0141: As Real As It Gets

Ziggurat #49

Through the small portion of the cockpit that was visible from his perspective, he saw the world outside become a scramble of spinning confusion that made him instinctively look away.

“Five…four…three…” Ed Spratt’s voice was muffled in Lamont’s ears by a distinctly uncomfortable change in pressure. Glancing about, he could see the other members of the party instinctively working their jaws to relieve the feeling, their fists tightly clenched to the rails of the cargo racks above their heads. Craning his neck, Lamont peered through the open threshold to the cockpit. In the dull red light that bathed Westward’s storage bay, he could see the large doors that separated them from the void of space beginning to slide open.

“Bloody hell,” he whispered.

He expected to hear something, some loud concussion or the roar of engines, but instead he found that they experienced a moment of profound silence. Through the small portion of the cockpit that was visible from his perspective, he saw the world outside become a scramble of spinning confusion that made him instinctively look away. Then he noticed something else: The tension of his arm as he gripped the overhead rack was suddenly relieved. To his surprise, he saw that he was now floating an inch or so above the metal seat of his bench. Five pairs of eyes met each other with a flurry of muttered curses and nervous chuckles as all the members of the party simultaneously realized they were in freefall.

“Don’t let go,” Abigail warned.

At that moment, they all felt the weight of their bodies return. The two women let out complaining groans, as their arms were stretched to full length to span the distance. Lamont’s stomach turned.

“Gravity coils engaged,” Ed stated from the pilot’s seat.

The cabin felt perfectly normal again. Experimentally, Lamont released his grip on the overhead rack and found that nothing untoward happened. Rosemary, sitting next to him, did the same, rubbing her shoulder with a wince.

“Are we out?” Ashton asked.

Lamont stood and made his way to the doorway between the cabin and the cockpit. Rico was close behind him. He saw Ed’s hands flying across the complicated console while, outside the bulbous viewports, stars streaked past at a strange angle and a nauseating pace. For a moment, the view was filled with the somber blue of the gas giant, and then they could see the slender profile of Westward, terrifyingly small, flash by.

“Holy mother,” Rico breathed.

“What the hell is happening, Spratt?” Lamont demanded.

“I told you, this part is rocky,” The technician replied calmly. “I’m just getting our bearings and engaging the positioning rockets…now.” He tapped a few buttons and suddenly Westward was back in view, slightly smaller than it had been before. “See? Nothing to twist your knickers about.”

He made a few more adjustments, and the ship upon which they had all spent the last year of their lives slid horizontally from their sight, replaced once again by the smoky blue of the planet and the black shape of the moon toward which they were headed.

Rico whistled. “The way we were moving,” he observed, “I would have expected to be thrown about like a rag doll.”

Lamont nodded. “It’s like watching a bleeding movie.”

“Trust me,” Ed said, tapping a meter on his console. “The space outside is as real as it gets.”