Eric shot himself in the head on April 24th, 2016. I was standing beside him. I still have the bloodstained clothes. And the bloodstained memories.
“You need to understand, Elena,” he explained, holding the gun to his temple. “There’s a bridge. It’s right here.”
He shook the gun, as if to signify its new status – not as a weapon, but as a means of traversal.
“Don’t, Eric.” My voice was slow and calm but flickers of panic were doubtless present in its timbre.
“I see it now. In flashes. Whenever I imagine pulling the trigger, I get a glimpse of the bridge ahead. It’s not black. It’s not empty. It’s bright and full and warm with everything I’d imagined.”
Machinery whirred around us. An omnipresent hum of energy filled the room as countless megajoules of electricity filled capacitating cylinders, all ready to discharge at a specific time.
“What if you’re wrong?” I asked. “What then? You’re just dead. And you’re worthless when you’re dead. All that potential is gone.”
“The continuation of life affirms worthlessness. My worth is in what I’ve seen. My worth is in what happens next. Because if I’m right, and I know I’m right, everyone will learn that what we are in right now is just the first stage. Once that gets out, we can all go through. And on.”
“But by that, you mean that everyone can just die? Are you listening to yourself?”
“Mankind is the true God,” I’d proclaim. “The universe is our laboratory. Our playground. If something exists, we will learn of it. We will study it. And, through our strength and resolve, we will dominate it.”
My voice, at the time still young and powerful, echoed, day after day, throughout the lecture hall: “We are the third of the three paradigms. The early cosmos was the first; shapeless, protostellar dust, which, through the hardcoded mechanisms of this universe’s physics, yielded pattern coalescence. Stars. Galaxies. Planets.”
“Patterns increased in complexity over billions of years. Physics begat chemistry. Chemistry begat biology. And so began the second paradigm: biological evolution. The complexity seen in evolution dwarfed that of the previous paradigm. Eukaryotes. Fish. Mammals.”
“And finally, hundreds of millions of years later, as all the interwoven complexities reached a critical point, a singularity formed. It was the birth of the third paradigm: human intelligence. A force powerful enough to allow the willful direction of aspects of the other two paradigms, as well as its own destiny. It is a force seen nowhere else in the universe. It commands nature. It imposes its will on nature.”
A long time ago, I used to scuba dive with my college buddies. It was my passion. It made me feel like an intrepid explorer, charting the unknown and discovering the unseen.
That was way before my daughter. Way before my ex-wife, too. Like so many things, I gave it up when the drive to start a family kicked in. After Penny was born, scuba was just a frivolity I had no right to focus on. And that was that.
Twelve years later, after the divorce, I started looking at the world like I had before it all went south. I could resume the activities and hobbies I’d abandoned. Scuba diving was at the top of the list.
Once everything was finalized, I bought a house two states away from the one I’d shared with my wife and daughter. It was nothing special. It wasn’t the house I cared about when I closed the deal on the property. It was what sat behind it: a lake.
“The Secret Doctors of NASA” is a series of memoirs, diaries, and reports from actual doctors employed by an undisclosed arm of NASA between 1970 and 2001. These writings contain true accounts of the unusual and often highly-classified medical conditions experienced by astronauts during and after their space missions. Following the defunding of the clandestine medical program after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the majority of these accounts were left, forgotten, on tape drives in a NASA storage facility. In 2016, a former intern, whose job was to clean out one of these facilities, discovered them. Two years later, he is ready to release what he found.
Releaser’s Note: This report is an annotated interview with an American astronaut which took place in 1981. His name has been changed. The psychologist self-refers as “Interviewer.” The report was originally found at the location of the interviewer’s death.
A Psychologist’s Suicide
Interviewer’s Note: The patient is a 42 year-old astronaut. It has been two weeks since his last mission. Up until that point, he had been in perfect physical and mental health. During that recent mission, he spent 31 days in low-Earth orbit conducting various experiments pertaining to inorganic chemistry. His condition has not been determined to be the result of any of his work in orbit.Continue reading “The Secret Doctors of NASA: A Psychologist’s Suicide”
Our company had been tasked with a geological survey of Fallenfield Mountain in southwestern Kentucky. Situated at the intersection of the Cumberland and Allegheny Mountains and the Cumberland Plateau, it stands at the center of a depression in the terrain entirely uncharacteristic of the surrounding area.
Having recently acquired a permit from the state for a fracking exploration, the petroleum company that hired us was anxious to see what they could exploit in this new area. We were to set out as soon as possible.
We began our hike on a Monday morning. The weather was predicted to be favorable and the four of us were excited to cover some ground. We stopped at a small store near the edge of the forest to purchase last-minute supplies and anything else we thought we might need. It wasn’t a particularly difficult journey ahead of us, but we wanted to be prepared.
While we were browsing, an employee began a conversation with Jake Lemont, one of our geologists. Jake was forthcoming, as we were under no obligation to keep our work secret. I walked the aisles and drifted in and out of their conversation, which grew noticeably more animated as time went by. The employee was not keen on the mountain being used for petroleum exploration. It turned out he wasn’t speaking from an environmental standpoint.
Late last month, just before Christmas, a strange, prickly feeling crept up my spine and made a patch of my neck feel cold, as if someone had left a window open. I looked around at the familiar setting. Nothing seemed amiss. The windows were shut. The doors were closed. I realized my heart was pounding and I couldn’t figure out why I was so anxious. After a moment, the feeling passed.
I had lunch alone at my desk. My sandwich was good – ham and cheese and butter with a little dijon mustard. The rest of the office had gone out, taking advantage of a break in the snowy weather. I ate mindlessly, relishing the peace and quiet, until I felt the cold again. This time, it was physical and penetrating. A frigid wave of thick air wafted into my cubicle and chilled me to the bone. Goosebumps rose in a wave over my back, neck, and arms. The feeling of uneasiness returned. Something flickered in the periphery of my vision.
I whirled around, my swivel chair nearly toppling over.
You know that interactive meme site that takes pics with your webcam and makes captions at the top and bottom of the image? My girlfriend showed it to me the other day. We were pretty impressed by how well the software picks up on facial expressions and makes captions based on what the algorithm detects. Anyway, we played around with it for a while, got bored, and then watched some Frasier reruns.
Last night, when I was home alone with nothing to do, I clicked over to that site again to see what kinds of captions I could get it to come up with. For a while, it was no different from the other day. Right when I thought I’d had enough and was ready to head out and get something to eat, the page refreshed and a new button appeared. “Live caption.” I clicked it. My webcam light turned on and my familiar, stupid face appeared. Every five seconds, a still-frame was captured. Like before, it was captioned.