Mass Wasting: Chapter Four

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The Raumhake lay in the Arkhos docking bay like a bulky stick insect bearing a pinwheel in its core. The fore of the vessel narrowed lance sharp, the midsection bearing a rotation ring, now stationary, to maintain planet comperable gravity in-flight, the hindquarters tapered similar to the fore, but longer. A ceiling borne crane-arm held the interplanetary vehicle aloft and eight protruding reticulated folding arms kept it steady against the wide gray floor of the palatial hangar. Beneath the dark archanidic ship, a latch retracted, revealing a portal and a steep granulated walkway leading to it.

Rhiner paced up the lowered boarding strip, stood at the threshold of the overhead entrance and ran a hand across the craft’s matte-black underbelly. Above his palm, the product of hundreds of tons of materials, decades of research and millions of years of evolution.

He uttered one word with subdued passion. “Beautiful.”

“Aw, sweet of you to say,” a familiar female voice cooed.

The verbal intrusion startled the man so much he nearly dropped his pack and tumbled from the telesopic gangplank. Keen reflexes the only savior from declivity. He looked up, through the personnel port once more, and beheld the vivacious singer from the caravansary, leaning against a crate like a lynx, staring down at him with amusement, her provocative outfit exchanged for the standard-issue obsidian bodysuit of Kryos Industries, shoulder length tresses pulled taunt from face by a supple lavender coil.

Rhiner grimaced. “I was referring to the ship.”

“Oh.” She pursed her lips, hurt, pretending otherwise. “Didn’t mean to startle you. Got antsy waiting.” She knelt and extended a small gloved hand.

He took her proffered limb and she helped him through the portal, waited for the automated gangplank to withdraw, secured the hatch and beamed. “I’ve never been selected for a mission off base before.”

“Great,” he muttered dourly.


“Nothing. You ready? I wanna get started soon as possible.”

She gave him a theatrical thumbs-up and winked. The man stared opaquely at the woman a moment before taking in his surroundings.

The boarding chamber was higher ceilinged than needed for crew-members to afford space for cargo. The insulated walls were fitted with large claw racks that held a number of crates of varying sizes, and moved them, horizontally, vertically, until they were fit flush together, like a self-solving clockwork puzzle. Further along, near the chamber exit, a number of chutes, through which varigated equipment was ushered by articulate, track-bound mechanical limbs, to be deposited in use appropriate modules.

He adjusted his pack and moved from the boarding chamber to the main hall, an expansive corridor that ran in a circle and encompassed all habitation zones, and headed for the living quarters. He knew the general layout of the craft from ship-plans Vancing had given him and had sketched a simplified version in his notebook.

Upon arriving in the living quarters he sighed, for there was one bedroom, and two beds, scarcely a body’s length apart. On the left bed rested a lavender throwover and a pink stuffed bear. Rhiner felt its black button eyes mocking him. He unshouldered his pack, sat the mattress, ran hands through dark, hastily cropped hair, looked at the bear and turned it so it gazed at the pillow.

He left his personal goods, save journal, pencil and cigarettes, in the bedroom and strode along the tubular shale-colored ambit of the main hall, ceiling colored lighter than floor, for ease of orientation in microgravity, to the dense pilot cabin.

The cabin was cone-shaped, with two adjustable chairs stalked to the ceiling, bifurcated by a slender storage and control panel, before all of which spanned a sloped window, sealed by a heat visor. Sidra was waiting, chewing gum in the rightward chair. Music blared from speakers. Sable head dipped to rhythm. She shimmied, snapped and murmured lyrics.

Rhiner watched the display with vexation, sat with serious countenance, strapped in and turned to his co-pilot.


“As a standing stone.”

“Release restrainsts. Ready visor retraction.”

The woman manipulated the surrounding control array with practiced suriety and the vessel shook as the engine spun to life, thereafter the machine’s eight arms retracted and flattened, fin-like, against the exterior, leaving the vessel secured only by the hangar crane. “Control, we’re clear for takeoff,” Rhiner declared into the coms. Thereafter Sidra slid the visor away, allowing the duo a view of the opened bay exit and the yawning aphotic skein beyond. The crane slung them along and detatched as they picked up speed. Rhiner powered up the baseline thrusters and shot beyond the Arkhos into the star-speckled void. Sidra gave an excited shout as the vehicle succumbed to weightlessness. Rhiner remained focused on ship controls, annoyed by the aural distractions of sound-system and tongue. “Could you not do that?” The woman pouted as Vancing’s voice crackled across the coms. “Status?” Rhiner’s hand flew to the audio dial and squelched the music.

“Clear and away, Colonel.”

“Seems those simulations paid off.”

“Yes, Sir. Flies like a bird.”

“How’s our songstress?”

“Snug as a bug, Colonel.” Vancing cleared his throat. Rhiner thought back to their conversation in the lounge. She pondered a beat, then added, “Tell Kopf to work on his bassline while I’m away.”

“Will do. Keep me posted.”

The coms went silent and Rhiner banked hard right and set course for the moon. After several minutes Sidra exhaled and turned from the window.

“Seeing the galaxy outside atmospheric distortion never gets old. But I don’t like to look at it long.”


“Makes me feel small, insignificant. Don’t you feel the same, looking into the vastness? All those dead centuries, staring back at us.”

Rhiner grimaced as one insulted, tone brusque. “When I look to the void, I’m reminded of the rarity of significance. All that shimmering matter and not an inch of it we know of can think. Other than that formed on our sphere. Our ancestors felt insignificant in the face of the ocean, until they crossed it.” He was silent a moment, and took in her pert, pondering visage, then added, “People like to feel insignificant. Less dislocation. Less responsibility. Easier to imagine one is part of some cosmic plan. At one with creation. Indeliably part of something greater than oneself. Or some other kind of,” he waved his right hand as if spreading dust. “Mysticism.”

“You major in philosophy?”

“I didn’t major in anything.”

“You didn’t go to school?”

“Hard for me to think of a bigger waste of time.”

“Hard for you to think of a bigger waste of time, or just hard for you to think?”

Rhiner brushed off the jab and pulled out the carton of smokes. “Why listen to someone tell me things I ought to do when I could just do it? Want one?”

The woman nodded. Rhiner removed one of the white cylinders and flicked it through the air towards the woman. The filtered albescent tube rotated in languid arcs as Sidra bobbed up to take it in her teeth, but overshot her mark and prompted the flotsam to bump against her nose and spin out around her head like her own satellite. She laughed and, for the first time since they’d met, the man smiled.

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