Houston we have a Problem

 

Realities exist at the whim of Gods. Good, bad, up, down, evil, benign, painful, pleasure-filled, all brought to be by the one and only, whichever one that might be and there are many of the petulant all-powerful throughout the universe.

Of the infinite possibilities, this reality basks under the youthful yellow rays of a God called Sol, who caused an explosion to rock the planets out of their orbits and sent the moon cascading into the Earth.

This fulmination ends the hopes, dreams and futures of tens of trillions of living creatures. Some sentient. Some simple cells that maybe didn’t matter. Depended who one talks to.

Either or, it was the end of a billion year old project worked with tiny specks of organic chemistry and gravity.  A sand castle crushed by an angry toddler resentful of its offspring’s skill.

The mighty God Sol now laughs alone in his system of barren rocks. No longer concerned for solar flares or radiation, he expands. He is a God, after all, and only contained himself so others can be and now they aren’t, so he might as well.

Sol watches the remnants of the planet Earth smoulder, red hot. Its rocky crust melting off and dripping away into space. Off to form something else, maybe, he doesn’t care, he might be done with that whole creation thing.

Nothing survived this tantrum. Not a blade of grass, nor bird, fish, or speck of algae. The deepest sea creature felt death.

The cataclysm was brought to bear by deep bitterness. The Gods don’t have much anymore. They die when everything else dies.

Maybe.

Nobody knows everything, not even the Gods. Things are born from nothing and return to nothing. The Gods can assume, anything can assume, but that is all one has, an assumption

That was and is and all that will be.

An infinity of doors exist and these are the magic at the God’s disposal. One day they all  learn one final twist waits when they have reached their limit, like anyone else.

Sol waits at the cusp of his door into another realm, a mystery beginning. A thing yet to be.

Tabula rasa.

A fresh canvas.

He takes this small moment to think about what he has done and why.

Maybe time is the ultimate God. The ultimate beast, God watching over all, waiting to have the last laugh.

It has been several hundred years since Sol has been worshipped.

It’s pretty addictive, worship, the adulation of sacrifice and prayers, to walk among his people in effigies of bulls and snakes, make demi Gods and do things like the humans he created, but all that was gone now, things move too fast. The planet he loved could not stop long enough to worship Gods.

Now he was just a story, an image, a shrine, a thing in the sky, a part of science, a thing to study, to usel; he had a purpose, he became a tool, he was no longer magic.

But he could have been content with all that until they tried to take the one last special thing he had:  

His speed.

They tried to spread away from him. Go to new Gods.

No!

They were his. They were his inventions. His children. He made them. Grew them from his own atoms. His own chemicals and now they sought his magic to leave him and bring their species elsewhere.

Bring the joy of children to Gods that didn’t, couldn’t make children of their own.

No.

Sacrilege.

And he was not going to allow it.

Quick question: What happens when a thing going just shy of the speed of light strikes a wall of antimatter?

Everything goes boom.

Everything.

If humans had left well enough alone, things would have been fine, but they were notorious for tinkering and questioning their place when they shouldn’t. Upsetting the Gods. Even when forgotten or misnamed, Gods could be vengeful.

In humans’ defense, they were never warned and anti-atoms were supposed to be hard to find and yet there they were, midway between Mars and Jupiter. A large wall of them, as if placed there.

Sol wishes he hadn’t been forced to do this horrible thing and erase all of humanity, but he could think of no alternative, sometimes it’s best to start fresh and leave no trace behind.

He breathes out one last powerfume of solar radiation. It will be a long time before he has a chance to feel this powerful again, and then switches realities with a twist of quantum mechanics.

If a species ever found this location in the multiverse again, these once majestic planetary bodies would just be oddly shaped things floating around a void.

The self-satisfied bastard doesn’t even care one little shit though, because as he leaves one reality behind for his new home, he realizes somehow a human has been left alive, but also he is not the only God in this system.

 

***

Commander Decker is suddenly alone. He was always alone on the space shuttle, but now things just feel different like he was sharing a room with someone who just got up and left.

