In the beginning was the rocket.
Lay off, will you? I know the I-4s could set me back a month of paybits for dwelling on such things when I naught to be nose-down Gettin’ Things Done Mining Colony Edition(tm) style, but I ain’t scared to say’t: old Tommy Pynchon maybe was the only’n who really understood that proper, all that about the mysterious of the rocket.
Next time I see Tom bumping around at the canteen, maybe I’ll assay him that I think he is on the dot. Was, anyways. Han’t got much random access of Old Tom Mark I, O.G., anymores, as I can tell, but still. Clone Tom’ll grawk, and that toothless black hole’ll make my stomach turn for a second the way it always do, but then I’m always like, in’t he just an old geyser who deserves a break, and how many reincarnate old clones ever writ books like he done, anyhow? It’s only ever third colony or so gets a Pynchon, anyways, even if he in’t nothing but a janitorial aide seconded class. So yeah, pat on the old back for Ancient Memory-Bereft Tom and his Magic Words of Wisdom That He Don’t Even Amember.
I’m wiping my forehead with an oil rag while I’m having these Deep Thoughts when Three-Eye Raffie comes over and whoops me one upside the head with its umbrella claw. Sure enough, it’s “get back to work, turd,” and then I’m grindstoning it till victuals. But there’s maybe just a lumen or two of glint in my nearsight eye while I’m punching holes in things I have no idea what they do, because tomorrow morning is an arrival on the schedule.
And the rocket was good.
Rockets, as some might say, is generative. I heard that word someawheres. What it means is: they bring the vitals. Copper, spares, take-out-the-salt supplies, letters, Velcro, hull-repair tape, and stuff you cain’t never get here at all, like caramel, for the love of.
Everybody gets up, middle of the night if need, to watch a rocket trajecting. Me, I likes when it’s just twilight, when the plasma and the vapor and the holy-shit of the incoming streaks across the pale-fire sky, maybe a couple of the not-quite-as-Medusa moonatoids up there, and, oh man oh man, don’t you just taste that sugar already then? It’s Christmass producing an equal but opposite re-action in my mouth, Frankie with complex fluorohydroglucocarbons and flavoroids and whatnot. Don’t matter you’re going to sag bleary-eyed all the whole rest of the day while you’re hammering on a pipeline that never wanted to be umpty-trillion miles from earth in a place that never cared nothing about rare minerals before you showed up, because you’ll be going to partake some good rickets-inducing non-nute junk joy that day, hoo sir hallelujah.
Here’s a thing I learned: Ain’t no thing else in the whole of the vasty universe ‘cept sugar and The Big Empty. Them two. You like the same friction I do, I will bet.
The rocket made them in its image. Two by two it made them.
If you never sat outside on a airless dusty slag with a bunch’n others in suits looking at an incoming, well, you hain’t missed a whole lot, ’cause it’s kind of like watching it on one of the *tubes. But you do it anyhow because what else you going to do?
So in that boy’s coming, retrothrusters full-on zero-nil to maybe save him a few centibits for some companionship down here in the only ‘habited gravity pit for a parsec, and we’re all gogglin and laughin. Me, Pasty, Fran-Jan, Ballni and his’n, a couple emps keeping eyes, even JentzTwo, the one who come last year from that mine that run into a antimatter spitwad what bored right through their rock like a rifle sight, leaving just him not to tell the story. Tom in’t, here, that is, on Little Shanghai Mountain with us, watching, with us, in the moment I’m telling you ’bout, but that’s because he always likens to be alone when the rocket comes, and don’t you dare joke about that noways because he still got a bit of the fight in him.
It’s late to be really good twilight, not even civilsuch; the sun is up full with that blast-furnace-orange it pukes up here all over us. No delicacy. But every human mouth is watery with spit already anyhow. We’re full gogglin, despite even the paltry presents that the holds held for us’n because of the opportunity costs of laserdriving sails and all that biz. We understand lading constraints and cubic centimeters, Sir. Just a mote of something, and we’ll make it another day. Another month, even.
