When the conversation waned in the faint light of a languid cluster near Neptune, Aji asked SUM, the Selective Monitoring Unit, “Did you know – Ephemeroptera live less than a day?”
“Yes,” it replied. “The mayfly.”
She was nettled, more incurious to note the apple sauces of new, and retiring stars, however dramatic, with a letdown in the offing of the “grand lights.” She poured some coffee from a silver flask, rather anti-climatically, keeping one eye to casually occasion the amber sky of a hazy remote landing, a way-station, sort of pulling-over in the vast, to review data. The mayfly, and Icarus, reminded her of a peripatetic bonobos chimp, named Ardi, whom she had once glimpsed at the famously barren vale, The Ponds, by rote of dijection. The gracile chimp was purported to be one of, if not the very first of the homo sapien specie. He was born on Icarus, a distant star in Laniakea, although graciles were also found on Earth. The discovery had sparked the first abiding interest among aeronauts from Hydra and Sombrero, about the blue planet. They had already begun to speculate about the existence of life in the Milky Way galaxy. “Tell me about, – run Nibiru,” she told SUM.
“No significant data,” replied SUM. “It is a legend from the planet Earth, the Mayan culture, whereby there was a doomsday collision looming with some unknown planet, Nibiru. It does indicate a more significant awareness of comets, asteroids, and ultimately, the merger of the Milky Way with Centauri, which is expected, many light-years from now. Would you like the date?”
“No, SUM, thanks,” said Aji. “That is different from Planet X, or 9?”
“Yes, that’s a different theory. X it is a different sphere; also a ‘tall tale.’ Planet X, or Planet 9, is purported to exist by a few, rogue astronomers, but without sufficient evidence. It is said to lurk somewhere in a dark, molecular field near the planet Neptune.”
Aji said, “I’m just thinking about Ardi, about Orison. It may just be the last thing I want to find, the only thing left. Orison.”
If the unit could have chuckled, it may have, but instead offered, “Another myth, yet another one for the birds. There’s no Orison.”
“It just made me think about Ardi, the mayfly. What happened to him. I couldn’t really see Ardi that time at The Ponds, remember? He was part bonobos, and part apparition.”
“It is in the file,” SUM reported. “Dijection can cause a form of visual dilation.”
The computer paused, and added, “Plainly – Ardi is no longer with us. That is obvious. It is just a name?”
Aji said, “If Icarus exists in T2, and Ardi in dijection, that was a proof of life, wouldn’t you say? Icarus exploding, the pulsar, is still a cataclysm of some kind. It depends on your prospective. Life on Earth has been ex-animated, extincted, a half-dozen times.”
“Actually,” SUM corrected, “Five times. Ninety-nine percent of the species on Earth have disappeared, or about five billion species, are completely gone. Thirteen million species remain, although 85 percent are unknown. It’s plain Ardi is more of faint hope.”
Aji said, “Nature doesn’t seem sure what it wants to do about homo sapiens.”
It became an unremarkable landing at a rather moribund place, an orb in heavy dust with a flat, red landscape, strange vegetation, and amber skies; the source of light, and energy was the remote stars in Centauri, which Aji presumed; there was a proximity to the Milky Way. They would rest, and review the file of the Grand Lumineres, “the grand lights.” The LifeRaft® computer contained the knowledge base of Hydra; and wristwatch monitors made SUM portable for aeronauts exploring the terrain. It heard Aji’s voice as a raspy whisper, later, when she inspected the yellowing air, a “sun mist, like a sun shower, with flurries like yellow flakes,” and the moist, red gravel, evidently clay. “Where are we?” she asked finally, abandoning a bid to guess.
“I can tell you,” SUM said. “We’re completing a diagnostic cycle of the Lumineres.”
