Mede Albright had unlocked the door. The cylindrical knob released an air-sealed hatch and the white gate, open to space, slid so lightly ajar. Now he was able in fine to impel his seemingly weightless mass into that terrifyingly beautiful panorama of deep blue hue; crisp white cold; green-brown terra. A great stretch of nothing separated him, seemingly, from descent toward his mother. The earth seemed to lie just outside his grasp and Mede seemed to lie just outside hers. Once the door was open, the only separation between Mede and oblivion would be the nylon-enhanced cord that anchored him to his orbit-researcher. He hesitated one fleet moment. This was, after all his toil and task-work, a moment of truth. He had spent his life’s blood and time painfully exerting for this moment, his final goal was at hand, and this was a milestone reserved for prayer, at least if he were the religious sort. He was not, but he was pious. He paused in thought; meditated on his childhood home; cogitated over his wife and unborn daughter; pondered his mentor, Edwin Didakos; reckoned his dog Testa.
All of these considerations took only three and one-half seconds. Mede was the kind who counted such seconds in life. He closed his eyes and pushed open the door to the void where he felt a mild lightness – not so much a push. He permitted it to release him toward the threshold and a universal force took him in its immense and ubiquitous embrace. He kept his eyes closed and permitted the lightness to bear him out of the orbit-researcher. He was able to determine precisely the moment when he had exited his vessel because he had an intuitive notion of time-space relations. Indeed his ability to grasp intuitively temporal relations inherent in geometric functions was what enabled him to launch his body just outside the proximity of terra. He had won many scientific awards; had been offered many scholarships; had considered many positions in theoretical mathematics and physics departments.
He wished to witness for himself outer space, so he ended up working for NASA after the international space station was destroyed by the Christian Earth Embrace movement. The states were in a frenzied haste to launch a research station before any other nation or alliance of states had the same opportunity and international alliances were breaking down in every corner of the world. Most populations had no idea what was transpiring and now was the time to capitalize. Whatever nation could master “earth orbit allotments” – as the states termed them – could divide its space into sections and lease them as if they were shares of a farmer’s crop. The triumph of marketing had reduced human institution to a grasping imperial despot.
And here was Mede, a kind of adjunct spaceman. His task was to calculate relations of space with earth orbit movement, the idea being that he might give a precise measure of how long and at what cost a lesser nation might “rent space.” His body moved slowly out of the researcher. He had been leaning slightly forward when he began his Odyssey, so his face came first, headlong, out into the gaping void. After 10.2 seconds he knew he was outside the craft and there while awaiting his exit from the researcher, what confronted him had been an all-white, metal-plastic and sterile horizon. He closed his eyes and meditated on the familiar backside of his eyelids: mollifying black.
10.2 seconds passed; he waited one second more; he opened his eyes. He knew what the effect would be. When he seized the present light with his eyes, he was suddenly confronted with an entirely different vision. No longer was present the hard and cold white of human science; no longer was present the controlled atmosphere of astronautic technology. Before him was the enormous mass of earth surrounded by the nothing of black splattered with millions upon billions of tiny, almost indiscernible bright specs. The view was breathtaking; Mede could see how alive and dead was terra. Mother lay before him a spectacular sphere of brown-yellow and spread-blue and she showed him her scattered habit of bright cloud in some spots speckles of white and in others a smear of bright white blending with the tawny-rust swirls of desert below. Mede bore witness to the geometric pattern of human influence, miniscule shapes of purpose and he could discern ever so tiny shapes of rectangle and square, which must have been enormous cities, possibly they were mountains. Whatever they were, they lay in the midst of searing destruction and whatever was there either must be hardy and experienced in harsh weather conditions, in near total control of its environs or dead.
