The cafe walls were blue, very blue, the blue of blue crayon markings caught in sunlight, neon and electric blue with a glycerin shine. The mahogany tables were suspended in the air, shimmering brown portals leading into one another via the z-coordinate. And the coffee!--the coffee smelled of every richly bitter Colombian bean used to brew it; Miriam could parse through the aroma and pick out each individual bean and the sweat of the farmers that picked them. Miriam was buzzed on something stronger than coffee. A cigarette was held aloft beside her auburn bun of hair, its business end a smoldering stub of ash. She noted with pleasure how happy the baristas were, how their smiles smelled of dentist's antiseptic and cinnamon toothpaste, and how the teeth of their smiles became superimposed on the space before them, so that even when they stepped aside or moved away the residual image of their smiles still hung there, smiling at her.
Miriam was pondering the best way to go about studying these portals. She tried at first to put her fingers through the table. Failing that, Miriam rested her head on the wood and then pressed her cheek against the laminated surface as hard as she could. This effort produced jutting cords from her neck and many suspicious glances from the baristas from behind their smiles. The other patrons didn't notice any of this, on account of them being patrons at a cafe, which fact necessitated them being completely self-obsessed and oblivious, Miriam reflected. She didn't stop to consider whether her being a cafe patron herself qualified her as self-obsessed and oblivious. Miriam was theorizing the best way to draw attention away from her portal experiments. She grew the soft, fleshy body of an idea and placed it gently on her table: no one would notice her experiments if she were talking to someone. Miriam would melt into the cafe ambiance of pretentious chatter; over-intellectual drivel would shield her from suspicion. The blue of the walls vibrated. The portals gaped so obviously, so erotically open that Miriam's inability to access them began to frustrate her. She began probing the underside of the table, searching for the portal's activator.
Miriam caught more eyebrow-hiked glances from the baristas and began talking to no one, feeling as though her fingers were exploring an infinitely changing geometric landscape.
"Well, want to know what I think?" She said. Her voice was high, shrill, feverish, coital. A few of the male patrons' ears instinctively perked.
"I think that it's fascinating how we're obsessed with our beginnings as a young child, our origins, and then progressively get more and more obsessed with our ends as we get older."
One young man in particular, wearing glasses inset with massive thick frames and with a pocket protector--like where do you even find pocket protectors anymore?--and an advanced astrophysics book splayed on his table was visibly shivering at the sound of Miriam's voice, his undoubtedly sweaty hands gripping each end of the textbook. His legs became more and more crossed as she went on:
"And also how human culture reflects this trend. How anxious we were to discover our origins, how many stories and theories we concocted--Ymir and his giant cow, Ra emerging from his egg, titans giving birth to a gallery of mute gods, or a living God--and now how preoccupied are we with the apocalypse?"
Miriam was working the table's underside furiously as she spoke, looping her fingers through the brass legs in search of the activator. The baristas were all now watching her intently; to throw off their suspicions Miriam began talking even louder, her voice becoming breathy in addition to shrill and coital:
"When in actuality it's impossible to know or remember either, the beginning or the end. All we know are the moments in between. The further we are from the beginning, the less the beginning is important. The closer we get to the end, it becomes, somehow, perversely, also a moot point."
The head barista--a young man who to Miriam looked very fit and muscular indeed beneath his blue very deeply blue apron--was approaching her table. She began to sweat, fingers running over the mahogany with quick, light, delicate fingertip strokes. The physics graduate, who Miriam was painfully aware of at the peripheral of her vision, was now biting his bottom lip, legs practically forming an X. The head barista was halfway to her table, stiff-arming customers and leaping over the plush black couches, finally realizing what was happening. Something was draped over his arm, dripping water. Other patrons were turned 360 degrees to gawk at Miriam, the men staring for obvious reasons, the women staring for other reasons, eyes rolling, arms crossed, feet tapping. Many legs were crossed. Miriam took the barista's panic, the physics graduate's blushing everything, and the cafe's many-eyed stares as yet more indications of pretentiousness, and out of sheer desperation to meet some kind of pretentiousness quota, to meet with the cafe's level of pretentiousness and thereby meld into the cafe itself, she began to shriek even louder, reaching her peak:
"But it doesn't matter, because the beginning and the end can only be hinted at! What happens to the individual can only be projected and modeled, never really experienced!"
