GACT, Intact, Takes No Flack
"One side!" we said,
Sidestepping the dead,
Bypassing familiarly the feckless, and lame;
To become the ones we wisely became.
Crawling, then walking, then deftly surviving
Besting the world by correctly conniving.
No longer pristine, a better machine
One rung, double-bonded with guanine.
Erect the perfections,
And Neanderthals left in the dust
Are flotsam of dry rot, bereft in the rust.
Although a good try, Homo erectus
Is misfired, an aborted conceptus.
We bypass the unclever, sight unseen,
By cleaving, whatever, sweet adenine.
Phylogeny aces in hand
Beat what you’ve been dealt, as planned.
Primordial gills in-folded, now lungs
That breathe air past gums, teeth, and tongues.
Umbilical cords branch away from the herd,
Exiting the stage of Theater of the Absurd.
Neural tube ontogeny is the gasoline--
The match, to light progeny, cytosine.
Tough is genetics
With justice poetic:
Mutations arise, but fall in demise.
No second chance, re-do, or reprise.
Paleoliths envy Mesos’ tools, dog, and provisions,
Neoliths began making executive decisions.
Eugenics pursues domination supreme;
Fourth rung’s a homer, stealing thymine.
Both riches and dearth
Divided the Earth;
Though we measured the years
With extinction’s tears.
New newborns outsmarting the dumb
Via dexterity and opposing their thumbs.
Totipotent winners, we call us,
Sport a deoxyribocell nucleus.
Cytosine, and thymine:
My advantage becomes your trouble
When my kinked helix is double.
You can’t advance us, outsmart or outdance us
You lack the pH and the homeostasis.
Biochemistry aims for the stars
And evolution is coming for yours.
The New 10 Commandments for the Modern Age
And the Lord saw him as righteous and summoned him and his Bic. And the ink was blue, and the Lord was pleased. And the Lord said unto him, "Take a memo." And he obeyed. "Or ten."
1. Thou shalt not spend the night in a haunted inflatable woman factory.
2. Thou shalt not have an "incident" with an elephant.
3. Thou shalt not slap Mike Tyson in his fat, fleshy head.
4. Thou shalt not turn left on Tulane Avenue.
5. Thou shalt not walk into an ethnically homogenous, densely populated neighborhood shouting ethnic slurs and intolerant invectives that reference those same homogeneously ethnic individuals.
6. Thou shalt not tell a policeman, "That didn't hurt."
7. Thou shalt never utter, "What could go wrong?"
8. Thou shalt not slide, naked, down a razor blade into a pool of rubbing alcohol.
9. Thou shalt never think you look good in a Scion automobile, unless you've been drinking heavily.
10. Unreasonable people shalt not have reason to people unreasonable worlds.
And the tablets were made of sand. And they were thrown onto the beach, where they stand as the new human mandate.
Until next tide.
To Walk a Meth-Mile in Her Shoes
People who are labeled the “dregs of society” seldom fret about the dregs of society the way those, who aren’t dregs, do.” –Ralph Ebe
Stephanie and I had grown up together, our houses separated by an easily climbable chain link fence. We were both born at Boston Medical Center during the fashionable phase of care, before epidurals were invented, in which our mothers were given “twilight sleep” and then were delivered of their babies—that is, us—using forceps. Fernand Lamaze would turn over in his grave.
Nothing indicated we had been forceps babies. We both excelled at the same school with other children whose birth techniques remained a mystery. We were both breastfed for 16 months, but we couldn’t tell what kids hadn’t. We each had two parents, as well as uncles and aunts. We each had two siblings, a little brother and a littler sister who were about the same age. Ours was apparently a community of synced pheromones, waxing and waning according to some mysterious neighborhood algorithm involving radon, tidal gravity, or perhaps even sanctifying grace. (Stephanie and I were both Catholic, studied the same catechism, and had the same guilt infrastructure in place). We got the same grades, won the same extracurricular and academic awards, and were probably quantumly entangled.
Until high school, when we each went to a Catholic high school exclusive to my and her gender. Besides gender and, now, high school, the only difference between us was that I had always wanted to be a doctor, and she had always wanted to be a good Catholic.
We remained close during those years, dated, and even dipped into the bodily fleshpool a bit, but never went all the way. She was a good fire-and-brimstone prude and I was scared of venereal diseases and pregnancy; and of her father. After all, I had plans.
“You can’t get VD if I’m a virgin, too, stupid,” she said.
