Floozman in Space
by Bertrand Cayzac
In a space station in Earth orbit, Janatone Waldenpond, a refugee from Europa, is trying to return to Earth. She meets a long-lost cousin, Fred Looseman. Meanwhile, Jenny Appleseed, the president of the Cosmitix Corporation, holds a conference to plan interstellar expeditions.
Chapter 8: I Am the Passenger
Joe Dasein and Janatone are delayed by paint chips. The slightest grain of dust can make a hole into their suits. But they have to hurry now. They risk going outside. Fred’s rigid corpse is hoisted behind them into the airlock, where they decide he will stay, installed diagonally somehow. At last, Janatone and Joe take their places in the cramped cabin of the Supp. Joe programs the spacecraft for emergency entry.
The spacecraft soon tilts to match its entry trajectory. The filaments thicken. The ship starts to brake strongly. Then there is a sudden crack in the cockpit and the rosy muzzle of a half-charred white mouse. Soon, several other animals come crashing against the windows, and the tiny shuttle begins to buck as if caught in a squall.
A flock of laboratory mice has just finished its orbit in this region of the sky, moving at more than four thousand miles an hour. The Supp guns its engines hard to stabilize itself. The filaments have become small, quiet flames.
Then an explosion reverberates like a gong in the cabin and fades into harmonics full of mystery. At last silence settles. The engines are silent. One can hear a whistling sound and a few distinct creaks. Outside, the flames have mutated into large plumes of bright orange fire; the sky is black and blue. And the sky is burning.
The two passengers are glued to their seats, they are really falling. The temperature rises: the earth will get them for sure, dead or alive. Alerts flash slowly on the control panel. The Supp indicates a maximum level of risk and deploys its rooster wings.
Down they go, cleaving through fuliginous clouds of red, white and blue. Then Joe turns to the traveler who has just removed her helmet. Her skin has turned pink. Her mind seems to be wandering. She keeps smiling at him, her mouth half-open. The flight seems suspended to the palpitation of her slender chest. Finally her eyes roll up in her head, but her expression does not fade. Her heart is a frightened bird in an open cage. “I’m happy, Joe. Kiss me! I’m dying.” She faints for a moment. The sky is silent. Joe Dasein is confused.
They continue to fall until they finally hover. “Thanks, Joe, thanks,” whispers Janatone, regaining consciousness. The ground unveils itself and rises to meet them, as rich with mountains and rivers as the illuminated pages of a fairy tale. The scorched corpse of a mouse detaches itself from the cockpit, leaving a bit of its guts on the glass. A flight of wild geese passes. The earth has accepted them.
A straight little road, with corn fields stretching to the horizon. Crows take flight. The spacecraft lands on its side, flattening the stalks over several hundred yards. The networks are registering an increasing amount of financial damage. The dust is thick and fibrous. When silence settles, it is not the silence of the vast, inhabited machines that populate space. It is both a multitude and a single being.
The immediate web announces that help is on the way. It also means that trouble is coming. Joe and Janatone exchange a glance that says everything. Still, in a lame attempt at levity, Janatone cannot refrain from adding, “Farewell, Joe, sorry for all inconvenience.”
But time is of the essence. She goes down the recessed steps in the spacecraft’s hull.
Joe calls to her. “Stay in the neighborhood and keep quiet. The police robots may not have detected your presence. I’ll send a car as soon as possible. It’ll find you even though you don’t have any indicators.”
She signals that she has understood. Then she walks away heavily in tune to the tiny song of her muscular engines.
She is back, and that’s that. This is the time of her return, no more, no less. The odor of the earth sets her heart aflutter as if now, after two hundred years, it were the beating of the heart with which she had been born. She turns off the stimuli shield to let her entire body be carried away by the sudden joy of of all that is human. Echoes of a battle resound within her. She shivers with weariness but doesn’t care. She has survived one more time.
The information is here, available in the stimuli shield. No need to check it now. She walks. She recognizes everything, even if she has forgotten the names. She weeps, she sneezes forcefully, she remembers. Like everything that lives under the sun, she stands between heaven and earth, anchored by gravity.
She takes cover. Dark green plants stand patiently and mysteriously around her, striving towards the light. Poplars quiver in the distance. Nothing moves but clouds. How can the sky seem so deep when infinite space is hidden from her?
She walks and sees no one. A thought comes to her, like a bird: a yearning for space. All this life is carried by a urge towards space... But she does not know, she is not sure... After a while, she feels weak and faint. The colors are infinitely varied, constantly changing. The air is thick and heady, loaded with dust and pollens.
She walks again, constantly weeping. Sleep, the infinite languor that seizes and troubles her, is deadly soft. What has come over her? The timing is wrong! She realizes she wants to give herself to... Joe. After all, why not him? She would be split like a summer fruit. I’m crazy, she thinks. She lies down. This could be the end of the trip. Have I come so far? Have so many years gone by? She falls asleep on the ground.
Time passes. Small rodents dart beneath the surface of the earth. Scarab beetles fly by. The earth rotates. The sun is lowering in the sky. She is wakened by a large bird of shiny black metal. A drone from Pacific Nutriments casts a dark shadow over her. The machine says, “This path belongs to PN Corporation. You must go back to the road.”
When Janatone reaches the road, she squats on the slope, in the grass. Evening falls. Is she lost like Mr....Moulin’s goat? Is there still any awareness anywhere to care for that goat? Night comes, with stars. Multitudinous and indistinguishable animals take turns standing watch till dawn. Now a long black car is approaching on the little road. It is looking for her.
And here she is.
Capsule begins: And Dingman?
Very well, Janatone, you are back on this old planet with its smells, its dust, its gravity and all that. Do you want to believe that death is a refuge? We shall see. But what is happening up there in the summer sky that is always there, as vast and peaceful as in the days of Ahasuerus, when ladies came to drink orangeade on the palace terrace? Let’s not waken them from their afternoon nap. Let the wild silk canopy wave in the breeze and the water warm up in the iridescent carafe. They died very long ago. Yes, what is happening in the veiled region, where blue gives place to the black crystal of the vacuum?
And Dingman? What about Dingman? Well, he keeps on orbiting, asleep above clouds, above the roofs, the fields. Police drones have confirmed that they have him in custody, but they have just been redirected to a high-priority theatre of operations. But let us not worry; the control center has alerted all the officials, and specialized rescuers will take care of him as soon as possible, when the perturbations are over, as soon as the insurance company validates the case. In short, no one knows quite when that will happen.
Meanwhile, his oxygen level drops. The spacesuit takes the initiative of injecting him with hibernation fluid by way of the security channel. The employee and his life support system can now survive several hundreds of revolutions on a multi-orbital parking trajectory. Is it really all over for him?
End capsule: And Dingman?
Proceed to Chapter 9...
Copyright © 2015 by Bertrand Cayzac