The Director gathered herself into human form and used her freshly sculpted hands to open up the Meditation room. She wobbled as she walked. It was hard to stay balanced while encased in a temporary body with limited sensation. But, since she was leading this meeting of Recovering Earthlings: The Formerly Famous, it was required.
The chill wind on her movie-star quality breasts reminded her of the problem that vexed her to no end when she’d been alive. What to wear?
The butler, Chor, had hung two robes up for her. One was translucent, flowing with every color in the spectrum. The other was an early-twentieth century peignoir, silky blue. The translucent one signified the future and the past, their existence beyond. The blue was comforting, a reminder of the home they left behind, earth, sky and sea. A comfort color would be best. She chose the blue.
Chor entered the room and greeted her with a chirrup of his forewings. Chor had worn human and other mamalian skins before, but his happiest earth-life was as a bumblebee. The Director hoped the New Arrival wouldn’t be put off by a six-foot tall bee in a bowler and spats. Since he was famous on earth for being somewhat of a “space oddity”, she guessed he wouldn’t be.
“The Meditation Center at the Corner of the Dark Dao Universe” will be part of “47-16 Short Fiction and Poetry Inspired by David Bowie”. Volume I is available for sale at Amazon.
You didn’t consider the darkness.
Now, here you are, laying on your back with your arms stretched out. You feel like you’re floating, like you could rise into the sky.
You could be laid flat on the black ice of Devil’s Spit, an asteroid in the dark side of the Kuiper Belt. Or you could be home on Earth, crocked from space lag, night swimming in Lake Pontchartrain.
There’s no sound but your own breath, coming in short bursts. Maybe you’re wheezy because your rebreather crapped out in the middle of nowhere, 7.5 billion klicks from Earth. Or maybe it’s because you’re doing the polar bear thing, going for a chilled dip in December.
The cold bits scraping your skin, yanking on your hair could be the viscous ice that slimes every surface of Devil’s Spit. Or they could be mangrove leaves floating in the water.
Only one thing is certain. You’re lying there, trying to answer the question that’s vexed you your whole life. Can a living organism be in two places at the same time?
If you opened your eyes you’d have the answer, but a voice in your head is telling you to keep those eyes shut.
That voice is me.
From “Devil’s Spit”, part of the Visions III, Inside the Kuiper Belt anthology.
The Perlan Project (so named for the pearlescent stratospheric clouds in Scandinavia) is the brainchild of Einar (pronounced “Ay-nar”) Enevoldson, a former test pilot for the Royal Air Force, U.S. Air Force, and NASA. He’s piloted dozens of aircraft, including the F-86, F-14, and F-111. He’s also flown one-of-a-kind experimental craft, among them the odd, oblique-wing AD-1 and the X-24B lifting body. During the golden age of flight research, Enevoldson was a member of the elite community that included Chuck Yeager, Scott Crossfield, and other luminaries pushing the bounds of aviation.
Enevoldson retired from NASA in 1986 and went to work as a test pilot for Grob Aircraft in Germany, where he flew the Strato 2C, a high-altitude research aircraft developed by the German Aerospace Research Center, DLR. That project was canceled, but the work piqued his interest in high-altitude flight. He recalls walking down a corridor at DLR’s offices near Munich in 1992 and noticing an image tacked outside the office of an atmospheric researcher. Made with LIDAR (light detection and ranging), the image showed what Enevoldson recognized as mountain waves, but these were far bigger and extended much higher than any he had seen before. Standing in front of the image, Enevoldson immediately saw the potential to do something unprecedented. He realized that if the waves were associated with enough wind, they could propel a glider to heights previously thought unobtainable. “I really thought at this moment that this could end up being my life’s work,” he says. High-altitude glider pilot Doug Perrenod, a Perlan project team member, says the realization was the project’s eureka moment.
Mountain waves can be compared to water in a stream swiftly running over a boulder. Air is a fluid, and once winds crest over a mountain ridge and roll down the mountain’s other side—the lee side—they push up into a wave. With the right conditions, the wave can rise thousands of feet higher than the summit of the mountains.
The presence of the waves are often indicated by clouds that are lens-shaped, or lenticular. Early aviators quickly learned to avoid flying near or under the convex clouds because they are associated with severe turbulence and downdrafts. But as far back as the 1930s, glider pilots discovered they could use the powerful updrafts to climb to great heights.
He has little reason to care. He’s married now, with a son. He may not be quite what he once aimed for — as he put it, an artist with a CEO’s salary — but he’s got much of what he needs. He strips companies of their old or surplus technology and resells it; that funds his real work with SRL. In August he put a show on eBay: for $149,000.00 (plus proper permitting and a viable site with adequate electrical power), Survival Research Labs will bring its mechanized mayhem to your city. Thanks in part to some positive media coverage, he’s had over 7,000 views, but no one’s yet taken him up on the offer. “I just thought it would be fun. It was something I’d always wanted to do. Good for laugh. That’s why I usually do things. That’s my main motivation — I might get a laugh out of it somewhere down the line.”
Down the line. Some time in the future, where Mark Pauline has always focused. “I’m 58 and I have no regrets. Yet. I figured that my chances of having regrets are diminished because I’ve made it this far. The percentages look good.” He doesn’t look back much. “At this point I don’t really spend much time thinking about the past,” he says, “I haven’t gotten to that point. Not to say that I won’t someday.” And he’s got time, a long-lived family. “I might be doing this for another 40-50 years. It’s reasonable to assume that,” he says.
And what would make all those long days and nights worth it? What has he been trying to do with this long project he’s made of his life?
“I do this stuff cause I like to do it,” he says, “not because I think I’m going to make any money at it. I’ve been doing it for 30-some years and I still haven’t made any money at it. So that’s good. That means I’ve succeeded. That measure of success has been achieved.”
You should have been here an hour ago. All of MamaSan’s friends in Pirate’s Cove were there for her funeral. We were all cleaned up, for once, in proper black. Palm trees were swaying over her freshly-dug grave. The suns were shining. I’d done a new tattoo for the occasion, drawn from a photo of her hammering the shelf over the bar. She was in her overalls, her short-cropped hair sticking out at all angles, cigar clenched between her teeth. I’d put the tattoo on my left shoulder, the last patch of my skin that was bare. It had sensors that could feel the mood in the air. I didn’t need it to tell me, the mood was sad.
I was at the podium, giving a eulogy for her when the thin, leathery Police Chief Ponseca, (a.k.a. ‘Loco Pete,’ a.k.a. the former Vice President of Charon), stormed in with his battered robocops. He got behind the podium, cuffed me and declared that I, Elizabeth Aguilar (a.k.a. ‘Lady Inked’) was a suspect in the murder of my guardian, Nicole Santos (a.k.a. ‘MamaSan’, proprietor of the High Dive Bar). I was also a ‘person of interest’ in the murders of twenty people who had been crushed to death by a serial killer appropriately known as ‘The Crusher.’
“Who is accusing me?” I cried as he twisted my arms behind my back.
“I am” Ami Watanabe, our head waitress, shouted. She peeked out from behind the robocops, black hair streaming in the wind, her slender frame hidden behind their rusty, dented bodies.
“You jerk!” I said. “I saved your life.” I don’t know why Ami was out to get me. Maybe it was the bad tattoo I gave her. Or the pink shirt I borrowed and never returned.
Read more of “Sari Sari” and many other futuristic tales in Visions IV: Space Between Stars.
Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction? It’s a scream. It’s written like this: ‘I checked out with K19 on Adabaran III, and stepped out through the crummaliote hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timeprojector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass… I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough.’
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.
And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.
If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.
As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.