The Glassborough Chronicle, part 2 of 3

dlrhurleyRead part 1 here

or,
The Time-Fliers

letteri woke some hours later. My pallor was such that I would have frightened not only Scrooge but Mr Dickens himself a little nearer to the grave. I stood and—for the first time in a number of months—felt not a flicker of pain in my right leg. No doubt the opiates in the strange suspension were still at work somewhere in my blood.

“Walking unaided I circled the central table, the gaslight now burning too low to follow anything further afield than my own hands. Edward was gone; not a single trace of his person or movements was visible in the darkness and at the very bottom of my stomach I felt a churning more (so I thought) due to my friend’s absence than to the presence of his potion attacking my constitution.

“The Philips beaker lay on its side on the larger table, the bottle—its contents unnaturally still—sat to one side and Fitzpatrick’s papers were spread across the surface like a reptile’s scales. What I assumed were the journals Edward had mentioned were stacked half on the table top and half strewn across the cold floor where Edward had been moments (or what I experienced as moments) earlier.

“Without the aid of my cane I could not ordinarily have reached the floor of the study. Once the dampened journals were in hand I felt an unease about opening them to the most vital pages, the pages Edward had very likely memorised. Idly flipping through vellum pages in the empty darkness, I came inevitably to the diagrams and lists associated with the potion; though I recognised little of the medicinal nature of the substance I read below and on the following pages Fitzpatrick’s descriptions—vivid beyond even the most eidetic of memories—of distant imaginings both past and future. Not a single sheet contained corrections, as though the writings had been the product of some kind of mesmeric trance.

“After some moments I had retrieved my cane, scanned by the first glimmers of daylight my pneumonic surroundings and gathered Fitzpatrick’s and my dear Edward’s papers to my chest. I struggled to carry these out of the cellar and around to the house’s entrance, where I was greeted (friends, imagine my indecorous appearance!) by the sight of Mary’s sister Henrietta who, after a politic knocking, produced her own set of keys and unlocked the door to 17 Salisbury Road. She was entering as I reached the concave doorstep.

“—Miss Riordan, I said whilst attempting a bow.

“—Mr Glassborough, sir. She was a little less than frantic but clearly too anxious to question my sudden appearance at Edward’s home or the sheaves of paper in my hands. —Have you been visiting with my brother? she asked.

“—No, madam. Or rather, not any longer. Yesterday afternoon he and I had a rather impromptu meeting, but he seems to have… slipped away overnight. I added: —You have not seen him?

“She shook her head and explained that she had taken an overnight cab from her residence somewhere in Hertfordshire —I forget the location exactly—to London, at Edward’s request and expense.

“—His note was…. she paused. I were not going to come only that he worded it so strangely.

“She handed me a folded piece of paper and somewhat truculently I opened it and read:

“‘Dearest Heddy,—

Please forgive my recent impropriety in sending you away without explanation. Know only that my grief will soon find its own grave and I will be freed of my present troubles. I ask of you one final favour. Come to London as soon as you can; I have provided for your—and perhaps for my own—future.

Yours, etc,

Edward.’

“Written hastily in what was unmistakeably Edward’s hand, I realised that his plan had been decisive though impulsive. Sending Henrietta away only to recall her several days later was not in my friend’s character—not unless something grave were about to happen. I shuddered more at the content of the note than at the February chill. Miss Riordan asked whether I should help her search the Salisbury Road residence for trace of Edward’s presence and we thereafter spent close to an hour opening doors and creaking wooden stairways for any sense, however imperceptible, of our friend.

“Though we found some manner of sympathy in our concern for Edward, not a single footprint or any further explanation for his disappearance was unearthed. As I bade Henrietta farewell I collected my documents—papers, diagrams and formulae that might shed some light on the darkened basement of E.M. Willis—and stepped into the mid-morning light in search of a Hackney carriage. What remained of Edward’s family, sadly smiling at the doorway, would surely inherit this little house on the Salisbury Road, I thought.

❡      ❡      ❡

“As spring melted the white blanket in which the city had been swaddled, I returned to work and felt—not without the pangs of a Christian guilt that Edward would surely have mocked—that I had abandoned my lost friend. I had studied the journals left to him by Dr Jonathan Fitzpatrick but in them found nothing more than whimsy, fantasy told as though it were science and spread with the thinnest veneer of credibility.

“The narrative describing his experience with this potion was clearly the base stuff for Edward’s novella and, in turn, for the viscous opiate liquid sitting so unnaturally still below the drawing room of Salisbury Road. I could not, however, vouch for the accuracy of Fitzpatrick’s notes given that they were written under the influence of this drug; nor could I quash my suspicions that Edward’s potion was far from identical to Fitzpatrick’s. These thoughts commixed in my mind with my second reading of The Time Fliers; I felt almost as lost as poor Edward, his fiction and his reality hanging in solution with my own.

“As refuge I turned to my work and to my family. Monthly I visited Henrietta and was content for this to be my only contact with the winter past. In tending to petty disputes and attending court proceedings I found a pretence of normalcy, but my mind was constantly preoccupied with the specifics of this mystery—a preoccupation as much with the mechanics of my friend’s disappearance as with the physical absence which I should be mourning. I nonetheless locked Fitzpatrick’s and Edward’s journals inside a cabinet in the corner of my office, in hopes that my ageing senses would soon banish the thought of them from my mind.

“But on May 17th 1885, months after the snowy day of Edward’s disappearance and in the weeks between my social calls on Henrietta Riordan, I was compelled once more to this mahogany cabinet and to the bundle of documents sealed within it. The dark wood—though lit by spring light from my office windows—had assumed an ominous tone, as though in the swirls of the wood grain there were some pattern attempting to formulate a message.

“I unlocked the drawer simply with the intention of examining the contents. The papers remained bound vertically and horizontally with a length of twine, but beneath the cross at the centre of the stack was a rectangular shape I did not recognise. I placed the pile of notes on my desk and, with care, pulled an unaddressed envelope out from under the knot of string. Its appearance was somewhat of a mystery, and I thought I did not know it yet, any incident related even tangentially to Edward was destined only for mystery. The envelope was of a thick paper—almost paperboard—and inside was a sheet folded twice so that it concertinaed to a third of its full size. I unfolded the note and read:

“‘With M., all the time in the world once again. You are missing from our little reunion, but thank you, my own dear Thomson!

Yours, E.’

“—My God, I murmured. Curving its upper case to the right and with a distinguishing flourish on the final letter, I could all but picture Edward’s left hand moving across the sheet as he wrote the words. In the top right hand corner was printed a date, Monday February 2nd, 1875. I need not remind you, friends, conversant as you all are with the chronology of time, that this date preceded the current one by more than a decade. I might also stress that the remnants of Fitzpatrick’s and Edward’s documents were contained inside a locked drawer of a cabinet within my locked office for the three months previous.

“Was Edward alive, physically occupying the same space he had only months ago and yet temporally (I have only since learned the application of this term, strange as this might seem) his presence had been cast backward by ten years? This lunatic explanation seemed no less credible than the notion that he had remained hidden from me and from Heddy for months only to steal a note into a sealed cabinet in a sealed room of my office.

“I replaced the note and the envelope and went to a small table occupying the corner opposite the dark wooden cabinet. The glass vial of opium lay next to a bottle of spirit and with a hand aching from the spread of rheumatism I carried out the familiar motions of mixing my tincture, combining bottle and vial in temperate measures. In this simple act of medicinal creation I steadied both my hand and my nerves. I sipped the mixture, muttering:

“—With M. Wherever you might be, Edward, I hope you are indeed reunited.

❡      ❡      ❡

“Another week was spent in pursuit of very little at all. I completed what work I could whilst glancing with the chime of each half hour at the pile of notes—medicinal scrawl, incomprehensible diagrams, personal correspondence and much more—hoping that another envelope might appear beneath the frayed string. Nothing, of course, did.

“At the end of the week I attended to my monthly social call on Edward’s sister-in-law Henrietta. Despite our meetings feeding a somewhat sympathetic (though certainly not intimate) relationship, my appearance that afternoon in Salisbury Road was greeted only with a remote and anxious glance. In the drawing room the mousy girl—woman seemed still an overstatement—requested that I sit whilst she worriedly rummaged across the top of a tall bureau standing on little more than the points of her toes.

“She drew down an object with a tug—suggesting that it might have snagged somewhere out of sight—and proffered it me in her outstretched palm. Strung on silver-coloured thread was a pendant oval in shape and carved from some form of light but stoutly packed wood. Examining it keenly, I asked Heddy what I was supposed to be looking for. Perhaps another message engrained in tiny swirls, I thought.

“—This was given me by Edward, she said. It was a birthday gift some five or six years ago.

“I tilted my head and displayed what I hoped was an inquisitive expression. –But I haven’t seen the thing (it has been missing, you see) since nearly two years ago. I believed I lost it on our last trip to Dublin.

“She placed the object in my hand. Turning it over and examining the necklace I was surprised to find that its weight was far greater than its outward appearance suggested. A thin line dissected the breadth of the oval. I placed thumb and forefinger around the top of the pendant and twisted until—despite Heddy’s objections that I would break the thing—the wood popped open and revealed a metal object embedded in the bottom half. I pulled it out of its cocoon.

“—It looks like Edward’s house key, I said. The greening rusted metal around the circular shaft I recognised at once, though I was reluctant to broach my rather fantastical opinions as to who might have returned it. It had appeared, so Heddy told me, two days earlier, snagged on the splintered edge of the dark bureau in Edward’s drawing room.

“—When I arrived on Thursday evening I came to pull the drapes closed and there it was, she said, hanging and glittering in the street light. As though it had simply materialised and was waiting for me.

“—And the key? I examined it more closely whilst my companion stared absently at the two parts of the halved locket.

“—In all honesty, Mr Glassborough, I have no idea…

“When Edward had presented the thing to his sister, the pendant had to her knowledge been whole. He had, in fact, consoled her the very day of its disappearance, she told me, recombining the two segments in her hands and rising to rehang it on the moulding of the bureau—thinking perhaps that it ought to remain in its rightful place. I too stood and strode towards the piano. Feigning to place the key on the top of the piano’s square frame I slipped it instead into a pocket of my overcoat, hoping that it might prove of some use.

“Though Edward’s note had suggested—at least to my simple solicitor’s mind—that he intended the key for Heddy, providing for her future by entrusting to her his home and his property, I felt justified in my holding very literally the means to unlocking Edward’s fate. I consoled myself with the thought that, no matter how strange his disappearance had been, I was still somehow in touch with my friend.”

Cross-posted from [untitled]
Part 3 to follow.

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The Glassborough Chronicle, part 1 of 3

dlrhurleyor,
The Time-Fliers

letteri suppose the story begins, as so many stories of our time, with a tragedy; a death. Mary, the wife of my dear friend the writer and naturalist Edward Willis, passed through the veil—as my mother used to say—on November 2nd 1884. Edward was quite distraught, though the decorum which his professed faith and which society expected from him meant that his grief was allowed expression only in his innermost circle. And so I felt obliged to offer him what I could in terms of solace. Most often this took the form of a serving of Glendronach or an attentive ear during his recital of some new idea for a story.

“On December 22nd of that year Mary Willis would have turned 47 years old. In her finite wisdom Mrs Glassborough had sent a letter inviting Edward to join our meagre Christmas celebrations earlier that week, and though I welcomed my friend’s company I was worried for his health. A thin layer of powdery snow had blanketed a good proportion of London and made cab rides slow and cold. The cane-thin frame of Edward Willis was ill-prepared for this widower’s winter.

“Nevertheless he arrived intact; we dined and spoke, Edward held forth and seemed in better spirits than he had been since Mary’s death. This remarkable change of mien he attributed to his having resumed his writing.

“—My craft, Henry, may well prove to be my saviour, he said.

“—I would hesitate to put it that bluntly on today of all days, I replied. Edward went on to summarise what, at this stage, was hardly more than note-taking for a story wildly out of the ordinary and yet founded on the principles of science and natural history. As always he drew on his training as a physician and on what—to me—were obscure writings on natural history. As he rounded off his speech and, with a modest glance, placed his hands on the table top I said:

“—Martians, Edward?

“—As a neologism quite sound, wouldn’t you say? I acquiesced.

“—And the idea is that they share a heritage with man?

“—Yes, exactly. His Irish accent—his intonation did not merit the term ‘brogue’—made this seem all the more reasonable. If, he suggested, man had developed from lower mammals, surely there was also the possibility that creatures similar to or even vastly different than man might have grown out of their predecessors on other worlds.

“The death of his beloved wife made me reluctant to weigh down Edward’s buoyant mood with questions. The fantastical was his preferred domain and I could not blame him. If, he continued, life were possible on such distant rocks then was it not such an illogical leap backwards to claim that all life had sprung from the same place? Whether this was the hand of God or the head of Zeus he did not say.

“Mildred returned holding a tray with two glasses of deep-coloured brandy and placed it in front of us. She must have recognised in me what she always termed ‘your dangerous frown’ and, before taking a seat, feigned to recall an urgent task she was neglecting elsewhere in the house. As she exited the cast of her face made it clear that marital obedience was not driving this particular decision.

“I raised my glass, Edward following suit, and said: —To better spirits. We had toasted, now we drank. But my dear friend was clearly debating within, as was his wont, whether he ought to divulge some new tale or forgotten secret.

“—Henry, I have to tell you, he said. These past weeks I have spent not with Heddy, but rather with myself and my imaginings. Henrietta, or Heddy as he called her, was Edward’s sister-in-law and was at least nominally in charge of his and his household’s care now that Mary was no longer with us.

“—I sent her home. She was as grief-stricken as I, and I had my own work to keep my company. But I want you to come and see with your own eyes. Please, if you can bear the inconvenience… read this first.