The command bridge is bathed in yellow blinking lights. He flicks his eyes over the instruments looking for any that might indicate a problem. None do. His left hand is gripped tight around the rotational controller. His right is on the vertical elevator control and his feet work to steady the horizontal flight pedals.

Decker is part of a machine that just went faster than any human who has ever lived and is also the reason humanity no longer exists. He does not know that though. The small craft’s only mission was to get up to the speed of light and then slow down again. He thinks he is a hero. The mission was supposed to last six months. Two months to the asteroid linkup, one month to rotate up to speed and then reverse step to get back home again. He is at the “heading home” portion of the trip and is pretty stoked.

The shuttle was attached to a cable spinning around a rogue asteroid roughly the size of Australia. A thousand kilometers of cable stretched from the circumstellar disc in between Jupiter and Mars.

Once he got up to speed, he disconnected from the asteroid. The whole adventure from beginning to this point has been, from his perspective, pretty painless. Maybe even from the perspective of the rest of humanity also.

It took the better part of a decade to design the experiment that left one man remaining in another dimension.

As the last living member of the human race humanity could do worse. Decker is slim, tall and veiny; he has what one would call reedy muscle, an endless inner strength and vitality. He is Kansas-born with cornhusker blue eyes and tow-hair to match. To say he is even keeled is an understatement. He has a small mouth that remains twisted in a pleasant, friendly smirk and a wet glisten to his eyes that seems to suggest he is glad. Quirks of genetics, all. Decker is a Navy man by trade, he sits in the water of emotions, never listing too far one way or the other.

The shuttle, a new bit of technology shielded with special plating, was once going near three hundred million meters per second, but now travels closer to three hundred thousand and is headed back to where it hails from, the lone planet in the solar system that supports life .

The shuttle has slowed down enough to establish contact with the command base.

“Tranquility base, come in, over”

He waits, bathed in white static.”

Commander Decker’s voice stays calm as he says again, “Tranquility Base, we achieved velocity, over,” but inside his chest, his heartbeat rises to an absurd forty-five beats per minute. It’s normally twenty-eight. That’s pretty low, but for an ultra-marathoner like him, it’s fine; anyone else and a doctor would be on the way to declaring them dead, but not him. He once ran twenty-six consecutive five minute miles.

He did this eight times in 2131

The next year, he did five 100 mile races averaging eight minute minutes per mile.

There is no way he would brag about any of this so:

He did 300 pushups in two minutes in his last year with the Navy.

And there comes a point where boredom necessitates stopping when it comes to pull ups. His last real attempt to count was 197.  

Again remember he would never brag about any of this, but at one time people did talk about all of his achievements and whispered about them behind his back and took pride in them for him.

On this occasion, the increase in his BPM is due to the white static coming through his headset. He is receiving it instead of a response.

The monumental occasion where humanity reaches the speed of light was being witnessed by billions of people on Earth, the Moon and Mars. It meant being tethered to the sun was no longer a burden, the galaxy was their playground. They could go anywhere.

The whole of the human race was cheering Decker on and now nothing, silence, but not just silence, more than that, a deep black nothing, yes static, but under it, an absence like when his mother died.

“Houston? Please come back?” He nervously chuckles.

It’s a joke. Houston is the astronautical crewmember stationed on the com station at Tranquility. Her first name is Angela. A bit of historical levity for a very serious job. He can picture her, black hair in a tight bun, tight-lipped scowl, blue eyes intent on her task of monitoring communication traffic back and forth between space, Mars, its moons, Tranquility base and Earth.

Lunar existence is dusty, dirty work, but engineering at its finest. A perfectly run machine cut to the most exacting details. Heart and brain surgery rolled into a military exercise that, as of yet, yielded zero casualties. The child of the old international space station project and the stepping stone for the Gale Crater Base on Mars and the soon to launch Europa mission.  

He imagines the flurry of activity in the command room trying to reestablish contact, the huge wall-sized screen that shows the solar system and everything moving in it, with his dot streaking fast and hot toward Mars for the catapult to Earth.

He tries again, “Houston?” and chides himself for not only allowing his voice to plead into the mic, but also for making the same ridiculous joke again. The white static fills his ears. It makes thought hard. like the vacuum of space is mocking him. Laughing at humanity’s attempt to do more with their existence.

Decker closes his eyes willing his pulse to slow. He slips easily into mindful meditation, a practice he picked up through years of intense military training as a pilot and then cross training with the SEALS, Force Recon, Ranger, Special forces and doing the traditional P.O.W. SEARS School. Twenty years of wearing Navy officer rank on his collar before joining the Astronautic Corp makes it easy to turn his mind blank at will, make his thoughts vanish, make time become a concept that doesn’t exist.

His heart rate slows. His fear evaporates. Fear is death and death is nothing and nothing is useless.

So he decides to be an astronaut.

 

***

When Sol was born, he was hot gas sucked into a vacuum. Gas was packed so tightly, he exploded into being and became a gateway. Became Sol. Became a ball of burning plasma. Became omnipotent.  

Deciding to change realities was not really something Sol wanted to do. He wishes he never felt the first stirring of rage. Of jealousy. The feelings of “if I can’t have all of you, then no one can.”

And now he has to start over.

If he wants.

He might not.

Some Gods don’t.

Now he has to look deep into this dark new system and fix what’s wrong with it. Make it right. Sol was always here in this place in one form. Like a shadow or a back side. He was unsurprised to see a planet zip by a bit too close. A hot, red, glowing thing; worthless, he shoves it off sending it into his system.

Doing an equation, he counts it as hundred years and it will smack into a moon circling one the eight gas giants. He makes a mental note to watch the explosion.

It will be spectacular.

The thoughts of an explosion makes him think of of his missing human and he sighs. He tries not to get too sad. Humans have been going in the wrong direction for a while. They knew too much. Learned too much. Sol needed a species that would never stop worshipping him and any human left alive might damage that. Maybe no new species would be best.

Sol concentrates and feels the cold tang of metals folded together that don’t belong that way and smiles. He is the seat of all physics. He is the father. The yin and the yang. The positive and negative. He pulls hard on gravity and grabs three small comets from the oort cloud and sets them in motion. He wants this over fast, as fast as the comets can go without breaking up. He does the math – ten days tops and the human dies.

Sol then turns his attention to the canvas that is the blank system in front of him. All the potential work is exhausting. Maybe a nap before he gets started. A nice long nap after the millions of years of effort he just endured before he does anything.

He yawns and prepares to sleep not noticing another being has already taken up roost in this reality and has started his own work.

 

***

When Decker opens his eyes, he is content. He knows time has passed but he does not linger on how much. Space stretches around him in all its glory. Stars and sparkle and the dull punch of Mars and Earth are there somewhere and he is where he wants to be, where he is trained to be.

Decker decides to do what he is good at and command his mission. He notes he is still on trajectory for Mars and salutes the star Sol glowing hot and white in the center of the cockpit.

At least that hasn’t changed.

He keys the mic one more time, “Tranquility Base, Shuttle Einstein, heading home, over.”

This time he smiles into the white static that returns his com check as if greeting an old friend.

The shuttle scuttles along at just over three hundred thousand miles an hour.

He watches Mars grow bigger over ten days of travel. A white dot growing into a glowing beacon pressing on the horizon, a hole in space, a siphon for all else, the center for a pitch-black nothing, a featureless thing that slowly becomes recognizable. Again his heartbeat increases uncomfortably. He does math. He checks his calculation. He tries com again and again. He denies fear over and over. Reality is what it is though and either he is crazy or his reality has taken him somewhere else.

He would rather go with the latter and refuses to let anything else take root.

As he nears what is supposed to be Mars and is three hundred thousand miles away, he is no longer certain whether it is in fact Mars he is passing.

But it has to be.

His heading suggests he is going to pass directly over Gale Crater Base, but the red planet is no longer even red; it is a lively purple and green under a crystal clear bubble of atmosphere and rich pools of water that stretch for hundreds of miles along the surface.

