Seeing Things (part 1)
It had fallen to Jake to hike out and meet the guy they were sending out, just in case, and lead him back to the wreckage. That must be him, leaning on the open door of a drab government sedan, wearing a suit to go hiking through the woods to a fire scene. Well, that was his lookout. Jake approached and stuck out a filthy palm.
"You from the FAA?"
The other man stared in horror at his hand, then belatedly took it. "Ah, yes, I'm Sidney Holcomb. Your Department has reported finding wreckage in the area?"
"That's right, Mister Holcomb. Wreckage all over the place, and a real big fire."
He sighed. "I guess I'd better have a look. Where is it?"
"Follow me." Jake turned back towards the wall of trees and brush beside the trail where the vehicles were parked.
"Ah, isn't there a path, or something?"
"That's the thing about fires, Mister Holcomb. Wherever they are, you got to go there, whether or not there's a path that goes there."
"I do hope this isn't just a case of making things difficult for the guy from Washington."
Jake stopped in his tracks, turned around, and glared at him. "Look me over, real good, Mister Holcomb. Do I look like a guy has energy to spare, just to get a rise out of some paper pusher?"
The other man sighed again. "I suppose not."
They walked in silence for a while, until they were close enough the smoke made even Jake cough. They could hear the roar and crackle of the fire ahead, and the FAA investigator tugged at Jake's arm from behind.
"Is this safe? Don't we need to stop here?"
"Mister Holcomb, you're supposed to investigate airplane crashes, aren't you? I'd imagine you'd have needed to get closer to a fire before this."
"Well, yes, but... those were all on runways, or out in fields. I wasn't risking being trapped in a wilderness if the fire got out of hand!"
"Think of it like this, Mister Holcomb. I've been in a lot of fires in the woods. As long as I'm walking forward, things are probably not too bad. Now, if I turn around and start to run, you want to be sure you keep up."
"You can be sure, if I knew the way, I'd be ahead of you!"
"Don't count on it, Mister Holcomb. I'm used to this kind of terrain, so I'm not so likely to trip or make some other mistake that would slow me down."
"Now I feel so much better. Why don't you stop trying to reassure me and just get this over with?"
"You're the one stopped me. I was getting it over with just fine until then."
"Just show me the wreckage. I'm as eager to get out of here as you are to be rid of me."
"Now, did I say that, Mister Holcomb?"
"I'm not a complete idiot, whatever you may think of me."
Jake chose to hold his tongue, and kept on a straight line to one of the bigger tangles of wreckage. They ahd to push through a thicket of brambles on the way, and even Jake found the going tough. His companion looked as if he'd lost a battle with a mountain lion. The suit would clearly never be the same again. He bit back a chuckle, as they rounded a clump of trees hiding a heap of smoldering metal.
"There, Mister Holcomb, see?"
The other man knelt down, not worrying now about getting soot on his already ruined clothes, and inspected the pile of debris carefully. Then he straightened and began to laugh.
"What's the joke, Mister Holcomb?"
"Just that I'd have thought a hick like you might recognise what this is."
"Well, since I don't, you get the chance to show off all that education."
"This isn't from an aircraft. If you look closely, you can see the original pieces were probably dome shaped, or something similar. And see, here, all these bits of tubing?"
"I guess so."
"Copper tubing. This was part of a still. A pretty big one, in fact. If it blew up, you'd get a nasty fire, just like the one you have here."
Jake took a step back. "A still? I never heard of one this big. And the air didn't smell like alcohol when we got here."
"Well, I'm not an expert at these things, of course, but perhaps it was built to, ah, process something else. Something more profitable today."
"Drugs? Jeez, you think so?"
"It makes a lot more sense than a downed aircraft when nothing is missing."
"How'd they get something this big all the way out here? And where was it? I don't see any clearings big enough."
"Those aren't my worries, fortunately. If you would be good enough to show me the way to my car..."
Neither man spoke on the return trip. The FAA man sprayed the area with gravel as he spun around and headed back down the trail. Jake cursed him, wearily, and started the long trek back to the scene once more. He was nearly there when he glimpsed something orange in the lower branches of a tree.Suspecting it was a stray flame ignited by flying sparks, he ran over to it.
There, at about the level of his own face, stood a tiny orange skinned creature who looked a bit like something they forgot to include in the Lord of the Rings movie. Jake blinked and rubbed his eyes.
"Why so surprised are you, friend? You say crash came from air, why shocked to see me?"
"Whoah! An airplane isn't the same thing as a... as a spaceship!"
"Aircraft is more primitive, yes, but to know of aircraft is to dream of spacecraft. Is that not so among your people?"
"Well, yeah, now that you mention it."
"So, you see, that you should run across it is not so odd."
"Yeah, but, anybody comes by and catches me talking to you, they'll do a lot more than think I'm odd!"
[To be continued...]