❡      ❡      ❡

“Now the book he left for me you will, my friends, most probably have heard of. Unlike many of my countrymen I myself had read The Time Fliers upon its publication in 1878, out of both curiosity and loyalty to my acquaintance of the time, Dr. E.M. Willis. It would be the fictionalist’s vanity to say that Time Fliers proved the foundation for our friendship. But the negative reception that it received was laced in most quarters with a blithe disrespect for Edward and for his imagination when—to my mind—his imagination was what set him apart from his contemporaries, founded as it was on science and natural understanding.

“Though not for the London literary salons, Edward’s novel appealed to sufficient people to prove a minor success over the course of a year. The chronicle—for this is the most accurate word—tells of an unnamed inventor who stumbles upon a theorem, no more than an outline, left by his predecessor at a less-than-prestigious London university. This theorem proposes the manufacture of a substance liquid in nature that might allow its users to move back and forth not only in physical space but also in linear time.

“The inventor takes this theorem to his companion, and the tale’s narrator, one Mr Thomson. He and Thomson between themselves procure the elements required to produce this ‘potion’ (Edward’s term) in a quantity small enough to be ingested in the name of experimentation. Initially they experience only the vaguest sensations of déjà-vu, but during their carriage ride return to the inventor’s home their common visions step further and further away from the present until the pair is catapulted from past to future, unable to pull themselves back to the fulcrum of the cab ride through present-time London.

“As Edward put it, his protagonists ‘soon began to feel suffocated by the d—ed stuff.’ A moment in the childhood memory of Mr Thomson’s country home, filled with birds and turning leaves, gives way to a trek through the most primoriginal wastes of a past described with an almost gleeful lack of sanity or, indeed, sanitation. The inventor and Mr Thomson find themselves variously borne into the air by means of some automaton magic, soaring above a gridwork of charnel houses and industrial wastes, and trapped in the crush of a busy London street full of carriages drawn not by horses but by their own internal and, to our narrator, inexplicable mechanisms. These ‘motor-wagons’ (Edward’s neologisms were by definition a new, though not a recent, development) blare like a collective of animals and the two men tumble to relative safety only after hailing a nearby hackney carriage.

“In the briefest of epilogues our Time Fliers are separated, and whilst the narrator Mr Thomson comes unstuck and finds this future motor-carriage modify slowly around him, changing inch by inch into their present-day London cab ride through slanting spring rain, his companion is not so fortunate. In the years post-dating this trip Jeremiah Thomson finds echoes of his lost friend in the strangest places—letters left idly in church pews, scientific papers dropped into his lap during soporific fireside evenings—but it is their fate never to cross paths again.

❡      ❡      ❡

“Shortly after the New Year, when the snow blanketing the city had begun slowly to melt, I heard the clattering and braying of a brougham pulling up in the street below my office. Clad in a black cape more suited to the ballet than to an uninsulated carriage ride through Central London, Edward stepped down and climbed the few steps to the door directly beneath my window. I laid my papers in a desk drawer on the assumption (soon proven correct) that my friend’s impromptu visit was going to foreshorten my work for the day.

“Moments later Edward had stepped into the room and drawn the ghastly black cape from his shoulders to reveal nothing but an undershirt, halfway unbuttoned and hardly concealing the protrusions of his ribs beneath his mottled marble skin.

“—Henry, my dear friend, he said, placing a hand just above each corresponding crook in my arms. His eyes bright, a return to his former self perhaps at hand, he continued: —Did you read it? Did you take it all in?

“—Yes, of course. Though I’m not sure I understand, Edward. My second reading, I must say, was just as enthralling, but wh…

“—Good, good, he said. In that case you must join me for a drink. With an emaciated drama he swung his own person around and nudged mine by the elbow—a reticent animal, I—towards the door. In the hallway he replaced the cowl and balanced his top hat, old but functional, on his mop of greying curls. We reached the brougham, stepped in and headed for Edward’s residence in Salisbury Road.

❡      ❡      ❡

“At the cellar door of the Willis residence, situated in an alley to one side of the brick building that Mary and her husband had shared, I was greeted by the incongruous smells of ammonium and unlaundered clothing. I steadied myself with the aid of my cane (I suffer a form of metabolic arthritis in my right foot) and took three steps down to the door. Edward was already inside and had removed his hat and cape by the time I had fully taken in my remarkable surroundings.

“In the years before and for several after our initial acquaintance, my friend was a much sought-after London physician. He tended not only to my needs but to those of a large number of wealthy Londoners whilst working by night (‘nocturnally’; his word) on his writing, studies of creatures and behaviours that did not fall within the category of standard medical practice. In those years Edward’s study—both a laboratory of sorts and a refuge from the house proper—was an enclave of cabinets filled with books and journals, tables covered in medical instruments and sample tubes, etchings of tree roots and wasps bisected in black ink.

“But in the darkest month of the New Year and under the gaslight hanging from the centre of the stone ceiling the cellar was much changed. A glass stood in one corner of the room, in which I could see my grey self and the miasmas of snow on the door over my shoulder. The cabinets of curiosities—culled so Edward told me from museums forced into closure—were obscured now by a fine film of dust and on the square desk directly below the light, where once there was a host of indefinite medical instruments, stood only a single row of sample tubes and a sheaf of papers. Edward motioned for me to take the only seat in the room as he drew from over a long wooden table against the furthest wall a tarpaulin covering. Edward’s body, though narrow, disguised the items in the dimly-lit corner. He said:

“—I forced my little story on you not out of vanity, Henry. The origins of my novella, rather like the origins of all things, came not solely from my wild imaginings but from a certain number of historical facts. A constellation of such facts designed, it seems, to create Mr Thomson and his time-flying friend.

“—I… don’t follow you, I replied. I tapped my cane on the stone floor.

“Edward turned now from the shadowed corner holding in one hand a large bottle with a narrow opening, filled nearly to the brim with a copper-coloured liquid, and in the other a conical beaker with a glass stirrer tinkling delicately against its lip. He placed them upon the large table in the centre of the room alongside his papers and the sample tubes, lifting his head and pinning me with an excited gaze to my seat.

“—Henry. He smiled and nodded, expecting (so it seemed) that I might string together the pearls in front of me into a coherent narrative. He glowered in the gaslight and told me:

“—Some months after I moved with Mary to this corner of the city, and some years (might I add) before I embarked on such studies as you were accustomed to observing in this room, my good friend Jonathan Fitzpatrick passed away. Jonathan left to me a minor sum to aid me in my profession (the figure was insignificant by comparison to the wealth and knowledge he had acquired in the medical world) but more importantly he bequeathed to me his papers, gathered over a number of years spent in both Dublin and London as a student and then as a young physician.

“—Amongst the trappings and personalia were several sheets containing what I took to be a list of constituent parts for some medicine, perhaps an invention of Fitzpatrick’s. Opiates and ammonium I could make out by their chemical formulae but the other elements were a mystery, and one that worried me; the majority of my more learned friends were as baffled as I by Jonathan’s notes. I had begun after several days’ investigation to feel as though I were trapped in a poorly executed story, a Penny Dreadful with the bare bones of a plot and little more.

