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The Automatic Cliffs of Outer Space 707 words

Robert Jones had visited a dozen worlds, but Galgax-III was the first jungle planet he had visited.

“The ramp is clear, Captain. The plants are interesting looking, but if there is any wildlife the landing probably scared it off.” He stood at the bottom of the cargo ramp and surveyed the bright orange plants that stood waist high on him. The ship had landed in a small clearing, perhaps 100 meters across and surrounded by sinister looking trees.

“Okay, Jones. Shame we can’t breathe the air, but the lightweight suits shouldn’t cause us any problems. I’ll be right down.”

Robert stepped off of the ramp and pushed through the plants, circling to his right and following the edge of the hull. It did not take long for him to find the damage.

“Found it,” he said into his helmet microphone, “about 5 meters forward on the port side.” He ran his hand along the buckled hull plate from below. “Strange, it looks like something hit us, there is a hole in the hull, and the edges are….”

A sudden vibration in the ground startled Robert, and he turned quickly to scan the edge of the jungle. The vibration increased in strength until Robert could hear the ship vibrating in response.

“What is happening out there,” asked Captain Dean Frost. “The whole ship is shaking.”

Robert did not know how to answer, so he headed back to the cargo ramp at the rear of the ship. Staggering, as it was difficult to keep his feet, it took a few moments to reach the ramp. 

“Jones, what is happening out there? I am headed back to the bridge, get back inside so we can lift off.”

The cargo ramp jerked under Robert’s feet, knocking him back onto the ground while several loud crashes threatened to deafen him. Lying on his back, he could see that the ground under the ship was raised, and the ramp was out of reach before he was able to stand.

He said, “Captain, the land under the ship is rising. Maybe we landed on a caldera, but I cannot get aboard.” As the ship rose, rocks and debris started to fall from the sides of the rising land. Robert was forced to scramble back as the stone cliff continued to lift the ship into the sky.

“Captain?”, Robert asked. “I am going to need help getting back into the ship.”

The cliff reached a height of several hundred meters and came to a stop with the ship perched on top. The exposed stone appeared to be partially crystallized, and Robert was able to see what appeared to be metallic veins running across the face of the cliff.

Robert started moving toward the cliff while looking up at the ship.

“Captain? Are you reading me?” Robert started to worry that the Captain was unconscious and unable to help him get up to the ship.

The cliff started to move horizontally, giving Robert the nasty feeling that he was standing beside a giant snake. The ground near the base of the cliff was starting to churn up, forcing Robert further back. The ship had moved nearly half a kilometer away before Robert started to follow it. If he lost the ship, he would be stranded on Galgax-III, and he only had another hour of oxygen in his tank.

He chased the ship for a few minutes before a loud noise, and falling rock dislodged the ship. It fell to the base of the moving cliff and crumpled most of the fore-section. Now running, Robert was forced to move further from the cliff as it tore through the plants and soil.

The ship was a write-off, of course. But Robert was able to locate an emergency shelter while scavenging for supplies, and he was able to use the radio to contact the mothership in orbit. He set up the shelter one kilometer from the cliffs and climbed inside with only twenty minutes of oxygen left in his suit tanks.

The rescue ship arrived two hours later and picked Robert up within view of the now slowing cliffs. The wreck was too close to the cliffs, so they were forced to leave the planet without Captain Frost’s remains.