DOME OF THE ARKHOS
The man surveyed the ghostly whorls of distant galaxies beyond the viewport of the vast spacecraft. Every glance a portal to the past. A window to the future. He smoked and scratched notes in a black faux leather notebook with a gray graphite pencil secured by a fastener strap as the other occupants chattered incessantly. After half a minute the soothing sounds of piceous pirouettes and subtle vibrations of the air filtration system were interrupted by an officious female voice.
The man looked up, gray eyes flashing with keen absorption, amused by the awkward pronunciation of his name, spied a fined boned brunette and nodded. The woman tapped a small composite polymer pad, lowered it and gestured to the double doored exit from the sparsely populated drawing room.
“Mr. Kryos will see you now.”
Wilhelm nodded and followed behind his guide to the entrance of the reception lounge and there, at the counter, snatched a chocolate from a tray to the displeasure of a nearby secretary and was ushered to a lift that descended the bowels of the rotational portion of the vessel and let out to a high pass the color and texture of scoria. The man noticed the closer they advanced to his destination the more nervous the woman became. Beyond the hall, an azure chasm, a geodesic dome, a great pool at the center of it which faded to a blackness deeper than starless night. Wilhelm surveyed the chamber with awe. Every footfall reverberated. Wilhelm strode toward the reservoir and turned to query but the guide had departed. He stood near the water and waited. The only illumination photoplankton maintained in high lattice alcoves. The only sound the scant shifting of fluid and the rhythmic hum of metameric insectal machines which cut wide arcs through the air and crawled the walls, waxing and waning to visibility. One of the crustacean-like amalgamations drew near the entrant and circled his head as if curious of the peculiarities of his mammalian composition. Wilhelm looked to the hovering nomad and moved to touch its segmented metalline carapace, but the ersatz being sibilated and departed.
A measured voice resounded from the black.
“The further an organism strays from the herd, the more vulnerable it becomes, the more resourceful it must be.”
Wilhelm whirled to the source of the otic perturbation and peered into oblivion where the faint outline of a man was visible by the dim blue light of the hemispheric cavity.
“You wanted a word, Sir.”
“A snail in the garden. Absent its shell.”
“If you’re referring to my last reclamation, I filed a report.”
“It was read with great interest.”
Wilhelm swallowed heavily and straightened. “I take full responsibility. For falling behind schedule and the damaged suit.”
“You mistake praise for reproach. It is better to do a thing slowly and surely, than swiftly and slovenly. Despite the danger. Blood is the price of glory and scant shelter is afforded for one who achieves it. Harborage is for those who come thereafter.”
Gold glinted in the tenebrous scape. The figure emerged and stepped into the light. He was seemingly middle aged, with short black hair, slicked back, and a bloodless complexion, garbed in vestments of anthracite, lamellar sleek and auric trimmed. Only a portion of the man’s face was illuminated and his unwavering eyes shone like burnished heliodor amidst the lazuline gloom. His expression opaque as timeworn statuary.
“Soma is so fragile a thing. Frailer when shorn of forethought. But even stars decay. And we may yet outlast them. Athwart self spun sholes, behold our effulgent progenitors tilt the gelid expanse in tombs of iron.” The man in the darkness took another step forward. To the reclaimer the figure appeared to be striding the surface of the waters. Upon closer inspection Wilhelm noticed the elocutionist walked atop the backs of the levitating arthropodal constructs, who raised themselves from the depths in tandem with their master’s movements, submerging or ascending once he had passed. “Man was born of stars. After the last falls from the sky, stars shall be born of man. Thus shall the dark be gilded. And the fire preserved. A future disclosed by decadence or errantry. Thus are men such as you retained. For situations such as this.”
“And what is the situation?”
“A disturbance on Castramare.”
“Arkway’s lunar base?”
The man in shadow inclined his head, a silent yes, his hands before his waist, fingers moving as if spinning invisible thread. “A satellite, down. A drone, missing. Construction of new habitats, halted. And no answers. An intolerable situation. Arkway retained our services. It is important good relations be maintained, we have need of their knowledge. So you and another will recieve a briefing.”
“Another? I wasn’t told this would be a two man job.”
“It’d be better I go in alone.”
“If something happens to you, resolution will be further delayed.”
Rhiner grit his teeth and worked his jaw.
“I don’t like novices getting in my way.”
“I must insist on this imposition.” The veiled man’s tone was implacable. “Do you wish to terminate our contract?”
Rhiner wavered, sighed. “No.”
“Good. I would inform you further, but am in want of crucial facts. Vancing is our security liason to the company, so can better construe the contours of the affair. Thereafter, take the Raumhake to Castramare.”
“Our fastest ship. Rectify the situation to Arkway’s satisfaction and it is yours to keep.”
Wilhelm bowed. “Consider it done.”
“So I shall, Reclaimer, so I shall.” Kryos responded as he turned from his guest and paced into the hazy reach. The faint shimmering forms of the aeriel guardians dutifully following. Then all was stillness, save the shaking of Wilhelm’s hands.