“I like the way you think,” I replied.
Homework together in her room or mine became a non-issue for both sets of parents, since we had done that since the fifth grade, but the grade levels weren’t the only things that had changed. Like the sure-thing tip on a hot horse, the surging hormones invited me, implicit with my self-appraised status of being sexually underserved. So, I fell victim to a mutual denials between my encouraging hormones and the diseases, pregnancies, and fathers that only happened to others.
“No, but I can get pregnant,” she added. “That’s when my father kills you. Better to get VD, because he’s a Teamster.”
“A Catholic Teamster,” I clarified.
“Teamster first,” she said. “I could never tell him I was pregnant, well, not until Sunday, when he’s a Catholic again. But, then I guess the priest would kill you.”
“I don’t think they’re allowed to do that.”
“They’re allowed to on Sundays. They’re Jesus on Sundays.”
“Today’s Saturday,” I pointed out. She laughed. “How come you’re not on the pill yet?” I pressed her.
“Are you kidding? Dad would kill me.”
“I guess if you get pregnant, we should just kill him, right?”
“Over my dead body,” she vowed.
“This is getting way too complicated. Can’t we just trust the crystal ball and, well…we had promised that when the time came, we would lose our virginity to each other. You remember that, right?”
“Yea, when the time came,” she said. “And it’s not tonight.”
“Prom?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s so spontaneous and romantic. You want an appointment? Should I pencil you in?”
There is a term in Catholicism called “the near occasion of sin.” The Church recognized that if you sin because you can’t help it, it probably isn’t a sin; but if you put yourself knowingly into a position where you will risk not helping it—then that’s the sin. That tenuous zone, open to interpretation, is the near occasion of sin.
“No appointment,” I said. “Let’s just put ourselves in the near occasion of sin and see what happens."
“For Prom,” she pointed out.
“Yea,” I said, “for Prom.”
“You haven’t asked me yet.”
“Of course! Will you, Stephanie, go to Prom with me?”
“Whose? Yours or mine?
“And which one is the one?”
“I was hoping maybe both.”
“Poor baby. You’re here all hot and bothered—the only one ready—and I’m the party pooper.”
I remained silent, seeing a glimmer of hope in her smiley eyes and hoping this thing could turn around yet. When it didn’t, I surrendered. We were nowhere near any occasion, of sin or otherwise.
“Look,” she offered, sex is too important. It’s not just putting Tab A into Slot B.”
“Again, I like the way you think.”
“It’s communion, the forging of a completely new, composite being, so it’s holy.” I put Tab A away dutifully.
Truth be told, we really had pledged to lose our virginity to each other. When the time came.
That time never came which, as a male, meant being cheated my opportunity for a free and easy sexual encounter—all the way, mind you—at a time when accomplishing this was neither free nor easy. I couldn’t understand this tragic miss, because I had already gotten through the hard part—her agreeing to sex with me; the timing, it seemed, should have just followed. It didn’t.
I’ve often wondered to whom she did lose her virginity. I’m not jealous, just resentful, because it should have been me—should’ve been mine. I owned it. It was my unopened package at the bottom of the Christmas tree. I could only hope that hers went as unpredictably and awkwardly as mine had gone. They’re all like that the very first time, aren’t they? The gift wrapping all ripped up and lying tattered on the floor, the toy that can't be fixed--forever broken.
By senior year, attrition wrecked our broken plans originally woven out of gossamer, and we drifted apart according to fair-weather lures of newfound social circles. I had heard she went to her prom with the singer of the very band who had performed for it, so she danced alone. I wondered if she lost it at her prom.
I missed my own prom because of strep throat. Streptococcus made the sour grapes of my missed rite of passage taste a little less bitter in my mouth.
We both had impressive grades in high school, and we were both accepted into universities, 1500 miles and two whole time zones apart. We wrote letters until email made such thing passé. After that, our communications suffered from the dreaded “poverty of speech” that barely held together truncated relationships which dangled by just a verb or an abbreviation. Our communication line finally snapped.
Was I over her? She was a beauty, but so is anyone who is 18-years-old, until they’re ravaged by age, obesity, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or just the consequences of bad choices. In my indelibly inked mind’s eye, she was still angelically faced, muscularly sinewy and lean, twinkly and smiley-eyed, and just pouring out with excited enthusiasm for every micromoment of her day. But, yes, I believe I was over her.
