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"I can't move."
My pilot leaned over me—magically, since he was similarly strapped in—and adjusted my several harnesses. "If you have to get out, you knock this handle on your lap belt. Then you pull the knob on this green bottle on your suit here. That's oxygen; keeps you alive on the way down. After you've got out of your seat belt just stand up—the chute'll come with you—turn around, grab that bar on top of the door behind the cockpit and step out of the doorway. The door won't be there. I'll get rid of it if we have to go. Drop out the doorway, count three and pull the D ring. That's that ring on your chest."
"All set?" said my pilot.
"I guess so," I said.
My pilot pressed one of his buttons and there was a whine that grew higher and louder, even through the spongy dome of my earphones, until it was unbearably high and loud. This procedure was repeated as we started our second engine. My pilot's left hand pushed a pair of thick, flat black handles forward together, not very far. We moved out of the line of blue planes, turned and trundled down a wide asphalt taxiway. The asphalt turned to concrete. My pilot pulled the black handles back again and we stopped.
"Sims Tower, this is Navy one three nine requesting clearance to take off on runway three six," said my earphones.
"Navy one three nine cleared for takeoff on runway three six. There is heavy smoke from forest fire one mile north of runway."
My pilot wrote something on a small clipboard strapped to the thigh of his right leg. Then he pushed his handles forward and we rumbled onto the great runway. Our plane moved forward. It started to shake, a convulsion which took it from side to side and up and down on its wheels at the same time. A damp wash of fear ran through my stomach. My pilot looked up, not at the runway but at the instruments, and pulled the control stick back. We were immediately in the air, and our awkward and dispirited staggering of a second before changed into a single-minded lift.
My shoulder harness relaxed. I was pushed from below by my parachute; I sagged and my arms gained weight. We turned hard, flipping on our side, and curved away from the still, straight black pipestem of smoke the radio had talked about. I tried sitting up and found that I could.
We flew through an outcropping of cloud, our windshield frosting gray and opaque. My pilot looked at the dials in front of him.