Archive for 18 marzo 2015

h1

Silence

marzo 18, 2015

I walk up a flight of stairs slowly. Everybody is waiting for somebody, and while I cross aisles and mezzanines I realize I am not. “Tickets, please”. Tickets? Without a word, I check my pockets and I pass a wrinkled piece of paper with a QR code to the guard. I guess that’s my ticket, but I cannot be sure. “Thank you, sir”, he says and returns the piece of paper to me. I cross the metal detector and pick up my backpack, from which I procure my iPod.

I’m in an elevator and while everybody else looks at its ceiling or make a terrified face due to vertigo I look for a song in my screen. I faintly hear the elevator’s narration in the background until I find something I want to hear and put my headphones on. The song’s electronic drums pound in sync with my agitated breath and when the guitars come in I turn the volume up.

The wind hits my face. I go through a wall of sound while I cross the rooftop terrace. It’s weird: every time I’m in town I come here, always; I have seen the city from higher above, I’ve overflown it at different heights and still I’m overwhelmed by it. Or maybe the song is tearing me inside and I haven’t noticed it.

I see the sun setting slowly. My eyes hurt. I repeat the song a couple times, then I play the album from the beginning. I could walk down the 67 floors, but…

… I wander aimlessly on Fifth Avenue. I take my headphones off but a line from the song is stuck in my brain. I don’t know where it all went wrong. For some reason I cannot understand the sun is still up when I arrive to Washington Square Park, fifty-something blocks later. A two-hour sunset? I don’t have a watch and when I remember I can check the time on my iPod I notice it’s six o’ clock. Still? Again? What the… hmmmm…

I cross under the arch and I sit in a bench. I look at the sky, look at the trees, look for squirrels. I think I see something worth drawing so I reach for my backpack and look for a pencil and a notepad in it, then I remember I don’t know how to draw, so then I look for something to write on. Apparently, keeping a diary has helped me a lot. I find a sketchpad, brushes and watercolors in my bag. Do I know how to draw, then?

I open my little black notebook and I search for the last written page. I read a bit and notice it might have been two weeks since I last spoke to anybody, maybe even more. Also, that I could have been walking down Upper Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue half an hour ago.

The sun becomes smaller but it is still on the same height. However, everything around me fades to black. The city is disappearing and I feel cold. I wake up and I see that I’m still on my dark and antiseptic barrack and that my blanket has fallen on the floor. Every now and then the window shows a bit of light and then gets dark quickly. I go outside: artificial daylight is on and my watch reads it’s 9 in the morning. I float to the control center.

It’s been four months and I still cannot get myself used to jumping between microgravity and artificial gravity. Nothing in training really prepares you for those changes, not even with all the mods performed on the Training Center of the International Space Station. That discomfort has developed into a mild buzzing in my ears which I try to cover with the iPod I smuggled aboard the spaceship whenever I can.

I sit in my work station. In less than two days from now we will reach the Asteroid Belt and I must calculate the shortest trajectory to cross it: we must consume the least amount of fuel possible in case there is something unexpected. Once we are within 0.1 Astronomical units from the Belt the life-supporting systems will wake the Navigation crew up while I return to cryogenic state until we are in the vicinity of Callisto. That, if I’m lucky: if everything goes wrong I will never know, unconscious in an eternal instant in my frozen bed.

I hated waking up from cryogenics. The morning of our departure we received some messages from home and we had time to reply to them. Aside from a call from my parents, which I answered in auto pilot (“you guys must feel proud, your lineage is projected to the stars” and all those heroic-robotic phrases that anyone could expect from a politician,) I received a hand-written letter, unexpected, cryptic. It wasn’t a farewell, it wasn’t an invitation to return it was… it was a gate to Nothing, to limbo, to silence, to stasis. I don’t know where did it all go to hell and I answered, by hand, with several versions of that line and a promise of coming back and a hope of returning.

And just like that, feeling uneasy, I went to my cryogenic bed, where I was connected to a vital signs monitor while two anaesthesiologists made small talk knowing that in the middle of any meaningless phrase I would black out. When I came back a few seconds later (as far as I could tell),  we had left Mars behind two weeks ago and it was my time to calculate, adjust and correct our trajectory.  My place in the sun, while I was getting away from it with an obscene speed.

Since then, every night I dream that I walk through places filled with people without opening my mouth, in a blink of time that stays still.

I look through the periscope at the asteroids that get closer every moment. I follow the larger ones for a few minutes and send my observations to the ship’s computer: together, we compile behaviour patterns of them and once there is enough data we will determine which particular ones are worth studying deeply. Further missions will come and continue this task. Afterwards, the corrections I made to the trajectory will help us traverse the Kirkwood Gap the quickest. “Next Stop: Callisto” is written on a plaque above the Command Centre.

Fuck it: I don’t want to go back to the cryogenic limbo. I don’t wanna return to being a ghost, a perhaps, a memory that is veering fast towards Jupiter. I left Earth feeling that I was becoming Silence. What for? The task I’m doing right now might be useful later, but… What will I do later, standing in the frozen surface of a satellite of a Gas Giant that, close enough, looks like the stuff nightmares are made of and is enough to make anybody feel deeply how insignificant their life is?

I wake up hours later, again with my blanket on the floor, after dreaming I was going round and round and round in the chain swing of the Navy Pier, at an eternal 8 o’clock of a Tuesday night in October.

Even later, I point the periscope Home. At maximum zoom level I can see the familiar shape of the coasts of South America and Central America in the Caribbean Sea. So I wrote a letter:

I never told you this, but that night I returned home in a bus that was not the usual one, playing that song list we made together over and over. Apart from that bus and some others, I rode planes, trains, a ferry boat and two rockets. Seems like I haven’t finished putting distance between us and I still don’t know where it all went wrong. Soon, I promise, I will return. I’m tired of this self-imposed silence. I know we should have talked a long ago, that I should have listened to you more, but I was expecting the worst. Not anymore. Being frozen, unable of dreaming or thinking, that must be just like death and I don’t want to go through it (yet). Nothing you tell me can be worse than that.

Do you look at the sky? Because I do look at the Earth from here and I know you’re there somewhere.

I’m sorry I went so far away.

I make the song list back from memory and while I listen to it, I load one of the escape capsules with provisions for six months. I will need nothing more from this distance. I check the little nuclear engine from the capsule, I check that it has enough fuel for the voyage, I inspect the life support systems and the solar panels. Everything is working perfectly.

I send the letter. When it reaches her hands I will be on my way. I go back to my barrack for a few things, I get inside my space suit and I wrap myself with my old blanket. I know that it has ended up on the floor the last couple nights but it means too much for me and I don’t want to lose it in the vast emptiness of space. I write a resignation letter and I program new coordinates for the capsule. I’m returning back home.