Flyer meanwhile is leaving behind him this one-color bow of plasma cause you know there’s some gasps up there, particulates you cain’t see with’n some instrumentation. And truth’ly, that plasma is always a thing to take in when all you got viewwise the rest of the time is the ugly butts of some slightly bigger rocks to gawk at, so you takes it in.
There we’re sitting and the line of the arc of the incoming draws across the plexi visors of the assembly crowd and gets writ small in the bugeyes of the AIMPs and the 4s who’ve come too, who knows why.
And as we watch giggling and horsing, the rocket crumbles into a flower of fire. Petals of flames spread out like soft bright bristles. Then it’s all black like a spidryweb because the sun’s behinding us, and it’s over. Plain goned.
I won’t not be ashamed by you or no one: there are tears on me, though nobody’d can be seen’t through all the helmeting reflections. But if you never been there, you don’t know what it’s like, to spy three years of waiting raining down cinders on a world that just don’t give one runny shit about soft little animals like you’n.
And the rocket was separated from the people so that there were two parts, a rocket and a population.
What you cain’t pretend you ain’t done is, you ate your very last square of Gyozi Caramel City(tm) the exact day before Old 12B9B (a rocket with a real good repair record, everyone will amember later) just gave up his ghost. You went and pulled that last cube out of the back corner of your locker No. 16, unwrapped it out of three hermetic zips and a layer of newspaper to make it look like garbage, and you et it as everybody else gone back to shift. You han’t nothing to lose at that point, because everybody’d be going berserkers if the unimaginable come to pass. And then it did. And right now you can just about think there’s a taste of the sweet chains left in the dirt of your ‘stache and the corners of your lips but you don’t want a check because you maybe got to save that and hang onto it like a Jettison Survival System Craft(tm).
The sun just keeps blaring at you. Not even the decency of enough air on this fuck-all rock to let you smell that sugar transpiring. Oh, Fran-Jan sayed it only’d made the next cycle that a-much more awful, but I don’t think so. I think I could get kite-high on a whiff of chocolate right now’s what I think. Even the damn thought of it. Pardon me for a moment whilst I catch my breaths. Can’t spy things right–got some mine dust is moting my sockets, I abacus.
It helps this time when Raffie clomps me on the skullbox. I almost thank that heartless clump of hyperintelled alloy as I go back in to the machine hall and get down to setting a tolerance on a spring that probably don’t even hook up to anything ultimate. You know it is bad surely when you start feeling for a 4. You’re nigh-on a 4 yourself then. Which is what Tom knowed, first. Original Tom. O.T.
And the rocket moved over the face of the vacuum.
One funny thing comes out of all it–Old Tom talks out loud one day at lunch. He thinks it was all properly spectacle–all us waiting, crying and wanting, the ship-fire-flower, the gruel every damn bell for the next 1,093 earth units while the powderfied remains of my few precioso Gyozi and Swiss’ns form an eternal candy-dust ring around our godforsaked homeplace. That part sucks right enough for him too, cours’n it does, but Tom says it is a kind of turning point curveball kind of a thing and that you got to take change where you can get it. He talks up arcs and down synchronicities and winds us all up for a long’n time such that, shit, it all ‘least seems like something.
I cain’t look at him while he’s prattling because his toothless gob makes me queasy like I said, but it is insuring to hear him using words for a change. I’d say it is sweet, but Christ.
William C. Reichard (“Will”) is a lifelong creative writer and communicator. In addition to his short fiction, he’s written two novels–This Album Full of Angles, a modern-day take on a classic Celtic myth, and Evertime: The Iteration of the Martingale, which introduces readers to a new kind of video game hero. Will is married to the photographic artist KayLynn Deveney, and his time is split between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. You can learn more about him at his website, http://plaeroma.com.