Still, I wonder what would have happened had we not gone in two different compass directions for our educations. The fantasies, the plans, the expectations of our young, open, and pioneering minds—would they have been realized? Maybe. Perhaps a few of them?
In college I was pre-med, as were 60% of my entering freshman college class. By senior year, only 4% of our class were still pre-med. By the next year, only 1% of us were actually in medical school. I went as an out-of-state student to LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport, Louisiana, which is really in Texas, for all practical purposes. After my second year, I was granted the opportunity to switch to the LSU in New Orleans which, for all practical purposes, isn’t really in the South.
I remember a particular lecture from a visiting professor of Emergency Medicine. He explained that you can always predict what the next drug-fueled societal calamity would be in the United States by looking at what was happening in Japan in the present. I was curious.
“What is the drug problem in Japan right now, sir?” I asked.
It was rude, because I had interrupted him; but he was gracious and answered. He didn’t say, exactly, “crack,” but it was whatever crack was back then. By the time I applied to residency programs, crack was all over New Orleans, consumed by those who not only didn’t care whether you died when they mugged you, but didn’t even care if they died. The guns didn’t help, certainly. By senior year, both crack cocaine and I prepared to seek our destinies.
I had decided I wanted to be an Emergency Medicine doctor. I was accepted by Boston Medical Center’s Department of Emergency Medicine. I remember well my personal statement I had sent to them when I had applied:
For me, the Emergency Room is a special place, because it is the final resting place of consequences. Not only the accidents that come from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the bad diet and sedentary lifestyles that doom the physiology, foolish stunts and senseless risks that imperil the body’s integrity and structure, and poor life choices—their victims all ending up needing help for problems bigger than them. And this is probably why such things get to that point—the lure toward such maleficence was too powerful to resist. In any event, they’re at a point where they need help beyond that of which they are capable. As an Emergency Department physician, I become their steward, to mend them, perhaps fix the problems that got them there, and hopefully educate them so that I never see them again. This is not their gift to me; this is their gift to me—an honor entrusted to the very few. Although a real doctor learns to accept that he or she cannot fix everyone, were it another’s responsibility, the outcome may have been worse: at the end of each endless day, when I tally what I had done, the fact that it was my responsibility that oversaw such people to the best of my abilities is a feeling like no other. It's not hubris; it’s love, and without it no real doctor has any business practicing medicine. This is the passion I want to bring to my rotation and to the specialty into which I venture.
Whoever sat in judgment of such Admission Committee fodder loved it. A quick weekend trip was enough to establish a place to live, within walking distance to the hospital, and I was all set to report to my first rotation in the Emergency Room on July 1, the most dangerous day of the entire year in medicine—when shiny, new MDs with no unsupervised experience were thrown, unsupervised, at those who would have fared better on June 30, the safest day of the entire year in medicine. I defiantly said Bring it on! This is me. A real doctor. My call, my vocation, my destiny. I was ready, grandiose, and pompous.
Rotations of 12-hour shifts began on the 7s, so by 6:00 AM I was walking along Massachusetts Avenue toward the medical center. It was only a ten-minute walk, but I wanted to get there with enough time to have a cup of coffee and perhaps meet some of my equally inexperienced doctors, ready to assume stewardship of those for whom July 1 seemed no different from any other day in the calendar.
My walk on Mass Avenue, toward the corner of Melnea Cass Boulevard, was stymied by persons with substance abuse issues whose dispositions were not keen on yielding politely. “Mass and Cass” represented a zone of homeless, addicted, underserved, and abused individuals foretold by the same scourge in Japan years earlier. They endured, between their visits to methadone clinics, homeless shelters, and drug treatment centers, in their ramshackle tents.
My walk was like entering an enchanted forest; true, there may be an augmented degree of adventure the deeper I journey, but it can also rain upon you a progressive accruing of menace and danger, from those who didn’t care whether they died, and also didn’t even care if they died. The farther I went, navigating my zigzags through this human heap of desperation, the more frightened I became. I witnessed active drug deals involving cash for pills, patches, vials, and needles.
I wasn’t really looking at anyone as I walked; I had my tunnel vision on, avoiding eye contact, my destination the horizon, as my only vantage reference point, like an actor performing to the “fourth wall,” far in the distance. Some eyes, it seems, can hook you.
