Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XXV. The Snow Crash.
“Daddy! You”—there was a brief pause while Miss Kun searched her vocabulary for a term strong enough to express her feelings —“poopyhead!”
We could see Kun through the left window: he was sitting comfortably in his seat, which was floating gently earthward, and he was waving with a smug smile under his beard.
“How is he doing that?” Weyland asked.
“The seat has a reserve tank of goesuppium,” Miss Kun explained.
“Can we get out the same way?”
“No. Only the front two seats are set up like that, and I let the ejector fluid out of mine. It’s still got the goesuppium, but there’s no way to eject.”
“Then we’ll have to do something else. Can you bring this machine down?”
“Down is no problem. It’s just surviving the impact that’s tricky. It takes a lot of flapping to land safely. But any time we like we can fold our wings and drop like a stone.”
“All right,” said Weyland, “so right now we’re soaring like a bird. Then we need to think like a bird. Do you mind if I take the controls?”
“Be my guest,” said Miss Kun, rising from her seat and standing hunched in the space where her father’s seat had been.
“Thank you,” said Weyland, squeezing past her to sit in the vacated seat. “I did some glider experiments with Mr. Curtiss, so if I can just— What are you doing?”
“Sitting on your lap,” said Miss Kun, sitting on his lap.
“That’s very distracting.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. I was beginning to wonder about you.”
“Do you have to—”
“Look, I’m trying to be good, okay? But you’ve got to let me do it in easy stages.—Oh, I could get used to this.”
“I wish you wouldn’t move quite like that.”
“Just tell me how you want me to move, Mr. Weyland.”
“If you’ll just let me save our lives now, we’ll have plenty of time to talk about other things later.”
“Oh, all right, I’ll be good.”
“Thank you. Now, do you see those—”
“Yes.—Do you see those vultures circling over there?”
“They must have found a carcass, the sweet little dears.”
“More importantly,” said Weyland, “they’ve found a thermal—a patch of warm air rising. I’m going to take us over there, and we can circle while we plan our next move.”
The ornithopter banked to the left, and in eerie motorless silence we soared over to join the vultures, which unsurprisingly scattered at our approach.
“We’re too heavy to gain altitude,” said Weyland, “but at least we’re not descending very fast. I’m going to circle here, and—oops—sorry about that…”
“Do that again and I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
“I’m sorry. It’s hard to manipulate the controls without, you know—”
“I meant that in a good way, Mr. Weyland.”
“Do you see that snow field over there?” asked Weyland. “It’s a bit of a slope, but we might be able to set down there. I don’t see anywhere else that’s not either forest or rock.”
“I don’t either,” said Miss Kun. “If you can set us down there, the snow might cushion the impact.”
We began to bank to the right, and, leaving the thermal, we lost altitude rather quickly. We spiraled downward over the snow field, the ground coming closer more quickly than I liked to see.
Tluxapeketl seemed to be watching Weyland and Miss Kun—an impression that was confirmed when she said to me, “The red lady likes Mr. Weyland very much.”
“It looks that way,” I agreed.
“I am happy. I was afraid she might like you.”
“Now,” said Weyland in a voice obviously meant to be heard in the back seats, “I suggest everybody get on the floor at once. We might hit a bit hard. —You, too, Miss Kun. I don’t want you to get hurt. I have to keep a hand on the controls, but the rest of you crouch down and brace yourselves.”
Tluxapeketl and I followed instructions, squeezing ourselves between the rear and middle seats. I tried to make sure we were as well padded as possible, keeping our heads down, and thus I saw nothing of our descent until Weyland announced, “There we are. You can get up now.”
Cautiously Tluxapeketl and I poked our heads up above the seats.
We were on the ground, with snow all around us, and the nose of the craft pointing downward on the moderate slope. I had not even felt the landing.
Miss Kun was as surprised as I was. “You call that hitting a bit hard? I can hit a lot harder than that. You’ll find that out when you get to know me better.”
“Well,” said Weyland, “I suppose my glider experience served me in good stead. I thought I might be able to make a soft landing, but I wasn’t certain. It’s always best to be prepared for the worst.”
“An excellent principle,” I agreed. “But now that we’re safe—”
Suddenly there was a loud crack, and the ornithopter began plunging down the slope, with a large broken section of the snow field coming along for the ride. Tluxapeketl and I fell back on the floor as the machine bounced, turned, and skipped over the irregular ground until we came to a stop and seemed not to be going any farther.
The ornithopter was on its left side, and Tluxapeketl and I were lying on the left wall, a little bruised but not seriously injured.
Miss Kun was also lying on the left wall, somewhat behind where her father’s seat had been. Weyland was beside her.
She sat up and leaned over toward Weyland. “Are you all—”
The machine began to tilt forward ominously.
Miss Kun quickly leaned back the other way, and the ornithopter fell back to its previous position.
“That can’t be good,” she said.
“I hate to ask this,” said Weyland, not moving from his prone position, “but can anyone see outside?”
Slowly I stood up, and Tluxapeketl with me. We looked out the back window, and then toward the front.
“Behind us I see a long track in the snow and one of our wings broken off about a hundred yards back,” I reported.
“In front is a big nothing,” said Tluxapeketl.
“When you say ‘nothing,’ Miss Kun asked, “do you mean, if you’ll pardon my language, virgin snow, or—”
“Air,” said Tluxapeketl.
“So you mean,” said Weyland, “that we are at the edge of a precipice.”
“It would seem so,” I admitted.
“I thought as much,” said Weyland. “I have always had a peculiar, almost magnetic attraction for precipices. They seem to seek me out.”
“Well, what are we going to do about it?” Miss Kun demanded.
“I’m going to think,” said Weyland.
“How will that help?”
“It often does. All I need is a short time, and I should be able to work out—”
“While you think, I’m going to see if I can get out,” said Miss Kun. “Maybe I can—”
She had moved slightly toward the open roof panel that had been above Kun’s seat, and was now to her left just a little in front of her; but the machine began to tip forward again. Quickly she leaned back toward the tail of the machine, and it fell back into place.
“Think harder,” she told Weyland.
“I just need a little more time,” he said. “I think I’m just about there…”
“Mr. Weyland always thinks of something,” Tluxapeketl told me confidently.
“Aha!” cried Weyland. “I have it!”
There was another loud crack, and the ornithopter slipped off the edge into the void.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: