Well, He's the man. The man who died for us.
We were floating along in our world of innocence and when the last man fell from the aluminum sidebar, into a black, black, salt-sprinkled, twinkly-light hell. Jesus saved us.
Yes, we thought that we would need a Mexican. The space program was doing well, with all the talk of ozone and the recent unification of the countries of the world. The sea was being explored, bit by bit, while the space program was on hold for blowing people to fiery smithereens and being too tired to hold up their end of the bargain.
Which was... you don't kill people or encourage extraterrestrials. Which they did, more than once, and so the government slapped the handcuffs on them by notifying Dan Rathers, who still ran things behind the scenes, to shut down any NASA press releases, at least until they felt sorry enough to repent for their sins. The unconcerned citizens of the United Countries of the World were happy with their magic glowing screens and simply too individualistic to deal with the idea of coming together to contact another form of life unless, of course, it was with commercial gains in mind.
The problem lay within the sea program. They turned up something... a veritable loch ness. Whose oils they found were profitable for creating a substance, called Suberdol, found to prevent whining in old people (and was subsequently found to be addictive and possibly-recreationally-used, as well). However, by this time, recreational use of drugs was common and encouraged, used as a tool to unify the self and safe psychonautics was taught at each and every stage of life.
By the time Suberdol was just becoming popular the original creatures had died, but fortunately it was bred with the common porpoise, a genetic engineering feat which required highly specialized Marine Animal Breeders who graduated at the top of their class. This resulted in an ugly-as-hell-blind-porpoise-like-thing which was actually considered a good thing for ugly-as-hell-blind-porpoise-like-thing farms for safety reasons, until they realized that they had an extraordinary sense of smell and mauled the leg off of one of their feeders when he came too close to the tank, as relayed by the evening entertainment news.
Thus the fad frenzy was initiated. This underwater discovery inspired within those foolish thrill-seeking masses a taste for the unknown and created such a buzz that the networks called in their bribes and said "The money you could give us is nothing compared to what we'll make when Johansson Bon Nonie does a wave and a smile in a white jumpsuit as he steps into the spiffy new spacecraft that NASA has been working on for the last 60 so odd years."
Not to mention the boredom rumbling within the vast network of Very Rich People, with no wars to finance and no starving children to pretend to save. I mean, they had their sadistic secret clubs with human sacrifices and mass orgies, but even that gets boring after a while. These tycoons financed the burgeoning space program in hopes of finding new and diverse types of life to lord it over.
There was the publicity and the monies. And the next thing we needed to stay in the spotlight was diversity. For some reason, only white men with odd-crew cuts who considered the idea of a woman on board as bad luck, especially if she were a teacher, generally constituted a space crew. Those with the eyes and ears and reflexes of a thousand split-second wars, to shoot or not to shoot, to spit or not to spit, to laugh or not to laugh, everything was on automatic pilot, especially the part of them that said to themselves "Abort! Abort! Take the controls this time, cowboy." We had a few women in the ranks, I being one, but not one. Certain, but not certain. The ocean in a capsule. Usually with the superstitions and the awkwardness of designing space suits, we weren't encouraged to fly, but there I was. With that corner of the market taken care of we were free to spread out to advocate cultural, as well as sexual diversity. Our targeted group of diversity, Mexicans, were more involved with earthly, terrestrial things, like farming and sex, raising children and becoming lawyers than shooting into the stars and reaching a dry and infertile moonbase, but there were a few who seemed to fit into the ranks.
The main thing to do was for us to find someone. Our first pick was a mustachioed latino bulldog, straight from the Last Wars, tough and grizzled, yet with a mind as soft and open as a baby's. He was our man. Well, from the way he looked you'd think he'd last forever. Unfortunately the day before 3-2-1-Contact! with the man he was scooped up by a movie agent and we never saw him again except as a lead on The Fray: I, II, and III.
