“Okay. Let’s talk business. I have no idea if we’re dead or alive but if we’re flying in circles someone must have programmed it and it wasn’t me.”
“Could some part of you be thinking we need to fly in circles until we figure out what to do next?”
“Maybe,” Bianca said after a while. The idea she had incomplete control of her own mind was not the most pleasant one but it was plausible. “It’s possible.”
“There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?” His eyes held hers for a second and then he looked away and sighed. “I apologise. You’re the captain. We’ll do what you say.”
“We can’t stay in the air forever, dead or alive. That’s one thing I know for sure.” She strained her eyes for something flat among the peaks, some plateau that could accommodate a plane, relieved the conversation was back on a work track. “We just have to pick a spot.”
“Or a lake. We could ditch in a lake.”
“I don’t know if there are lakes large enough for a 737 in the Alps.”
“I think there are some pretty large ones. I watch a lot of travel TV,” he said in response to Bianca’s confused look.
“That’s nice,” she said for lack of anything better. “We’ll have to go lower to see better. Let’s do some reconnaissance.”
She felt for the cabin mic, found it and flicked the switch.
“This is your captain speaking. Please fasten your seatbelts and do not remove them until I tell you to. We won’t be landing yet but the first officer and I want to go a little lower to find the best landing spot. Thank you.”
Bianca shut off the mic and looked at Michael.
“It’s all yours, captain,” he said, bowing his head, which would have maddened Bianca a few years ago. Now, for some unclear reason, she took it as a sincere gesture of appreciation. It almost brought a smile to her face. Only it was no time for smiles. It was time to land the plane.
She fixed her eyes on a point between two particularly high peaks and freed her mind of distractions. They had to go lower but not too low, and not too fast. Slow and easy would do it. Bianca pushed the yoke gently forward and the plane immediately responded as gently. Its nose glided lower rather than the dive it had taken earlier that had scared the hell out of both of them and the passengers. Bianca searched the landscape for a flat surface but saw none.
“If you see anything flat enough and large enough, let me know,” she said. Michael nodded. “Or a lake.” He nodded again.
The plane continued gliding lower, as smoothly as a swimming swan, with Bianca starring as the busy feet that worked under the water to make the bird so notoriously graceful. The next second grace was gone. The plane hit an air pocket and shuddered from nose to tail. Bianca’s teeth clattered audibly. One more second and the shuddering stopped.
“It’s okay!” she shouted, too busy looking for a landing spot to look for the mic. “We’re fine!” The passengers probably couldn’t hear her through the thick door of the cockpit but at least she had tried. Now she focused again at the work at hand. The flaps scraped into position for descent and landing even though Bianca still couldn’t see a place that could do the job of a runway.
“Can you see anything we can use?” she asked, using the 360-degree view the plane now provided of the landscape below.
“Not yet,” Michael said curtly. “I can’t estimate how large that lake right below us is from this far.”
There was a dark blue circle amongst what increasingly looked more like a thick forest of peaks than a mountain range, with no flat surface in sight. Bianca continued descending, feeling the plane, feeling the wind and flying with it, for now. Later she would turn and use the wind as an additional brake when she attempted to land. Her nose started itching and she scratched it, using the moment to check if she was sweating even though she felt no wetness. Dry skin. Bianca exhaled. The blue circle below them became bigger and bluer.
“What do you think?” she asked.
Michael shook his head and winced.
“I don’t want to risk an estimate. It looks large enough but looks can be deceiving.”
“We don’t exactly have an extensive choice of options,” Bianca said, careful to keep the annoyance in her voice to a minimum. “I think the lake is less risky than this slope next to it. It’s like someone deliberately crumpled this place so there isn’t a single mile of flatness in it.”
Michael didn’t respond. He kept his eyes on the lake.
“I’ve never ditched,” Bianca said. She might as well admit it. It wasn’t a crime. And yet she felt embarrassed about it.
“I know,” he said. “Can we get a little lower?”
“I’ll try.” She focused. It was becoming easier and easier. She could slip into total control of the plane, take a break to talk to the first officer, and return to total control as smoothly as she took her hand off the yoke to scratch her nose and then took hold of it again.
“It will have to do,” Michael said when the blue circle became bigger and still bluer. “It will do.”
“Okay,” Bianca said. An ice-cold shiver shook her body and set her hairs on end. “We’ll have to prepare the passengers.”
“I’ll go.” Michael unclasped his belt and stood up but instead of going out he leaned over her and put his hand on her shoulder for the briefest of seconds and squeezed. Bianca’s head leaned into the touch instinctively but she quickly resumed control.
“We’ll make it,” she murmured.
“Yes, we will,” he agreed and left the cockpit leaving the door open.