“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”
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.
Recalling the sensation of my eyes bursting before they turned to ash is the only feeling of comfort I can extract from that moment last year.
I was walking my dog on the beach near my home. The beach had been closed for the season because of a toxic algae bloom. The woods in my backyard let out to the beach, though, and I knew enough to stay away from the water.
Parker and I were finishing up when I heard splashing near the shore. I glanced over and saw what appeared to be a school of fish trapped under the thick, algal sludge. I was surprised; the water was supposedly hypoxic from the algae. I assumed the fish would stay away.
The splashing persisted as we walked by. Parker growled. I was concerned, since he never showed any aggression of any sort since we’d gotten him neutered. But as the splashing grew louder and the water grew increasingly turbid, Parker’s growls became ferocious and he started to bark and pull at his leash.
Like so many things, it started with a bright spot in the night sky. As I watched, it grew brighter. Closer. Before long, I could hear it. It was loud and constant; a freight train riding a persistent thunderclap. Birds were roused from their sleep and they took to the sky, soaring away from the threatening light and sound. I didn’t move, though. I had to see.
It struck the ground in the woods outside my property, perhaps a quarter mile away. A second later, a searing blast of heat and pressure singed my eyebrows and threw me to the ground. My daze, while not insubstantial, was pushed to the side by excitement and wonder.
I scrambled to my feet and ran toward the impact site. The woods were alive with fire; orange plasma licking the evergreens as the sap within boiled and hissed. I passed the charred bodies of squirrels and deer as I darted around the hottest spots of quickly-dying flames. Before long, I was there.
The crater was about as wide and as deep as a backyard swimming pool. At its center was a red rock. Bright red. Fire-engine red. Its color wasn’t from heat, I noticed with some surprise, as feathery rime crept with fractalic persistence over its exposed surface.
For a moment, there was no sound.
I peered into the crater and watched the rime crawl up the rock, wondering how ice could form so close to the still-smoldering brush and dirt alongside it. On the other side of the object, out of my view, a sliver of yellow light flashed. Before I could go around to investigate, a crack spread on the surface of the rock. Dazzling, hypnotic sparkles of yellow and green filled my eyes.
I woke up on the forest floor at some point in the morning. The fires were out. Whatever had been in the crater had crumbled to dust. Without any knowledge of how I’d lost consciousness, I felt fear tickle the back of my neck. Almost as quickly as it started, though, the feeling evaporated. All my concern evaporated. For the first time in my 40 years of life, I felt wonderful. At peace.
I followed the trail that had been left for me. It led to my garage. Impelled to write something to let the world know what had and would be happening to me, I took my phone from my pocket and started to type.
And here I am.
Here we are.
I hadn’t noticed the gossamer-thin tendril stretching from my forehead to the pilot until we’d officially met. Its eyestalks perked up upon seeing me enter the garage, and it extruded newer, thicker filaments from its bulk to greet me. They stopped at my clothes, slapping weakly and wetly against the fabric until I got the message and stripped them off. Unhindered, the finger-thick filaments, now perhaps tendrils, pushed into me.
I tasted the cosmos with my skin, and every exposed surface of my body sang in an electric choir of caressed nerves.
“Let them know how it feels,” the Pilot whispered in me.
The sensation was that of being licked by ten thousand tongues, if ten thousand tongues were the emissaries of ten billion galaxies. I felt stars blink into existence on my chest and detonate in supernovae chaos upon my hands and feet. Pulsars fondled my shoulders while civilizations discovered fire and tamed the atom on my cheeks and under my scalp.
“Have them come to us so we can let them feel,” the Pilot breathed throughout me.
I dialed 911 and sighed the words, “officer down at 133 Rural Route 5.”
It didn’t take long.
The Pilot kissed each one with its tendrils the moment they arrived. The stellar choir of skin and taste grew by nine.
The Pilot, too, had grown. It filled the entirety of the garage; its filaments and tendrils and tentacles poking and pouring out of windows and doorways. The ground grew slick with its excretions. We stood – we stand – inside, all connected. All consumed and all consuming. All feeling.
More calls have been made and our network of flesh will only increase. The Pilot is gifting us with poetry to swallow; concepts that can only be understood once they’ve been tasted. Once they’ve been digested. Once they’ve been incorporated.
It is with a fleeting sense of loss that I recall the man who I’d once been. A man who, just last night, succumbed to his fervid curiosity and ran toward the fire. Never once did he care about being burnt; never once did he worry about what may happen. And now he is here. Now I am here. Now we are here. It was his desire to learn – and now he knows everything.
The Pilot has broken through the roof of the garage and is towering above the forest. It tells me if I were to measure, it would be a mile. One mile of the Pilot stretching like a gray-green obelisk toward the cosmos which birthed it.
More sirens puncture the tranquility of our home on the outskirts of the forest. Soon, they will stop. The Pilot can now reach aircraft with its tendrils, which have grown strong enough to break through. And those bodies inside are now with us. We all taste stars – we all bathe in radiation and fling ourselves toward the expanding borders of the universe in simultaneous o****m.
The Pilot whispers he is 20 miles tall now. Depending where you are, if you look outside, you might see it. If you do, don’t be afraid. Don’t be anxious. Just feel the one, final moment of your loneliness. Of your solitude. Then open your windows, smile, and wait.