Jesus was not the prime candidate. He was too young for this kind of thing. He was fresh in his 30's and fit as a beaver with the buck teeth to match. Catholic, oh yes, with red blinking Jesus' blood dripping from the cross that was dripping from his around his well-oiled neck. He was bright, bright, bright, going to Harvard, and then dropping out to join the military to find himself. The Marines were now viewed as a place to take a year off to build muscles within and without, to save people from drowning in the ocean on their vacation, and to perform other miscellaneous heroic deeds.
So he was our man, after brown names were crossed off the paper, time after time. Jesus.
It was actually Jesus and Alabaster, that did it. They got to talking and Jesus had a sister and Alabaster had a fixed spot on the shuttle. So after they were done, Jesus had a fixed spot on the shuttle and Alabaster had Jesus' sister, that is, if she would have him, with her spicy Spanish and serious Indian blood. Luckily for Alabaster it had been diluted with centuries of European influence, namely Ham-burgers and French Fries, so she was pleased as well as he. Alabaster being aged to the point of no return saw the possible advantages of consummating with someone resembling a pillow with wide birthing hips.
So on this lucrative and momentous occasion we entered the shuttle, one by one, waving and making large smiling faces at the camera, all except for Ron. He stood like a stoic, with his slick black hair and rugged good-looks, a nose like a mountain, strong, straight, and proud. He'd always been that way, and he was the one who drove the ratings through the roof. He waved in a dignified way and then stepped though the door.
Benny was the last to step through into that fated ship. He was the crazy one who always got the last laugh, but was everyone's friend, even if they didn't know it. He could always get anyone talking, sneaking their confidence with his sparkling old eye, whispering unknowable secrets in their ear.
So we settled in and rocketed off with all the mystery and legacy of Chinese fireworks sparking out of the rear of the spacecraft. The empty-headed beings all around the world thought in unison the images of a large white ship, tantalizingly leaving them and all their materiality behind in higher hopes for the heavens. That's what they saw, what piqued their interest, and was truly an emptiness to all who discussed it with knowledge.
We had the Mexican and he threw up. Naw, I'm just messing with you. Actually Alabaster threw up. He always ate a great big breakfast of yellow scrambled eggs and crispy brown bacon before a flight, something his mom made him. And they always came back up like a great yellowy-brown milkshake. The new guy almost blew chunks but held his own with a few false alarms. Alabaster always threw up, so his greenish-grey face was nothing to the fascinated faces who kept an eye on the dry-heaves of the new guy.
Benny just laughed. "There's still time for him to spill. We haven't even broken the atmosphere yet."
He continued reminiscently in his old whispery voice, "And when we do, it'll be soft and peaceful and quiet, just like a mother's womb... You won't feel a thing."
Ron talked over the engines "Adam. That's what they call this ship. It's the name of the computerized auto pilot."
"Should have named her Eve," I said, thinking of the numerous mechanical creations which their creators enjoyed likening to the female, versus the male.
"And it might have been. But the minds that created her stopped when the naming began. They made it into a contest. And a girl won it. Alison Dashell, I think. She made a superconductor out of thin air, they said. She won the science fair and earned the right to name this ship... the U.S.S. Adam."
We shot through, each thinking our own thoughts, feeling our beings open up as we went towards the light, brighter, brighter now. Each of us searching for a gateway to the creation, leading us ultimately into the darkness within darkness.
Adam finally broke through. We were in it. Something so black, you wanted to taste it, like chocolate syrup in a bowl. Alabaster had stopped puking. The silence was enormous. The Mexican was staring around in wide-eyed absorption. Even Ron's busy mind stood still in the sudden freedom of openness, and Benny chuckled softly to himself over a private joke known only to himself.
The Station glittered, an giant jack piece in the game of space we were about to scoop up and turning around you could see the blue/white/green swirly rubber bouncy ball that was hovering just above us to come crashing to the floor at any moment. And it did with the radio of "Skrch...I need ya'll to jump to it. Cassandra's just ahead and this is the tricky part...skrch," breaking the ease that we had attained by wrenching ourselves free from gravity.