The muscular barista with his ocean-blue eyes and neon blue electric flapping apron was at her table, wrapping the wet towel around the clothes and the body that had caught fire from the smoldering cigarette--Miriam's fingers found something; some kind of mechanism clicked in her ears. Miriam was now three tables away, sitting on some petrified man's lap, looking at the barista who was now faced with a seat suddenly empty, voided, with nothing but a wet towel draped across the seat. She noticed after a moment that all conversation had stopped, the over-intellectual drivel exhausted, and that everyone--the physics graduate in particular and with a peculiar intensity--was staring at her.
What the professors and physical trainers and officers at the Academy hadn't told Miguel, and what he and the other cadets hadn't known, was that space was stupefyingly empty. The word "void" didn't even begin to cover or explain. Their last point of interest: an asteroid, a free-floating hunk of rock. Unknown where the asteroid came from. Hundreds of pages drafted up by the geeks on mineral composition and parent-theories based on most likely source direction. It eventually dawns on every cadet, generally after they'd been assigned to a ship and been on mission for several months, that everyone they'd ever known up to that point had lied to them. Space was not some exciting frontier but the blandest, flattest non-entity in creation. To Miguel it was like living in a city where each building was spaced tens of thousands of miles apart--and you had to walk. The senior officers in the Academy either didn't have the heart to contradict the national propaganda re: space travel or were so disillusioned that they actively joined in on the lie. Zero contact with Earth while on mission ensures that no cadet ever voices his or her dissent. There are no diaries, no biographies, no memoirs published without going through the Academy's heavy censorship. Most ships become glorified catalogers, hauling geeks across the universe to detail rocks and up-to-this-point lifeless planets. Even though this wasn't the explicit mission statement of the O Moscas de Fruto Como o Tempo, e Assim Fazer as Pessoas Quando Elas Estão Caindo (The Fruit Flies Like Time, And So Do People When They're Falling), it was the ship's perfunctory function. Her accomplishments: 1,700,000 light years crossed over 3 years: during that span, the crew has cataloged 11 asteroids and 52 planets. The most noteworthy of these planets was a rocky body so black that Miguel only saw it when the planet crossed the face of the sun, a blue giant. The geeks thought that the planet might be comprised entirely of oil. When the geeks got excited about something it seemed to Miguel that they began chattering like mice and that their labs swelled up with the humid stale smell of sweat. As always they failed to realize the impossibility of their theories: no man or machine could withstand temperatures that high to extract the oil. That's not even mentioning the pressure nor the tidal forces. They didn't appreciate Miguel pointing this out. The geeks when angered always seemed to visibly shrink and recede and morph into rodents. The image that always occurred to Miguel during arguments but never acted upon was one of Miguel repeatedly smashing the geeks' heads in with a heavy boot. Their official mission as the crew of the O Moscas de Fruto Como o Tempo, e Assim Fazer as Pessoas Quando Elas Estão Caindo was to track down what the media and satellite-jockeys dubbed "Heaven's Signal." There was no real religious ideology behind the mission nor the moniker. Like the search for the illusive "God Particle," the Christian designation served as a way to lend importance to something that would otherwise be so dryly intellectual as to be indigestible for the public. Believe it or not, there were people on Earth who donated real, physical currency based on word association and not actual cause. This search for Heaven's Signal was funded in no small part by donations and charities, including sponsorship from thousands of churches across the world. Miguel chalked this up to the rapid pace of life preventing any sort of serious inquiry or research into the project's mission. Many care packages arrive at the Academy with explicit well wishes re: the search for heaven. The former Chief Program Director had famously said, in front of the whole world on national television, "I can't wait to shake the hand of the Big Guy upstairs personally--in my corporeal form, of course," which eventually lead to his swift dismissal without benefits and a long, slow slide into depression. What Heaven's Signal actually was was an unusually strong ray of deep space gamma radiation, strong in this case meaning approximately 10(-200th) as strong as the sun, meaning 10(5th) stronger than gamma radiation emitted from that deep in space. The geeks were always quick to remind Miguel that this distinction between Heaven's Signal and other radiation spikes from within deep space parameters was like differentiating between a strand of hair and another slightly longer strand