The landing was astonishingly fast and rather bumpy. I'm used to commercial pilots landings, where there is plenty of notice, plenty of time for the cabin crew to stop you doing anything fun, and then frequently a delay while air-traffic control try to work out who you are and why you're in their airspace. I keep promising myself not to fly Penguin Airlines anymore, but they have far and away the best in-flight service going. This landing seemed to be over in no time. One minutes the Captain was shouting "Incoming!" over the intercom and the next minute we'd tilted noticeably forward and I found myself gripping the arms of my seat as a precaution. James looked terrified, I've already noted that Isabella's face is virtually impossible to read and Irene looked – well, serene.
The plane braked hard and I think we were all flung forward as much as our lap-straps would allow.
"I had a few modifications made to the plane," said Isabella in response to James's panic-stricken look. "Technically it's not air-worthy any more, but as I think you can see, we're a little ahead of most of the aerospace technicians out there. The plane jerked again, and stopped.
"Ah, I think we've landed," said Isabella. "Irene, could you get the doors, please?"
"Cabin-crew are cross, check!" said Irene smartly, and I knew it wasn't quite the usual statement that comes over the intercom during landing procedures, but I couldn't figure out what was wrong with it.
James wasn't moving, just sat very still and appeared to be holding his breath. His skin was a bit paler than usual, and I thought I could see sweat on his forehead.
"James?" I said, unbuckling.
"Ah," said Irene, throwing a heavy-looking bar on the door and swinging it open. "The air-sickness bags are in the seat pocket on his left." Of course, I looked on my left first and found only an in-flight magazine that looked to have been 'borrowed' from a dentist's waiting room. The air-sickness bags were in the other pocket, and James looked fractionally grateful when I put one in his hand and another on his lap.
"While your chauffeur recomposes himself," said Isabella, coming up behind me and taking my elbow, "let me show you the airfield. Irene will make sure he comes down off the plane after us, and I've realised that this will save us the hassle of hiring a driver." We walked to the door, and I saw that a flight of wheeled aluminium stairs had appeared outside the plane. I stepped on to them, and started to turn as I heard Isabella shout something, then the stairs wobbled violently and I lost my balance, and bounced down the stairs. Well, at least half-way. After that, I just woke up and found myself at the bottom and assumed that gravity had taken me there regardless.
"Boss?" James was shaking my shoulder and I was immediately grateful I'd not broken my neck. My head rolled from side to side with the force of his efforts to wake me.
"James, stop that," I said. I'd bitten my tongue and could taste the iron of blood in my mouth, and my words were slightly thickened and muffled by it. "James, STOP THAT."
"Boss," he said, standing up and backing off a bit. "You fell down the stairs. I was...." He looked sheepish, and I sat up carefully, checking for the wrong kind of pain. I hurt, but mostly in a bruised and battered kind of way, not unlike after a training session with James.
"You were indisposed," I said. "And it wouldn't matter anyway, I don't know what happened at the top there."
"You stepped onto an unsecured set of mobile stairs," said Isabella appearing from behind me. She was carrying my shoes in one hand. "I tried to stop you, which made things worse because you turned around, away from the safety rail. For a minute I thought you were going to go over the edge." She handed me my shoes.
"Thank-you," I said automatically. "Why did we go to the doors if the stairs weren't secured?"
"We had to leave the plane somehow," said Isabella, her voice flat, the way it gets when she doesn't want me to think that she thinks she's talking to an idiot. "And you weren't supposed to go down the stairs until I said it was safe to do so. This isn't a commercial flight, you know? We don't wrap you in cotton-wool, we expect a little bit of common-sense from you." She turned away, and then back again. "I really hope this was just a one-off," she said. "The Book of Miracles is not safe in any way at all, and it really is quite dangerous just to get to it. I'd rather not go at all if you're just going to die on the way."
I put my shoes on, wondering how they'd come off, and then a thought struck me. I pressed the release in the heel, and nothing fell out of the bottom of it. The GPS device was gone.