Aji had already scanned SUM’s footage, irregardless how lengthy, and detailed, it was not enough; she admired the journey to the grand lights, which she believed were formed by, and beyond the Big Bang, before the Explosion; it was previously had just a theory. Aji beamed with pride into the recessed monitor at the command desk. Her eyes followed every tick. Physics had expected in a number of theses a vast, and intricate system of meridians, “bubbles,” which may, or may not demarcate infinite new dimensions, what she called “pathways,” – Goldilocks habitues governed, and ungoverned, by the known laws of physics, both open, and closed, or perhaps a synthesis of systems. Her glimpse of Laniakea’s colossal breadth, and whatever might adjoin the universe, Laniakea, was a haphazard, boundless cloud; it existed at a longitude, not north to south, or “up, and down,” but horizontally, longitudes set east to west, impending outward from the strings of Laniakea, a peninsula. The film stopped, ended too quickly, of course, and Aji banged the table. She exhaled her frustration, peering out of the window. “And now we are here, at this – milk farm.”
Roaming the landscape, “walking a lap” outside, Aji vented exasperation by grasping rocks from the gravel, and tossing them underhand into the air. She threw them until, eventually, she heard a ping. “Check that, SUM, sorry,” she told SUM, peering into the dark, to see what she had mistakenly hit. “I’ll wait.” Aji craned to see it, a bit bemused now, like a gambler with a run of luck. She happened shortly upon a slim form of metal, and “aluminum” fuselage, apparently the dormant wreckage of a vintage pod.
The aeronaut, Bud Adorjan, continued to humor SUM with the accurate notion – it hated “accurate notions” – that a Rose Line could be drawn virtually anywhere, and this spot, a powdery, arenose desert of puzzlegrass, could be “the very place.” SUM understood was speaking facetiously, and sarcastically, by his tone, and general demeanor. He was not happy.
“Is this Earth?” Bud wondered aloud, knowing it wasn’t, that it was a more remote prospect. “No, not enough grass.” He approached another field of equisetum with an “Ah!” then a brook, which wet his boots, and thereupon, discovered Ardi, sitting in his signature skiff in a winnowed pond of this strange, and unfamiliar place. “Ardi,” he said, to himself, surprised, but more content about the progress of the day.
At length, SUM answered Bud’s question, piping, “It is not Earth.”
“Never mind,” Bud replied, enamored by the Ardi, who seemed friendly, and more animated. The chimp nimbly avoided the puzzlegrass by grabbing at tree branches, and hopping one to the next; the chimp seemed to want to lead Bud, rummaging one spot for another, passing a lake, a old carriage, a mountain ridge, and plentiful fauna, like some sort of picker.
The New York friend of Aji was dozing in his chair, while the man’s colleague from Marsh College, Joe, read The Times Sunday morning, and fussed with a “globby ball” of plastic acrylic used by an extruder. The machine fed globs like pizza dough through the machine to produce a variety of forms, which were whittled, and shaped by a computer program. Joe worried about the result, until it finished, wondering if, like cake dough the mix might not set, or fall. His design was a 45 RPM disk, a vinyl record, and Joe inspected its progress with a degree of pride. He read the label, and searched his memory. “Electronica?” he said, aloud. “By the ‘Selective Monitoring Unit.’ I’ll have to Google that. Never heard of them. Maybe a big band. The Forties?”
The extruder had interrupted Joe, who fashioned the glob, and set it, then began cooking breakfast. The extruder had unwittingly begun carving an object without any technical prompt. He watched it carefully, skeptically, with the thrill of a pioneer, and a thrifty flea market-man; it set fine, high-fidelity lines in circles, used a dye from the color palate in the bay, and added hue Joe called “hash brown,” until it darkened, and the extruder churned to complete the program.
Aji arrived at a murky space in the puzzlegrass; elusive black clouds formed, and dissipated, and it was a hard to place to see, or view clearly, or even tell with any certainty whether it was true, dilated, or merely fanciful; in less than a moment, the visage escaped her, leading her to quip at SUM, “This must be Planet 9.”