“—Nonetheless I persevered and—through less-than-reputable channels—procured the means to manufacture those chemicals which I could not legitimately obtain. Despite the crown’s legal interventions, there were then still many roads clear enough and land unchristian enough to provide for the darker aspects of our profession. I don’t regret it, Henry. Not if the promise in Jonathan’s notes holds true.

“—After I had returned with the final ingredient for this strange brew I sorted again through the papers in search of some instruction and, in doing so, came across Jonathan’s journals, printed in a neat handwriting and spanning several volumes and a number of years. I had, out of respect for my colleague and friend, left these untouched and unopened but my curiosity bore the better half of me to my study, papers in hand.

“—He professed in these journals to have produced a viable batch of this stuff—science forgive him—and to have tasted but a whisper of it one morning before being carried, alone as always, to his Harley Street office. So his journal tells, not ten minutes after his…experiment, he was pulled into a trance, a deep sleep that took him into the past and left the doors of perception open, left time flowing like a liquid into and out of his mind, swimming through his vision. I was, Henry, quite frightened and yet peculiarly exhilarated by my friend’s words.

“—But as my writing grew in importance and Mary’s health declined I lay aside my studies in this place. The stone underfoot grew colder and the specimens grew further layers of dead skin over their own. My natural histories found an outlet in several science journals and eventually The Time Fliers was finished and published. In my mind’s eye—and now you must see it, too—Thomson and I were one and the same, and Jonathan Fitzpatrick became my unfortunate inventor. My ‘potion’, so I thought, was just a fantasy, but coming back down here, back to these papers. This damned stuff…

“—This damned stuff, Henry.

“Edward paused and lifted the bottle from the table.

“—If he was right, this damned stuff might take me back, and in doing so…bring her back.

“The liquid made a miniature wave at the roof of the bottle as Edward held it in his hand. He produced—from where, I confess, I did not see—a tiny funnel such as he had used years ago when mixing laudanum for my ailments, and placed it in the mouth of the smaller container. As I watched the viscous substance pour in a perfect arc into the conical beaker I glimpsed in the glass across the room a gas-lit reflection of the profile of Edward Willis, which to this day I wish I had not seen but cannot erase from my memory.

“He proffered me the half-filled vessel whilst he withdrew from his belt a flask which, it seemed, already contained the stuff. He said:

“—Henry, my friend. Nothing remains for me here, now. There are no words that need to be said, no things that need to be known; explanations only weigh us down. I ask only that I might request your companionship this one last time.

“He drew from the flask and leaned his frail upper body on the table behind him. Dear friends, as you might have guessed, I could not abandon my friend; I followed him into the mouth of this strange tale. First tentatively I put my lips to those of the glass in my hand and then with abandon I tasted the last sensation of that afternoon, the viscous liquid lining my insides, and burnt into my mind the image of the gaunt figure in the glass, the last time I would see Edward M. Willis.”

Cross-posted from [untitled]
Parts 2 and 3 to follow.

First Reports on Tardive Dyskinesia Patients in Time Displacement Experiments

The first reported case of time displacement (popularly and somewhat inaccurately known as time travel) happened in the interior of a particle accelerator in São Paulo in 2112.

It happened entirely by chance.

As is the case with many scientific discoveries, sometimes you are looking for one thing, then another gets in the way, and with results you are most definitely not expecting. Viagra, for instance.

The time travel process (or, at least, its rudiments) was discovered by a researcher during the calibration of equipment between experiments.

 *

Humankind had discovered the cure for many ailments and severe illnesses by the early twenty-second century. Most kinds of cancer, for instance, had been completely eradicated. But the common cold had not.

Neither had tardive dyskinesia.

Tardive dyskinesia was first diagnosed in the second half of the twentieth century. The development of this iatrogenic disorder, in medical jargon, is usually linked to the use of antipsychotic medications.

The word dyskinesia is Greek for erratic movement: people afflicted by that condition will suffer from involuntary movement of the mouth, tongue, and cheeks, resembling chewing motions with intermittent darting movements of the tongue; there may also be difficulty in performing voluntary muscular movement. Tardive dyskinesia is more common in women than in men and in the elderly than in the young. Symptoms of tardive dyskinesia can develop and persist long after use of the medication causing the disorder has been discontinued.

Dr. Mariana Lima was 55 and had been on antipsychotic drugs for eleven years. Even though metoclopramide hadn’t been commonly used for almost fifty years now, not every patient responded well to the current treatment, which combined transcranial magnetic stimulation and painkillers. It should be noted that Dr. Lima (from here on referred as Subject Zero) had never had a tardive dyskinesia episode before the afternoon of January 25th, 2112.

So, when Subject Zero started to tread on the catwalk crossing the accelerator and stopped to do the first calibration, she already noticed something was wrong but didn’t gave it much attention. “It was just a tic, nothing more,” she told the debriefing team later. “My left eye started to blink uncontrollably while I was walking, but when I stopped in front of the machine, bam!, it stopped. So I figured I must be nervous, you know, the thrill of the experiment…”

Right after Subject Zero started the calibration process, her right hand started jerking around between the motherboards. She cut herself. She cursed.

The two researchers who were supervising the process from the control room asked Subject Zero what happened, and asked her to return and let someone else do the calibration. Subject Zero agreed.

Then, when she turned to go back the way she came, the Subject Zero experienced the time displacement.

It was an unknown, impossible to control, and therefore terrifying experience to Subject Zero. Her body started to jerk and twist, to jump and swagger as if with a mind of its own.

Subject Zero went down the catwalk, sliding, sauntering, cakewalking, moonwalking. One step forward, two steps back. Baby steps. Turtle steps. Snail steps.

Then things started to change.

It was noticed that, upon walking along the particle accelerator in a state of tardive dyskinesia, Subject Zero started to experience slight changes in her surroundings, although no changes in herself. The two researchers that supervised the calibration, however, have stated that they noticed slight changes in her, such as: hair length and color, height, color and shape of shoes (most of her clothes were covered all the time by a lab coat).

(Which brought later to the minds of many the question: were they watching the same Subject Zero, or some alternate version/versions of her? This remains to be studied further.)

Upon walking ever forward on the catwalk, Subject Zero didn’t leave the surroundings of the particle accelerator, but, as she later told the retrieval information team in the debriefing, “It was as if lots of windows started to open at each side of the catwalk, as if I was walking on a train and could watch the landscape sweeping away by me, but different at every window…” She couldn’t be more specific.

The test didn’t take more than seventeen minutes in objective time, as seen from the point of view of outside observers.

The location of Subject Zero is unknown. There is currently a Subject Sixteen working in the premises. All reports relating the time displacement experiments with a possible rescue to the US Mars Mission are untrue.

* * * * *

Fabio Fernandes is a writer based in São Paulo, Brazil. Also a journalist and translator, he is responsible for the Brazilian translations of several prominent SF novels including Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and A Clockwork Orange. His short stories have been published in Brazil, Portugal, Romania, England, and the USA, and in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, The Apex Book of World SF, Vol. II and Outlaw Bodies. He is currently finishing the co-editing process (with Djibril al-Ayad) of We See a Different Frontier, an SF postcolonialism anthology. Fabio tweets at https://twitter.com/fabiofernandes.