of hair, both of which happened to be invisible. The geeks thought that this was hilarious and laughed in their freakish little rodential laughs. And it's not like the O Moscas de Fruto Como o Tempo, e Assim Fazer as Pessoas Quando Elas Estão Caindo needs maintenance: the ship is largely automated, driven by a rudimentary AI, self-repairing in the way brains are self-repairing when nerves are damaged and rerouted. The only crew that's ever really needed are the geeks plus one cadet that doubles as cook and janitor. Commissioned officers have the opportunity to come aboard but often decline. Miguel when not sleeping spent most of his free time lying in Observation Deck 5 (there being five decks in total), hands folded pyramidal over chest, feeling his own heavy weight on the floor. O Moscas de Fruto Como o Tempo, e Assim Fazer as Pessoas Quando Elas Estão Caindo was currently in the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way hung like a bright, laminated toy over Miguel, like one of those glow-in-the-dark plastic things hung over cribs. And above and beyond the Milky Way were a thousand other galaxies, all bright and plastic, extending further into unfathomable distances before merging into one kaleidoscopic sheet of color. Miguel cleaned the floors every morning, had some altercation with the geeks, cooked their meals, washed their dishes, then made the long trek up to Obs. Deck-5 to watch the kaleidoscope turn and turn. He considered taking pictures but didn't; it seemed superfluous, as a hundred other cadets had already posted a thousand pictures online. It seemed wrong to him to take a picture solely for his own enjoyment, to try and hold the stars in one eye. After all, Miguel had Obs. Deck-5 to himself day after day after day. He couldn't remember what Earth looked like. Honestly, the concept of a healthy, life-supporting planet now seemed like a foreign concept to Miguel, a not uncommon symptom of deep space dementia. Emotional detachment. From Earth. Miguel would climb up to Obs. Deck-5, lie on his broad back, flex each muscle one by one, rhythmically, deliberately, and watch the galaxies churn and churn in the ship's wake, his eyes like big dull cow eyes, contemplating on where he might be and where he might be heading. Neither here nor there.
[Tape Begins 11:47]
[Pause] "Now? Should I talk now?"
"Yes, talk when you're ready."
"I guess I would say that I'm not too passionate about much."
[Chair squeaking] "Well, what excites you? What motivates you?"
[Pause] "Nothing. [Pause] I can't think of anything. I'm sorry."
"No, no. No, don't apologize. It's alright. [Pause] Tell me how you act around people."
[Chair squeaking] "I act how the people around me expect me to act. A lot of people look at me and expect some kind of dumb ogre, so I act like that. On rare occasions I meet someone who expects intellectual stimulation, so I provide that."
[Heater activating] "[Unintelligible] acceptable to you?"
"[Laughs] That's what everyone asks me. I posit the same thing to you: how can you live the way you're living? Because it's comfortable for you. Do not assume that because I'm passionless I'm also uncomfortable. I'm very comfortable. [Pause] I don't feel uneasy. I don't complain. I try to keep even-keeled."
[Writing] "Yes, but how do you feel? What you're describing are reactions. [Pause] [Chair squeaking] But how do you feel?"
[Fingers tapping] "Sometimes [Unintelligible] sad, mostly I'm okay.'
"When do you find yourself feeling sad?"
[Pause] [Heater deactivates] "When my friends or family aren't around, or when I'm around strangers."
[Writing] "Is this perhaps due in part because you can't act as a mirror or foil to those you don't know, or to no one?"
"Are you sure?"
"Of course not. No one can be positive of anything."
[Laughs] "Don't play with words, just answer the question."
[Pause] [Finger tapping] "If I was around no one, or nothing, then by your logic I would feel nothing. But I don't feel nothing, when I'm alone. I feel a loss, an absence, something missing."
[Writing] "I see."
[Pause] "What are you writing? I'm not a sociopath. I have emotions. Don't assume things."
[Chair squeaking] "I don't think you're a sociopath, don't be ridiculous. [Pause] Just jotting down some notes."
[Writing stops] "Tell me how you feel at this very moment."
"Angry, confused, any variation of those two."
"I think that you're just saying what you think I want to hear."
[Heater activates] "[Unintelligible] don't know what you want."
[Chair squeaking] "I want to help you."
"Okay. [Pause] I can see you looking at me, thinking 'What wheels are turning in there?' So I'll just say it. I don't know how to give you that. The ability to help me."
"Just talk. Talk about whatever you want to talk about."
"[Sighs] 'Everything is wearisome, man is unable to speak.'"
[Pause] "What is that? Job? Ecclesiastes?"
[Pause] "You know what I've noticed? [Finger drumming] Most of my friends are taking something. Sleeping pills, Ritalin, some kind of corrective medicine."
"Does this bother you?"
"[Unintelligible] what's missing or what needs correcting has no drug, no cure."
"I see what you're saying."
[Pause] "I guess I want to fill in what's not there for the people around me."
"I guess, what I want, [Unintelligible] take them all in, everyone, and hold them close, and tell them that everything's going to be alright. If that makes any sense. If I could absorb sadness I would be the most eager sponge."
[Pause] "Do you think it's your job to help everyone?"
[Long pause] "No, but I feel that it's my choice, and I feel that if I can help someone then I should, no matter what."
"That's very noble of you, but what about your own sadness?"
"Like I said, [Unintelligible] when I'm alone. [Pause] Besides, I don't think what's happened to me merits any kind of sadness."
[Long pause] [Heater activates] "Because people have endured far worse in far harder times."
"But wouldn't you say that pain is relative?"
[Pause] "I would say that it's just as relative as 1 and 2 are relative to 0. There's always a standard, a control, and it's my view that if you haven't crossed a certain threshold then you have no right to complain."
[Chair squeaking] "What happened to you is no minor thing, [Unintelligible]."
[Fingers drumming] "And yet I have a roof over my head and food on my plate, and enough money apparently for my uncle to hire a shrink. That's a luxury that few have, if I may remind you."
"Of course, I understand, but you have to be realistic. Why pretend like this doesn't effect you?"
[Laughs] "Because it shouldn't. You know how many of my friends have been molested? How many of their friends committed suicide? Parents waving shotguns in their kids' faces and then blowing away their spouses on accident? Foster homes, halfway houses, prisons. [Pause] You can't even imagine."
[Heater deactivates] "I have no right. No right to complain. I don't complain. I haven't crossed that threshold yet. I'm not there yet."
[Chair squeaking] "But you're not too far away either, right?"
"Anyway, it seems like so many of my friends are taking something. They have an absence, or something is just note quite under their control. [Pause] I once saw my friend high on morphine, a few days after surgery on his broken leg. His femur was shattered when he was hit by a car. It burst into pieces and cut right through his thigh. [Pause] He was so far gone. Ignorant of his own loss."
[Writing stops] "Yes?"
"I look at myself like that. Detached. Aware but unaware. Absent from whatever lacking I perceive in myself."
[Tape Ends 23:28]
In between leaping from the rooftop of the 1000-story Academy and hitting the concrete sidewalk, Jacob Volans reflected on every poor decision he's ever made, beginning with his most recent decision to jump. What had compelled him to jump, the hopeless feeling that he was slowly losing everything, seemed now like a pleasant alternative to the earth rising up to greet him. It seemed as though the farther and faster Volans fell, the faster that dread became a distant memory and the less idyllic this suicide became. The decision to leave his finances in the hands of his brother, and not his now-estranged wife, had been a tactical decision, but a poor one nonetheless. Entrusting money to Jacob Volan's brother was like entrusting money to a toilet. Then again, he figured, better to waste money than to aid his wife in constructing a monument to his disgrace.
It began to seem to Volans less like he'd jumped and more like he'd been pushed off of the Academy's rooftop.
There was the poor decision of marrying in the first place, especially to a woman who had been unanimously reviled by friends and family, a woman so poisonous but so beautiful and how could he have resisted the touch of a beautiful woman when he was not accustomed to being touched?
All those days not spent in the gym but on the couch, behind a desk, in supermarket lines. It occurs to Jacob Volans now, in free fall, that there are people who exist who are far less intelligent and far less wealthy then he who are also far happier. This seems almost funny to Volans in light of the fact that the ETA on hitting the pavement is under two minutes, like who isn't happier than him at this very moment? The low-atmospheric oxygen filtration device, required of anyone going outside on the Academy's roof, was beginning to crack from sheer wind pressure. Volans was banking on landing on his head, and kept his eyes fixed firmly on the dollhouse-city below. All those hours he could have spent working on his pecs, doing squats, checking out the girls' asses, eating healthy, fighting his diabetes. God, Volans thinks, I could have been having sex this entire time. And at the thought of God, he does a quick like faith-maintenance and prays the sinner's prayer, which he memorized before jumping, and figures that his bases are covered.
Jacob Volans and his wife met in college. Virginia Volans, previously known as Virginia Alker, had realized from the start of the relationship the possibility of a big income, and--being on the verge of flunking out and facing a probable jail sentence for major possession--decided to intoxicate and seduce the formally not-by-choice-celibate Jacob Volans into giving her a child. Her gamble payed off, and now Virginia Volans was resting on half of Jacob's estate--another reason he hadn't willed her the other half. The face mask was developing small webs of splintering cracks from the wind's blunt force, and air was starting to ooze between his skin and the adhesive layer. In his will, Jacob had written that he wanted to be buried in his family's homeland of Ireland, in his great-great-grandparents' plot in Waterford, but now he wasn't sure if there was going to be anything left to bury.
He imagined a pastor somberly eulogizing, "Here lies a bag of Jacob Volans' various appendages, and a small piece of a brain matter." And then in this fantasy people would come up and speak candidly about his arm or leg, like, "I remember when Volans' arm..." etc. All 400 pounds of him falling, falling. His face wrapped obscenely around the mask instead of the mask wrapped around his face. There was no adhesive layer built for men Jacob's size.
Jacob Volans pondered on who would attend his funeral, and what they would say. Thanks to the will, his brother was more or less obligated to come and say something favorable. He knew, somehow, that Virginia would be there for the same reason, except that her presence served as a reminder to everyone that the will hadn't mattered to her. And to his brother, that the will mattered a great deal. They would play two roles opposite one another. This bothered Volans much less than he anticipated. The cityscape was now close enough to where Jacob Volans could see the scuttle of individual people and matchbox-sized cars. One final splinter appeared in his fat-folded mask but it didn't shatter. More air began leaking through the adhesive and infiltrating his nostrils. The rush of oxygen in addition to the mask's nasal cannula and the effects of falling for so long made Volans increasingly delirious, and he began confusing his ups and downs with his side to sides, and looking at all the people through the clear, cracked mask they seemed to be falling with him and and--but only more slowly, and with different last thoughts, all falling down right beside Volans, and all of them falling toward the same pinpoint spot on the sidewalk as he. Jacob Volans couldn't will his brain past this thought, this idea of everyone falling, and so spent the last seconds of his life smiling a dumb smile than no one would ever recover past the obliteration of the sidewalk; Volans thought the same thought again, and imagined the crowds and matchbox cars falling out and away with him, out of the life of the son he was too delirious to remember.
Miss Oldenburg, private school teacher under the employ of the Rock Hill charter school in Boston, Massachusetts, was just beginning to grade her seventh grade class's research papers when she saw Henry Volans' paper sticking out. Her entire body ached against the December frost, the hard Boston frost where blades of grass become frozen little needles, and she was unwilling to brave the snowstorm and head home, so she stayed late into the evening in the heated classroom to grade papers. Miss Oldenburg had taken a vested interest in Henry Volans as of late, as his performance had dropped substantially in each of his classes (for understandable reasons, of course), and the charm and measured enthusiasm that had naturally preceded Henry everywhere he went was now gone, replaced with a cold, passionless workaday attitude that didn't fit the boy at all. Even a cursory glance at this paper, Miss Oldenburg knew, would betray some lack of effort; and indeed, here were all the signs of a C effort: short sentences--not as a result of overt minimalism but of laziness; common confusions in there/their/they're that were basically damning grade-wise. No works-cited page: blasphemy. Henry Volans' normally verbose style was deflated, his vocabulary simplified. Miss Oldenburg, under any other circumstances, would have said that this paper was either written twenty minutes before class or by another person, but, well--
Fingers marked red by the pen she armed herself with, Miss Oldenburg smoothed the paper across her desk and began reading:
"Faster Than Light Travel: A Research Paper
"By Henry Volans
"Man first landed on the moon in the 60's. Ever since, we've sought a way to go beyond the moon and exit our solar system. Before 2015, our closest attempt had been the Orion Project, which was canceled because of the Space Defense Act. But in April of 2015, an unlikely event happened that changed the way we viewed transportation, and physics at large.
"On April 1st, 2015, a young woman named Miriam ingested a large amount of ecstasy and stepped into a cafe. She became convinced that the tables were portals. The workers were suspicious of her behavior and were alarmed because her jacket had caught fire. After putting out the fire with a wet towel, she had somehow teleported to a seat at a table three tables away. A man named Corin Finneway, who was a physics genius and an alcoholic, became interested in Miriam, and they soon married. Together, they invented a science called Interdimensional Object Portalling, or I.O.P for short. Corin discovered that big residual quantities of ecstasy reacted to the brain's pineal gland. The pineal gland in Miriam's body created DMZ that allowed her to manipulate objects.