A woman, easily 20-30 years older than me, flashed smiley eyes reminiscent of my childhood Stephanie. They were the only things on her that rang that particular bell, because she was so different otherwise—pale, emaciated, slightly stumbling in her gait. Obviously ravaged by age and the traditional nemeses of any 18-year-old: the slings and arrows and consequences of bad choices. All of this poor woman’s micromoments, originally slated for celebration, had blurred into the last throes of survival. I watched her stagger toward me but, to my relief, she was aiming past me, not at me.
We crossed paths and that was that. A closer examination as she passed revealed a haggard woman, impossible to age and life-exhausted. She had cutoff shorts that were too tight, but which revealed that the track marks were not exclusive to her arms. Yet her eyes twinkled, but not as much as I remembered Stephanie’s because of the dilated pupils and jerky movements of them. Japan’s troubles of yesterday were alive and well in this woman’s eyes.
It was emotionally exhausting. Although I hadn’t been to Mass in years, I found myself offering Catholic prayers as I passed, because I had nothing else to give them. Hail Mary’s, Our Fathers, and Glory Bes. Hell, if I were able, I would have hauled novenas at them. Self-reflecting on my faith, I realized I was not qualified to pray for anyone.
I would take a taxi next time, if they’d be willing to go this way.
My first official duty was to attend a briefing—how to be a real doctor—a 10-minute primer:
Use this suture for lacerations; use that antibiotic for punctures or dog bites. Give anyone with hypoglycemia dextrose IV until the Internal Medicine resident came. Put restraints on anyone combative until the Psych resident came. Use these settings on the defibrillator until the ECG gets read. Epinephrine sub-Q for anyone wheezing. Put a tube in every orifice before consulting the Surgery resident; no narcotics for anyone.
We all scribbled furiously, although it was mostly common sense.
“Go report to the ER and ask the Chief Resident to assign you a patient,” the elderly doctor briefing us said. Then, with his back to us as he left, added, “When in doubt, ask. You’ll be a real doctor when you don’t have to ask questions.” He yelled back to us more loudly the farther down the hall he went, “And if you don’t feel you need to ask any questions right now, here on July 1, please tell us, because we’ll make sure you won’t ever be a real doctor.”
I managed a question for every patient I saw, even if I knew the answer. “Treat ’em and street ’em” was the protocol. For the others, the consulted residents would take them away to their respective services. In the meantime, there was my stewardship, in full glory.
It was a revolving door, and I was lucky enough that my passengers went smoothly with its torque. At one point, my collection of patients had reached zero, and I decided I should try to hide if I wanted to get anything to eat. I salivated over my brown bag lunch, sitting in a cubby hole, hopefully not stolen. Like a heat-seeking missile, I made a beeline for it, but my run for the gold was thwarted.
“Room 8,” the resident said. “Meth Mile patient in bad shape. Really yellow. Watch out, she’s a spitter.”
I masked, goggled, and gloved myself. I opened the door a crack and peaked in. No spitting. At least not yet. I stepped all the way in and I saw that same woman I had passed on Meth Mile. Indeed, she was much yellower than I had realized. No smiles in these eyes, only a buttery hue to the whites of them. Still pinpoint, they looked right at me.
“You my doctor, now?” she asked. Her voice was raspy from 40 pack-years of smoking crammed into only a decade.
“Right now, yes,” I answered.
“Good,” she said. “You’re just my type.” This threw me off a bit.
“How’s that?” I asked.
“You just know it, don’tcha?”
“Well, there are things I need to know about you—besides that.”
I looked through my notes for her demographic intake sheet and looked back up to ask her a question, but she was asleep. Her sickly eyes were closed, closing her windows to the world, and with that, her brow unfurrowed, her face unfolded from the anticipation, apprehension, or bitterness; her jaw unclenched. I was able to see the child in her, even though she semmed middle aged. Her disastrous life was swaddled in respite, visiting another place, hopefully dodging the very things that landed her here in Room 8.
“Cheyenne? Cheyenne Skye,” I asked. She started, then reposed when she saw me again. “What brings you here?”
It was a rhetorical question. Her intravenous drug abuse had brought her here; her hepatitis, her HIV+ status, her malnutrition, and her addictions had all brought her here.
“I need a bump,” she answered.
“A bump. A dose, a hit, a fix, ’cause I’m going down…” she began in singsong, “down to the pits that I left uptown…I need a fix ’cause I’m going dow-dow-down.”
She smiled, but it was a smile of self-irony—of resignation. It was the smile given when there’s nothing else left to give. And it was a plea as well.
“First, Ms. Skye—”
“Cheyenne,” she mumbled, but not to me—for me to catch.
