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Race To Mystery - Chapter 6

Naim Aziz returned home and opened his front door. He had just returned from a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi and back, and felt more tired than usual. Over thirty years as a pilot now and he guessed that he was just getting old. He had only recently turned 55, and reflected on whether he wanted to keep going. He was divorced, his wife simply could not come to terms with him being constantly away. His two children were grown up and going to university, one in Australia and that other in Tokyo. He got to see them on occasion, but he really missed them. He threw his bags on his bed and switched on his personal computer. He had recently purchased a top of the range flight simulator and was keen to keep playing it. After all, flying was his passion, he shouldn't kid himself. He loved the freedom and the feeling of flying, he felt at home up there. He had enough money now to retire if he chose too, he had been flying passenger planes for Malaysia Airlines for the last fifteen of those years, and a few successful shrewd investments had him in a pretty good position financially.

He was waiting for his flight simulator to load so he decided to check him emails. Just the usual messages, safety alerts from the pilots association, newsletters from his various subscriptions and the like. There was one message there however that did not come from anyone he knew. He scanned it for viruses and then preceded to open it.

'Dear Mr Aziz. My name is Brenton Williams and I represent CRC Holdings Pty Ltd. Myself and my colleagues are embarking on a new project and would like to speak to highly experienced pilots like yourself regarding a lucrative employment opportunity. Please reply if you are interested and we can arrange a meeting. Regards, Brenton Williams, Assistant Director, CRC Holdings Pty Ltd'

Naim was puzzled. He had never heard of this company before, CRC, and why would they need pilots? How did they get his email address? Maybe it was a new airline company, but he usually heard of any new companies around the traps in his conversations with other pilots. Never the less it intrigued him.

'Dear Mr Williams. Thank you for your email. I am curious as to how you found my email address and as to why you need pilots. Are you a new airline company? Can you please give me some more details? Regards, Naim Aziz'

Naim quickly sent it, and returned to his flight simulator. He selected the Boeing 777, his favourite plane. Even though he flew these all the time, he loved the layout of the cockpit and was trying to optimise his skills with this plane. In the past few months he had really improved with this model, and on his last flight the telemetry from the engineers indicated that with his adjustments they had saved 1.5% in fuel, which is a significant amount in terms of jet fuel. This had not gone unnoticed by management either, and he had been given hints that he would be getting a better than usual bonus. The hours passed quickly, and Naim found himself engrossed with the simulator. He knew though he had to sleep, he had less than 30 hours before his next flight and did not want to be tired. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

After a really good sleep, Naim woke up fresh and energised. He was looking forward to his day off, and decided he would go out for some breakfast. As usual he switched on his computer and checked his emails. There was a reply from the mysterious Brenton.

'Mr Aziz. Thank you for your reply and interest regarding my email. We obtained your email from the company list at Malaysia Airlines, as this is a public list. I cannot divulge too much information regarding our future operations at present, however I would like to stress again that we are looking to recruit highly experienced pilots. I am in Kuala Lumpur for the next three days and if you would like arrange a meeting we can discuss some more details with yourself. Please be assured that this meeting will be completely confidential and obligation free. Please call me on the number below if you have any further questions. Regards, Brenton'

There was a phone number below his signature, and Naim spent several minutes looking at the screen and thinking. Maybe this would be a new and exciting opportunity for him. He loved to fly, and as long as he kept flying he was not too concerned about which company he flew for. He picked up his mobile phone and dialled the number.

“Good morning, Brenton Williams speaking”

“Good morning Brenton. My name is Naim Aziz, I am calling about our email conversation”

“Ohh yes, Mr Aziz, great to hear from you”. Naim felt there was a hint of an American accent there.

“I have to admit your offer has me very curious”

“That's great, are you available to meet today?”

“Yes, I am free all day”

“Ok, how about we meet at the Orchid Hotel, do you know it?”

“Yes, it is just next to the department of water”

“That's the one. How does 12pm sound?”

“Sounds ok. Do I need to bring anything?”

“No need. It is just a casual chat at the moment. We will see you there then”

“Thank you, bye”. Naim was feeling excited. He had been feeling a little bored and stuck in a routine for a while. Whilst he doubted he would leave his current job, it couldn't hurt to talk to these people either. He looked at his watch and it was just before ten am. He decided to leave and get some breakfast in the city and then make his way to the hotel.

