0137: The Lurking Menace

Ziggurat #45

Surrounding the cockpit were a collection of mechanical arms, probes and pincers designed to coax, by hook or by crook, whatever was necessary out of the surface of an unsuspecting astral body.

No amount of cabin fever had ever persuaded Lamont to visit Westward’s storage bay more than twice in his time on the ship—one of those times being his grand tour while the ship was docked outside of Mars. For one thing, it was fairly boring: About 1,200 cubic feet of mostly empty space, crammed along the edges with hundreds of crates containing food rations, spare parts and supplies for establishing a colony. But the real reason, if Lamont was honest, were the rafters. The bay occupied the full height of the ship, and the top of it, roughly level with the colonist deck, consisted of a loose grid of pipes and girders. There was no permanent lighting at that level, so the skeletal structure was mostly hidden in shadow. Despite the antiseptic spotlessness with which the ship was maintained, something about the rafters reminded Lamont of looking up at the partially ruined structure of an old church tower, and realizing at that moment that the gigantic bell was still suspended by God-knows-what high above his head.

Similarly suspended, though not quite as high, was the asteroid pod. Some two dozen feet wide and twice as long, the massive metal vehicle was hung from the rafters by thick chains so that it didn’t take up floor space in the bay. When necessary, it could be lowered to just a few feet above the floor for easy access to its mechanical parts. The back of the pod was a storage bay, technically designed to hold minerals collected from asteroids. The front was the cockpit, which featured two bulbous viewports, divided by a collection of sensor antennae. Surrounding the cockpit were a collection of mechanical arms, probes and pincers designed to coax, by hook or by crook, whatever was necessary out of the surface of an unsuspecting astral body. The whole unit had to Lamont’s eye a disturbingly insect-like aspect, like a giant cicada. While he understood that it was in reality a vehicle of extremely clever and efficient design, he nevertheless was unnerved by the sight of it lurking in the shadows above his head. 

This was the thought that was punctuated by a hard slap to his left shoulder that nearly knocked the wind out of him.

“Quite a marvel, is she not?” Grinned Rico Estevez, who had arrived in the bay without Lamont’s noticing. Like Lamont, he was dressed in the form-fitting silver one-piece designed to be worn under their Martian spacesuits. Catching the many small lights built into the sides of the bay, the outfit emphasized Rico’s impressively built physique, making Lamont feel self-consciously scrawny in comparison. 

Lamont coughed and nodded up at the asteroid pod that lurked menacingly fifteen feet above them. “Yes,” he agreed. “A real feat of engineering.”

“Of course, of course,” Rico said in a distracted tone. “But I was referring to her.”

Turning his head toward the real direction of Rico’s attention, Lamont saw Rosemary Wells descending the metal steps that joined the storage bay to the crew deck. She waved cheerfully to the two men, offering a gap-toothed grin.