Surprise, Surprise

"Watch out!" Wu shouted. "I don't like this!"

"Got it," Pau said. Under her guidance, their glider slid between the reddish canyon walls. "See? No problem."

"This is Mars, Pau. These things are called gliders for something! The atmosphere's too thin, they have large wings!"

"Yeah, I noticed. I'm the one doing the piloting here."

"Well, stop getting so close to the walls! You're gonna crash us!"

"Ah, nonsense," Pau said, and she even let go of the control yoke for a second to dismiss Wu's concern with a gesture. Wu felt her heart skip a beat. "I've been practicing in the simulator."

Wu paled. The glider banked left suddenly to avoid a stone spire that, contrary to what Pau seemed to think, hadn't sprouted suddenly but had been there on the Martian soil for millennia.

"In the simulator?" Wu whispered. "You've never really flown a glider before?"

"How could I?" Pau said. She banked right, hard, then righted the craft again. "I never had when we met. And we've been together since, scavenging."

"You know I don't like that name."

"Right. Recoverers. Purveyors. Whatever floats your boat."

"I don't know how I put up with you, Pau."

Pau flashed a crooked smile. "I can give you one or two reasons."

"Look out!"

This time, Pau actually took the glider through its paces, as she made a series of close passes between spires and small buttes that covered the space between the canyon walls.

"Remind me again why are we doing this, please?" Wu asked.

"We're recovering the remains of the Schiaparelli," Pau said. "A probe that crashed on the surface early in the twenty-first century, before any terraforming took place. It'll bag us a pretty sum. I know where it is."

"And why is it that you know it and nobody else does?"

"I told you, but you weren't listening. The first floods moved the remains. But I talked to someone who had actual sonar images. The position is our last waypoint."


"You don't want to know," Pau said. She frowned as she took the ship through a series of hard-banking turns. Wu kept grunting through it all.

"And how... hrm... is it that you've chosen this route?" she said.

"One, it's always part of my duties, as you well know," Pau said as Wu rolled her eyes. "Two, I bet nobody has taken this route since the war, that's why."

"You bet?" Wu said. "You mean you haven't checked?"

"I checked, I checked, don't worry. It was a figure of speech."

"Dammit, Pau, one day you're gonna run out of luck, and I wanna be there to watch it."

"Getting there," Pau said, ignoring her.

The canyon opened into a large basin that had filled with water since the planet's terraforming. Pau descended even further, reduced the speed, deployed the skids and modified the wing's geometry to benefit from ground effect. The craft sped forward.

"OK, closer now. Two minutes at this speed," Pau said.

"I'll get the sonar ready," Wu said.

Pau started slowing down as they approached the point she had laid as their destination in her navigational computer. The glider's skids and retracted wingtips touched the water surface, leaving trails behind them.

"Right, here we are," she said. "I'm slowing down... Sonar deployment speed reached."

"Deploying sonar," Wu said. "Deployed. Coming online."

"Come here, will you?" Pau asked. Wu sat down and took control of the sonar screen.

"Nothing yet," she said. She checked the navmap and the superimposed destination point. "It should show up, but all I got is the image of the bottom." Wu almost managed to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

"I didn't say this would be easy," Pau started.

"Yes you did. And it should show up against the dull background like... whoa! There it is!"

"I told you!" Pau said, as she stopped the craft. "I'll anchor us and then we can go down for it." Pau started leaving her seat when Wu touched her arm.

"Eh... Pau?"


"Remember when I told you I wanted to be there when you ran out of luck?"

"Yes, why?"

"OK, I withdraw it," Wu said, pointing at her sonar screen. A large blip was moving rapidly towards them.

"Oh, dammit! I hate whoever thought bringing kaiju to Mars was a good idea!"


The prompt for this story was the image above, kindly proposed to me by author MJ Bush from Go pay her a visit; if you’re a writer you’ll learn a lot.

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