"It wasn't long before Corin Finneway had discovered that Miriam was capable of moving large objects alongside her during these teleportations. His famous experiment in 2018 proved this. He built special fiber-optic cables that previous experiments had proved to be reactive to teleportation events, but Corin didn't know how they were reactive. He wrapped these cables around his wife's body and around his car, a 2001 Honda, and asked her to teleport. The cables allowed her to carry the car through with Miriam in a process called 'dragging.' Unfortunately the car crushed Miriam, and Corin dropped his research and died of liver failure later that year.
"Thankfully another scientist, Portland Cromwell, picked up where Coin had left off. He theorized that matter would always crush the teleporter unless the cables were taut and had an appropriate tensile strength. After many experiments, some of them tragic, Cromwell perfected his theory and began seeking out individuals who were 'teleport-sensitive,' who matched the brain-wave pattern of Miriam. Portland Cromwell founded an academy to collect these individuals for the purposes of space travel. He called this academy, 'The Academy for Gifted Teleporters.'
"The Academy for Gifted Teleporters used contractors to create ships and continued to run experiments. Scientists found, in 2020, that a teleporter's efficiency was increased 700% if the fiber optic cable was attached directly to there brain stem. The cable would run from the teleporter's stem into the hull of the ship, wrapped all the way around. The teleporter would be comatose and fed with tubes. After a successful test flight were a shuttle jumped from Earth to Mars in two minutes, the Academy was given funding by the government, and began training astronauts.
"Over the years, ship technology improved, but the enthusiasm for space travel declined because every planet that was explored was found lifeless. The only thing keeping the Academy relevant is the sudden emergence of 'Heaven's Signal,' which some believe is a conspiracy concocted to preserve The Academy for Gifted Teleporters. In summary, the invention of I.O.P has been both a blessing and curse to some. Who knew that ecstasy could make you fly?"
Miss Oldenburg finished marking Henry's paper and hesitated a moment before writing a C- by the header. It was simply inexcusable for Henry Volans to write such an incomplete paper without even citing his sources--and as a son of a former Program Director, especially inexcusable. A C- was charitable, she thought, given the lack of essential information. Where was mention of the 2030 Academy student riots? What of rogue teleporters like Jess "Jesse" James who broke out of isolation and kidnapped the mayor's daughter? Specific names of ships and their mission service dates? And all this without citing sources--!
And yet, the boy was having such a hard time; Miss Oldenburg didn't want to cause him further stress. Henry's teacher's consensus was to pass him until he had successfully completed his psyche evaluation. Miss Oldenburg shuddered at the thought of braving that hard Boston frost and instead stared at the space between her face and the paper for a long time.
[Tape begins 40:55]
"Henry, are you taking any drugs?"
[Laughs] "What kind of drugs?"
"You know. [Pause] Recreational drugs. [Chair squeaking] Such as marijuana?"
[Pause] "Sure, I've done some. [Pause] Not marijuana though."
[Writing] "What are you using?"
[Writing stops] "I'm not allowed to contact the police unless you say you plan to hurt yourself or anyone else. [Pause] Are you going to hurt yourself?"
"No. [Finger drumming] No, that's stupid."
"So what are you using, Henry?"
[Pause] "Well [Chair squeaking] I do a lot of [Heater activates] [Unintelligible]."
[Long pause] "I see."
[Tape ends 42:45]
Another lesson the Academy taught its cadets--arguably the most important lesson in the context of long-term mental health--was that one should never visit the teleporter while on mission, under any circumstances. An entirely separate Spec. Ops center located somewhere in Virginia was the only place qualified on Earth to train teleporter-pathologists. The washout rate was rumored to be something like 99.99%. The geeks joke that only .00001% of a man ever emerges capable of communicating with a teleporter. Not even a whole person. The mental stress is just too much. Most laymen aren't even capable of establishing the initial connection, let alone processing the stream-of-consciousness thought patterns that would bombard him or her. Miguel had never met a pathologist. O Moscas de Fruto Como o Tempo, e Assim Fazer as Pessoas Quando Elas Estão Caindo didn't have any enlisted pathologists on board.
