The shuttle was a local design, some wide-winged lifting body that skipped through the planet’s upper atmosphere before making a gentle descent. Father Vasiliev watched their progress on the virteo monitor in the seatback in front of him, while Dr. Rouhollahzadehm napped beside him.
He was fascinated.
Salton was tectonically active, with wide belts of young, craggy mountains wrinkling the planet’s skin. The highest peaks were nearly 15,000 meters above the datum plane, planetologically unsustainable altitudes for a world with nearly Earth-normal gravity and crustal composition.
Almost no one lived on or near those, he was given to understand. A few adventurers, prospectors, people working resource extraction. But no urban centers or long term, persistent infrastructure.
From above, the folds were encased in snow and ice until they were glinting fractures in the perfection of one of God’s worlds. He thought back to Dr. Rouhollahzadehm’s comments about fractals, firelight and the curl of surf. Mountains were the surf of the world, but the waves of stone took a million years to curl and break. He could see the patterns, imagine each valley as experienced on foot, climbing the knifeback ridges and endlessly variable folds of the planet.
The shuttle lost altitude, and they were over the eastern plano of Salton’s largest continent. Not too many conurbations here, either, because of the temblors, but farmland and ranches and orchards, long fields beside lazy rivers, visibly defined even from this altitude by the gleaming, regular threads of irrigation canals and water systems.
The cities appeared along the coast as the shuttle banked and shed velocity to complete its transformation from spacecraft to aircraft. The world slid beneath at an increasing rate of apparent speed. Where the mountains had gone by at 2,000 kilometers per hour but seen from such a distance that they seemed nearly inviolate, now the settled bays and wooded headlines and offshore cities on their floating caissons fairly whistled past.
The slower you went, the faster you felt, he mused. The human body thought itself at the greatest speed when running. Everything else was illusion or centripetal force.
© 2011, 2012, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.