Les rode on a blast of pure black speed for what seemed like forever, and yet like one impossibly suspended moment. Then there was a lightning crack, and with it the movement simply stopped. Les clamped his eyes shut against the gray light that was suddenly there. When he opened them, a little at a time, he saw that the couple with the baby was gone, and all the nearby seats were vacant.
"Hello?" he called out. The hollow silence supplied the answer he instinctively feared: he was alone. Did I black out? It didn't feel like he had passed out. He thought he remembered the whole thing: the burst of golden light, the sudden darkness, the directionless whoosh of acceleration. But where is everyone? He must've blacked out, he decided, at least part of the time. It was the only way to explain the absence of the other passengers.
"Hello," he called again and tried to stand. His seat belt, still fastened, yanked him down. Les felt for the buckle, found that it was jammed and wouldn't release. A small, electric spark of dread coursed through him. Was that why he been left behind? Because his seatbelt was stuck? Was anybody coming back for him? He couldn't believe they would just leave him all alone.
Les began to notice strange things about the plane. For one, the cabin was completely unlit, illuminated only by the dingy daylight coming through the windows. The light strips that bordered the aisle were out, as were all the ceiling lights. It was as if the plane's power had been cut off, yet the plane itself was perfectly intact. Then there was the undeniable tinge of gold. It was everywhere: the seats, the floor, the entire interior of the cabin. At first he wondered if perhaps the brilliant bombardment he had endured was having a lingering effect on his vision. But when he looked down at himself, his clothes were unaffected, and his own skin was its usual bronzy-brown. Confused, he looked to the window and was startled by another difference: the glass in his window was missing. He raised a finger, and slowly pushed it through the opening. "What the--" he mumbled. "The window's gone?" He twisted around, checking the others. All of them looked empty, as if someone had come along and collected all the glass. When could that have happened? he wondered. And why?
Les's stomach, which he had forgotten about, began to writhe again. With a low moan, he glanced outside. Only then did he notice they were not on an airport runway, or at an airport at all. Instead, it appeared that the plane was parked on gray rock, flat as concrete, spreading out in all directions. In the far distance Les could see a towering, arcing wall of sheer rock of the same gray color, its upper edge visible only when he cranked his head to one side and peered upward through the window. Where are we? He scanned along the base of the cliff, and finally found a solitary building, dwarfed beneath the high wall. Beyond that, he could find no other sign of life, not even a single shrub, or a blade of grass.
Must've had to make some kind of emergency landing, he surmised. But that still doesn't explain where everyone went, or why they left me here. He swallowed hard, blocking the rising terror at his throat. Wait, he told himself. Maybe everybody else is on the other side of the plane where I can't see them. Or maybe they're in that building. "If I could just get this stupid seatbelt off," he snarled. Grasping it with both hands, Les tried his best to force the buckle to open. He pulled until his arms began to tremble, and his strength gave out, but it still wouldn't budge. Then he tried to wriggle out from under the strap, but he couldn't move more than a few inches either way. Frustrated, Les threw himself back against the seat. His head struck a cushion that he knew was made of soft foam, but felt hard as steel. It clanged hollowly.
"Ow!" he cried, twisting back and giving his seat an evil look. "What is going on around here?"
He was still rubbing his head when movement outside the window caught his eye. A man was crossing the expanse between the plane and the building. Within a few minutes, he had drawn close enough that Les could see he was dressed in some kind of pale blue business suit. The bright yellow flash of his tie stood out, even at this distance. The man appeared to be quite large, though that was difficult to judge against the emptiness of the surroundings. He carried some kind of bag in one hand, and walked at a brisk pace. Les watched him, nervous but hopeful that he was coming to free him.