“First, Cheyenne,” I continued, I’m going to have to draw some blood, I’m afraid.”
“Go ’head,” she agreed. “Not afraid of needles,” she laughed, whether this was funny or not.
“Good. Let me wrap this around your upper arm and lay it down here.” I applied the rubber hose tourniquet and looked her arm over. “Should I even try here?” I asked, looking at the gridiron crease in her mid-arm.
“Those ships have sailed, Doc,” she said. “Here, I’m gonna show you Ol’ Faithful, but you gotta promise you won’t tell anyone else.”
“Top secret,” I said.
She slapped the inside of her lower arm and there appeared a sinuous tract, complete with knobby valves. I ran my finger along it upwards, and it collapsed, indicating patency; I released my pinch on it below my little test and it refilled.
“Looks good, Cheyenne,” I said.
“Something on me that looks good,” she huffed sarcastically. I had no answer because she made a good point. “Cheyenne’s my stripper name.”
“Oh. What’s your real name, then?”
“Stephanie,” she answered.
Couldn't be was the fastened door whose locks and tumblers started fumbling loudly. I studied her carefully. Could it? Malnutrition, drug abuse, disease, emotional collapse, and a failing liver meant she could be anybody.
I swabbed the area with alcohol and it glistened, beckoningly. “Yea,” she said, “I should do that with the alcohol, too, I guess.”
I uncapped the needle and connected a vacuum tube to the syringe’s end, but not enough for the needle to penetrate it and establish a suction yet. For that I needed penetration into her vein. She crooked her neck up to watch as I placed the needle right over her skin for the thrust, and I saw a different type of look come over her face—not wan, forlorn, no longer desperate—a lover’s look, but twisted by passion. “Doc,” she said seductively.”
“Make it feel like a good…like a good fuck.”
It wasn’t romantic, but it must have worked for her, for now her face showed absolute pleasure. “That was so…good. You’re the best. See? I told you.”
“Told me what?”
“You’re my type,” she answered. “We just had to put ourselves in the near occasion of sin, that’s all. After that, it ain’t a sin, right? That’s how I always go about it. Helps with all that guilt. I thank the guy who told me that all the time.”
“No, don’t,” I cautioned. “It’s bad advice.”
“What about for me? Not for me.” She sat up halfway in a pose, allowing the wardrobe malfunction hospital gowns were prone to suffer. I reached over and pulled one side of it toward the other, reducing her exposure and spurning her invitation.
“Sorry,” I said. “That time won’t come. I’m going to send in another doctor, now. Someone not your type. But know this, Cheyenne, sex isn’t just penetration. It’s not just putting Tab A into Slot B. It’s communion, the forging of a composite being, so it’s holy.”
“It’s Stephanie, Doc, not Cheyenne” she said sternly. As I turned to leave the room she spat at me, and I felt her spittle strike my white coat from behind.
We each had had our masks, preventing recognition—mine an N95, and hers, malnutrition, drug abuse, disease, emotional collapse, a failing liver, and the pock marks on her soul from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Her mask had fallen, but mine kept me safely anonymous.
I was decimated with a type of pain I had never felt before. Empathy is one thing, but when it’s to the point of sharing a person’s total surrender, there is no rip in the world more treacherous—a one-way trip into the black hole. Some problems are bigger than you, once you’re past the event horizon. Hers was bigger than me. Here in Room 8 was a final resting place of consequences and poor life choices.
I had failed: I was a bad steward, unable to mend her, fix her problems, or educate her. This honor of stewardship—the doctor’s calling—was no gift but a trap from which there was no return. I would either escape it or die in it.
To this day I wonder how the outcome might have been different for her, had the responsibility of her stewardship been assigned to someone else. That night, at the end of my first day as an Emergency Room doctor, when I tallied what I had done, I had a feeling that blindsided me. It was antithesis to the passion I so eloquently had offered in my application personal statement.
Newly etched in my lifestone were two things I knew for certain:
I wasn’t over her; and—
I would never be a real doctor until I was.
Inflation in a Box
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Certainly, they couldn't say it in space.
Regardless, this isn't completely true, however, because there's no such thing as a perfect vacuum. There are dust and worlds and dark matter and even things yet to be discovered or theorized. Even if it were a perfect vacuum, the spoiler is that a perfect vacuum isn't stable, sucking into it, from oblivion, things that didn't exist a nanomoment before, before they were to pop back to wherever, again. Probability fields mix with possibility fields until eyes focus on what's in them, collapsing these quantum houses of cards.