Decker uses the shuttle’s telescope and spies creatures jumping from the waves.

On land, there are herds of animals bounding and being chased and eaten by predators, huge cat-like animals with giant paws and massive jaws stretched full with thick yellow teeth.

He spots fires burning under black plumes of smoke in a village of fifty or sixty huts. He tightens his gaze through the technology and maybe those were humanoids nestled near the flames. He briefly debates landing and punching through the atmosphere, jettisoning the cockpit and living like those things down there. Those short, squat beings in dark leather clothing with bright red thick coarse hair and heavy brows. He watches a group in the small village. They beat drums and dance and prepare a meal. It seems they celebrate a departure of one of their own. Maybe a hunting party, but Decker knows nothing and can only assume from thousands of miles up in the atmosphere moving at an incredible speed past. The computer finally gives up doing  math on the fly to keep the telescope in focus with a warning the location is out of range and the image shifts to one of the whole planet again.

Plus, he maintains hope that when he reaches Earth, he will get answers. He is an Earthling and he is going home. No matter what, he is going home.

Decker is at the tail end of the speed boost that ended all life in the solar system.

His food dwindles with his speed. His air and water get recycled but his food is the only issue that keeps presenting itself as a major obstacle to his survival and is making this a one way trip. Nothing in the planning stage suggested if shit hit the fan he wouldn’t be rescued, or dead. Most likely the latter would occur so it did not matter.

So he trains his eye on the next white dot.

Time does what it does.

Time is methodical.

It crushes all in its endless march forward.

Decker is no different and he stares out the cockpit of his shuttle counting the days on his approach home listening to the white fuzz play in his ears and watching the ever growing white dot of his home world grow bigger.

He can see Earth, or a planet in the place around the Sun where Earth should be, but everything is wrong.

Everything.

First, there are three small white moons circling the planet and second, the planet seems covered in a thick layer of dark grey clouds.

The closer he gets, he can spy the occasional burst of white lightning flashing under the curtain of gloom.

“Tranquility Base, Shuttle Einstein, over?” he radios. He ignores the familiar white noise that follows, unsurprised now being closer to home yields no newer results. He has decided he is doing this now because he has gone insane. His mind must no longer be functioning like it should. A small bit of what once was Commander Decker, Navy officer – retired – fastest human to have ever lived, is gone, replaced by this thing that cannot accept reality.  

Hardly surprising honestly; the whole trip was one surprise after another.

Decker tries to determine where home is through the mass of clouds circling his home world. He could land there. He could do the math and try to determine where to land, head through the clouds and get lucky and find land that isn’t molten rock, or maybe he could make it on the food he has to fly back another ten plus days to the beautiful planet that was in the same place as old Mars.

He regrets not landing there.

He counts out his rations again.

It’s easy.

He has three dinners, one lunch and four breakfast pouches with scrambled eggs. He hates the scrambled eggs. Everyone does. He can make eight package last, sure. He has gone through worse challenges to get to be who he is. As the first human to go the speed of light. He had to exist on the surface of the moon alone for thirty days with nothing but a lunar survival kit. Not a month, he would want to repeat. He had more food and they had to burn his spacesuit when he got picked up, but he lived.

He can do this.

He prepares to flip the shuttle around when an alarm sounds.

He floats up to the cockpit and flips a switch to silence it. It’s a radar notification. The radar sees three smaller blips heading toward the small blip that indicates the Einstein. His heart begins to pound again. This time, he is certain it reaches all the way to ninety beats per minute. He doesn’t check.  He put tape over the monitor anyway.

The three blips look like comets heading in fast toward the Einstein on a collision course.

Decker pulls himself into the command chair, not bothering to tie down. He grabs the stick and hits the accelerant. He feels the satisfying push as the stiff jet of water-waste sprays out from the side and rear of the shuttle. He holds the stick just long enough to see the trajectory of two of the space missiles, show they will continue on towards Earth with no issue. The third has decided to become gravitationally attached to the Einstein.