Miguel had just finished mopping all eleven decks to a glycerin shine and was done for the day--if it was in fact a new day, since he wasn't so sure anymore--and was now sprawled on the floor of Obs. Deck-5. His personal window to the universe. He rested on his broad, thick back, knees up, hands folded over his rising stomach, looking up at their next destination: a red dwarf system somewhere in the Andromeda Galaxy, rushing up in a purple-orange blur to greet them. Miguel had broken the no-teleporter-visit rule six times this week (whatever a week was). He would sneak into the pod structure that rested just above the observation decks after everyone was asleep, and at first had just stared. In a very immediate and real way the pod was horrifying and macabre. The teleporter lay naked on a tilted slab of steel, naked, ghost-white, with all limbs restrained by leather straps. Nasal cannula fed into his nose and other tubes extended from his mouth and extremities. What had struck Miguel and what had made his brain freeze was the way the teleporter constantly shook and writhed. And the scars--scars all over his body, pink and raw. The pod was pitch black but the teleporter glowed with some complex glossy luminescence, so to Miguel he looked like some horrific deep-water fish flopping out of water. Out of the teleporter's head and into the hull went the fiber optic cable.
It was either the third or fourth visit where Miguel began talking. To it. Talking to him, the teleporter, or so Miguel believed. They were not unpleasant conversations, though the teleporter insisted on referring to himself in the third person, a tactic Miguel assumed was some kind of defense mechanism designed to shield the teleporter from understanding the state of his own body. As if the tubes were coming out of and the constant writhing belonged to someone else. The teleporter explained that his (meaning, of course, the meat-puppet's lying on that slab of steel) consciousness was free from his body but that it was still tethered to the fiber optic cable. He explained that his consciousness was trapped like a piece of data between the body and the ship. The teleporter's consciousness explained that he--the consciousness, not the useless body--had been traveling through space when the cable had sort of sucked him in, and that the ship itself was acting as a potential trap for other consciousnesses.
A severe symptom of deep space dementia was hearing voices, as Miguel well knew. Other symptoms: loss of appetite, emotional detachment, time loss, loss of inhibition, and depression. Despite Miguel's knowing that these conversations were imaginary, some kind of feeling told him otherwise. In that pod, Miguel felt none of dementia's losses, the losses he felt 24/7 cleaning, working, and arguing with the geeks. Being in there with that corpse was a reprieve; Miguel felt content, not happy, but certainly not as lost as he felt staring up into the universe from on his back in Obs. Deck-5. The voice that spoke was effortlessly soothing and eager to listen, as if it understood Miguel and were waiting for him to pour out his heart. Except, the contentment it produced in Miguel, and its inherent understanding, made that type of outpouring or confession pleasantly unnecessary.
Looking up at the churning panorama of stars, Miguel thought hard about their last conversation. The voice's request. Miguel knew that the voice was trapped just as he was trapped, trapped between the same walls and a body useless to change anything. O Moscas de Fruto Como o Tempo, e Assim Fazer as Pessoas Quando Elas Estão Caindo would travel on as long as Heaven's Signal went undiscovered. Miguel would clean the floors and cook for the geeks for just as long--who knows? Ten, twenty, thirty years. And the geeks would keep up their mouse chatter and bad jokes and insane gibbering laughs. For Miguel, the request was simple, sensible, and something--for once--within his power to accomplish.
Ten minutes later, the request was granted, final words exchanged, and O Moscas de Fruto Como o Tempo, e Assim Fazer as Pessoas Quando Elas Estão Caindo was at a standstill between systems. The teleporter was cured of his shaking and lay still, pale, naked. The one time Miguel looked into his eyes. They were white, pupils a faint gray outline, accustomed to complete darkness. Blind eyes. At the door of the pod, Miguel was greeted by all the geeks, gibbering angrily at him, and he set about stomping on all the rats, so as to quiet the only voices still talking on board.
"Thank you, Miguel."
"Espero ter feito a coisa certa. Onde você vai?"
"I'm going to answer a call."
"Sinal de Deus?"
"Posso ir com você?"
"You'll come after me, in your time."
"Você está morto?"
"I'm very much alive."
"Qual era o seu nome?"
Henry Volans could now recall details with holographic perception and suddenly possessed the ability to reconstruct those details in his bedroom. They took up real, three-dimensional space. His mother was gone, his uncle had left earlier, and his father--his father was gone. The detail Henry was currently recalling took a considerable amount of concentration to summon: the smell of the leather seats in the doctor's office. Leather, rich and full, a dry smell, a smell that takes all the moisture out of your nostrils. When he concentrated, Henry's entire room smelled of leather. His nostrils and his mouth were dry. His mouth so dry it hurt to run his tongue over the ridges of the roof of his mouth. Henry's fingers were still clamped over the crooks of his elbows.