It was a normal day in Kuala Lumpur, hot and hazy. Naim ate his breakfast and read the morning newspaper until it was time to walk around to the Orchid Hotel. He entered the lobby and was greeted by a young concierge. He informed him that he was there for a meeting, and was escorted into the bar area where three men were sitting down at a table, dressed in suits. Two if the men looked western, maybe Americans. The third man appeared to be Chinese. He approached the table, and the shorter, balding man stood up. “Mr Aziz? I'm Brenton. Please meet my associates Simon and Heng”.

The three men shook hands, and soon they were all seated. Brenton ordered drinks for everyone, Naim went for a glass of white wine. He had acquired quite a taste for wine over the years, especially during layover times in Australia. “So Naim, tell us a little more about yourself. How long have you been a pilot? Are you married, kids?”

Naim started at the beginning, telling them about how he came from a large family, he worked and paid for his own study and graduated from university as a mechanical engineer. He got a job working for a small logistics company that flew cargo planes and quickly realised that he wanted to become a pilot. So at age twenty five he saved up enough money to get his pilot's licence and spent the best part of five years flying cargo planes within South East Asia. He met his ow ex wife at the age of thirty roughly around the same time he got a job flying small passenger planes before getting his big break with Malaysia Airlines, with whom he was still working. He went on to talk about his kids and how they were really doing well at school. His son was studying computer science in Tokyo and his daughter was going to medical school in Melbourne, Australia.

“That's great, you really must be proud of them” said Brenton. “But I guess you are wondering why we are here”

“I am” said Naim. “And I admit I am more that just a little curious about your company”

“Basically we are a multinational company who undertake a series of different contracts, government contracts, from all different types of government” said Simon. “CRC is a sub branch of this company. We generally deal with defence contracts, you know things like stealth bombers, anti radar devices and the like”

“I see” said Naim. “ How does this involve me?”

“Well” Simon went on. “We would like to hire you to fly a plane. Just one flight, and you will be rewarded generously. You will most likely never need to work again”

“I don't understand”

Brenton responded. “Look Naim. We aren't going to mess around here. You are flying MH220, Kuala Lumpur to Beijing tomorrow right?”

Naim was puzzled. “Yes I believe I am”

“Well, what we are saying is” Brenton looked over at Simon.

“You will be flying that plane for us. But not to Beijing, somewhere else”

“You must be out of your mind” said Naim, raising his voice. “Are you saying that I should what, hijack my own plane?”

The Chinese man, Heng, who had said little so far leaned over, opening his jacket to show a handgun strapped underneath. “Please lower your voice Mr Aziz”

Naim leant back in his seat in disbelief. This was like something out of a spy novel or a movie. “You know you just can't make a plane divert off course. There are a million different type of tracking devices on the plane. Not to mention radar. You know that most military jets will shoot down hijacked planes don't you?”

“We are well aware of the Mr Aziz” said Simon. “But you just leave that to us. They can't shoot down or track what they can't see”

Brenton took out an envelope. He took the contents out and spread them across the table. Naim's heart sank and he felt like he was going to be sick. It was pictures of his two children. “I think I don't need to tell you what this means do I Mr Aziz?”

“You think you can just threaten me like this?” I have been a pilot for over thirty years. I cannot, will not do this. It is against everything that I have worked for. You say you will give me money, I will be an international criminal. There will be over two hundred people on that flight. There is no way”

“We have and just did Mr Aziz. We can guarantee that all of the passengers will be fine. They will just be indisposed for a little while. You will receive twenty million dollars for this one flight. We can relocate you anywhere within America or any of our allies countries, should you choose. You will not be wanted, you will only say you were hijacked by terrorists. You will stick to that story until the day you die sir, that's if you still love your children. You will say you are too traumatised to fly any more and retire. The payment we make to you will look like a compensation payout”

Naim felt numb. He couldn't speak. Nor could he believe that this was happening. “It seems I have little choice. But how will you go undetected? I need to know. I need to be sure the passengers are safe”

“We can't tell you too much” said Simon. “But basically we have developed a system by which we use refraction to nullify the aeroplane's radar system. We also have methods by which we can stop the ACARS system and also the engine logging systems which go back to the Boeing engineers”

“It's not that easy” said Naim. People on board will realise. They will try to send messages or make calls from their mobile phones”

“That is all taken care of” said Brenton. He handed Naim an envelope. “These are the details of when and where this will be happening. We will be on board, along with several of our associates. You will fly the plane to Diego Garcia, there is an old airstrip that is abandoned from World War II. We have had a look at it, and it is still good. The runway is 3,500 metres long, enough to land a 777 I understand” he said, looking at Naim.

