilling to ask. She might not have a high opinion of her beauty, but he thought her the grandest thing for sparing the time for him. Who knew - perhaps her shift was nearly done, and there was another girl standing behind her to take her place...
"It's funny." His mouth twisted slightly. "It's rather sweet." He turned away from the front of the aeroplane. The hand crushing his lungs and heart was so tight that he wondered he could even breathe anymore. "June, if you're around when they pick me up - turn your head away."
"Perhaps we can do something, Peter - let me report it."
He wondered at the desperation in her tone. Was she new? Was she this compassionate of all? If so, he marveled that she wasn't a nurse - she would have been superbe at her station. Just as she was now...
"No - no one can help." After all - what were they to do? Catch him as he fell? That would only kill another good man. "Let me do this in my own way - I want to be alone with you, June." Perhaps he should sign off now before he embarrassed himself further, but he shrank from willfully striding forward alone. "Where were you born?"
His smile was nostalgic, and he could see his books all around him - could see the papers and students and stories coming alive around him. The people and the pictures nearly drowned out the heat and the pain until static from the radio dispersed his dreamings. "That's a place to be born - history was made there." The tea party, the Congresses - no, that was in Philadelphia... For the life of him, he couldn't think of another event at the moment...
"Are you in love with anybody -" He abruptly shook his head and cut himself off, "No, no - don't answer that." Perhaps she was betrothed to someone, perhaps she was already married. Perhaps there were children waiting for her to return, and a man who would wrap her tightly in his arms and make her forget this horrid transmission.
"I could love a man like you, Peter." The tears were much stronger in her voice now, and he wanted to wipe them away.
"I love you, June." It wouldn't matter what he said - he would be gone soon. Perhaps he should have listened to the others that told him to stay behind - to let others fight the war instead. He clenched his fists at the thought - realising that had he not volunteered, it would have just been another man's place to die this night. Another man's fate to be speaking to a stranger over the radio, pleading for one last comfort.
"You're life, and I'm leaving you." Even as he spoke to her, he began to pray - to prepare for what was to come. There wouldn't be anyone to pray with him, no one to absolve him - he would simply have to trust in the mercy of the Lord. "Where do you live? On the station?
"No, in a big country house about five miles from here - Lee Wood House."
"Yes, very old."
Good - then she had her family's support in this work. "Good. I'll be a ghost and come and see you." His hands still weren't shaking, but they didn't seem to completely belong to him either. " You're not frightened of ghosts, are you? It would be awful if you were."
He could here the small smile in her voice as she answered, and they both knew that this was only a small distraction - a game to stretch out the conversation. "I'm not frightened."
"What time will you be home?"
"Well, I'm on duty until six. I have breakfast in the mess, and then I have to cycle half an hour. I often go along the sands..." Her voice trailed off, and the dream shattered as she was unable to keep going. "This is such nonsense."
His voice was straight, and he was surprised. He felt as if it would never work - as if it would crack in half. "No, it's not - it's the best sense I've ever heard." He opened his mouth, but found he couldn't keep on either. "I was lucky to get you, June."
"Can't be helped about the parachute..." He paused. He almost wished he had some paper - had the time to write something down. And the time to do something with it afterwards, of course... "I'll have my wings soon anyway - big, white ones." Visualising the history of flight in the world's history, he frowned as a thought suddenly occurred to him: "I hope they haven't gone all modern - I'd hate to have a prop instead of a wing." The frown disappeared and he pictured flying on props - shaking his head sharply to dispel the picture. There was something better to wings... "What do you think the next world will be like?" He zipped his jacket up entirely, finishing the prayer he had been mentally repeating. "I've got my own ideas." Maybe they'd have aeroplanes and books and - and he could speak with the writers and the poets and the people of history and... He sighed. But he couldn't speak with June, or his mother, or his students, or any of the new people making history - or the people waiting to make history.
"I think it starts where this one leaves off - or where this one could leave off if we'd listened to Plato, and Aristotle, and Jesus." His voice was slightly bitter, but the reprise of not being alone in the Valley of Death calmed him more than he expected. And just as he expected. "With all our little earthly problems solved but with greater ones worth the solving..."