We knew there was a job to do. The Mexican was still in space-shock, I think. We never called him Jesus. Just Mexican. Ron was deeply religious and it pained him that we were using his God's name in vain. He was one of the few. Most people didn't even think about God anymore, except when a special on some ancient religion's symbols came on the blinding square of light. The funny thing is that Mexican was religious, too. They fought over the miniscule tidbits in the ancient texts. I think that's why Ron was disgusted with Jesus and why we didn't talk to him much, except to rib him. He was on the dark side of Ron and none of us wanted to be in that shadow.
So we hit the station. Sucked in, loaded into the system, unloaded our "luggage", unfolded our cramped limbs a bit, and found ourselves aboard the Spicy Cassandra. Cassandra was a dipping and tripping kind of station, one of my favorites. She was small, but not too small, large, but not too large. Just enough room to be able to turn around to the portholes and pretend that you were alone in space when everyone was asleep.
Our beds were jacked up against the wall, to prevent floatation while asleep, so my buddies were all lined up against the walls like mummies in sticky cocoons of plastic netting. The porthole showed stars that I never looked at when at home and the kids were laughing at the TV and Eric, my husband, singing in the kitchen. I almost could hear them laughing, then. Songs. That was only the first 24-hour cycle. I turned from the window, disoriented and tired. Ron's eyes were open to gleaming slits. "David, better get some sleep. That ion rocket's going to be tricky to filter with and if your reflexes and your mind's eye aren't awake, it's a lost cause trying to manipulate your Robo." Ron was like a mother, omniscient, omnipotent, everything. He spent all of his waking moments leading people, and in his sleep he dreamed about leading people. Personally, I thought he was demon-possessed, but he was a good flight commander, so this time I snuggled myself into the cozy tube of bedding in the futile attempt to get some sleep.
Next morning Mexican was up first and eating the fresh, lovely, freeze-dried rations. We called them crapboard squares. At 0700 hours we were ready to start. Ron, Alabaster, and the Mexican were going on the outing. Benny was taking care of the comms. We'd all had our daily check-up with Ground Control; they were controlling, as usual. Stiffs that loved and dreamed of a dream they could never have. Secretly they were jealous of us. That's why they blew so many of us up, before. I hated them. I hated their extravagant ways of talking, because most of them were geniuses who would never get up off the ground. Who would never touch what they desired so intensely. They gave us the instructions we already knew by heart and could recite in school-boy fashion for the outing we were embarking on, which consisted of taking out the materials to construct the ion rocket. We had finally got to this point. We were going to Mars.
I fired up my robo. The computer we used should have been up-to-date, state-of the-art, but I still get flanging flangin flan fl on it. o it. t. It's really just because the information being processed connects to the same computer that has to move and interact with a giant power-feeding robotic arm. I slipped my right arm into the control glove. It's a long mitten, encasing the arm and picking up the slightest movement made. When my robo came out some people felt at first that it was too dangerous because of the human error factor involved with such a sensitive device, but I tend to disagree. I'd liken the previous joystick operated models to something found in a glass box full of stuffed animals; the claw is manipulated by the joystick, then at the push of a button the claw sinks and grabs with it's clumsy three-pronged fingers, the majority of the time losing the prize it was arranged to collect. The new robo arm moves with all the sensitivity of a real arm. I believed that the new technology was better. That didn't stop me from getting nervous with the thing.
With my arm back in the glove, there was a flash of memory, instantaneous and red-blue. I found the truth was there. Benny was with me on that mission. Alabaster and Shandra. A monstrous meteor came out of nowhere. Pock-marked and pitted, cool and smooth, furious without malice to destroy what we had grown. Signal lights, whirrings, messages from below, everything went off. There was no way I'd let us die, while we worked furiously on the calculations necessary for action there was and would not be time for action. So as our doom was approaching us as well as the lovely lady Cassandra, at the point of near no return, I slipped into the driver's seat, my arm flew into action and swooped upon a piece of Cassandra tied against the ebb and flow of space. Said piece was flung with all my might at the giant. It went with all the accuracy of someone who had tended a flock of computer games for all of her young years. The piece flew like an high-powered rifle shot. Hitting it's target, it then bounced off into space. The floating junk was colossus. God. It's coming towards us, I thought. It's going to kill Cassandra. It's going to kill Benny. It's going to kill Alabaster. It's going to kill me.