Naim nodded his head. “Yes that is long enough. So we land there, then what? What happens to us?”

“You will be kept there until we have finished what we need to do. Then you will fly the plane to the nearest big airport, most likely in India somewhere. That is all I can tell you”

“I don't understand why you need the plane”

“It's not the plane we want Mr Aziz. It's something else entirely. Now we will be in touch with you tonight and again in the morning. If you mention anything at all, you know what happens. It's simple as that”

“What about the co-pilot?”

“Ohh, you mean Younus? We have spoken to him already Mr Aziz”

With that they got up and left. Naim sat there with the envelope in his hand and contemplated what to do. He felt like he had been hit by a bus. His flying career was over, there was no doubt about that. Would they harm his children anyway? He had no choice, sticking to the plan was his only option. A million thoughts were rushing through his brain, and none made sense. They were kidding themselves surely, you just cannot make a plan disappear mid flight. Or could you? He had to get home and check the simulator. Maybe he could learn some things that could be useful.

After getting home, Naim turned on the simulator. He desperately tried to turn off the ACARS system which sends back performance, speed and height data to Malaysian Airlines engineers at Kuala Lumpur airport. The only way this could be done is if there was a short circuit or problem in any of the other flight instruments, most of which would hamper performance. There was no way at all to turn off the engine data that went to Boeing. They were going to be shot down, he was almost certain of this. He also had a look at Diego Garcia. The runway was located on one of the atoll islands, and according to wikipedia, the islands were deserted most times of the year. The island that the runway was on had been deserted for the best part of twenty years. Before that it had served as a military base during the second world war. Several hours passed and his phone rang. It was Brenton.

“Naim just calling to confirm you haven't changed your mind”

“No I haven't” he said and hung up the phone. It was going to be a sleepless night, that was for sure. He finally drifted off to sleep and was awoken by his alarm. It was 5am, and he needed to get to the airport in an hour. He packed more than he usually would. After all, who knows how long he would be there. Or if he would be back at all.

He called a taxi and it arrived soon after. The traffic around the airport was in total chaos, and the taxi driver told him that there was a problem with the computers or something. Naim rang the office and spoke to the flight operations manager, telling him that he was stuck in the traffic. He was told not to worry, all planes were delayed, he had plenty of time. Of all days this seemed highly suspicious. Coincidence? Most likely not. He started to feel sick in the stomach again.

Naim went into the pilots lounge and sat down. We got something to eat, after realising he didn't have dinner. He drank several cups of coffee and tried not to look too conspicuous. He chatted to some of the engineers and other pilots. He received notice that the plane would now be scheduled to take off at 9.30pm local time, roughly twelve hours later than scheduled. He was sitting down watching television blankly when he felt someone nudge his arm. It was Younus, and Naim immediately realised he was not himself either. He had flown many times with him and Younus was a happy and cheerful young man, always quick to make a joke. He sat down beside Naim.

“Have you spoken to someone called Brenton?” asked Younus.

Naim just nodded his head. He really had a bad feeling about this. His career was over, and a good chance that his life would also be over tonight. He tried to think about something else but he could not concentrate. Twenty million dollars was a lot of money and he could do whatever he wanted except what he really loved to do: flying. The pilots lounge was crowded and some other pilots joined them. Both Naim and Younus tried their best to act normal, but it was a losing battle. Naim excused himself and decided to make some phone calls. He phoned his ex wife and talked to her. She was surprised he called, he rarely did that. He then preceded to call his children. He spoke to his daughter briefly but could not get hold of his son after trying several times. By the time he got back, it was time to check the plane's manifest and fill out all of the pre flight paperwork. He joined Younus in the office. The flight operations manager brought them all of the paperwork, plus one other unusual form.

“What's this?” asked Naim.

“Special cargo request form. Extra 1,000 pounds of lithium. Both of you just need to sign this as per the regulations” said the operations manager. “Also the xray machines are malfunctioning. It's a madhouse here tonight”

Naim looked at Younus and immediately knew they were thinking the same thing. They both signed the normal paperwork along with the extra cargo paperwork. Soon it was time to board the plane. They went through the gate and climbed aboard.

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