The man in the copilot's chair knew a bit about flying. Kilsing hadn't been sure when Tosha insisted that he help handle the shuttle and that only the two of them go down to the world.
"I could go down on my own," he said. "I'm qualified."
"Not with my shuttle," she replied as she took atmosphere readings. "How did you ever find this world?"
"Over ten years of research."
She glanced his way, startled because he sounded sincere. Why would anyone spend so much time to find this place? The atmosphere wasn't breathable and her scans showed nothing of any interest, either in the atmosphere or the world beneath the outer cloud covering.
There were a few concentrations of metal. They looked clean -- but you could get metal just about anywhere. Easier to mine it in asteroids rather than drag it up from some gravity well.
"Head down," he said.
"Any particular place?" she asked. He was paying well. She could humor him. He'd been no trouble to her or the crew, and though this was an out of the way world, it hadn't been a problem to find.
She didn't understand the smile, though. There was nothing she could see here to draw that kind of smile. Well, he was one of those thinkers, though. She'd gathered that because he spent almost the entire voyage reading things. Thinkers just saw things differently. Her brother Lee was the same way, so that made her a little less unsettled by the man. Somin and Tala, her two crew on the small puddle jumper which now sat in orbit above them, had both been worried about him.
"Spends too much time on the computer, Kilsing," Tala had finally said, glancing nervously back to the hall and their rooms. Tala mistrusted anything not part of their regular routine, but this time she was a bit more serious. "Never trust someone what spends more time with computers than with people."
Kilsing, however, appreciated that Tosha wasn't any more trouble than the crates they often ferried from place to place. They did carry passengers sometimes, but not often, and this was the first time they'd been paid enough to drop cargo and go off into the wilds with him. He'd paid well, too -- and all to find this gray, ugly little world. From the way he leaned forward, you would have thought they'd just found a hoard of gold.
"Big world," she said finally. They were down in the clouds, which were not quite as ugly as they'd seemed. The chemical makeup added unexpected wisps of color and sometimes a little sparkle of light. "I need a direction."
"Towards the equator. Look for a long, narrow continent surrounded by sea."
"You've been here before?"
"No," he said. "I doubt any human has."
She glanced his way thinking Tala might have been right after all. Her hand left the controls long enough to touch the laser pistol in the pocket beside her seat, but she said nothing.
They swept below the clouds and into a sort of glowing air mass below. Light seemed to reflect everywhere, but she could make out an ocean of green below them. Small islands dotted the water, and then the tip of something larger came up at the horizon.
They kept going -- and she saw a long narrow continent --
"What the hell game are you playing?"
"My father gave me this before he died."
He reached into the pouch he always carried. Her hand went to the laser pistol and came back empty when he held out a piece of metal covered in etchings. She could see the outline of the island, but there were lines and circles etched all over the surface. She could tell it was writing, but no matter which way she turned it, the lines made no sense.
"I can't read this."
"Nor can anyone else. It's no known human language."
Her pulse started to pick up. It couldn't be.
"Where --" she began, hardly able to form the word.
"These were found on a backwater world by a Pathfinder team. There are five of them in all. My father gave me this one. I hunted down the other four and made copies. I've worked years on figuring out what it meant. I can't read the words, but I think what they found was the last testament of some traveler, and he wrote the instructions home. Two of the other pieces were star charts. Once it was all put together, I had a fair idea of where to go."
"You didn't go to the Inner Worlds Council with this."
"No. I had tried to get their interest early on, but they called it a hoax. So I did the work myself, with some friends, and then I set out to find the place."
"And hired me."
"Your brother sent me to you. He said if we found anything, to come back and get him -- but he wasn't leaving Terra Nova until we had a destination. Something about having traveled with you before."
She laughed. Then she gave a nervous look to the world below. "You are saying aliens -- ones with enough tech to star travel --"
"But long gone, I suspect. Chance alone allowed those five pieces to survive. If they were still here -- still anywhere this close to humanity -- we would have noticed by now. You see the metal concentrations? Head for a good sized one. We'll see what we can find to take back and convince your brother he wants to come here after all."
She began scanning the landscape below as they went closer. "We're going to be famous."
"Yes we are. I wanted to share this moment just with your brother who did as much work on this as I did, so you are in his place. You have your pocket comp? I've been recording already. Time for you to start as well. Take us down, Kilsing. Let's go make history -- or uncover it."
http://fridayflash.org for more fantastic quick reads
And thank you to Simon Batt for giving me the magic three items for the last few stories!