In the murk, Aji had scarcely seen forms on the other side of a meandering lake, but was able to distinguish less, and less: there appeared to be a farmland, in a fog, similar to the outer side of dijection; there was a small pond, and another yard at the pond’s edge. She followed the landscape with her eyes along the grade of the yard, where crops seemed to grow, and gazed at a farm house. An elderly man opened the screen door, and stepped onto the porch, and became busy with farm chores, before a shadow eclipsed him. The man was appearing to walk in her direction, guiding a cow. It was a confusion of facts, because Aji knew, and SUM confirmed, there was no other life existed at this destination. “People,” she remarked, ironically, deciding it was a sight from dijection; it existed in another venue of time. Aji perched nonchalantly, in resolve, atop a boulder, and drew a multi-purpose knife, watching the land all the while, and hewed pieces of a synthetic, blue Sombrero apple; she murmured an ancient verse, about the blurry spot, – “between the woods and frozen lake / the darkest evening of the year.” A young woman, possibly a guest or a visitor, emerged momentarily, exiting the farm house, and hiking into the front yard to the front of the lake. Aji slid from the boulder to see her. The woman skipped rocks across the top of the lake. She never saw another homo sapien at this remote orb.
“How about the Opik-Oort Cloud,” Bud Adorjan pronounced, to SUM, about their location, and perhaps a Rose Line, hoping to prevail, if not factually, than with his mirth, and waited for SUM to disagree.
“My best inspection suggests evidence of Oort. We have dijected to situate between Centauri, and Earth.”
“Like Orion?” Bud squinted.
Bud chose to ignore the computer, and dismissed it as “dadblasted silly,” but, laboring through the puzzlegrass, with Ardi, something else warranted his attention. The monitoring unit’s AI rambled to categorize the sphere, “dune-like sand, wet clay, hard gravel, the black demeanor of a meteorite.” SUM’s impatient rant subsided into a waxen, technical soliloquy, about Opik-Oort, and the soil’s components, which were similar to Earth. “Humans are comprised of a number of essential building blocks, often abbreviated as CHNOPS – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur. These are amply present.”
“Rilly,” Bud cast aside, distracted, and not listening to most of SUM description. “Nein. Check Nine. Planet 9.”
“Must we?” SUM replied. Adorjan knew the grand molecular cloud was the computer’s least favorite research siting; the “glub” of Planet 9, or X, which it insisted was a cloud, not a planet, was much like an oil slick extending outwards from a cluster near Neptune; it could be availed only by dijection through space, and time. Bud was hoping to deter SUM from more chemistry; ignoring the request, the computer SUM continued “sugars, proteins, amino acids.”
Adorjan asked, “What is the Oort Cloud, SUM? Maybe we should go there.
Is it nearby?”
“The Oort Cloud was named for the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, on Earth, and sometimes called the Öpik–Oort cloud, a theoretical cloud of predominantly icy planetesimals in the Milky Way at distances beyond Pluto, and the Kuiper Belt. That is according to their Wikipedia.”
“Carbon, SUM,” Bud said. “There was a high evidence of carbon, it should say, the carbon forms in the mass of the meteor, and the space rocks, and include the essentials of life.”
“I just reported that.”
“Oh,” Bud concluded, “Earth was probably with Oort’s space rocks, and meteors, I’d say. Check this out, SUM.” He directed the computer’s attention to capture a strange wreckage, a remnant, which was visible mired in the puzzlegrass, a solitary, and silver old machine.
Followed by Ardi, and using his knees, foot, and boots to knock it down, Bud swiftly hurdled puzzlegrass towards the ruin, once he realized what it was. He saw no emblems, or flag on the wreckage, which had veered into vegetation, and the soil. He told SUM, “This is some cool ante-tech,” combining the “antique,” and “technology.”
The wreck had been apparently collected to this place by a type of gravitational pull. It was not a LifeRaft®, and didn’t resemble one, by design; it was fair more ancient, and looked to Bud like a spider, or over-sized bug, with a satellite dish clung to the top. Adorjan pried the cover from one side, which was plainly a control panel. He fiddled with the module until a QWERTY keyboard fell from a makeshift mantle, and triumphantly, Bud said, “Ah hah!” He stepped around the wreck, checking every side, like a teenager viewing a hot rod, and contemplated the early specs of communication, likely wired into the pod.
Bud proclaimed, “I am going to send a message to some yawning landlubber,” He began typing into the keyboard, watching the clack bring agreeable flashing lights to the module.
“I say,” SUM agreed. “You’ll feel better.”
Adorjan typed a simple command, “Find,” on the module keyboard, and then pressed “Send.”