Mede was overwhelmed by her beauty and fearful of his proximity to her pull. He suffered an onrush of vertigo and in the process his left leg accidentally struck the side of the space-researcher and began a drive outward, inward, downward. Mede was at first concerned but then realized that his nylon-enhanced cord would protect him from wandering errant beyond the safe proximity of his vessel. He decided he would not even slow down his space-dance toward Gaia; his cord was firmly attached; nothing could go wrong. Mede would wait for his momentum to stretch tight the cord and then pull himself back to his researcher. It was a childish notion, he recognized. He turned off his headset so that his “crew” would be unable to chide him out of his inner downward journey. He stretched out his arms and legs as far as possible, making a somatic “X” of his frame and Mede lulled himself, closed his eyes once more then opened them again. The sight before him was not less miraculous than it had been at first. Caeruleous blue twists of glass swept masses of creatures in mile-long whirlpools far beneath Mede’s big, blackened eyes. Millions of people inhabited small gray specks before him, and he looked up and saw unimaginably immense god-like hot blue stars rapidly expending their energy as simple dots in the abyss before him and the enormity of terra and its relative insignificance beneath life-giving Sol bewildered his awed mind. Mede thought of the immensity of the spectacle before him in relation to the immensity of even the smallest part of the smallest portion of his hand or any other part of his body. The tip of his index finger was just as spectacular as the sight before him, yet too much so familiar. The unbelievably mundane became the utter wondrous and in the absolute beauty of each thing and every moment was a simple, brief instance and an element of nothing whatsoever. Everything had become a blissful nothing. Mede was astounded at the relative comfort of floating just out of the earth’s hand of gravity and the relative danger of falling out of control. He appeared to float very high up still safely vicinal to his researcher. Death was present here within Mede’s cocoon of safety, inside his very white, pure suit and it was accompanied by an enormous feeling of assurance. It was a time of awe and terror, of beauty and humility for him.
He noticed that part of the earth before him was bright with sunlight and life, yet another shrouded in darkness, its abyss blending with the cold deadness of space. That place seemed empty and desolate; there was obliteration, yet there lay something not yet revealed to Mede. It was as if the earth simply faded in part emerging only slowly as if emerging from a parental womb. The contrast gave him a pause and he calculated quickly that his trajectory directed him toward the black, hidden portion of Gaia, laughing for a moment then closed his eyes once more. He let loose his mind, attempted to release himself from his woes, not that such a talented man was in the possession of many woes so far as others were concerned. He was free and he felt the heady rush of exaltation derived from abandon. Nothing could harm him.
While he was drifting, his eyes thrice closed, he suddenly felt a tug and a sharp jar at his midriff, just where the nylon-enhanced cord attached to his suit. His outstretched limbs lurched forward carried by his momentum and his eyes jerked open and he found he had reached the end of his line. The force of the cord’s tug had been virulent and Mede nearly passed out from the shock and pain, going from weightless fall to abrupt halt. His stop ought not to have been so strong; he was virtually weightless out here liminal; he pressed down his ache and reached over his left side in order to turn on his headset. He twisted the knob for power to communication, but no power was available. He heard no static and his continuing pleas went unheeded. It was at this time that he recognized he was still moving in a decline toward terra. If he was unable to contact his crew, he could easily propel himself back to the researcher using his air supply. This was his kinetic air current – so they termed it.
Mede was contemplating a self directed cord-pull back to the researcher when suddenly the power to his communication device lit up. He laughed to himself; he had begun to be fearful of nothing. John Kerr blared his usual chiding voice into Mede’s ear, his moment of silent contemplation of his beatific vision having ended abruptly. Kerr told him that space-time was exceedingly valuable, that he ought not to waste any of it acting like a child. He was present on this space walk only for his scientific expertise. Kerr would wind him back into the researcher by his cord, now his leash, and supervise Mede for the remainder of the “operation.” Mede began to sense the tug of the cord pulling him back to the researcher. He felt a bit disappointed at this turn of events, but he had come out here to perform a task. The fantastic beauty of his voyage had turned toward mundane human enterprise once more. Mede asked Kerr where they ought to begin, what was the reference point of the center of the “earth orbit allotment” map. Kerr said that the Gates Project wanted to begin mapping just over Chad virtually where they were at that moment; apparently this was the reason for the rush and the chide. Kerr had placed Mede’s computer just outside the researcher when Mede returned he....the communication device died.