Our doom kept coming and my robo had malfunctioned from the strain. "Shit." I said. As I moved my arm in the air, slowly downward, it went down, down, down and down. No upward sweep, no delicate flow of metal through space. The arm just rested on the surface of the hull with the look of an exhausted horse. We were an iceberg, about to be destroyed by the oncoming Titanic. And through the silence of space and the heavy breathing of the two others and the gaze of Benny's shrewd face into my computer screen, we heard the ominous figure of the disregarded, useless garbage that was about the kill us, brush right past us, into a mirror image of what it had looked like coming at us. Afterwards, I realized that Benny had been continuously been talking in a calm, low, aged voice the entire time, to ground control, but I only caught the last bit, "...David saved the operation, we can continue as planned. David saved us." If I had looked out the window at that moment, I would have seen the stars singing to my eyes.
And then I was back. They were out there. They released several pieces of Jet Lee, as we call it, after the spiffy, new, specifically-spacial vehicle's Asian parent company, from it's storage facility. Cables were attached to prevent driftage until we could complete the construction. My robot arm was perfect. It swooped and glided as my own arm's movements rendered everything necessary for heavy lifting, pulling, pushing. Ron supervised, Alabaster whined, and the Mexican did all the work. Benny's calming voice came over the intercom "You're doing fine, boys. Ground control's just checked in and gives their love." We finished three-quarters of the shuttle that day. Brain-breaking work if not back-breaking. Taking a lot of skill and mastery of our craft, I felt like a pioneer of old, assembling a wagon and gathering supplies for a final voyage.
This night was similar to previous. Sleep escaped me, Hypnos eluded me. All the dreams that danced behind my eyelids were nightmares of a fisherman chasing a wish-granting, silver-streaked, elusive fish. And so the porthole was my only respite from the mumbo-jumbo of the dream world. While watching the peaceful seeded earth, my longing for home ran up and down my ribs, tickling tears from my eyes. I was a pioneer. So many of them turned back, before finding their promised land. Of which fire was I cast? Benny was behind me suddenly, but not frighteningly, and smiled
"I say the earth is the mother and the sky, the father." Benny always made perfect sense. "I feel lost on earth. Do you feel lost in your Father?"
Shifting to get a better look at him, I sighed. "Benny. What are you still doing flying up here?"
"I can't stop it. It's how we survive. We don't let go and we don't let them know that we're already gone." He paused and I looked at him carefully, surveying the deep wrinkles and light-filled blue eyes. As we turned from the porthole, he took a parting shot at relieving my soul. “Tonight is great, but tomorrow is better than today. Tomorrow we won’t have a fear of what we can’t overcome.”
He was right, of course, the older man is usually right. Doesn't mean I listened to him. Doesn't mean that he listened to himself.
At 0800 hours the boys started to move, floating themselves up through the portal to the other side, soaring towards the hatch. I had to go out. I hated space walks. Going on a walk made me paranoid. One mistake, and you could go on forever, a lost satellite of the moon, space debris, until your frozen body was sucked into the impressive compaction of a black hole. Nothing like the safe cabin inside the station. Ron, Alabaster and I went out this time. My mechanical beast wasn’t needed, but my mind was and we tinkered with the pieces til’ midday. Benny joined us, because we needed an extra hand with some detailed work, and, as he said, he wanted to stretch his legs.