In space, in spite of the entropy, there are enough particulates such that you could hear a scream, but only if it were loud and powerful and terrible enough.
One man could never make that happen. Even a whole world of voices screaming wouldn't be enough to be heard in space. Perhaps if it were God screaming...
Colonel Zeppis hadn't thought about God in a very long time. He had been too busy trying to do things that seemed divine enough already. He had met cosmic inflation face to face, but the breakthrough itself had created another mystery. Now that the mechanics of cosmic inflation had been elucidated, how was it possible to put it into a box? Capture it; use it?
Colonel Andrew Zeppis replayed the history of the Inflasion Drive in his head. It was his father, Dr. James Zeppis, who had derived the containment formula, from whose numbers were derived the propulsion that inflation could engender. The son of the father—his relationship with the physicist who made it all possible—played well for the human-interest angle in the tabloids and coffee table top magazines; but the irony was that he never liked his father and, although he came to like his work, son had always resented the time spent away from father.
“Guidance is internal,” the radio chirped. Like my guidance, Colonel Andrew Zeppis grumbled to himself. I was on my own, and now I have come full circle to embrace my father’s legacy.
“The Fibonacci angles are tangential and will soon begin collapse,” the radio added, as a countdown of sorts continued.
Again, his father. The one who figured out that inflation involved the tangential pursuit of an asymptote. It couldn’t be done with established algebra and trigonometry, because the hypotenuse of direction needed to be anchored into a new type of right angle, what his father had named, tongue-in-cheek, a “wrong angle.” Wrong angles of bent 90-degree-paired vectors allowed the overtaking of the Sadaf asymptote with the revolutionary ouroboric equations that caught light’s own tail when reimagined from the formulas imported. Processed and then exported back from higher dimensions (on paper, that is), the faster-than-light in his father’s paper was the stuff of science fiction.
It was controversial, many saying implementing it risked the end of the world or distancing our world from our part of the universe, but these were mostly fanatics and conspiracy theorists. Still, there was much respect for that asymptote in that approaching it was germane to the drive but crossing it was heretical, like dividing by zero. Simply, it broke the rules.
Zeppis the younger was not without his own contribution to the Inflasion Drive, which evolved from Zeppis the elder’s scribblings on paper into the box attached to the craft in which he was strapped. While his father had worked with formulas, Andrew had made it all the way to sitting snugly in his fluid-buoyed seat that would stoke the revolutionary drive that was actual hardware, not speculation.
It wasn't just imagined, but was something that could be turned on. His father made theoretical hyper-light paper vehicles and sailed them theoretically within the safety of his office; his son had climbed aboard the process by which he had outdone his father, to see where Man was heading next. His father talked the talk; he would be walking the walk—very fast. Faster than fast. In fact, it was a quantitative extrapolation of the qualitative fast.
According to the calculations, his approach would slow down his own clock until he crossed the time-zer0 threshold, after which he would become ageless. That’s what happened on paper, anyway. Time would no longer be relevant. He could arrive at a destination not only faster than light, but faster than time: faster than space-time. Perhaps even before he had left. It promised to be quite the ride.
The layperson’s explanation centered on the perfect vacuum, which gave the energy needed for a quantum field to inflate. When the “wrong” angles summated, the drive would vacuate and, well, that was the thing: Col. Andrew Zeppis would be the first. It wasn’t an honorary assignment to celebrate his contribution. It had turned out to be an emergency.
The emergency was an impossibly big object hurtling toward the Earth from hundreds of light-years away. Andrew’s excursion was aimed at the phenomenon that was on a threatening intercept course with Earth. It was fortuitous--if not coincidental--that the Inflasion Drive had come to fruition at the same time this pending encounter became known to the concerned politicians who feared the unknown—especially were it to be big and coming toward us impossibly fast. Unknowns in our own hands, like the novel Inflasion Drive, tend to go down more easily than unknowns totally out of our control, like impossibly large objects hurtling toward us and possibly targeting us.
“How big is it?” the President asked his science advisor. “This thing coming at us?”
“Mr. President, the fact that we can measure it while it’s so far out is an indication of its size.”
“Um,” she fiddled with her hand calculator, “I believe it’s about a million miles.”
“A million miles isn't that far out. That’s not even out of the solar system.”
“Um,” she uttered again, and she closed her calculator. “Not away, Mr. President. Big. It’s a million miles big—give or take a few thousand miles.”
