Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
Aunix Cobick wrestled with the stick and stamped her feet on the rudders, kicking the little electric-powered Piper back on course each time the wind snatched at the tail or buffeted the wings. The tundra tyres – big and chucky for rough landings – also caught the wind’s eye as it slapped them, sending another round of shudders shakes through the cockpit. Aunix pressed her forehead against the glass on the starboard side of the cockpit, holding it there as she spied the icy landscape below searching for a suitable spot to land.
“Another one,” she said, her breath misting the glass as she reeled away from the window in anticipation of hitting her head against the glass in another round of turbulence. She caught her breath, changed her grip on the stick to ease the cramp in her fingers, and then stuffed it forward, plunging the little plane nose down towards a stretch of what looked like thick ice.
But not even the ice could be relied upon anymore, as temperatures soared, and everything melted. Even the permafrost, exacerbating the problem as tonnes of methane previously locked in the frozen earth was released into the atmosphere.
“But at least Sleeping Beauty was all right. And the family,” Aunix said with a smile.
She let that part of her mind wander to the polar bears she had flown north to track while the other part of her mind calculated her speed, the rush of air gusting behind her tail as if the wind knew Aunix was racing for the hard deck and was determined to make her last minutes in the air as harrowing as possible.
“Well,” Aunix shouted as the stamped on the rudders, then wrestled the stick in one hand as she cranked the wing flaps with the other. “This is getting sporty.”
Sporty was, fortunately, what Aunix lived for, and the sportier the better.
There had been that one time, on Columbia, when she landed on a tiny strip of dirt cut into the rainforest. The wind had been sheer, coming on from her right, pushing the starboard side of the plane until she was heeled over with the tip of her port wing pointing straight down. The noise had been tremendous too, and worse as the wingtip thrashed through the foliage like a machete. It could have tipped the little piper – Aunix’ plane of choice – onto it’s back, but she used foliage like a brake, reducing speed, adding drag, and jerking the stick to the right while stamping on the pedals to force air over the tail as she righted the plane and dumped it on the dirt strip just metres before the jungle began again at the end of it.
That had been fun.
It had been what Aunix called a five on her personal scale of rough landings, where a one might break a skid or a strut if she pranged a hidden boulder, while a five required a few days of repairs – longer if she had to source parts.
The patch of ice dead ahead, right under her nose, looked like a three, requiring a little maintenance if the plane sustained some damage, but nothing she couldn’t repair with the tools and spares she carried beneath the passenger’s seat behind her.
If the ice was thin, as she feared, then she might be facing a six, off the charts, resulting in an unrecoverable aircraft, and possible loss of life.
“But I made a promise,” Aunix said, as she gritted her teeth. “Christmas in the cabin. That poor girl sees maybe three or four people a year. And I mean people, not spirits. Although the small folk are friendly enough. But no one of her own age, or…” Aunix fought for the words as the wind gave her another unhelpful shove from behind. “Species,” she said, pulling back on the stick and screaming as the airframe clattered and the wind howled the last hundred metres to the ice.
To the casual observer, Aunix yellow plane light have looked like a lost canary plummeting into the patchy ice and snow of the High Arctic. They might have expected a cloud of feathers, pluming into the black winter sky to be snatched by the wind as the little bird imploded on impact.
But the Piper was not a canary, and the ice was thick enough to take the weight if the tundra tyres survived the brunt of the impact.
Aunix pulled the stick back as far as she could, set her feet on the pedals, and took what might be her last breath, as the nose lifted ever so slowly – so… damned… slowly, until she was as at forty-five degrees, then thirty… twenty, then level – fabulously, wonderfully, ecstatically level, and the big fat tundra tyres kissed the ice with a lip-smacking rubbery smooch, defying the wind as Aunix bounced the little Piper once, twice, then three more times as she travelled the length of the ice, working the pedals and stick with tiny movements to avoid drifts of snow which might hide a strut-snapping boulder of ice, or a patch of softer ice ready to suck the wheel into the sea.
And then she was down, and the wind rushed past her. Aunix looked up as if she could see it, then down again, straight ahead, as she focused on the ice in front of her.
“I’m flying home for Christmas,” she sang, as the tyres growled across the ice. She raised her voice, repeating the line again and again until she raised the flaps to slow the plane, and then kissed the brakes once, twice, and then full on to bring the metal canary to a sudden stop. “And that,” Aunix said as she cut the power and the engine puttered to a stop, “is a zero. Easy peasy. All good. Just walk on by, folks. Nothing to see here.” Aunix congratulated herself with a pat on each shoulder and a, “Why thank you. No, no. Thank you.”
The wind curled across the surface of the ice gathering a house-sized cloud of ice needles into an anvil of sorts and thwacked it into the side of Aunix’ little plane, jolting her in her seat and slamming her head against the window to remind her she wasn’t home yet.
“Touché,” Aunix said, touching her fingertip to her head and snapping it forward in a mock salute. “Better luck next time, my friend.” Aunix slumped in the seat and let her head fall back against the headrest. “Next time,” she breathed, “I’ll take a boat.”
To be continued on December 3
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
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