His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

None to Shoot With

This story is part of Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure’s First Ever Short Story Contest.

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o here I am with this strange creature, in this cave, and what can I do, shrug her off? She helped me out against a Dog. The Dogs are still functional, but lost and confused. No, make that: they’re functional, but short-circuited and for those of us who have stayed behind, it becomes our main occupation, it seems, to trick them or to disable them somehow. Well, our main occupation apart from organizing food and sometimes a place to sleep if you’re physically inclined to do that, but there are not many of us left around these parts now. I guess many made it into shelters. Most probably died. The Dogs take care of those. But this – woman? – she hasn’t talked much, but I assume she also has a reason for staying.

*

I was dodging Dogs. I was in a store with no roof, between the aisles, and the Dog was hovering just above the shelves, which were mostly raided or smashed up. I could see the Dog’s little red drone eye zoom in and out of focus. The warm parts of me would register with it. I hid in the freezers, which were beginning to thaw but were still cold enough to hide me from at least its temperature sensors. The Dog descended and landed with that sucking sound, right in front of the freezer I stood in. It scanned me. It reached out its tentacle and opened the door when this woman took the the thing out with a clean shot. She was on it in a split second, and I could see her yank out its main board.

She opened the freezer door and pointed her gun at me. She was dressed in some sort of armor suit. All I could see were her eyes.

“Weapons?” she asked.

“None to shoot with,” I replied which was sort of the truth.

“Human?” she asked.

50-50 chance.

“Yes.”

She let go of the door and put her gun away. Right answer.

“I know where we can go. If you’re looking for a place. It’ll be dark before you know it,” she said.

 *

Now we’re in the opening of this cave and are safe for the moment. It’s becoming ridiculous to leave full gear on.  She’s built a fire and put a can of beans in it to warm it up. She has all kinds of stuff in her backpack. Weapons. I didn’t manage to snatch anything when the attack sirens went off days ago. I’m unarmed. She has tasers. She has things that can disrupt circuits. She can disrupt circuits. I saw her do it to the Dog. She reached her hand right in the cracks in its titanium shell and tore out the processor. Better not take chances. I doubt there’s anyone around who could fix me. I doubt there’s anyone around.

*

“What were you doing in the supermarket?” she asks and takes the can of beans out of the fire.

“Hiding from the Dog,” I reply. She has taken her helmet off. She has short fluffy blond hair. It’s hard to look at her face. Unenhanced eyes are kind of gross. Like squishy balls. Hers are especially large. Not that I’ve seen that many this close. “I was looking for some food when I heard it.”

“What are you still doing here?” she asks. I can see the gun sticking out of her waistband.

“I was looking for someone.”

She stares at me for a moment.

“Food?” she asks me, offering some.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “My name’s Ez.”

Maybe if she knows my name it won’t be as easy for her to kill me because I lied.

“Laurie,” she says. “Well? Food? I have enough for now. You can have some.”

I’m starving.

“I would love some,” I say.

“Well, here it is!” She’s getting impatient.

I take a breath in. I reach back and slowly undo the latch in the nape of my neck.

“Air’s ok to breathe!” she mocks me and demonstrates by taking a deep breath in and out.

“Thanks for helping me out earlier,” I say.

Maybe if she knows my name and I thank her she won’t kill me.

“You’re welcome. Like, we’re the only people here. There’s even enough food. So, why wouldn’t I, right?”

“I’m unarmed,” I repeat “And I’m sorry I lied to you earlier.”

I pull the helmet from my head. She stops breathing. That’s her reaction. Then she lets out a sharp puff of air, looks away, but still holds out the can of beans into my direction.

“I guess the rules are not in effect here anyway,” she mumbles. And doesn’t shoot me.

“Who were you looking for?” she asks me, sitting down on the sandy ground, still staring ahead.

“Someone I am supposed to look after,” I reply. Way too long a story. “What were you doing?” I try to ask very carefully, but apart from her refusal to look into my direction, she seems to have digested it well. She doesn’t appear to have a hard time overlooking the former rules and the former differences, that are – she is right – not in effect right now, with nobody there to enforce them. At least the two of us, despite all differences, are dependent on the same things: air, water, food, sleep, not catching infections.

She reaches into her backpack and lifts out a handful of micro chips, then drops them back in.  “I was making a living.” She still stares ahead. “These sell well.”

“You’re a raider…” I thought they were a rumor.

“I have guns,” she says, neutrally, not threatening at all. “I know how you work. I know which connections to sever. If you, in any way, become a threat to me, I’ll dismantle you and sell your parts and leave your poor pink human guts to rot in the poisonous sun.”

I get a surge of sadness. It’s a deep feeling. One that originates somewhere in my poor pink human guts and grasps my heart.

“I won’t tell on you. I wouldn’t know who to tell,” I say.

“Sit down already! You’re driving me crazy standing there!”

I guess she does watch me from her peripheral vision, if she has that. Maybe it’s as hard for her to look at me as it is for me to look at her. Odd that it should go both ways.

I sit down about three feet away from her. She winces.

“You have friends?” she asks, suspiciously.

“Yes! Yes, of course.”

“I didn’t know that about you.”

If I told her now that the person I stayed behind for was a human, that’d push her over the edge. It’s too confusing even for me. Those feelings. So I don’t say anything. I start eating the beans. I really have been starving.

“Thanks for the food,” I say to her.

“You’re welcome.”

*

It’s mostly dark. The fire makes a quaint glow. It’s warm. It’s a good place to spend the night. It were, if I weren’t about to spend it with a human. She’s been going through the things in her backpack. Laying them out in front of her, arranging them, turning them. Sometimes she mumbled something or let out a little laugh, finally packed everything up, meticulously.

She has not dared to look at me again. I have lain down in the sand.

We won’t sleep. We don’t trust each other.

*

“Hey Ez ” she says, after shuffling about a little.

“Yes?”

“What kind are you?” she asks and sounds so shy inside her armor suit, with the guns all over the place.

“That’s a really personal question,” I reply.

“Really? Why?” she asks on.

“Hey Laurie, how did your parents die?” I ask back, to demonstrate the personal nature of the question she asked me. She’s fast for a human. She throws a handful of sand into my face. It gets into my eyes. I release them and try to clean them.

“Holy crap! Put them back!” she screeches. I’m absolutely unprepared for that reaction. She scares me a little bit.

“I’m sorry, but you made them sandy,” I explain to her. “Hand me that canteen?” She kicks it into my general direction, with her back to me. I pour a splash on my eyes, one by one, then put them back.

“It’s ok. They’re in again,” I say quietly. Humans are more outrageous than I thought. Or maybe just she is. There is absolute silence for about an hour.

*

“Hey Ez,” she says, “my parents died in a bombing. I was cut out of my dead mother’s belly. By a human. Humans trawl the wards after bombings to do just that, to get their numbers up. There you go. Shit happens.”