It was a conversation heavily redacted by the time it had been transcribed, but it was the conversation that guided anything the gross national product could throw at Col. Zeppis and his “inflation in a box.”
Andrew Zeppis did not fear for his safety. About the worst thing that could happen, he knew, is that the experimental flight would have him still sitting snugly in his fluid-buoyed seat, unchanged, and perhaps even untraveled. The computations had proven that the Inflasion Drive was an all-or-none action. Some argued it might be both, uniting the two quantum forks in the road that diverge with each difference in every action, decision, or path in the road called the “Physics of Everything,” a quaint term coined when the Grand Unification Theory had been proved. Indeed, these were exciting times to be mathematicians and physicists…and pilots who dug Fibonacci.
There are vacuums…and then there are vacuums. The concept of a perfect vacuum is as mythological as a unicorn, but all inflationary (“Inflasion”) drive dreams came true the day Zeppis the elder attempted to publish his quantum vacuum flowsheet article. Again, heavy redaction ensued: it wasn’t something other militaries should have.
Zeppis the younger was not alone for this maiden flight. He shared the cabin with another colonel, Col. Joey Jackson. Jackson was no stranger to the theory set to launch them in the direction of the juggernaut invader. He had been listed as one of the co-authors with Andrew on the original paper that continued where Andrew's father's had left off. This allowed both of them to truncate their speech, to speak with each other in mere acronyms.
“TLN?” asked Zeppis.
“TLN collapsing,” answered Jackson.
“BTD is nominal.” And so it went, strings of initials and confirmations. There was no actual countdown. It was just when Col. Zeppis said “Go!”
Jackson engaged the vacuummation processes, Fibonacci celebrated from the grave somewhere, and their vessel, First Contact, was off, so named in optimism for what they might encounter when they rendezvoused with their ridiculously large target. For the first time, Man had sidestepped the orderly progression of time and space--headlong and precipitous. And they were accelerating.
Zeppis looked out of the window. They were already beyond the solar wind. He looked about the cabin. Jackson was spaghettified, which was initially terrifying; but he was intact and functioning, as was Zeppis. It wasn’t a horror story, but just perspective. Not a paradox; just parallax.
Zeppis and Jackson communicated and carried on dutifully. When the vacummation was complete, the spaghettification resolved. They looked at each other and laughed.
“How fast ya got, Jax?” Zeppis asked.
“Can’t measure it, Colonel,” Jackson answered. “But our target seems a little, well, ethereal.”
“Ethereal? How so?”
“It’s fading…it’s…my God! It’s gone. We should have met it by now.”
“Did we pass it?” Zeppis asked. “Could we have traveled 240 light-years already?”
“I don’t know. But I’m putting a pinhole in the Inflasion Drive to lessen the vacuum.” The pinhole was slang for an impurity injected into the vacuum that allowed a gentle reduction in power, needed for any change in steering required.
The First Contact reversed direction and watched for its original target. If encountered--and they should encounter it--they might be able to overtake it and reach Earth before it did. That might be all the time there would be if diplomacy were needed. A world depended on such diplomacy.
There was a noise, like gravel, hitting the thick viewing window. It was a smattering, a sprinkling of tiny impacts.
“Space debris,” Col. Zeppis reported. He leaned forward and could see the gravel strikes, which had penetrated through the first of the three pressure layers of the aluminum silicate glass. He injected more impurities into the vacuum nacelle. They stopped. After a few minutes—if their moments could be called that—a pallor came over Jackson.
“Col. Zeppis, we should be where we started.”
“Where is that, Jax. I don’t see anything,” he said, still examining the small dings and the lodged gravel threatening to breach the window.
“At Earth," he reported, then added, "do you think there’s any chance that debris has penetrated the inner pressure pane?”
“Don’t think so. They’re pretty small. And we’re stopped.”
“Where?” asked Jackson.
“Might I suggest you examine the debris with nanospectroscopy. ID’ing the elements may give us a clue.”
“They could be from anywhere.”
“I’m scanning our perimeter," Jackson said. "There are other pieces just sitting. They’re not moving. These are local artifacts.”
“On it, Jax,” Zeppis reported.
Col. Zeppis broke out the spectroscopy gear and stabilized it against the innermost pane of the tripartite glass. Before he could analyze anything, he had to lock in a focus on one of the bits jammed through the potential breach. He ratcheted down the gross focus knob, which displayed in the visual spectrum. He zoomed further, dozens of powers of 10 until the mote came into focus. It was spherical, like most space debris is. He remained silent.
