I was. I am. I am somewhere.
Awareness is a long uphill climb. I stumble a few times along the way, of course.
My head is rolling around, flopping this way and that, and I find it impossible to stop that. But at least I’m aware that I have a head. This was not always the case. Before this, minutes or hours or days or years, when I wasn’t, I had no body, I was a thought suspended in gel.
“Did you know her?” Debbie asked me as we got in the car. I made sure Michael was strapped in before replying. I needed a moment to think.
Debbie just watched and didn’t press.
The school van in front of us took off slowly, we followed it through the valley of the satellite dishes that made up the VLA. It was quiet in the car as we passed the radar array, my own thoughts on the next message from the stars that these dishes would pick up, possibly were hearing them even now.
“Ellie and I were from the same sleepy town in Wisconsin, but of course she got out of it early on. Last time I saw her, back then, was at her dad’s funeral.” I looked into the rear-view mirror and found Michael’s face. “We were both about your age, Michael. Her dad had a heart-attack.”
“Four remote buyers today,” Martin nodded to the side of the room where a bank of phones was staffed by serious-looking interns. He turned slightly and faced the front of the large room where the lectern and an easel shared the stage with the loud auctioneer. Paintings came and went slowly as the auction progressed.
“It’s possible he’s here in person, too” El sighed and took another sip of her coffee. “Or sent a proxy. Fuck, it can be anyone. How the hell are we supposed to find him?”
“Ever the optimist. There’s a piece that’s coming up, supposed to fetch one point two, at least. And the artist made the headlines last year, that thing in LA. Think that’s our best bet.” Martin extended a clipboard to El and pointed to a long, consonant-filled German name on the paper. “So we see who bids on it and maybe that’s our man.”
“Hmm.” El said nothing and handed the clipboard back.
I read a story about this lady who had about a hundred or so cup-and-saucer pairs. Guess she was a collector or something, can’t recall. So she had this long narrow shelf that snaked around her kitchen, and every single inch of this shelf was covered in the cup-and-saucer pairs, each one a different color and character, different theme for each of them. A friend had asked her how she managed to keep her entire collection so spotless clean. The woman replied that she had a systematic approach to cleaning the cup-and-saucer sets, and that was to take one down every day and use it. She’d put on the kettle, pick a theme for the day, pull down that cup-and-saucer, wash them, and use them for tea. After she was done with the team, the dynamic duo would go back up that shelf. She had about three cups of tea throughout the day, which meant that she cleaned her entire collection about once a month.
I thought about that for a while. The woman in the story developed an approach to making sure that every single cup was used and washed. It’s not clear if she chose the cups in order – certainly the easier approach – or had a complex order where she used every third one and through careful calculation she knew that this would eventually hit on every cup-and-saucer.
This was a curious thing for me. And then Marc Healtie entered my world and I found someone who also thought about these concepts. He had a particular pattern that he would go through, just like the lady in the cup-and-saucer story. In Marc’s bathroom there were four candles, shotglasses with wax in them essentially, and each had a letter on its side, so that together the candles spelled out LOVE. He had these candles in his bathroom as long as I’ve known him, but he was also single the entire time, so I’m not sure who got these for him or when.
The atmosphere in the airlock oozed out into space, the suit Jas was wearing expanded slightly around her, and the large iris in front of her opened slowly to reveal the darkness of space. Jas looked straight ahead and her eyes quickly found the familiar stars. They had moved slightly since yesterday.
She touched a control in the palm of her right hand and a soft exhale of vapor moved her forward, out of the safety of the airlock into space.
“Testing the drone net,” she spoke, then a prolonged jet of particles slammed into the inner seal of the airlock and Jas accelerated out of the vapor-filled cavern, like a bullet out of a gun. “One, two, three, alarm,” she counted, and on right on cue the on-board computer spoke its usual warning.
Continents are passing through an area of space around Mars that we have dubbed the Arena, they whisk through space and tug infinitesimally on the atoms of the red planet, urging it to change orbit and break away from the Sun’s embrace. We do not know why this is, just that it is. Asteroids large and small, mostly heavy cores of iron, they all curve in a myriad of paths through the system, the only common point being Mars. On this predictability we have begun to use the deluge of asteroids as a mighty river that carries our species out and away from our Earth.
The space-faring age of humanity has just begun.
Once the world was aware of the barrage of asteroids that were pulling Mars away from us, toward a terrifying neighbor just two hundred light years away, we began to plot and scheme.
The asteroids were flying through the Field of Attack, nick-named the Arena, and this is where we concentrated our efforts. There was a long train of ships that set off from Florida launch-pads and crossed the void of space toward Mars. These rockets were packed with computer hardware, sensors, propellant, solar cells at first, power cells later on, powerful radios. A few of the early ones failed until we patched them enough to just be able to power on. Early adoption and all.
The research team behind the asteroid fly-by in 2015 is publishing their latest asteroid findings in Nature, and the news is not good. The team is a well-known group of individuals who specialize in asteroid study, who often use simulations as part of their work to determine the paths their subjects will trace through our solar system. They have been tracking the hundreds of thousands of asteroids (332,908, as of this writing) per year, and after three years of research they are able to provide us with evidence that Mars is leaving our Solar System.
Last night I lied to the cop and stared at Helena as I did so. He shrugged in Tokyo and I changed my posture as a response in Seattle.
“What happened to the gunman?” I asked the room at large.
“Got nailed himself by Miss Mons’ security detail.”
“Not much of a detail.”
“No comment.” Detective Wong nodded and lead me toward a body by the back door.
That night we got really drunk. Someone was after Helena, had just tried to kill her, so we decided we needed to blow off some steam.
We started at the beginning. Helena told me how she met this group of neuroscientists. I poured us a couple of beers. Helena poured the vodka.