“We can’t hover over water every night,” Captain May Benson said to the remainder of her crew in the Excelsior’s transport. “We’ll run out of power.”
Ensign Kilmeade nodded, picking up drink cartons from everyone for the recycle bin now that breakfast was over.
The holoscreen covering the front of the craft showed blue water stretching out to the horizon.
Curly tossed his carton away and moved to the pilot’s seat, his large frame gliding gracefully in the confined space. He looked over his shoulder at her and said, “You want me to gain some altitude and go back, ma’am? If we fly high enough we should be out of range of musket balls. Maybe we can look around some.”
Benson nodded, and moved to join him in the front of the craft.
She said, “That’s a good idea. Let’s go high and look for settlements. Obviously the people here survived being abandoned the last few years. Let’s see if they found a place to gang together or something.”
Curly nodded and grabbed the stick, flipping a switch to take them out of hover mode. The transport made a U-turn in the sky and headed back toward land.
The shore loomed in the holovision as they rushed for it, and Curly pulled back on the stick to gain altitude. By the time the scenery turned from blue waves to green and brown land, they flew one kilometer high or about 3,280 feet.
“They’re going to have a hard time hitting us at this height with those antiquated weapons, Captain. Especially if we keep moving.”
Benson said, “Good. It’s not too high, either, we can still make out details.”
She experimented with the outdoor camera controls, and the view on the holoscreen shifted down at an angle. She waved a hand at the controls floating above a panel, and the view magnified, bringing a grove of trees into sharp focus.
“That’s good,” Benson said, pulling the view out again. “We’ll maintain a wide angle until we see something interesting.”
“Which way should I go, Captain?” Curly said. “Strike out in a random direction?”
“Follow the river inland. People always need a source of fresh water.”
“Yes, ma’am. Do you think they worry about flooding?”
“They might. There are mountains nearby. Maybe they built the main structures higher up, but stayed close enough for shipping or . . . I don’t know. Water wheels maybe?”
He nodded and angled the craft toward the river, then followed it high above. Benson looked back and noticed everyone glued to the holoscreen.
She said, “Say something if you see anything. Like some jerk with a rifle sneaking through the bushes.”
Everybody chuckled or at least grinned at that statement, including Curly. He self-consciously touched his shoulder, still healing from the gunshot wound despite the nanobots injection.
They soon approached the mountains and Curly nosed the craft up higher to maintain altitude. Water tumbled down in a stunning view. Benson adjusted the camera to take it all in. She heard gasps of wonder behind her.
“This might explain why they did not build closer to the coast, if there is a town along here. The river would probably be useless to them on this side.”
Kilmeade said, “Why is that, ma’am?
Benson nodded at the giant waterfall. She said, “They haven’t been here long enough to develop an infrastructure to take advantage of the falls. And they’re not using the oceans for travel yet, at least not here. No, if they have a settlement that takes advantage of the river, it’s going to be on the other side of the falls. Probably the mountains, too.”
Curly adjusted course and they passed between two peaks the river cut through. Benson nervously angled the camera to sweep the area, making sure no snipers were waiting for them, but they saw nothing threatening. Vegetation looked considerably thinner up in the mountains, offering fewer places for a lone rifleman to hide, she thought.
Then they were through and the mountains degraded into foothills as the river snaked further inland.
Kilmeade said, “Ma’am . . . over there,” and pointed at the horizon.
Benson magnified it and they could make out buildings in the distance.
“What do you think, Curly?” Benson said.
“I think . . . I think it looks like something out of Old Hollywood.”
“Give us some more altitude. Let’s observe them at a distance for a while. Hopefully nobody is looking up right this minute.”
Curly nodded and raised the craft another kilometer up in the sky as they flew closer to the settlement. Benson adjusted the camera and magnification. Soon they were almost on top of the town, looking down at it from an angle. People walked around in dirt streets or on wooden sidewalks, going from shop to shop. At one of end town stood a church, complete with steeple and bell tower. Signs above some of the shops indicated storefronts. There could make out a city hall and a stone building that apparently served as a jail.
On either side of the main street, houses were in place, comprising the residential district. They were laid out in a grid pattern, extending three or four blocks before dwindling on the outskirts of town.
“The only thing different from an old movie set,” Ensign Kilmeade said, “is their clothes are modern. That ruins the effect.”
Curly said, “That’s kind of impressive construction, though, considering they don’t have any modern technology to speak of.”
Benson nodded. She said, “I wonder if they were able to make use of things from the colony ships, or if this is entirely made with local resources?”
“Maybe somebody set up a saw mill,” Curly said. “Then it would be easy to develop lumber and start building. Well, they’d need a blacksmith to make nails, I guess.”
“They certainly would have the knowledge. And with enough people they either found somebody with the skills necessary, or at least someone willing to learn.”
Everyone watched in silence for a while longer as the people below went about their day. Benson noted a communal corral filled with horses and connected to what must be stables. There were garden plots in the backyards of most all the houses, and other signs that modern food, transportation, and technology were in limited supply.
Kilmeade said, “I think that little boy sees us, Captain.”
She pointed at someone in the middle of the street looking up, seemingly staring at the camera.
“That’s some good eyes, if so,” Benson said. “We’re what . . . two klicks up?”
Curly nodded. He said, “I think the sun has crested the peaks. It’s probably hitting us just right.”
A crowd formed near the boy as he danced excitedly in the street, pointing up.
Benson said, “Well, it looks like we’ve been discovered.”
Curly said, “What should we do, Captain? I can fly away at speed if you want. Or maybe just go straight up several more klicks, then we should disappear from view even with the sun on us.”
“No. I think it’s time we introduced ourselves. Our power supply won’t last forever. But this time, we go in armed and ready for anything.”