Mede said that he did not understand the last message. Could Kerr repeat? Mede made one attempt at turning himself back toward the researcher when he was propelled by some errant force of air. He could not get hold of his line, now seemingly his lifeline. He noticed, facing the earth not looking back at his companions, that his nylon-enhanced cord was now floating freely in shape of a semi-circle before him. He sensed a lead weight in his belly; some god had placed it there just recently. Within a state of shock and disbelief for 3.2 seconds he composed himself, thought very quickly. He had power, no contact with his crew and he no longer possessed any physical contact with his craft. Still, one more opportunity for salvation remained: he was able to slow his descent, or reverse it, using the compressed air tank available for just such an emergency. He twisted the air hoses on his pack toward the researcher and set free a large amount of pressure. The pack had been jarred when with a jerk the cord reached its end at the same time as when he was in his self-imposed free-flight. Mede discovered that he had accelerated his descent somehow. Apparently, the pack had been turned askew and Mede was uncertain whether or not he was to blame. He looked and confirmed that he had wasted half of his mobile air supply; he knew that his descent had now become final. It had transpired so quickly; he was just upon the apex of his life, viewing the earth with such carefree abandon and glee. His career might have skyrocketed in connection with this market endeavor, just one second ago his life so nearly perfected.
Mede was in a panic, struggling to think of some manner of delivery, quicker and quicker falling toward the most substantial oblivion. He attempted again and again to contact the researcher, but there was no answer. Something dread must have occurred on the craft. He realized with the burden of fright that coupled with this beauty spread out in a vast expanse before him as though a painting made only for his observation and edification was abysmal ugliness, that as much wonder and subtle magnificence as Gaia was, so much so was her repulsiveness and horror. She bore children, but as well did she consume them and she now held Mede firmly in her grasp; unwilling was Gaia to let go. Mede was again amazed how quickly his descent had transpired. The thought tugged at him as if it were his final grasp at survival, a lifeline metaphoric, still it soon quit his mind. The next thought that occupied his presence was that of death. Dying had seemed distant to him throughout his short existence; it had not taken his parents or any of his loved ones. He was the oldest of three male children and even his grandparents were yet living. Now this ugly thing, this apparent oblivion had gotten hold of him through his own folly or some act of terrorism. He was unsure. Death now was his only true companion and he might yet become Mede’s friend. Mede began to weep as he thought of all that would not happen to him, what potential here would die, tears smoldering just beneath the surface of his blinking eyes. His thoughts turned to regret and anger, of frustration and injustice. He recognized that he was even unable to convey some final words to his wife; his daughter would never see him; he would no longer taste good food or listen to symphony. He would no longer feel the supple form of his wife or love her as men love women. He would no longer remember the best moments of his life. Everything that he called human would cease for him long before what remained of his body reached earth. Consciousness as he employed it would cease and an entire cosmos would cease.