In the clay, meteor dust, estimating the wreckage, Aji made progress with SUM to identify it, and the computer began to recognize it from one of Sombrero’s files. She pronounced it before SUM did, exclaiming, “Two! The famous Two.”
A moment later, SUM confirmed it. “Voyager 2.”
Aji spoke to the wreckage playfully, uttering to the missive craft, “What are you doing here? Are you lost?”
Adorjan strenuously searched for a metal identifying label on the machine, to no avail, deciding it had somehow been sheared, but was loathe to allow SUM to tell him first. “It does look familiar,” Bud said, grinning, and then caricaturing Kirk from Star Trek. “Wait. Not Voyager-6? Not V’Ger?”
“Yes, yes,” SUM reported. “You are very close.”
He reminded SUM, somewhat pedantically, “The Voyagers, 1 and 2, were launched from Earth in 1977. They left the interstellar realm, the Milky Way, 25 years later, 2012 A.D. This is one of them.”
The location of the sphere, the terrain, remained to be decided. Aji turned to view the landscape. She told SUM, “Run Beta Ori. It wouldn’t be the first time. It should say how many times ships were drawn into the arm of Orion. Look it up: Beta Ori. Or -”
“Rigel,” SUM stated. “This may be Rigel.”
“I don’t think so,” Aji said, thinking about Hydra. She began to smile.
Bud slammed closed the hood of the Voyager 2, and he settled his hands on his hips, taking a deep breath. He gestured to Ardi, who was prowling atop the ship, and clearly enjoying it. He was not ready to depart. Bud asked, “Where to now, Ardi? You found this one.” The bonobos raised the palms of his hands, and pointed routinely to his right.
Inattentively, Adorjan said, “That’s no help.” Bud’s eyes narrowed, recalling something, like a row of facts falling into place, stopped, and surveyed the landscape for a minute, or more. He told SUM, “I can tell you where we are, SUM. This is Orison!”
The result of Joe’s labors was a surprise, and an unexpected result, the extrusion of a product with a lighter shade than the traditional vinyl black; he thought it had been ruined; there was a distinct tinge of gold to the acrylic. He figured the “glub” must be old, or flawed, or stale. But he still grinned when the machine completed the disc, an actual record, full-size to his design for a 45 RPM. “Well, I finally made a gold record.”
He viewed the inscription again, and iterated, “Who on Earth was SUM, or the Selective Monitoring Unit? I have honestly never heard of them.”
His chores complete, Bud Adorjan sat with a huff upon a jagged meteorite, and placed his hands behind his head. “How about Rigel, SUM?” he asked. “Maybe that’s where we are.”
The computer remained unenthusiastic. “Rigel, Beta Ori, a sphere in the long, spiral arm of the Orion constellation, which may have been formed from the solar dust of the Milky Way.”
Bud replied, “So we’re eating dust, eh?”
Adorjan rose, finagled the console, and tightened a pair of screws, and it whirred; dust blew from the module, as Bud sat again, with a grand smile, spreading on his face, after he pressed “play,” and he waited for the result. Music was suddenly surfaced from inside the wreck, distant notes from one side of the Voyager’s gold disc, “The Sounds of Earth.” ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: “Dark Was The Night,” Blind Willie Johnson | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 51-,” a myopic vaile (No. 55)
[Editor’s Note: The actual “Voyager Golden Record,” shown in the video, was launched in 1977 with each of the Voyager spacecrafts, which are traversing unknown interstellar space. Voyager will approach Gliese 445, in the constellation Camelopardalis, near Ursa, but not very soon; closer to it than the Sun, it will visit Gliese 445 in 40,000 years, and continue to chug along its journey. The “golden record” contains a wide breadth of the sounds of earth, including nature, birds, whales, wind, footsteps, and human laughter, and the compositions of a range of music, from Stravinksy, and Chuck Berris, to the Texas gospel artist, Blind Willie Johnson (above), who was known as the “Blind Pilgrim.”]
..… from “^; or, CARET,” III of III,
The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories, by Soda Tom,
[Complete Works, No. 01]. Copyright (C) 2017-20, ff.
All Rights Reserved.
Created by Soda Tom