Decker tries again, but the thing sticks to the shuttle like glue.

He plugs an equation into his brain and it spits back a time frame.

He is going to die.

Before he knows it, a new alarm sounds. This one is an impact alarm. At least space has its benefits in that he doesn’t feel the violence. Decker only has time to find himself inside an EVA suit as the entire shuttle disintegrates around him.

In moments, he is spinning in the debris field of the fastest thing ever built by human hands and he finds himself wondering now what?

Why had he bothered?

Why not just go down with the ship?

No rescue out here, old boy.

More agonizing and waiting and white static.

He flips on his heart rate monitor, hazarding a guess at 150 as the machine calculates his cardio, but he is completely wrong, 75 BPM, not bad all things considered.

He rotates.

Grey, cloudy former planet Earth with its double moons and the blackness of space and the wicked white sun and the tiny white splotch that may have contained the only safe haven in the entire solar system are his only views.

He has a propellant system, but no motivation to go anywhere. He has water and a gel like substance that could get him enough calories to last a week or more, but he is more considering the cyanide capsule tucked in the EVA helm for emergencies just like this. No one could say he did not try. Humanity made it to the speed of light if not back again. Next time they would. That’s the way things work.  Hillary made it to the top of Everest and not down, but still he gets credit, because that’s the way humans work.

Decker sucks on water because he is thirsty and two he doesn’t want to die yet. He is in space and he loves it and he has nothing else to do, so he leans back, relaxes and tries to enjoy it before he dies.

Then a terrifying thought strikes him, maybe he is already dead. Maybe this is the afterlife. Maybe this whole things, fake Mars, and white static and no Houston and fake Earth is some kind of Heaven.

Death, life, either makes no difference, Decker decides, when he can decide to still be him and he is so there is that. He takes another sip of water cooled by the vacuum of space and studies the white shiny dot he thinks of as Mars, but it is bigger now, which is impossible.

He blinks, denying his perfect astronaut vision and the facts and what they are seeing.

Mars is getting closer by the second, or something else. Another comet?

Mars is not getting closer but something is, and physically he can do nothing to prevent it and life is finite so fuck it, he decides, he’ll just go with it.

The white dot grows into a shimmering shape.

And the shimmering shape grows into a glittering rainbow.

And the rainbow grows into a startling whale-shaped diamond weaving through the fabric of space. Its small black eye reflects galaxies. Its mouth opens and closes and shooting out gusts of plasma.

Decker can actual feel a warmth not just in terms of temperature, because but in terms of emotions also.

The creature swims through space in a lazy arc, or S, or maybe a slither, an up and down if either is even possible in an environment where neither up or nor down is an actual orientation.

For a lack of a better term, the space whale approaches. Decker is certain he is dead and is about to meet something he has no definition or term for.

It makes sense that he would enter heaven in an EVA suit.

A sad thought strikes him as the monster glides up, maybe it is more fitting that hell would be a the tail end of failed space mission?

He debates the either/or as the huge beast approaches. Its glinting color is bright and blinding with huge swinging barnacles encrusted on its gigantic head. With a mighty swipe of its tail, he can almost feel a turbulence in the vacuum of space, if such a thing were possible. He sees a red glint in its giant black eye as it comes to bear and Decker is certain he has been spotted. The space mammal takes aim and with great speed it is suddenly upon him.

Its mouth opens and he is sucked in.

He see huge diamond glands working fast in the vacuum. They are space pink and glistening.

He lands in the shadow of a small man with a long red beard braided down his chest. He wears dark leather leggings and jacket, thick boots and gloves and leans against the cavernous wall of the whale’s esophagus. He smiles warmly and gestures with an open hand. Decker isn’t sure but it seems as if he is saying it’s safe to take off the helmet.

Decker decides he is most likely already dead and nothing else matters, so he does.

Immediately, he notes the air is cold and smells like a TV set that has been on too long.

“Ritzo.”

The man speaks with an accent like he has a stuffy nose.

“Decker?”

The man nods as if he knew, “Welcome to God.”

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