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In Memory of Dexter Roberts

by Forrest Armstrong

I am writing this as an account of the life of my best friend, Dexter Roberts, whom I recently lost to a black hole. I call it an account, but it’s really more of an explanation — or perhaps an apology. Let’s just call it an obituary for my dear late friend Dexter.

I am setting this down so that his memory will live forever, as a hero, as the first man to transcend the very walls of our galaxy in pursuit of something more. Some would say his curiosity drove him to his fate; I say his sense of responsibility to progress mankind’s knowledge of our surroundings drove him to his fate.

I am setting it down for all to remember, though I am not sure how much longer the human race will be around to remember anything at all.

The year is 2096, and the world has at last become entirely corrupt.

We live in a world where our freedoms are limited and our hardships are endless. The monocracy that our government has become is oppressive and restricting, piling on rule after rule since the 2070’s. And with living conditions that make the ancient tenements of factory workers look good, it’s easy to see why Dexter was so eager to escape.

But do not let this piece act merely as a reminder of how bleak life has become. This is a story of hope, for it was hope that drove Dexter to confront the black hole head on and take a risk of life or death to pursue what he believed in. Dexter didn’t leave this galaxy because he was sick of it, he left it because he believed that there was so much more to be found outside of its walls. We both did.

And so did Mr. Holden. He was the man who gave us this dream, this vision of something greater than anything ever encountered before.

* * *

Mr. Holden was born on March 1st, 1989 in Boston, Massachusetts. He moved to Atlanta at the age of eight, where he remained for the rest of his life. He told us that those were much better days, days when democracy was still in full effect, and treats like liberty and justice still meant something.

He told us that people used to live in houses with two or sometimes even three stories, and only the poorest and most unfortunate of people were forced to live in the three-room shanties we are all accustomed to today.

I still find it hard to believe that the human race has regressed so much in the past 100 years.

He attended Georgia State University in 2008, where he graduated with a degree in physics and later returned to study science education. He was fascinated with all aspects of science, particularly the studies of astronomy and all of the possibilities that the undiscovered regions of the universe held.

At the time, he was still just a child with a dream, much like Dexter and I.

He returned to Georgia State University again in 2018, this time to work as a science professor. Shortly after, the government abandoned democracy all together. Everything began to fall apart around that time in what was known as the Great Collapse, and by the 2030’s, even the education systems began to falter.

Mr. Holden quit his job at Georgia State in 2035, and gave up on science forever. His only hope was that someday, NASA (a group of “hard-working individuals on the verge of discovering the secrets of the universe,” or so they would have us believe) would complete the mission that he had so desperately hoped to see fulfilled: the exploration of space beyond our galaxy.

In 2042, NASA was discontinued. I suppose God didn’t want us to discover the secrets of the universe after all.

And the rest of Mr. Holden’s life was spent in misery, brooding over the world, brooding over those puzzles that would never be solved. He didn’t speak of his dreams to anybody for over thirty years, until when, by chance, Dexter and I stumbled into his life. That fateful day would change us forever.

* * *

The year was 2073. It was a cool summer day, and Dexter and I were crammed tightly into our narrow street, tossing around a baseball. Back and forth the ball went, until Dexter blindly threw the ball high over my head, sending it sailing into the sky and dropping onto the roof of a house down the street. The house belonged to Mr. Holden, a man all the children knew to be mysterious and dangerous. We looked at each other in terror, arguing who would be the one to fetch our baseball from his roof.

“You get it, Dexter! You’re the one who threw it!”

“So what? You should have caught it!”

“Maybe I would have been able to, if I were fifteen feet tall.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault your so short!”

Finally we agreed that we would both go, so we walked down the street towards the house, quivering and shaking from fright. The house stood dark and metallic against the sky, and the sun appeared to drop at an incredible rate, as if fleeing the scene before Mr. Holden realized what was happening. When we reached the house, I quickly put out my hands to help Dexter climb to the roof and find the ball.

“It’s not up here!” he yelled down at me. I climbed up to help him find it, but he was right; the ball was nowhere to be found.

“Looking for this?” came a voice from behind us. We snapped around, yelling and screaming in panic, to greet Mr. Holden face to face. How he had gotten the ball off the roof before us was a complete mystery. He was no agile fox, at the age of eighty four, but there he was, standing before us, tossing the ball up lightly and catching it in his palm. But as we looked at him, and our screams subsided, we realized that he was not the sinister figure we painted him to be, but a feeble old man with delicate features and a warm smile.

“I will give it back to you,” he said, “if you will have a drink of tea with me first.”

Slowly, we nodded, the terror slowly vaporizing, and he helped us down from the roof and led us inside.

Why did he choose to unburden his soul to us on that day? It is possible that he could sense that the conclusion of his life was near, and he wanted to pass on his knowledge and dreams before he died, for it was only three months later that he left this world forever.

* * *

“Tell me, children; do you know anything of science?” Mr. Holden asked. We both shook our heads, and with a smile, he was catapulted into a long lecture about the universe.

First, he explained the concept of light-years, and once the enormity of what a light-year truly was had sunken in, he told us that our universe is 100,000 light-years wide.

As Dexter realized just how large this was, he turned to me with a look of sheer panic and said: “The universe is that big?! We will never be able to leave it!”

Then Mr. Holden proceeded to tell us that if you took all the stars in the universe and converted them to grains of salt, you could fill a ball with a diameter of eight miles full of stars, but only a teaspoon’s worth of salt contains all the stars we see in the sky. When the vastness of this settled, Dexter looked at though he has been struck by lightning.

I personally found the lecture to be a bit boring and far too long, an unreasonable price to have to pay for the return of our baseball. But my friend Dexter was quite the opposite. He had been absolutely fascinated by every word Mr. Holden had said.

