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Waiting For The Thump
by Andrew Dunn
Climb on board. Find a comfy spot. Then sling that fishing line off the reel. And wait. For the thump.
The old trawler heaved over hard to one side the way she had when she'd been left thre. If they hadn't drained the lake dry, she'd have taken on water and in time slipped most of the way under and forgotten. Now it was a perfect spot for casting a line and waiting for the tattletale thump made when the hook hit hard dry ground. Sometimes it didn't. There were other things to catch out there.
It was fitting the way they'd drained the lake, left the old trawlers to die at one end, and then built the spaceport miles away on the other. From the trawler decks immersed in their yesterdays, a daily show of interplanetary machines thundered off towards their tomorrows atop columns of fire and smoke. There weren't many places where the past and the future were so closely intertwined.
Draw the pole back then sling and pop just like granda taught. And wait. Nothing. That meant the hook hadn't puffed up a cought of dirt for the wind to have its was with. Depending on who it was, reeling it in could be tricky. Nearly impossible sometimes.
Like the soul of that old mariner the hook once grasped. No doubt he'd been a surly sort centuries ago when he plied the lake's waters. His soul certainly was. Fighting hard against the reel. Nearly breaking the pole. There was no love lost when he broke free and slipped away.
Then there were other times when the catch happened so effortlessly it was as though someone wanted to be caught. Disembodied loners and downtrodden souls that didn't seem to mind being heaved up over the side and taken inside a rusting hulk just to feel close again to those they weren't anymore. They were more than happy to sit and talk for a while. And share. For as long as they could anyway. There were schedules to keep on both sides of eternity.
Over and over again the countdown, "wu, si, san, er, yi", echoed across the vast basin. Always with absolute precision. There was no room for error. A mere second of lost time on Earth could ruin a run up to the moon, Mars, or an expedition beyond the inner planets. Those lost souls couldn't deplay their departure either.
At some point, everybody has to find their place in this world. Casting fishing lines into dry lake beds doesn't make ends meet. Hiring on for a six month hitch working the lunar mines does. When that's the only work around, a young man has to do what he has to do. That's just the way it is.
From the spaceport, the trawler fleet looked like dark specks against the sun-scorched expanse. They'd still be there later on. A little more work down, but they'd still be there. So would all those wandering souls that waited to be brought on board even if only for a little while. Even so, that never stopped a tear from breaking free and making its way across a cheek. Nor did it lessen the urge to turn around, head back home, and find some other way to make a living. No matter how many trips came and went, leaving always hurt.
Take a deep breath. Then take that final step and climb on board. Find a comfy spot. In a second or two the eyes would make the adjustment from blinding summer sunshine to dull low fluorescent.
"Qifel zhunbei. Qifel zhunbei," crackled over the cabin audio system and reverberated for miles all around Pad 3A-8. Make sure the seat was locked in the upright position and that all personal items were properly stowed.
"Zhichi," was the voice was human or was it machine? The tone was always the same. Never a hint of an accent. Or emotion.
"Wu," there was nothing but emotion coursing through the cabin this close to launch. Everyone wondering how take-off would go. Would it be like the dozen or more that had happened earlier in the day? Or would this be the one that all Earth's population learned about when news alerts broadcast images of a fireball for all to see.
"Si," reach up and make sure the helmet was locked in place. If the spacecraft's hull breached during take-off an unlocked helmet wouldn't supply emergency air - a hull breach wasn't survivable without emergency air.
"San," one thousand feet down hydraulic pumps were surging high-pressure fluid through lines that would release ground anchors holding the spacecraft steady and dupright against the tower.
"Er," if there was a hull breach or any other emergency would an extra air supply really matter? How could it? Thirty-six human beings plus however many were on the mission's flight crew were little more than specks sitting atop a masive edifice of carbon fiber, steel, and rocket fuel.
"Yi," wait for that tattletale thump of the ground anchors slamming back from the spacecraft's base so that a million pounds of thrust per square centimeter could sling another behemoth clear of Earth's gravity and on a course for tomorrow.
No one on either side of eternity would hear the voice say lift off, "sheng king", over the din of ten rocket engines brought to life.
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