He glanced out the glass again, feeling the heat of the fire. Seeing Bob lying there with his eyes still open, he wished that his parachute worked and that Bob were alive to use it. That the last man of his crew could have gotten away as well.
It didn't matter in his case. He would have enjoyed meeting June in person - enjoyed dancing with her, and eating with her, and meeting her family, and courting her, and marrying her, and... His thoughts cut off and his closed his eyes to stifle the images. There would be no courtship of any girl, nor any marriage. He prayed for his mother - prayed for the war that would continue on.
"I'll know soon enough anyway..." His hand reached for the radio, but he hesitated. "I'm signing off, June; good-bye." He heard her breathe in sharply. "Goodbye, June."
The radio switched off, and he stood frozen for a few moments.
And that was that. Her voice was gone, and he wondered what she was doing now. Probably trying to reconnect to him - to hold off the inevitable a bit longer. He hoped she didn't think about him too long - wished that he hadn't spoken with her for so long. Perhaps there ws someone else on shift as well to comfort her - even half as much as she gave him would be enough...
He pulled off his cap and radio, dropping them to the floor and hearing it roll away. He thought about taking off more of the layers he wore - but they flew over the ocean now. He didn't mind this, not really; but a burial at sea was not what he longed for. Not this time - he was in the Air Force, not the Navy!
He bent over the only other body in the cabin; bent over Bob and remembering pushing the crewmember - what was his name? He couldn't remember now... - away towards the parachutes and leaning on the bandages, trying to staunch the bleeding. The men knew Bob wasn't coming back - there was no way he would have survived the jump, even if he hadn't already lost too much blood - but none of them said as much.
"So long, Bob - I'll see you in a minute." He hoped he did. It said there would be no tears and no sorrow, but seeing someone he knew would do him a world of good - in any world. "You know what we wear now - props or wings."
Sitting on the edge of the hole, he looked around the cabin once more. There really wasn't anything holding him back, but he couldn't let go yet. Once he jumped, there would be no turning back - no future. Not that there was one waiting here if he rode this aeroplane to the ground, but at least here he could tell himself that there was hope.
And it wasn't suicide here either. Or was it, since he sent his men away knowing there would be no parachute for him? He didn't know. He was a history professor, not a clergy!
His smile was sad, and then he nodded sharply; mentally saluting the Allies, and especially June. Steeling himself, he slipped through the hole into the fog below.
It was silent. It seemed silent.
It really wasn't silent at all - it was rather loud. The wind was whistling past his ears, tugging at his clothes and hair; and he could almost see the ocean through the impenetrable fog that he dropped through.
He almost didn't care. He could almost forget the way this fall would end - could forget that there would be no dances or engagements with a certain Miss June. He could forget the family and friends he would be leaving behind, and he could forget the people he had let down.
There would be other battles, and other excersises, and even other wars; for he knew it unlikely and impossible that the people of the world would suddenly begin listening to wisemen after millenia of doing the exact opposite.
He sighed. All the same, it would have been nice to see more - to do more. But never mind that - he clenched his teeth resolutely as the iron hand tightened completely around his chest - for he that gains his life shall lose it, and he that loses it shall find it.
He closed his eyes, uncertain how much further he had to live and struggling to breathe through the terror and sorrow. And as he fell, he couldn't tell whether the wetness on his face was from his tears or from the fog.
Who will mourn me when I'm gone?
Will I not be left to die alone?
Who will mourn me despite the life I've led?
Will someone mourn me when I'm dead?
AN: Well. A character study of Nevin's Peter Carter from Matter of Life and Death. The opening scene. All dialogue comes directly from the film - but all thoughts are my own. *sighs* So I've no excuse, truly... As for the poem, 'tisn't mine in the slightest. I can't give credit as I could never find the authoress - so I would be very pleased if someone could assist me in this. Not to mention, I would LOVE to read the rest of that poem... It wasn't supposed to be here (the original title was 'What's Your Name' as that's what he kept asking), but then I wrote it too melancholy, so... And, even if it's written too late to be in this story (it probably is...), I don't care in this case. This was also written without research or watching it, so forgive discrepancies betwixt this and the film. Pardon my excersise in uselessness, and I hope you found some entertainment in this. Thank you for sparing this any time. Gramercy, and God bless! 6-26-2015