Images loaded from the camera into my laptop with, I imagined, a sucking noise. Running through my mind were the captions for each photo I would put in the document, each describing the image, how it related to the report, and hopefully worded in such a way as to be interesting or mildly amusing. I ignored the conversations going on around me as the image processing software optimized the pics and imported them.
A ball of paper landed on the keyboard, startling me. The three other occupants of the room were staring. I'd missed something. "What?"
"I said, what's your name?" said the bandicoot.
"Greyshades," I said. They looked at me. "Shady," I added and received nods of approval.
"Shady by name," said the rabbit. She turned to the devil and snatched the cigarette from his mouth, took a long draw then slumped back to stare at the ceiling.
"Not by nature," I added. The smoke had a pungent, green smell and irritated my nose.
"I don't know about that," said the bandicoot. "All that running around and writing reports for management."
"It's only OH&S stuff," I said.
The devil sat up suddenly. "Hey! Are you called Shady because you, like, run around in the dark and everything?"
"Don't mind Frank, he's a bit slow," said the bandicoot. "I'm Dave and the rabbit getting herself stoned is Miff." The rabbit raised her hand and waved vaguely at me.
"Because you're a bat and like the dark. You know?" continued the Frank. He paused for a moment and frowned. "What's O.H. and S?"
"Occupational Health And Safety," I explained.
"So what brings a OH&S guru from Sydney to Kalgoorlie?" asked Dave.
"You heard about the Euclid that was hit by lightning?"
"Oh yeah!" breathed Miff, exhaling a cloud of smoke as she spoke. Her eyes were closed.
"Well, I had to set up a 200 metre safety perimeter around it and make sure no one goes near for 48 hours."
Dave and Frank frowned. "Why?" asked Frank.
"The lightning ignites the tyres-" I began.
"I didn't see any fire," interrupted Dave.
"They burn inside," I explained. "They smolder away until the pressure gets too much and the tyre explodes."
"Cool!" said Frank.
"Not if you're in the cab," said Miff. "And the lightning was bloody loud"
I stared at the rabbit. "You were the driver?" Miff nodded once. "I need to talk to you."
"Tomorrow," she said after a moment's silence. "Today was bad."
Frank slumped back in the chair and sighed. "I'm bored. Who wants to go to the airport?"
"We don't have the new flight schedule," said Dave. "Do you have one, Shady?"
"I thought he'd fly in on his own wings," said Frank.
"It would take me a week to fly across the Nullabor," I said as I fished the book from my bag and held it out. Frank snatched it from my fingers. "You want to watch the planes land? You must be desperate," I added.
"It's more entertaining than you think," laughed Miff. "Especially the way we do it."
Frank jumped to his feet. "Airbus at 10:20!" he exclaimed. "What time is it?"
"10pm," I said.
"That's in-" We waited in silence while he counted. "20 minutes! You'll have to drive us."
I blinked up at him. "I will?"
"Frank's right for once. None of us are in a fit state," said Dave. "Come on! It'll be fun!"
"Watching a plane land?"
"Depends where you watch if from," said Dave.
Ten minutes later we were sitting on the side of the road in my hired car. "Here?" I wondered. "The turn-off to the airport is just ahead."
"Here," said Miff. "You can't get to the runway from the terminal."
I turned in my seat to look at her. "R-runway?!" I stammered but they had left the car. I jumped out, locked the door, and sprinted after them. "What do you mean 'runway'?" I hissed.
They ignored me. Dave was studying the chain-link security fence. A brilliant white flash surrounded us, followed a few seconds later by another. "Hurry up," whispered Miff. "The landing lights are on!" Dave pointed at a spot where the fence met the ground. Frank grasped the wire and heaved. The mesh lifted. He held it up while Miff and Dave scrambled underneath, then followed as they held it. I stepped back and, with a few flaps, flew over.
We ran. I had no idea where we were going and I was sure it was illegal, but I followed them anyway. A hundred metres from the fence we arrived at the end of the tarmac. They lay face down on the ground just before the end of runway markers. I joined them.
"Now what?" I whispered.
"We wait," explained Frank.
We waited. In the distance blinked little orange lights of airport vehicles going to and fro in their duties. I stared at them, desperately hoping none were heading our way. The night was calm but I was not. If the Federal Police caught us here we would be arrested. I was nervous, scared, worried and more than a bit excited. Eventually a faint whine could be heard.
"Here it comes," muttered Dave.
The whine grew in volume until it became an unbearable scream. I covered my ears. The sounds pounded into my body, making my insides bounce. There was a brief burst of landing lights as the plane passed barely 10 metres overhead, then the scream of the turbofans became even louder. The plane sank to the runway.
"Stand up!" shouted Frank as the three of them jumped to their feet. I stood. "Here it comes!"
The plane touched down with a brief squeal of tyres and disappeared into the darkness. At that moment we were almost knocked off our feet by the blast of the jets, the hot air buffeting us reeked of tyre smoke and fuel-alcohol. It was all I could do to stand upright.
Eventually the wind slowed. I laughed out loud, unable to contain the adrenaline rush. "How did you discover this?" I shouted.
"It's not over yet," said Dave.
Behind us came another sound, a soft washing noise like an echo of the plane. I turned to look, but an invisible hand picked me up and threw me tumbling into the sky. I recovered quickly and landed where my companions lay.
"What the hell was that?" I laughed "It felt like I was riding a willy-willy!"
"Jeez, Shady," said Miff as she stood and brushed herself down. "I thought a flyer would know about wing-tip vortexes."
"Well… Yeah, but… We sort of naturally throw them off," I muttered.
"When's the next plane?" asked Frank.
"Tomorrow," said Miff. "Dunno the time. We'll check back at the barracks."
"You're all insane," I said.
"Maybe," said Dave. "You coming out tomorrow?"
"Yeah!" I said immediately. "That was fun."