After Mr. Holden was through, Dexter stood up and announced that, if no one else was willing, then he had taken it upon himself to glimpse the rest of that eight-mile sphere.

We started to talk with Mr. Holden on a regular basis (by Dexter’s request), and he continued to tell us of his dreams of discovering the rest of the universe, as well as telling us about life before the Great Collapse. He told us of the black hole that has been emerging in our galaxy, named Koblensus by scientists, and of his theories that something magnificent awaited humans on the other side of the black hole, if only we had the bravery and determination to pursue our research.

When he died, he left us with a great gift, one which would affect both of us immensely. That gift was the book 1984, by George Orwell. I say it affected us both, which is true, but its influences were very different between us.

For Dexter, it fueled an interest in science fiction, and acted as a reminder of Mr. Holden throughout the rest of his childhood. But what did it do for me? The main thing 1984 did for me was help me to realize just how terrible life had become for us here on Earth.

* * *

I wish the classic works of authors like Orwell or Bradbury or Vonnegut had remained works of fiction, literary escapes that people could enjoy in their free time. But now they bore too much resemblance to reality to be enjoyed so light-heartedly. Several of the rights that existed at the time the authors were alive were being stripped from us, including:

Reproduction. The government monitored all reproduction in attempt to calm down rapid overpopulation. All violators were imprisoned. Anyway, the government needn’t monitor my reproductive habits. Bringing a child into this world would be a sin in itself.

Cars have been banned, as has electricity. This is another feeble attempt by the government to “better” the situation of the world. The environment has already been destroyed, the resources drained, so in response, the government removed all causes of pollution and energy wasting devices from our possession.

Of course, all government officials still own shiny antique sports cars; their Victorian houses (which act primarily as an insult to our metallic shacks) are still pumped full of electricity.

They have even stripped us of cigarettes and alcohol. Heaven forbid we are allowed any relief from this wasteland, even in such primitive pleasures as getting unreasonably drunk.

Our houses and our lives have essentially been assigned to us by the government. The fates Orwell and his colleagues predicted are forming into cold, hard realities. They do not yet burn our books, as Bradbury predicted they would, but for the lack of comfort books give us these days, they may as well.

* * *

The year was 2077. Koblensus hung over our heads as Dexter and I lay on our backs in a field, looking up at the stars. The field was called Kay’s Park, and was essentially the only patch of true, thriving green grass that could be found in the entire city of Atlanta. For a reason unknown to me, nobody else seemed to appreciate Kay’s Park, but Dexter and I recognized the beauty of such purity, and we spent many a night lying there in peace, gazing up at the universe.

“What do you think is up there?” he asked me. He was still glum from the demise of NASA; something that he considered to be the end of all hope for space exploration.

“A teaspoon of stars, just like Mr. Holden said.”

“No, but I mean, beyond that.”

I paused and thought for a while. “I don’t suppose we’ll ever know, will we, Dex?”

He stood up with his fists clenched, his face suddenly red hot. “You’re wrong! I’ll find out, even if it’s the last thing I ever do!”

It was the only fight we ever had.

I still laugh when I think about it. I suppose he did ultimately find out, didn’t he? And he was right; it was in fact the last thing he ever did.

It was on that day that Dexter decided that he would fulfill Mr. Holden’s dream. He would be the first man to transcend the very walls of our galaxy in pursuit of something more, in search of that potential paradise that lay on the other side of Koblensus.

* * *

The year was, and in fact still is, 2096. Dexter had grown bitter over the past twenty years. I suppose we rubbed off on each other; I gained some of his lust for the unknown, and he gained some of my hatred for anything that had to do with the Milky Way galaxy.

Dexter and I were building a rocket ship, in order to send him flying out into space to fulfill his dream.

Unauthorized space flight is illegal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It’s the only pastime many of us still have; the only excitement in our otherwise drab, restricted, routine lives. Indeed, joy-riding in space has replaced marijuana smoking as the new trendy felony.

Marijuana slowly dropped out of existence during the twenty-first century. Now that I think about it, the years marijuana started becoming so scarce were the same years that the government started piling on law after law. Coincidence? I think not. That’s proof enough for me that absence of marijuana is responsible for the end of the world.

But back to Dexter’s rocket ship. The scrap metal was easy to acquire; it’s just about the only substance left on this planet. In between 2077 and 2096, he had easily accumulated all the parts and plans necessary for space travel. He was headed straight for Koblensus.

I remember looking at him as we built it, and noting how strenuous the work was for him. He was already a hero in my eyes — a pioneer of the universe — but he looked as thin and frail as a toothpick.

“Dexter, when you get up there, what do you expect to find on the other side?” I asked him.

“You know, Dean,” he said. That’s my name, by the way, Dean. “You know, Dean, I don’t really care. Whether it’s another galaxy or just death by crushing, it’s an escape from here.”

It made so much sense that, for a brief moment, I entertained the idea of climbing aboard our makeshift spacecraft right then and there, setting sail for oblivion by his side.

* * *

What did he think when he was up there, looking into that swirl of emptiness? I can only imagine, though I assume it must have been something along the lines of: “At long last, I am coming home!”

So here I am, alone, without my mentor and without my best friend. Someday, I know I will see them again. Perhaps Dexter will come back from Koblensus with stories of utopia and treasures from the unknown, and we will reunite, best friends again. Or perhaps it will have to wait till death, where I will meet Mr. Holden in the grand cosmos of the afterlife, whatever that may be.

I take comfort knowing that both of them are probably in a better place. Hell, any place is better than here. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be complaining; this is supposed to be a sweet recollection of my best friend. Maybe by the time you read this, life will be better than it is now.

As for me, I think I might build myself a rocket ship and fly up into that black hole with him.

Copyright © 2006 by Forrest Armstrong

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