The pilot felt the glider’s control surfaces bite into the updraft. The craft smoothly pitched up and right as the surreal Eastern Washington terrain unfolded beneath them. The plucky strains of a Bolivian polka filled the small cockpit, the whistling of the wind no true competition. Facing backward, the specialist peered at the techmapper. Somewhere below, there was something messing with the surveillance satellite and downing any powered aircraft that dared approach. Up ahead, the clouds were bunched up in a way any seasoned traveler of the skies could tell was just. not. right.
The mechanical harvestman towered over the fig grove, its spindly arms tucked underneath as it towered over the fruit trees. The cryptobotanist aimed the infrared reader at the edge of the cultivated land, where the real Bhutan took over, hoping for even a quick glimpse. The landscape gave nothing in return. The operator’s headphones leaked the sound of some Turkish reggae, bounced from a satellite to overcome the foreboding mountains that ringed the valley. They both had patience to spare. The beast they were seeking had only one food source, located right here, and everyone’s gotta eat.
The landtrain rumbled over something bumpy. Probably a hill, thought the conductor, as they made their way down the gently swaying aisle, digital holepuncher out, ready to process the ticket. The passenger, sole occupant of the car, sat oblivious, staring out the window at the landscape rushing twenty feet below, the faint sounds of some Slovakian cumbia leaking out of the expensive earbuds. “Ticket please?” The passenger startled, and reached for the sleek titanium briefcase, its embedded digital timer declaring to everyone that it held no ordinary cargo.
The first mate adjusted the sails, letting out some wind to keep both skids on the sand. The sun shone down like a hole punched in a blast furnace someone painted blue, the radio broadcasting its gypsy salsa above the hiss of the sandmaran’s travel. Leaning on the tiller, the captain let out a yell of warning as they crested a dune, gaining air for a brief moment. They still didn’t have a plan for replacing the statue, but they had a thousand miles of desert to work something out.
The mechanic reached deep into the tool bag, knowing the required spanner would be at the very bottom. The clanking briefly drowned out the strains from the radio, its signal relayed every 500 meters by the commpods they had dropped on the way. Carefully fitting the business end of the tool between the rear set of treads on the boring machine, they found themselves exclaiming out loud “actually, I think it’s pretty interesting.” The surveyor, measuring the long tunnel behind them with an x-ray transit, looked back briefly, by now used to such outbursts. The cavern should be another two miles down.
The engineer looked through the diminishing dawn murk and spotted the specialist’s orange scarf. The sound of the balloon-tired swamp bikes spread through the Estonian bog like hot molasses, obscuring their location but not their presence. Unnoticed in the bike’s twin V mud-wakes, a nearly-vertical black snorkel tube trailed the pair.
I have never been so uncomfortable, thought the hacker as they strained to match the wires in the fusebox, their head inches from one of the combine’s many potentially lethal harvesting blades. The lookout’s shadow was barely visible against the hangar door. Straining to clip the blue wire into the scanner, they heard a soft call and nearly lost an ear before remembering their uncomfortable position.
They are everywhere, and some of them are downright weird. My downstairs neighbor once told me only prime numbers could be trusted, but he held a reserve of disdain for 2, which he claimed was too prime for its own good. A big appreciative shout out to Bam Bam, Lily and Generoso, and Redlands Ron for their on-air contributions, and anyone who may have pledged online before or after the show.
The Cadillac engine roared with naked abandon behind the driver. It was the familiar rumble of the seven-liter-plus workhorse, but its power was unleashed on a propellor instead of a bulky automatic transmission. At the airboat’s prow, the tracker kept an eye on the reeds that protruded in clumps from the murky water. Barely audible on the comm link were the strains of some forgotten psychedelic blues. A promising glint along the mangroves gave hope they had found the downed satellite. It turned out to be the stare of a brooding twelve-foot alligator, unwilling to leave the scene. The search continued.