“Do you have a fix for analysis, Colonel?” Jackson asked. There was silence in the cabin. “Colonel?” No answer. Jackson looked up from his monitor and regarded Zeppis. “Andy?” Zeppis lifted his eyes from the gross-focus and turned to Jackson. “Any data?” he asked Zeppis.
“No data needed,” Zeppis informed him, blinking hard, tearing up. “I can tell you what it’s made of without arming the nanospectroscopy.”
“Andy, tell me. Where are we? What’s your conclusion?”
“This tiny crumb is made up of iron and…” and he began sobbing.
“Iron…and? What? What else?”
“Iron and oxides and silicon and potassium and…” he stopped sobbing enough to finish. “…and…North America and Africa and parts of Asia and even some Moon. Jax," he stammered, "we were that huge ship coming this way.”
“How? How is that possible?”
“We inflated, probably 10 to the 26th power by my reckoning.”
“But we saw the large ship—not us, but another, right?”
“No,” Zeppis realized. “It was us, just on the other side of the asymptote. It’s why it disappeared as we passed it. Colonel Jackson, my friend, we’ve made it to Earth, but it’s a bit of a wreck now. That's what happens when something big hits something small."
Jackson buried his face in his hands. “A bit of a wreck,” he mumbled. “A bit...and a wreck...”
That's when they heard it. But it wasn't a whole world of voices screaming, a global agony suddenly silenced. What they heard was loud and powerful and terrible enough to be heard through the imperfect vacuum of space.
"Being alive makes up for what life does to you." --Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
The summers make up for what New England winters do to you. --me
Babies make up for what libido does to you. --me
Nightly embraces make up for what love does to you. --me
Not dying makes up for what modern medicine does to you. --me
Having money makes up for what money does to you. --me
Your good looks, fascinating charm, and incredible strength make up for what alcohol does to you. --me
Spicy chile going down makes up for what spicy chile coming out does to you. --me
Someone's guilt makes up for what someone does to you. --me
Parking in great spots makes up for what old age does to you. --me
Having the last laugh makes up for what being laughed at does to you. --me
Having no aches or pains makes up for what a lifetime without competitive sports does to you. --me
I could go on and on... --a life well lived.
Quizzically Raised Eyebrows
I was super serious
But she was supercilious
I was so recalcitrant
That she called the management
I just couldn't abide
How she took it in stride
And spurned my rude overtures
For what rightly was yours
Mostly Benign Coa Tracks
The Coa is a vicious carnivore with a penchant for those off the grid. As such, news of their horrific attacks are never heard, much less addressed. They usually leave serpentine tracks in the mud, which serves as a warning to those who read such things. Nevertheless, the tracks of Coas in the state of Montana which, if you've ever been there, you already know is off the grid...nevertheless, those tracks are mostly benign because they don't lead to metastases.
Metastasis, a new work ethic of mute admiration for Facebook, is antithesis to the Coa, no matter what state you're in--psychiatric, subconscious, or geographic. Thus, metasex will repel the little buggers, and you can save yourself (and your gridless grid) a lot of explaining when the authorities get involved, as they are want to do way too often for my liking. I'd remind you of this every day, via email, if I weren't off the grid. That's what the Coa tracks are telling me, anyway.
Me, One, Off, One, Tears, Me
The Life and Times of Climax Johnson
Climax Johnson never resented being named Climax Johnson--Johnson, after who his father was, and Climax after what his father did.
Just what is a hat-wearer hiding from? The sky? The Cosmos?
Probably the Cosmos. If fiery darts rain down upon the hat-wearer, the hat will take the hit first a split second before the rest of the non-hat under it becomes a cinder. If insults are lodged that way, one is only insulting the hat/person, because they are conjoined at the head and head concavity: you are insulting the fashion statement, jaunty it may well be.
If "Follow Me" were to be embroidered upon it, you must first discern whether this is the exact beginning of the Third Testament, the "Newest Testament." Just don't expect miracles, unless the hat is a tophat with its cunicular geometry rendering leporine necromancy. Hat, yes; but sleeves? Anything up them? "Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!"
Thus, you follow the head under the hat, which has already chosen the rabbit hole, Lilliputians ready to intercept you on the other side with malintent. Watch your head, because the most unfashionable hat-wearer is one without one. And the person who wears many hats is just lost in confusion. So there.