“Don’t throw sand now,” I say quietly. “Were your parents Enhanced?”

She tosses a handful of sand into my direction, but it’s a joke. She has a cute sense of humor.

“Yes,” she says between clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“It’s ok. I’m not into the pro human movement, you know. People know it was bad luck that I am one. But I get along.”

It’s my turn now.

“I’m an EAL,” I tell her. “Eyes, arms, legs.”

“I know what an EAL is!” she hisses. “One of your feet could keep me alive for a month!”

I’m not brain enhanced, but my reaction time has been trained well. My reaction takes me into standing position and out of the cave onto the little plateau, overlooking the cremated remains of the bombed out Area below. I pump air into my lungs. I can’t stay here with that crazy, bitter human.

*

“Hey Ez,” she says, suddenly right next to me on the edge of the plateau. She’s moved so quietly. Maybe I envy her that. “Don’t worry. I have enough to sell for this time around. I won’t disconnect your feet.”

I lean against the rock and try to calm my breathing.

“Are you crying?” she asks. Suddenly, she is right in front of me, looking at me full on, with her big unenhanced eyes. Curiosity must have beaten her disgust. “Sucks to be emotional, huh? Sometimes wish you were an ESH instead of an EAL?” Emotions, senses, heart. Yes.

“I’m thankful for what I am. Emotions are important to what I do. Used to do.”

“What do you do?”

“I was a Racer. If you don’t emote joy, disappointment, or pain, you don’t sell well.”

“I used to like watching the races. So I guess you’re unemployed now,” she says slowly. “You must be a fine piece of machinery.”

She did it again. Little stabs.

“I am not,” I explain to her as patiently as I can, “a piece of machinery. Like you’re not a lump of meat.”

“Whatever,” she says, and walks back into the cave. She sits down with her back to the wall and puts another dry twig into the fire.

I join her and sit down opposite her, my back to the other cave wall.

“You’re kind of disgusting,” she says, and stares at me.

“I’m sorry,” I say, and cover my eyes.

“Not you as a machine. You as this emotional, sensitive being with all those disgusting condescending pretend-ethics. I’m not a lump of meat to you? Are you kidding me? I am nothing more than that to you and the only thing that makes you not see me as your absolute subordinate is the fact that I have guns and access to black markets that would gladly take a part of you.”

“You know nothing about me. Or us, if you insist on generalizing.”

*

I don’t know where to go, but any place seems better than this cave. So I get up again and decide to go find another sleeping place, although this has been cozy and safe – except for maybe the human.

“Laurie, thanks for the food. I’d better go.”

“And where are you gonna go?”

“Elsewhere. You’re scary.” I walk out of the cave and down the rocky path that leads up to the plateau from the scorched Area.

“What if a Dog spots you? What are you gonna do then?” she shouts after me. “Run?”

She turns into a little spot of light bobbing down the hill after me. Poor thing. Can’t see in the dark.

“At least take a gun!” she shouts, and tries to pull one out of her bag with the hand that’s not holding the flashlight. She takes a gun by the barrel and holds it out to me. She is so confusing.

“Aren’t you scared, giving me that?” I ask.

She laughs.

“Of you? There’s no way you could ever pull that thing’s trigger on me. You started crying when I talked about your black market value. You’re raiding a Dog-infested Area for food. You have no equipment other than your Suit on you. You’ve lost someone you were supposed to look after. You’re so not ready for this.”

“I never knew her!” I say back, but it comes out like a cough, something I couldn’t have suppressed.

I don’t move. Neither does she. She holds out the gun halfway between us.

“This is heavy,” she points out after a few seconds.

So I take the gun. Its weight seems to pull me down.

She sighs.

Then my heart stutters, because she takes my hand. She has reached out and is now touching my hand. The left one that’s not holding the gun. Her hand is touching mine. There’s nothing between our hands. I get hot, then very fast very cold. I get dizzy. My optical units produce little sparks in front of my eyes.

“Come on, I’ll show you how to shoot it,” she says and pulls me back up the rocky path by my hand.

*

I’m not meant to touch an unenhanced hand. It’s revolting, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever felt before and when we’re back at the entrance to our cave, I couldn’t possibly learn how to shoot a gun. I need to just sit down and breathe.

“Guess I’ve found your weak spot, O mighty machine!” she mocks. “Want me to poke you some more?”

“No, please, no.”

I feel sick.

“Poke!” she says, but doesn’t actually touch me, although just that word has made me jump.

“Why can you touch me just like that and I’m like this?”

She squats on her haunches next to me. She looks at me and there’s something on her forehead, between her eyebrows. Something her skin does. Like little creases.

“Do your kind need sleep?” she asks and there’s something in her voice that reminds me of childhood.

“Yes,” I say.

“How often?”

“Every few days.”

“Do you need sleep right now?”

“Yes.”

“Is that why you’re behaving funny?”

“I don’t know.”

“I can tell you why I can touch you and then you can sleep and I’ll watch out for you.”

There are a few stars out now. It’s cool out here.

“I have raided EALs before. Dead ones. You’re the easiest and fastest to dismantle. You feel a little different when you’re alive, though.”

I am very tired. I can’t take anymore.

“And now I am supposed to trust you?”

“Yes, because I’m not a killer. I just take stuff that’s lying around.”

“But, Laurie, that’s exactly what I would be if I were to sleep. Stuff lying around. If I’m just a machine to you, I’d just be stuff lying around.”

Then I have an idea. Maybe now I’ve reacted too quickly and too close to her. She has pulled the gun on me almost the same instant I have grabbed her wrist – not touching skin, just sleeve. For a minute, we’re frozen. My right hand around her left wrist, her right hand pointing the gun at me. Then she starts panting.

“What are you doing? I’m going to shoot, I really am!” she says and sounds more irrational than I’ve ever heard her, and I’m afraid she’s actually going to shoot. So I act fast. I unhook my chest cover and put her hand on my heart. I hope I haven’t hurt her. I have no idea how much or how little it takes to hurt an unenhanced wrist. It’s pounding, my heart.

“There!” I tell her. “It’s not any different! That’s still the basic version. Just like yours. It’s racing because you creep me out, and it will stop one day, just like yours.”

She twists and struggles and tries to pull her hand away. I keep it there for just another few seconds, then let go. She stumbles backwards and falls into the sand, thrown off balance. She starts shaking her hand then wiping it on her pants frantically. I leave her to whatever little cleaning ritual she thinks she is accomplishing, and go back into the cave. The fire from earlier is still glowing. I curl up to keep warm and arrive immediately in that zone just before the unconsciousness of sleep.

* * * * *

Frauke Uhlenbruch, aka the Small Fish, lives (and works) in England (among others). Her current research interests include the writings of Dr Seamus Hurley, the resurrection of the dead, utopian social description, superhero comics, and remarkable modes of divine-human communication. Things that make her toenails curl up include people bumping into her backpack on a crowded subway train. Great music, road trips, and dancing on tiptoe on the other hand, warm her heart. Sometimes she gets bored with the contemporary world.

Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Floating in a Most Peculiar Way

.
he stars were invisible
, blanched out by the towering neons and the lights that shone indifferently into every corner of Show City.

She turned her gaze down again, wary of being noticed. The day had finished at 8pm, and offices were disgorging men and women whose dour faces and regularity of step turned the sidewalks into little more than conveyor belts. Across the street there were a few outsiders—their hair long or their faces dark—but on the whole, there was little to tell one from the other.

Natasha took every stride as though she were in a Western. ‘Flinty’ was the adjective she was trying to embody. She thought verbally; always had. So it was inevitable that she used words as her armor, that she projected them outward to hold the lights and the glass and the people at bay.

They moved in near-silence until a small group of them peeled off toward the right. Fog lights burned in the alleys between the towers, and blinded Natasha as they neared the elevator. There was no way she could know if he was here. The faces of her companions were whited out in a halogen glow. The elevator, waiting stoically, swallowed them and took them to the shuttle above.

She did as instructed and held back while the others crowded in. Still no sign…

Then, as the shuttle doors kissed shut, a man’s face peered from the other end of the platform and caught her gaze. He turned away from the shuttle so that the people inside could not see his face. Deep wrinkles contrasted with pitch black hair, and Natasha realized why they had christened him ‘Reagan’.

In two steps he had looped his arm around hers and drawn her away from the shuttle. Some of the faces inside fizzled into life, and fingers pressed against the glass as they noticed the couple who had remained on the platform.

They had already pushed through an emergency exit, were listening to their footsteps echo against the concrete stairwell, when he said: “Natasha?”

“Yes”, she replied, and fumbled the piece of paper out of her pants pocket. Reagan glanced at it and released her. He said something; something her brain interpreted as ‘hurry‘.

Soon, the regulated air of Show City hit their cheeks, and they began pushing their way against the tide of people on the sidewalk.  The neons blurred, and crowds parted. A low, rumbling siren summoned black-clad security officers, but Natasha focused only on Reagan’s box-shaped outline. They reached a sign that read ‘South Station’, and he helped her vault a rusted gate. Descending toward a half-buried turnstile, they climbed further away from the blinding lights above. They were underground. Beneath the city.

A train waited; one Natasha remembered from her childhood. As she and Reagan tumbled inside, she finally exhaled.


he pool was still full
, and a handful of the underwater lights still burned, backlighting the water so that it glowed invitingly.

Reagan and the others were inside, but she felt alone. Comparatively, she was. Close to seven million people lived within the walls of Show City, but here, on the outskirts, there were mere hundreds. She gazed into the water and wondered why there were no pools in the city. No lakes or oceans, no bathtubs even.

The small house he had brought her to was a constellation of rotten wooden beams and red bricks. Pipes had tumbled from the ceilings, but the hearth that been built in one corner of the first floor kept them warm with tree branches and old newspapers. Soon she would have to relocate but for now, at least, she was free.

‘Free’, Natasha thought. She projected the word outward.

Stepping closer, she pulled her shirt over her head and slipped her shoes and pants off, tossing them to the ground. The aquamarine glow, interrupted only by the occasional leaf, was too hard to resist. She crouched and slipped easily into the pool, a rush of water cocooning her.

The stars looked very different out here. Their light shone brilliantly. Light from thousands, even millions of years ago, still visible in the dark charcoal sky. Closing her eyes, she sculled softly with her hands, staying afloat by instinct .

* * * * *

This week, we’re featuring a new collaboration between photographer Naama Sarid, whose work we’ve featured in the past. Naama has been kind enough to share her work with some of our other contributors, and they have been writing and creating based on her wonderful photography. This piece is inspired by Exposure № 070: Floating Memories. See Naama Sarid’s other Snake-Oil Cure contrubutions here.

Pressure

t is a misconception that space is freezing; while it is about three degrees above absolute zero, or -270 degrees Celsius, an object in space will not immediately “freeze” upon exposure. Unlike The Alaskan Tundra, there are no air or gas molecules to carry heat away from an object. Heat will be lost by thermal radiation—a slow process.

McEvers pondered this irony: wishing he was back in his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, instead of 1330 kilometers above the Earth. At 100 pounds per square inch, his oxygen would not last much longer. He knew when his supply was depleted and asphyxia set in, his instinct would be to rip his helmet off. His lungs overriding his brain, hoping for a mere mole of O2. McEvers wondered what the uncold would feel like in his final moments.

ommander William Anders frantically looked through every checklist, every procedure manual, while McEvers checked his O2 gauge and tried once again to open Experior’s hatch without success. Second in command, Pilot Lee Cooper watched with a quiet desperation as McEvers signaled: two fingers to the temple—communication failure; and the flat hand moving across the neck—low on air. Cooper signaled for him to hold on.

“Houston, this is Commander Anders.  The comp’s giving a reading of 100 psi left in EVA One’s O2.  The computer override still is not allowing us to open to hatch. Please advise.” He bent his head down and tried to run his hand through his hair, forgetting he had his helmet on.  He clicked off the broadcast switch. It was only him and Cooper on the coms. Turning as much as his suit and restraint allowed, he stared at Cooper. “You know what they are going to say.”

Gemini XIII Pilot Lee Cooper could not help but avert his gaze, looking back at the window. “Bill. We’re not going to leave him out there.”

“You know the protocol.”

“You know what’s right.”

The red light indicating there was a transmission from Houston began to blink.  Anders reached for the broadcast switch. His pressurized glove was stopped by Cooper’s.

“Coop, you know as well as I do, if we shut off the hatch seal program and manually open the hatch, the computer will attempt to maintain cabin pressure. We would not be able to close the hatch. The internal pressure could blow it right off.”

“We have never lost a man in space, and we sure as fuck aren’t going to start now. I don’t care what Houston says. I don’t care what you say. I’m gettin’ him in. Christ, he’s got four minutes.”

The light continued to flash.

“We’re taking this,” the commander swiped his pilot’s hand away and clicked the broadcast switch.

“Houston, this is Experior, please confirm transmission.”

“That’s affirmative Experior, we copy. We have a reading of 80 psi left in EVA One’s suit, but are unable to communicate with him. Have you made contact?”

“Negative on contact Houston,” Cooper interjected. “We still have visual contact on McEvers. He’s giving us the distress signal and has grasped onto the hatch bay external opener. He has made several attempts to manually open the hatch. But I’m coming up with a workaround for the capsule pressure program.”

Static.

Cooper grimaced, snapping his head back the against headrest. He buried his head, helmet and all, into his hands.

It was difficult for the commander to avoid seeing McEvers. Maintaining composure, he focused on the instruments and hit his com button. “Houston, please advise.”

Experior, you are ordered to cease further attempts for a manual retrieval of EVA One. Initiate mission abort, and prepare for early reentry.”

A sole reply from the Commander: “Copy, Houston.”

