Igloswid offered the only flat, sandy beach available, which was why Udet, Schrieck and their mechanics had set up camp there with their planes that depended on a water landing. Mitch spent the flight from Umanuk to Igloswid in near silence, with the motor noise and the need to concentrate providing a good excuse not to take Leni Riefenstahl up on her repeated attempts at conversation. She finally stopped, but kept watching him.
In Igloswid, he encountered dogs first as well, and Udet's mechanics who hardly spoke any English, except for one who introduced himself as the second pilot, Franz Schrieck. Udet himself was nowhere in sight, which was something of a let down, as Mitch had hoped for an encounter.
"Damn, Udi really must be sick," Riefenstahl commented. "No way he'd hand over his plane to a stranger without instructions otherwise."
Schrieck said sorely: "He is. And there's no doctor here!"
"There is no doctor in Nugaitsiak, either, and the one in Umanak only seems to have medicine to cure the clap," Leni Riefenstahl remarked artlessly. "Fanck was bitching about that to me every time I as much as sneezed."
"Anyway, he did want to get up to greet you," Schrieck said to Mitch. "But we tied him down. His fever is still running high, and if he doesn't sweat it out now, he'll stay sick for months." He looked past Mitch to the Terrier, and a wide smile appeared on his face. "Gilchrist Aviation! Damn, Ernst was right! See, we were at the National Air Races in Los Angeles, too. With the Flamingo. When they radioed us your name, Ernst said if you were really dumb enough to try that stunt, you had to be an ace as well, and that the Gilchrist pilot was one."
Mitch couldn't help himself, he felt flattered. He did recall the Flamingo at the National Air Races, which, in accordance with the restrictions put on German air planes by the Versailles treaty, only had a motor capable of 100 PS, and thus couldn't compete in speed. But what Udet had done with his lightweight of a machine in terms of sheer artistry had been amazing. To indicate his admiration, he brought up some of the manoeuvres he'd observed that day, and Schrieck damn near purred.
"Mind you," he said, "now that we'll get rid of the Versailles restrictions, we will be able to truly compete again."
"You better believe it," Schrieck said. "The new chancellor has promised."
"And he'll keep his word," Leni Riefenstahl interfered. "He's a man of destiny."
Who sent thugs into dance halls, Mitch thought, but didn't say. He had a job to do, a job he'd agreed to, and arguing now would be pointless.
The technicians and Schrieck gave him the essentials about the Moth, complete with instructions to wait for the red flare from Fanck before approaching the agreed upon coordinates. Schrieck would follow in a second plane together with one of the camera men. They practiced a few times on the beach how Mitch could avoid being in the picture, given that there wasn't much room. "Fanck already has some footage of Leni flying, but he'd love a close-up of the crash," Schrieck said. "So I'll be hard on your tail, but once the explosion happens, I'll have to keep a minimum safe distance. So get as low as you can before the crash, and remember, stay out of sight until Leni has jumped."
"And Colonel Udet truly doesn't mind losing his plane to a movie?" Mitch asked, because that still seemed the most implausible aspect of it all.
"It was paid for," Schrieck replied laconically. "And like I said - soon we'll get something better. Okay, children, time to get a move on."
Leni Riefenstahl climbed into the copilot seat. As Schrieck went around the plane to start the motor, she turned to Mitch and said: "Listen, we're both professionals, right? I really don't mind that you're a Jew as long as you do your job."
She truly was just like Uncle Ben, who'd told his dentist precisely this and had been surprised when Dr. Goldstein refused to treat him thereafter.
Flying the Moth across the ice immediately felt different from the Terrier. Schrieck had warned him off the blue ice under the surface water. It was crystal clear, which meant it was near invisible from above, and destructive to the bottom of the plane if one tried an emergency sea landing, "just in case you have to". Then there were the floating glaciers with their grottos, towers and gates where he was supposed to dive in between en route to the crash point. Flying close enough to make it look dangerous for the camera, but not so close to actually risk contact.
Well, he'd always liked a challenge.
As he got a sense of the plane, Mitch forgot his annoyance about Riefenstahl and her casual anti-semitism, he forgot his lingering unease about the ghost, and even his blinding gratitude to fate that Stasi had turned out to be Stasi and had not even hesitated in making her decision. There was only the flight, the need for precision and the breathtaking here and now. Soon, he'd spotted the right angle to dive between the icy arches. He started to experiment, pulling the Moth up long walls of ice, then letting it drop abruptly. It was glorious. When he saw two ice towers standing close to each other, he judged the distance between them just correctly enough for the Moth to get through. He was already half there when he spotted a third tower coming up just behind the left, but more in the middle. He only had a split second to turn the plane 45 degrees around and fly through the much smaller space left through the third tower.
Next to him, Leni Riefenstahl shouted something, but he couldn't understand her and didn't try to. The plane squeezed through, not even scratching the ice. Mitch exhaled. He flew only straight forward for a while after that, until he spotted the three red flares that signaled he was to approach the crash zone.
