The helicopter was small and old, its instrument panel filled with analogue dials and clunky switches. Still, she recognized everything.
She looked back through the dark to the building. There was no sign anyone had noticed she had gone.
That would soon change.
After a quick check that the rotor blades were disengaged she turned on the fuel pump, set the throttle to start, and turned on the engine. The instrument panel lit up, and soon the temperature and pressure looked good.
Taking a deep breath, she engaged the rotors. Within a few seconds she could hear the thudding as the blades above her head cut through the air, ever faster, and ever louder as the engine rose in pitch. She looked at the building again. A shaft of light could be seen from a doorway. Someone was there. The blades above thudded faster, now exceeding even the pounding in her chest.
She reached for the collective; the handbrake-style handle to her left, and pulled it up. The helicopter rose unsteadily off the concrete pad. She adjusted the cyclic control stick in front of her with her other hand, steadying the aircraft as it rose up to the height of the tall fence that was just visible to the front. She pushed the stick. The helicopter tipped forwards slightly and moved towards the fence.
There was a clattering sound, and then a bang as hole appeared in the door window. She ducked to the side, fighting to keep her fear and panic under control. She pushed the stick further forwards and pulled harder on the collective, rising faster.
The helicopter had cleared the fence and was now speeding over the black jungle beneath. She pushed down on the collective and leveled off.
She relaxed, and then noticed the red light blinking.
Her heart sank. The fuel gauge was showing empty.
The engine coughed and seemed to sigh in resignation, and then stopped.
She took a slow deep breath and focused, calming her thoughts. You trained for this. You know what to do.
She pushed the collective all the way down and pulled back on the control stick. The helicopter was now descending but auto-rotation was taking effect and the rotors above were still turning. So far so good.
She looked around. To the left, where a white half-moon sat low above black hills, she could see a line of faint but sharp sparkles. Pitching left she turned the aircraft, aiming at what she hoped would be a wide enough section of water.
The helicopter was low now, she could almost feel the unseen jungle beneath reaching up, trying to grab the landing skids. With a thud something hit the undercarriage, knocking the aircraft off-balance. She hit her head on the side window, wincing as a stab of pain made itself known. There was now a glittering expanse of water beneath.
Pulling up on the collective, and pulling back on the stick, she used all the remaining energy of the rotors to slow the fall to the river as much as she could. She gasped and held her breath but was forced to grunt as the helicopter hit hard but flat. She was momentarily stunned, and it took a few seconds before she noticed the water rising high up against the glass and spraying in through the seams of the doors.
Pulling down on the door handle she pushed hard, yelling as a surge of river water filled the cabin. She took a rapid deep breath and pulled herself out, kicking against the door frame and swimming away from the sinking machine. The water was tepid, refreshing. She turned and watched as the helicopter sank quickly, the red strobe light on its tail still blinking, dazzling against the darkness.
An incredible surge of relief washed over her. And then a moment of thrill. She laughed briefly, her breathing slowed. She headed for the shore. And then she thought about where she was. He eyes were well adjusted now, and the dense tree line ahead was bathed in a deep ghostly sheen. Dreadful thoughts of what must be watching snapped into her consciousness. She imagined eager jaws closing around her limbs, tearing at her flesh.
She had escaped, but to what?