The great, sturdy, oakwood house was empty, and seemed always empty these days. Though money was never an issue, the pantry and cabinets and refrigerator were empty--though Henry hadn't been eating anyway, not lately. Henry was now spending vast amounts of time in his bedroom, shirtless, ribs showing, skinny legs vanishing under the same comforter he's had since he was six, sitting cross legged on those skinny legs and concentrating hard. The sun was on a yo-yo and seemed to bounce up and down, up and down across the sky, and night seemed to be only a temporary blindness. Henry Volans has been blinking about once per day. Of course, the school called the house for the first two weeks, a ringing hellish chorus of high-pitched bells, the kind of bells that signaled old French beheadings and executions. Only night's brief curtain stopped the bells. But there hadn't been anyone there to answer. Henry didn't really consider himself present and accounted for.
The next detail that Henry tried to reconstruct was the experience of being out on a warm spring day, since he didn't trust his legs to take him outside. It was December, anyway. The sun high in the sky, at its apex, the first burgeoning waves of heat chasing out winter and the frozen leaves of autumn. Maybe someone hadn't raked at all and they were just there, a mulch, defrosting now, shriveling and flaking and crunching beneath shoes. And the new leaves were beginning to sprout or grow, tiny seed buds splitting open to the yield of tiny, sharp stalks, until this particular spring day was having a million, million new leaf-growths per hour. What it's like to have your family--your entire family--the family you couldn't choose and the family you did choose--chosen carefully, meticulously, faithfully--all there, sitting on plain wooden foldout chairs, arranged as if waiting for a photo to be taken, tall in back and short up front, looking at you, waiting. Henry was looking at all of them, and it took every iota of concentration for him to hold them all in view, all in the same eye, there arranged in his bedroom beneath high sun and new leaves. The sun stopped its yo-yo crescent, which brought a small bit of relief to Henry Volans. Then, something inside of him broke, an event as audible as those trampled leaves, and he grew tired. Exhausted. Weary. There was nothing left to say. Henry wondered aloud how many of these thoughts, how many of these empty sentiments were truly original. No one could speak. Henry's concentration broke and the picture shattered--
[Tape begins 1:20:37]
[Chair squeaking] "I'm tired."
[Pause] "What do you mean?"
[Long pause] [Heater activates] "Have you ever wanted to walk down the street? [Pause] I mean, throw away everything: cellphone, wallet, whatever, and just walk until you couldn't walk anymore?"
"No, I can't say that I've ever felt like that."
[Pause] [Writing] "[Inaudible] just like being caught in the middle of something and wanting to just go."
[Tape ends 1:22:04]
The leather smell had been replaced with vomit. The spring day had melted like a wax candle under a blowtorch. The roof of his mouth was incising little patterns into his tongue. Henry Volans realized that he was sideways, lying on his comforter, and that he couldn't move. There was no pain, only a peaceful numbness. He could see the sun trapped at eye level out the window. For a few moments he absently wondered about the geometric shapes being pressed into the ancient comforter trapped beneath his body, the endless geometric landscape that entailed numerous algorithms for pressure, malleability, rigidity, plasticity, and how any change in any of these variables would produce an entirely new shape. He wondered about the caloric energy required to wonder about this. Henry's body was delightfully numb. All brains and eyes. In Henry Volans' last reconstruction, there had been someone missing, an empty seat, someone from the not-chosen camp, but only now did he spend the energy needed to wonder where he'd gone. In his field of vision, objects seemed to take on new definitions. Equations and symbols to be manipulated. If you set two objects equal to one another and solve for the missing variables yielded by the algorithms, you'll get--you'll get--
Henry Volans didn't know.
The blue of the sky seemed to radiate with the same vibrancy of the sun. Whatever snowstorm had blanketed his window for days or weeks had passed, and Henry could see the bright reflection of frost on pavement even from the second story. Cirrus clouds, wispy and thread-like, burned orange and red high above. Henry wondered about who had been missing. His being missing seemed to Henry to be an open challenge to find him. The wonderful aspect of land at, near, or under sea level is that it becomes encapsulated by the sky above it, a glorious dome of blue. These are the places where cloud-watching became a pastime.
If you set two objects equal to one another and solve for the missing variables yielded by the algorithms, you'll get--you'll get--!
And then Henry was gone, flying, forwards and up, up past the sun and through the thin clouds, into space, gone to answer a paternal signal somewhere in a place far away that he could only imagine and project.