These losses not only frightened him, but repulsed and enraged him. He was unprepared for death despite his awareness of the dangers of his journey. He was completely alone drifting helplessly quicker-quicker descending amidst some liminal space twixt the greatest achievement of his life and total destruction. He began to feel the grasp of his mother, fear-bearing in its hideous embrace. He started crying and then a ten-year-old’s whine issued from his mouth as he felt himself becoming warmer. He sensed a mild compression, as if someone had placed a lead weight on the entirety of his suit. Then the presence of a thin pressure imposed upon his limbs. He curled himself into a fetal ball uselessly covering his helmet with his arms and hands and he could not cease thinking of the end of his awareness, the cessation of his sensations. His body a fleshy orb, Mede soon felt pressure ever more strongly upon his form. He was not only uncomfortably warm, the heat began to drive itself into him like a brand surrounding the outer layer of his back and the front of his arms. Mede panicked once more, beginning to scream expletives at whatever gods might exist. He had not known that such emotion was within him, raged over whose blame, whose crime had killed him. When he realized that his suit would not hold out for very long and its air and pressure would soon press the fabric flat to his skin, he understood that he would die asphyxiated his limbs and organs bloated from lack of outward force at the topmost part of the atmosphere. He struggled once again with his rabid emotion, but came to see that he no longer had energy for such perturbation, a cool calm seeping into his limbs. He stretched forth his extremities as far as he could and formed an “X” with his body; let oblivion come to him now. His rage and hurt spent. Suddenly, the release from the cares of human existence seemed not only no longer frightening, but even welcome. No longer must he eat or bathe; he would no longer possess the anxiety of too much or too little light or sight, sound or hearing. He would no longer contend with the emotional stress of other human beings or the suffering that comprises education. His death would be a kind of bliss, a release of tension born of water, light and ideal. Every kind of pain would cease once his body, quit its biological struggle. His annihilation would be beautiful. It would be an end to care, and end to his existence, even a kind of reward paid for suffering life. The emancipation from the weight he had possessed his life long seemed a thing of bliss and it was as if in a few simple moments Mede had come to the realization of a lifetime. It had taken 15.7 seconds. Though beauty existed in the world and though he had a unique opportunity to perceive it as a human and an ever more unique opportunity to wonder at its breathtaking magnificence as a man in the space age, this departure that lay its weight upon him was ever that much more wondrous. It seemed as if nothing of his life or his progeny mattered, as if nothing of those things ought matter. Nothing prevailed itself upon him. Even if death were the complete cessation of everything he was, it would be blissful. It was as if he were to spread himself so thin upon the face of the kosmos so as to become everything and nothing at all.
“I am become nothing,” he thought.
He would soon experience the transition from awareness to the enlightenment of nullity. What could be more miraculous and terrible at once? What could be nothing and something at the same time except death? What god dreams this splendid transition from one state to an other? s Either he was mad now or he was as close to bliss as he had ever come and here upon the point of death there was nothing to fear, nothing was the fear. More frightening seemed anything; Mede was in an embrace. Death smiled.
Mede approached this blissful state just as his suit gave in to heat and pressure. Its air squeezed quickly out from around his frame; he quivered and gasped his frame involuntarily gesticulating as if in Bacchic dance; his arms and legs flailed helplessly and unable to support life for lack of oxygen, his body starved his brain of vital sanguine. His power of sight grew darker; his vision of bliss grew brighter; a glossy film covered his vision; sight no longer possessed meaning while he grasped nirvana; his eyes ceased their ability to process light; his beatitude grew to the ideal of god; his sight grew deep gray then black; a mirthful smile spread across his lips. His final thought concerned the amazement of his death and the rapture of its release. His fingers began to char. Soon his whole suit blackened; his helmet melted into the flesh of his wide-eyed face; strips of space-fabric blew off of his shredding suit and an auburn orange glow surrounded his body. His form grew brighter in color from candy-apple-orange to tawny-yellow then canary-yellow-white. His appendages separated from his trunk and the greater mass of him grew blue then white with incineration. Mede was a carnival of color brilliant and beautiful in his descent. He would not reach Gaia in this form though she welcomed him in any manner fate might choose. His would be the presence of miniscule specks of gray meandering by soft grace to the earth in a span from Beijing to Berlin. Mede would return. his bliss complete.
At home in Texas Mede’s wife looked up into her sky and gave him thought. She marveled at his brilliance as a scientist and his childishness as a man. This was his day, she thought. Everything Mede had worked for culminated in this his trip into the outer atmosphere. His final aspiraton would now come. What would Mede do now? His life would have no meaning for him after he climbed back into his researcher and descended back to earth. She was confident he would become a dedicated husband and father as always she intended him to be. She gazed at the night and noticed a light falling from the heavens.
“How gorgeous meteorites are in their destruction.”
- Kirk Shellko 2002