They had paid him well, Vickers thought, and the job seemed easy enough. Go out to a planet that was both recently discovered and deemed to be too far for human colonization. Run some tests, look around and find out what it's like. It was supposed to be earth-like in atmosphere and gravity. Rather dry, he thought as he looked at it through his view finder.
He strapped himself in tight and engaged the atmospheric entry subroutine. He had arrived, after a year of solo travel.
His employer was a corporation that didn't want to be named and the job offer had been arranged through a mediator. A very shadowy deal, but he usually dealt in shadowy deals, so it didn't bother him. The initial payment had gone through without issue, so he made preparations and left. The final payment would be made upon reporting his findings.
His craft had started to shake violently by now and he braced himself.
He didn't do many jobs nowadays, but that wasn't because his skills weren't needed or desired. His main skill nowadays was being alone for extended periods of time without going insane. His last job had taken 5 years from start to finish, and the payout was enough to support him for his entire 150 years of expected lifetime remaining. But his adventurer's instinct had started to itch soon after returning.
The problem with spending so much time alone and being good at it, was that going back to any of the human settlements was just so busy. So many noises, so many smells, so many people. And it bothered him from the moment he arrived until the moment he left.
The rumbling stopped as the atmospheric burn ended. He engaged manual control and started to guide the craft to a suitable landing spot.
He'd spent some time in a commune on Luna Colony and it had been okay. There hadn't been that many people, and those that were there themselves didn't enjoy large packs of humans around them. They also made a point of living off the grid, mining their own Helium 3 and keeping their agricultural systems running that way. Water was provided from the collected ice in a permanently shadowy crater nearby.
But the itch had returned, and so he'd taken yet another job that would cause him to be away from civilization for years. But he needed that, to be away, by himself, to do something new and exciting.
And there it was, something new. He opened the ceramic shutters and sun light came flooding in, blinding him for a second. He held his hand steady and waited for his eyes to adjust.
As his watery eyes started to perceive detail again, he saw that he had been right. It was a very dry world, but there was an ocean nearby and some patches of green vegetation.
He flew over the landscape for about an hour, looking for any spots that were especially interesting.
Then he noticed an outcropping of rocks, near a small pool of water. There were what seemed like trees there, surrounded by other types of vegetation. He decided to set his craft down near there. Test the water, test the vegetation and store the results for his corporate overlords.
As he landed, he noticed the rocky outcropping was more angular than he'd thought at first.
The craft landed with a thunk, and as the forces from the moving craft stopped affecting him, he noticed that gravity was a bit stronger here than on Earth. He ran some tests and it came out as 10.3 m/s². Being about 10% heavier was cumbersome, but it would be pretty easy to get used to.
The atmospheric test showed that it was breathable to humans. A little less oxygen at 18%, and a significant amount of helium more at 5%. The rest was nitrogen and other trace gases, none of which were particularly dangerous in the amounts they were present at.
The scientists back home had gotten it right -- it was decidedly Earth-like and immediately habitable by humans.
He unbuckled, got out and opened the airlock.
He immediately took a deep breath through his nose and noticed it smelled weird, a little salty. He then stepped out of the craft and onto the ground. It was sandy, though the sand was much coarser than the sand back on Earth.
The outcropping caught his attention again. He'd get to the vegetation and water later, he thought as he walked over to it.
The rocks seemed stacked. It consisted of layers of rocks on top of each other haphazardly, dust gathered in the crevices between them.
Then he noticed something glimmer in a pile of sand a little further on.
He went over and kicked the sand with his foot. Something was knocked out of the sand and into the rocks. It glimmered in the sun light. A shiny rock? Natural glass?
Wait, was that...?
He walked over and bent down.
It was a small round piece of metal. He picked it up and flipped it over. It looked really old, rusty and weathered.
Wiping the dirt off, he saw letters in a script he'd never seen before. And then he recognized it.
"It's a bottle cap," he mumbled to himself as he stood up.
According to his instruments, the bottle cap was older than humanity's written history. And a scan of the area showed more artefacts that seemed to be of materials and shapes not naturally occurring.
His pay day was about to get a lot bigger.
"And all thanks to a fucking bottle cap," he said again, laughing.