“‘Cease further attempts for manual retrieval of EVA One!’ Are you people insane? You don’t even have the fucking balls to say his name—Lt. Jack McEvers.” Cooper unlocked his restraints and hovered slightly off his seat; he gripped the Commander’s life support hoses.  Anders’ eyes opened wide, his pupils constricted. The pilot pressed his helmet against his superior’s, “Husband to Shelly McEvers, father to sixteen-year old Lindsay and eight-year old Charlotte. Can’t y’all say what we’re really doing here? Oh sure, it’s much easier to release a suit shell code named  ‘EVA One’ into a fatal orbit.”

Cooper let go of the commander’s hoses and clipped back into his seat. He began punching the computer’s keypad. “That’s a negative Houston, we will attempt to override the pressure program and execute a manual retrieval  of McEvers—a manual retrieval of Jack.”

Commander Anders threw his arm and gripped Cooper’s shoulder with enough force to squeeze the air pressure into the arm, stiffening the joint. Anders switched the broadcast com off and faced his subordinate. “Lee, he’s got less than one minute of air. Even if it were possible for us to do this without compromising the capsule, there is not enough time.  Sit back and prep the parachute deployment system. That is an order, Lieutenant.”

Both astronauts turned their attention to the window. McEvers was inches away from the window. He alternated between banging on the window and giving the no air signal in what looked like slow motion.  An alarm went off accompanied by a flashing light—indicating his autonomous O2 pressure was now zero. They watched from inside as the man in the suit grasped for his neck, letting go of the craft. He remained near the window. As he had predicted earlier, McEvers could not help but twist open his helmet’s airlock, exposing himself to the vacuum. By the look of his face,  Anders could tell McEvers had held his breath, as he twisted his head back and forth. Within less than a second, the spacewalker’s body jolted and snapped open his jaw as explosive decompression ruptured his lungs. Cyanosis set in quickly, and the blue faced, bloated astronaut remained by the ship. Though the body was unconscious, the heart continued to beat for several seconds, until hypoxia became anoxia. And death ensued.

Cooper screamed into his helmet, while punching the window.  The Commander punched in a private com with Houston and whispered a few words.

“We killed Jack.” Cooper had begun to sob.

Busy flipping various switches, Commander Anders ignored his remaining crew member.

After a moment, Lee Cooper began to feel dizzy and noticed his vision narrowing. He looked at his commander who appeared to be farther away. “We killed….we,” his speech became slurred. “Are we losing O2?”

Anders began the reentry procedure, “No, don’t worry. We are not losing O2. Houston and I have, however, decided to divert just enough O2 away from your suit to relax you,” he patted his pilot on the shoulder. “It’s okay, pal. We’ll be home soon.”

Cooper’s eyes closed as he struggled to speak “You—”

And then, lights out.

Experior, this is Houston. Flight surgeon confirms Cooper’s vitals are stable, and he should remain unconscious through reentry.”

“Copy that, Houston. Initialing decent. Altimeter confirms.”

As Anders hit the thruster to move him toward descent, he could not help but look at McEvers’s corpse shrinking out of view. A morbid curiosity wondered how long the body would stay in orbit. And if the solar radiation had already seared the unprotected face.

The Commander checked to make sure his pilot was secure for the coming g-forces, and then went through the reentry checklist. The capsule began to rattle as they entered the earth’s atmosphere.  Anders double checked to make sure Cooper was secure.

“Houston, I’m doing a final systems check before reentry com blackout.”

“Copy that Experior, you are go for reentry.”

The commander lay back, letting heat shields, atmosphere, and explosive parachutes do their job. Six minutes and this would all be over.

t was at two minutes until touchdown, when Cooper began to wake from his hypoxic sedation. His eyes opened slowly. He was careful not to move his body as he checked the instrument panel altitude—thirty kilometers. Not much time. He stared at the panel for a few moments, then at the fire outside the window. Finally his view shifted to his commander, who was braced for the touchdown.

“Son of a bitch,” he whispered to himself.

And then Cooper began to mentally rehearse the sequence of key strokes that flashed in his mind before passing out.

With twenty kilometers until touchdown, Cooper turned to his Commander, and pressed his com button. “It’s been an honor to fly with you Jim.” Though his arm was heavy with gravitational force, the pilot pressed a series of keystrokes into the flight computer, and flicked two switches before the commander grasped his arm.

“What did you—” Anders looked at the panel and then back at Cooper. “The para—”

The crew of the USS Wasp had varying reactions as they saw the Gemini capsule fall from the sky: most pointed, some gasped, and some looked away. But there was a split second of collective silence as the capsule splashed down without its parachutes deployed. The divers broke free from the initial shock and dove into the water after the men in the capsule. They swam with unrelenting force, though they knew their efforts were fruitless.

Song of My Cells

I am become life—creator of worlds: beginning as a tube within a tube.

I am blood; I am bile; I am phlegm; I am gall—

secreted; emulsifying, absorbing, metabolizing.

I have no control over the cataract flowing within me.

EPINEPH-RINE—my fight or flight, Adrenaline, would I have guessed my savior,

my liquid guardian

angel, can come from a packet of “Sweet and Low”?

Check yourself, if you don’t believe me.

While tiny ladders of sugar and nitrogen unzip, split, replicate forming my

blueprint—this only takes

half-n-hour. I hope no mistakes are made.

While gases diffuse through the thin walls into my-life blood and

a thick chunk of muscle pushes it through the rest of me

Gravity helps some, hurts some, but my pipes have to do the rest

While little fission bombs of Adenosine detonate,

they then disperse the shrapnel of Phosphates

Mean time, Minerals, opposing and flipping, run down my power lines

I feel thoughts and movements conducting across the thin sheets;

sparks that jump across the nodes of Raviener

Open the floodgates! The system of pulleys and levers begins to move; the simple

machines

Become complex.

Bio-Hemo-Myo-Neuro-Osteo-Proprio-Chemo-Pneumo…

I’m running out of breath here…

What a piece of work is this machine—how noble in reason—how infinite in

resource and plasticity—

how like a God?

Wait, that’s not right.

Things fall apart and systems fail. Pressure rises, blood clots and plaques,

replication undifferentiates,

then various things are spurring, embolizing, aneurising, collapsing,

ischemtizing. I am now

described with words like edematous and crepetant and stenotic .

The men in white do their best: beta-blocking, pharming, imaging, thinning, and

scoping,

and cutting, and stinting…and then defibrillating…and then failing…

And then—

The Repository for Neglected Chemists

Around the laboratory doors they float
in off-white coats, gazing with amazement
at the modern tools therein, hope renewed
that researchers might resurrect and fix
their metallurgical mistakes:
correct the color or consistency,
achieve the optimal environment.

Acclaim escapes them at the moment; still
they seek to find that special formula
with antiquated stone decanters and
dispensers, coaxing fumes from labyrinth-like
configurations made of copper pipe
and glass. Hands scalded glossy rose attest
to caustic blunders or concocting
now-known-as-harmful pharmaceuticals.

German, Dutch, or French, each existed for
his science, sacrificing friendship, health
and family for the flickering of lamps
and bubble of elixirs. Itching to
inhabit innovation’s realm, they fail
to fully grasp the methodology
required, find themselves still shackled to
the cobwebbed corridor of alchemy.

~Spring 2007