Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022 (Now available for pre-order from Amazon)
The power alarm beeped, warning Aunix she had just thirty percent of the reserve battery remaining. She had learned – with almost fatal consequences – that whereas the wind had dropped allowing her to take off in her little canary, what wind remained seemed to blow head on, no matter the attitude of the aircraft, always head on.
Head on made for relatively easy flying, but it drained the battery, and it did so quickly, forcing Aunix to search for a suitable stretch of ice – always smoother than rock, but increasingly difficult to find or trust – on which to land. Thirty percent of reserve energy was Aunix’ new normal, but even as she flew south, making progress, the thought of bare knuckling the canary with no power onto unfamiliar and, frankly, treacherous terrain, still made her want to pee.
She gritted her teeth, clenched her muscles, and strained her eyes, searching for somewhere to land.
“And soon,” she whispered, reaching forward to turn off the audible alarm. The warning light flashed. When it turned a solid red Aunix knew she had less than ten percent of battery to power the prop and keep her airborne.
Of course, even if she did land, the problems started anew as she tried to capture the wind with her traps to recharge the battery. She spent most of the time on the ground – night or day, she didn’t know and had long since given up trying to figure it out in the constant black night of an Arctic winter – turning the traps and grumbling at the charge that trickled into the battery. Powering the battery required more of Aunix’ own energy than using it.
Which was problem number two.
Or was it number three?
Aunix needed fuel.
She needed to recharge.
Food and sleep were in short supply, whereas water – even if she had to suck chips of ice to quench her thirst – was, thankfully, still available. It wasn’t as easy to find as one might think, now that there was less precipitation in the Arctic, but it was there, and, fortunately, close at hand when she landed on a tiny lake or a flat stretch of a glacial tongue.
Thankful and fortunate.
That’s what she was.
“Aunix the Thankful,” she whispered. “Like a knight, riding her trusty steed into battle, in the service of the…”
Aunix paused for a beat.
She wasn’t inclined to be in the service of anyone.
“Although whoever convinced the wind to calm down has my eternal thanks.” She grinned. “Thankful, again. But then, I would be even more thankful if you – whoever you are – could ask the wind to blow just a little stronger when I land, because if the wind don’t blow…”
Aunix left the thought unfinished as she spotted a potential patch of ice shining in the moonlight. She dipped the port wing, checked the distance, the power, and then decided to be rash and cut the power, taking the canary in on a wing, and, possibly, a prayer or two, as the wind whistled around the airframe. The creaking of the wings, the shrill whistle of air past the struts, was audible the second the propellers stopped spinning. Aunix used a manual crank to position change the position of the motionless propeller to give her an unobscured view of the ice she intended to land on.
Aunix’ cheeks hurt as she grinned the widest of grins.
“This is flying,” she said as she worked the stick and the flaps, ensuring enough lift under the wings to land, but not too much to stall. The wind was in her favour once more, slowing the aircraft, perhaps a little too much, for which Aunix compensated by changing the attitude, pitching the nose down a little to increase speed, only to level it off a little to retain enough air under the wings for landing.
It reminded her of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and his adventurous exploits in South America when forging a new route for the mail, landing, sometimes crashing, repairing, sometimes defending the aircraft with a rifle, back-to-back with his navigator, before taking off the next day to fly another stretch through the mountains.
Was it the Andes?
Aunix held her breath as the tiny lake turned out to be more of a patch of ice than a strip.
Does it matter?
“It matters,” she said, pulling back on the stick to lift the nose, working the flaps for more lift, closing her eyes for a millisecond at the first kiss of the voluminous tundra tyres as they spun on the ice, and then again, a bump, a thud, and back into the air – briefly – before bumping and thudding onto the ice, dropping the tail wheel quickly but gently to give more drag, lifting the flaps to force the wind to press down on Aunix’ canary, to keep them on the ground, ice – whatever – until the friction of the rubber on the ice finally, fortunately, and thankfully, was sufficient for the plane to stop.
Aunix leaned back in the pilot’s seat. She tipped her head against the headrest and closed her eyes for a second.
“And a second more.”
She didn’t want to think about the trials of setting up the wind traps, putting up the ragged tent – it had seen better days – walking the strip of ice to clear it of substantial obstacles she missed on landing, but wanted to avoid when she took off, and then coffee, a bite of something, and sleep.
Intervals of sleep.
“I know,” she said, wishing she could turn off her brain as easily as she turned off the motor. But the practical checklist she ran through in her mind helped with the order of things, and it made sure things got done. “I’ll sleep for fifteen minutes at a time,” she said, knowing it would be more like thirty. “The power I saved on landing…”
Is the power you need to take off.
“I know,” she said, opening her eyes. “I don’t have to tell me.”
Such conversations kept Aunix sane, although, she knew they could just as easily tip her over the edge, along with the continuous dark that messed with her internal clock, the constant and consistently low temperatures – way below freezing – and the fickle wind that seemed determined to plague her with too much for too long, followed by not enough and shorter than needed.
“No rest for those who want to be wicked,” Aunix said. She fumbled for the handle to open the cockpit and then sighed at the thought of what she needed to do to take off the next day. Aunix looked south, imagining a little cabin tucked into the foothills of the Svartenhuk Mountains. “I’m coming, Luui. I’ll be there – soon. You’ll see.”
The original plan had been for Aunix to fly north and return with five to seven days.
As Aunix set up the first of two wind traps, she hoped she would make it back in time for Christmas.
“Christmas Eve. I’m flying home for Christmas Eve,” she said, remembering when it was the Greenlanders celebrated Christmas as she plugged the traps into the battery.
To be continued on December 9
Northwind © Christoffer Petersen 2022
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