Everything was as it should be, all was perfect in the world and Ron had just finished completing some of the computerized mechanics which needed assembling. Alabaster buzzed, "What's that?" It was then we heard the buzzing. Like a bee. “Do you guys hear that insect noise?” I queried. “It sounds more like my neighbor’s lawnmower or the lowing of a… cow.” Ron countered. Alabaster heard it too, and banged his hand against his helmet, to no avail. Benny, our comm. master was called upon. He chuckled and denied the noise. We knew something was up. “It might be aliens” he said before breaking into laughter was suddenly silent. He heard the noise. We stayed there, frozen, almost, entranced by the mystery, as our ears began to approach the noise. Marvelously rushing to each all that we knew we felt and dreamed we knew. "Dios Mio." murmured Jesus for all of us. There was a song…transcendently beautiful, chillingly harmonious, and coming from a direction in a directionless place. We were tied to the station, cables linked to our marshmallow suits, but we paid no heed to the entangling safety lines when we scrambled over the edge of metal. The melody was in the shuttle, too, flowing through, filling the spaces with fullness.
We lay eagerly over the edge of one of the sidebars, our stomachs sprawled over the siding. Alabaster's large space-suited arm pointed tragically at a shiny dot in the distance. The longing inspired by the music was an inexhaustible one. Sweet, sweet, sweet; nothing but honey poured forth from who knows where. How could this dancing sound find its way into our heads was one of infinite mystery. No one was talking. There was nothing to say and to interrupt the music would be cruel. The spell was cast. Our fates were tied, invisible strings, dancing towards this moment of distracting light.
We all leapt. It didn’t matter that we were still attached by tubes and lines to the shuttle.
Suddenly Jesus was there, pulling us back from the void, though our eyes were only for the jewel of the heavens. Each of us kept kicking at him, as if he didn’t even exist, flailing our arms in an attempt to pull free from the ropes entangling our legs and the oxygen tubes bringing air to choke our lungs. Pulling towards the golden notes death had no meaning. The joy that the music brought was equal to the pain vibrating in every nerve of our body. This heavenly chorus wound around our being like fingers twisting our brains from a last memory of home and towards the gleaming.
It was beautiful, and Jesus could see us, floating like popcorn on a background of ink, with the light blinding us. We were all going to die. Yeah. That set him off. Sweat formed in little balls and floated off his forehead. Not these guys. They just got here. His first time into space and everyone gets killed. Seduced into space by giant piece of shiny shit. His wiser-than-I eyes had just opened to the world. Ron was a jaded old tightwad, I was a icy babe-guy, Benny's eyes revealed more than we wanted to know, and Alabaster deserved another chance to get his balls together. Spread his seed into Jesus' sister. It just wasn't what I'd call a fair fight: four puny humans against a surprise attack of singing space. So as asphyxiation loomed inexorably upon our four tragic heroes, Jesus retaliated.
He died right then. He wouldn’t let himself hear the golden openness of the sea of endings and beginnings. He had to give up his own secret seduction to save our sorry asses. Suddenly, breaking into the milky music was a cacophony of throaty noise. Red and green chunky salsa poured over the silvery-golden. Someone was singing Spanish lullabies at the top of his lungs and drowning out the star’s song.
Slowly, wretchedly we began to come to our senses. Leashed, I was the farthest out and I had pulled my cords off, and in the instant before the song, the cord of life that attached me to the shuttle. I was gone and could just hear the words…”De Colores
De Colores se visten los campos en la primavera…”
The key was that only one at a time could come back inside. Ron, our leader, we expected would unselfishly usher the others into the hatch, but as Alabaster told the story later, he was frozen on the hull, a fearful grimace upon his face. The Mexican worked swiftly, pulling Benny up softly though the weightlessness of space. Alabaster then reacted and helped push him through. Ron was the next they pushed through the hatch. Then they lay tangled in an out-of-place, cloudy, white heap, hugging each other. Alabaster and Jesus hugging one another in silence.
Alabaster began to cry as the air-lock shut and Alabaster and the Mexican began to talk to only each other, although the intercom blazed through to all our ears. Alabaster said "Man, I never would have done that." He was crying. He couldn't stop crying. Alabaster babbling,broken.
He saved us all. All except for me. I floated off in the abyss of space, listening to the heavenly music, paralyzed, icefied, memorialized by my comrades below, flying like a black crow hidden within the darkest morning of them all.