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Peter Tillman is a mining geologist with one previous fiction sale and many professional and technical publications. He's lived in Arizona for the past 20 yrs.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@indiana.edu.

All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

Flying Winnie

by Peter D. Tillman

     It's been a hard night at Caesar's. You stumble in at 2 AM, tell Winnie to anchor out below Canyon Ridge, on the Arizona side.

     10 AM. Winnie rocks in the wake of a passing speedboat. Yawning, grateful for your hangover-eating nannies, you ask Winnie for juice and coffee and wobble out on deck. It's a brilliantly-clear desert morning. Canyon Ridge towers over you in full golden glory. You light a smoke, Winnie refills your coffee, you watch the ripples slap her hull.
     Laura comes out at 10:30, blinking, sleepy-eyed. Winnie silently pours coffee. She sighs, slumps into the chaise.
     "How much did we lose last night?"
     "Enough ... 'Keep Nevada Green.' "
     The liquid descending trill of a canyon wren, a few slaps from a wake, silence again.
     "Up for a dip?" Laura shrugs off her wrap. Her splendid rose and gold self arcs into the lake. "Oooh -- cold!" You cannonball in, she deftly dodges. "Beast!"
     Breakfast au naturel - steak and eggs, golden honeydew, more excellent coffee. Laura daintily dabs her lips, yawns, stretches out in the sun.
     "You know, you look better now than when we first met."
     "Really?" Laura dimples. "Well, science marches on..."
     Laura is 53 by the calendar, 23 to the eye. Microbe-size nannies circulate by the quadrillions within her beautifully-tanned skin, repairing damage, restoring youth. No one really knows, now, how long they can expect to live -- the machines get better every year.
     Winnie reminds you you've got an overnite permit for Lava Falls for today. She stirs and heads up-lake. You ask her to put up the awning over the sundeck.

     At lunch time, you're gliding through the twisted narrows of Boulder Canyon. Guardian Peak and Arch Mountain seem to overhang the narrow passage. A breeze has come up, it's almost too cool in the canyon shadows.
     Winnie breaks out into the glorious open water of Virgin Basin. A little chop with the freshening breeze. Dead ahead is the astonishing jumbled burnt-brown wilderness of Bonelli Peak, Gold Butte, Jumbo Peak, Temple Mountain, Hells Kitchen ....
     You've dozed off, and Laura has gone below. The Canyon walls are narrowing again. You wake, a little chilled, in the shadows behind Temple Mount. The water-track ahead glows green and purple. Virgin Canyon.
     Laura emerges in a light kimono, and hands you your shorts, shirt, a cup of hot tea. You pass Spring Canyon to the south. The bright-white cliffs of Grapevine Mesa dazzle your shadow-adapted eyes.
     "Boss? If we keep going like this, it'll be dark before we get to Lava Falls ...."
     "Let's see the map." The sundeck flatscreen lights, a cursor blinking above Hualapai Inlet. Laura comes over to look, puts her warm hand on your cool neck. "Show me where our permit's good." A green oblong blinks on between Whitmore and Tuckup Canyons. "What d'you think, kid, we could cut up over the Shivwits, come back down Toroweap..."
     "Could we land on Mt. Trumbull? Remember that picture in Arizona Skyways?" Winnie obligingly flashes up a green piney glen, looking out on the red-and-gold Tuckup Cliffs glowing in late afternoon sun.
     "How 'bout it, Winnie?" "Working... Park Control says OK. Reminding us to use full NEPAC hush and camo." The National Esthetic Preservation Act requires RVs to be invisible and inaudible in most national parks. Winnie has full hushpacks, standard since the 30's. Her hull is rigged as a low-res flatscreen. For camo, onboard cameras relay the scene from the opposite side.
     You sketch a course on the map, a bright-yellow line follows your pointing finger. "How about this ... lift off over Grapevine, fly up the Cliffs, cut over Shivwits, swing down past Hells Hole and then up Trumble... OK? Do it."
     Winnie winds up her rotors, rolls up the sundeck windscreen. "500 ft OK?" The big craft lifts smoothly, trailing sparkling rain onto the barren shore. The rotor whine dies as the hushpack cuts in, and the dark piny mountains of the Strip rise into view.
     "Switching to camo." A sharply disorienting moment. The deck seems to vanish below your feet. The illusion is uncanny -- as if you are floating in free space 500 ft above the silent desert floor.
     Winnie swings north at the Grand Wash Cliffs, then east again over a pine- cloaked volcano and out over the vast rolling grasslands of the Shivwits. "Take us up to 5,000, Win." The whole glorious Strip opens out below, all the way to the great red mesas south of Zion, 100 miles to the north. Wow.
     In the 12,000-odd square miles below, almost no sign of man can be seen. As aircars replaced autos, the roads were abandoned and reseeded. A few still show as faint green lines. The grass is shaggy green-gold velvet, still recovering from decades of overgrazing. Your shadow spooks a liitle herd of antelope. They easily outdistance you, kicking up dust on the downslope.
     When the Preserve was established in 2012, there were no permanent inhabitants within its boundaries, and only about 5,000 people in the 4 or 5 little towns nearby. No power, no water, no railroads, factories, or mines. A little desultory cattle-grazing. Nothing but red rocks, yellow grass, blue skies, green pines, some of the loneliest, grandest vistas on Earth.
     There was quite a rush on the private land here in the 30's, when self- contained fly-in houses caught on, not that there ever was much private land. The Park Service successfully lobbied for full camo on all new structures, and even found money to retrofit older ones.
     Now, even with 10,000+ vacation homes, the Strip below you remains visually uninhabited, pristine, empty, lonely, achingly lovely open desert.

     It's almost dusk when you leave the cool piney crest of Trumbull, and you decide to camp on the high rim at Tuckup Point. Winnie fixes supper, you and Laura carry a couple of chairs out to the Big Drop. An acrophobe's nightmare - 2000 ft straight down to the Esplanade. Another 3000 ft down, down to the fading silver thread of the River. You watch the South Rim cliffs -- Pocket Point, the Flatiron, Yumtheska Mesa -- shift downscale from red to mauve to dusky gray.
     It's a warm, cloudless, bugless night. You've forgotten how many stars there are in the desert sky. No question where to sleep tonight. Laura helps you tow the bed out to the rim, and you both crawl in.