The flares allowed him to focus more strongly, and not just as a pilot. Mitch didn't have Lewis's and Stasi's gift of precognition, and water was Jerry's element, not his. But fire, any form of fire spoke to him, and it allowed him to access patterns. He could see it now, the narrow patch that would allow him to crash the plane without destroying it immediately, providing the time to jump to safety, the exact speed he'd have to slow down to. Since they'd crossed the markers indicating the cameras from the ground would now be able to film the pilot, Mitch contorted his body the way they'd practiced on the ground in order to allow Riefenstahl to be seen seemingly alone. Inevitably, he looked at her while doing so. Since he was both highly alert and tuned into all powers he had, he saw it now, for the first time. Saw what Stasi must have seen while reading the cards that she'd mentioned. It was a net, with Riefenstahl just one of the knotted points, a net made of nothingness, not even dark, but empty. It made you feel blind the longer you looked at it, and for a moment he couldn't see anything anymore.
Couldn't see anything while racing straight into the iceberg.
"Reiß dich zusammen, Ami!" someone yelled at him, a male voice he'd never heard before. He didn't understand the words, but the tone was enough. Mitch blinked, and the patterns were gone. There was only the ice, now looming as if it wanted to absorb them. He was able to slow down the machine a bit more, and then he heard the noise every pilot feared, that tearing, deafening noise that told you that you and your machine were done for. Almost immediately, flames exploded from the engine.
He had to hand it to Riefenstahl. She didn't panic. As practiced, she got out of her seat, profile set off against the flames the way only an actress would know... or a director. After counting precisely three beats, she jumped. Mitch felt the plane falling apart, and it cost him all the discipline he had not to immediately jump with her. This meant he couldn't focus on keeping the fire small, and sure enough, there was another exlosion. Before it could reach him, he felt the connection to another mind, someone boosting his power the way it happened when the Lodge worked together. He didn't ask, didn't wonder, he just took, and it kept the fire away from him while he crawled out of his hiding place and jumped as well.
The fall could only have taken a few seconds, but they seemed endless. Then Mitch felt engulfed by immediate, utter weight. Cold, too, but up in the air it hadn't been warm, either. It was the weight, the wetness that took his breath away. Sorley, you stupid, stupid bastard,, he imagined Gil shouting at him, I can't believe it you've made it through the war for this!
Mitch pushed his arms upwards and felt the water part. Oxygen burned in his lungs again like fire. Somewhere close by, people screamed.
He spotted the boat then, the boat with quite a few people in it who were frantically waving and yelling, but he only saw Stasi. Mitch pushed himself towards her, ignoring the way his body weight suddenly seemed to have quadrupled, and when he got pulled upwards into the boat by Stasi and Schneeberger, he saw fire again, this time entirely imaginary fire, yet those pesky flames threatened to burn inside his lids regardless. Mitch drew another breath, then just remained where he was, lying on the boat's floor.
"If I ever say I want to do something this idiotic again," he said to Stasi, "just hit me on the head, will you?"
"Oh, I can think of something less obvious and more painful," she said sweetly. Then he felt her arms around him.
"You did very well, Mr. Sorley," Schneeberger told him. "Dr. Fanck was most pleased."
Belatedly, it occurred to Mitch to check whether Leni Riefenstahl had made it into the boat as well, and sure enough, there she was on the other side, getting blankets wrapped around her and chatting merrily away. In German, so he couldn't have understood her if he'd tried.
He remembered that German voice that had saved him from freezing mid crash, and softly asked Stasi: "What about... your Berlin friend?"
"Gone now," she whispered into his ear. "It happened the moment you got out of the water."
"He did good," Mitch murmured, then fell into silence, taking in the world around him once more; the ice, shimmering blue and in some places downright pinkish, the smell of burning petrol that had to come from the speedily sinking wreckage of the Moth, and Stasi pressing into him from behind.
It's a miracle to be alive, Mitch thought. Good lord, but it's a miracle to be alive.
Historical Footnotes: SOS Iceberg was a German-American film directed by Arnold Fanck, produced by Paul Kohner and starring Leni Riefenstahl. By the time it premiered in Germany, 30th August 1933, all the names of the Jewish participants had been removed from the credits, and when she took her bow at the premiere, Leni Riefenstahl gave the Hitler salute, something Paul Kohner (who was present) never forgot or forgave her for, as she found out after the war.
(By that time, Leni Riefenstahl was notorious as the director of "Triumph of the Will" and the Olympia movies, aka some of the most effective, and certainly the most technically innovative propaganda movies to come out of the Third Reich.)
Leni Riefenstahl did write to Hitler just before embarking on the shooting of "SOS Iceberg" , but in reality, he was so intrigued that he arranged to meet her for the first time immediately before her departure, not after. Another adjustment I made to the historical schedule concerns the time of shooting in Greenland; while production for "SOS Iceberg" which started in the summer of 1932 in Greenland didn't end until the spring of 1933, the spring of 1933 shootings were done in Switzerland. However, Mitch and Stasi marry in the winter of 1932/1933, which was my reason for the change.
Ernst Udet was of course in reality the sole pilot responsible for all the flying in "SOS Iceberg"; and yes, Arnold Fanck did make him and Leni Riefenstahl do a genuine air plane crash on an iceberg. (Given Fanck also in previous movies had Riefenstahl fall into glaciers and be in the way of actual avalanches, this was not unusual directorial behavior for him.)
At the Tanzpalast Eden Trial in 1931, Hitler was indeed put on the stand and interrogated by Hans Litten, the lawyer hired by several of the victims of the SA Rollkommando attack on a popular dance hall, and their families. Litten paid a terrible price after the Nazis came to power; five years in various concentration camps until he committed suicide.