great ball of fire (part 4 of 5)
(originally posted 12/7/2017)
Nap stood staring out of one of the portals in the ship, for the first time able to see the glowing speck that was hurtling towards him. Him and Madonna and Chance and everyone he knew and didn’t know back on Earth. Madonna floated up behind him and touched him gently on the shoulder. The two stood silently for a few moments staring out into the abyss. The reality of their mission perhaps sinking in for the first time.
Suddenly uncomfortable with the gravity of the moment Madonna spoke; “Did you know that Bill Haley was a raging alcoholic? He had ten or more kids and was apparently a terrible father to all of them.”
Looking out into space the idea that Nap appeared to be a million miles still made him the closet person around.
“I hope that the people of Earth realize that Halley’s Comet wasn’t named after him.”
Seemingly coming out of a trance Nap looked at her and said “It doesn’t seem like you have much faith in the IQ of the people we’re here to save.”
Unexpectedly feeling wildly vulnerable she started to tear up and said “I just want to know that it’s going to be ok. That people aren’t as dumb as I sometimes fear they are. That they know about Edward Halley.”
Her bottom lip trembled ever so slightly.
“I need a sign that there’s hope.”
Nap turned and put his hand on her face.
“Do you know the Stanley Kunitz poem Halley’s Comet?” he asked her. She looked at him and shook her head.
“Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there’d be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground’s edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
“Repent, ye sinners!” he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I’d share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family’s asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.
Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street —
that’s where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I’m the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.”
About seven or eight lines in Madonna’s mouth slowly began to fall open and by the last line it rested on the top of her perfect breasts. She wanted to ask “How?” or beg Nap to never speak again and ruin it but instead closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Finally she opened her eyes and looked at him.
“Thank you Nap.”
It’s at this point you’re probably wondering what Nap’s plan was.
So was he.
But not with any particular urgency. His mind was instead focused on trying to imagine the things that Comet had witnessed. Traveling through the universe at an unimaginable speed for an unimaginable length of time. It was the unimaginable parts that threw him. Until that very moment he’d never been faced with the unimaginable. Everything had been painfully imaginable. As he paced back and forth, best he could given the lack of gravity, he wondered what you say to a comet.
What do you say to convince a comet not to slam into your home world?
He had been working under the assumption that the comet was intelligent and yet there was no actual evidence of this comet being conscious.
That was to say up until that moment.
Nap was suddenly traveling through space. Except it wasn’t him. He was a nothing but a head and a long tail.
He felt like a sperm.
He hoped that Comet wasn’t offended. They had been in communication for about five seconds and he’d already compared him to a space sperm. Why had Earth decided to send up him up here anyway? Of all the people on the planet they decide to send the one guy who would immediately compare the killer comet to a sperm.
Was that insecurity he felt? It was an unknown feeling to Nap so he had no frame of reference. All the time his sperm-like body plunged through galaxies and nebulas, stars too numerous to count, black dwarfs and white dwarfs and Sneezy and Dopey. Nap laughed and realized that Earth couldn’t have sent someone less equipped for this ride.
And the emptiness. Holy shit, the endless emptiness of space.
Back in the ship Madonna and Chance tried vainly to wake Nap up from whatever sleep he’d entered into. He was rigid, eyes wide. They had found him floating into things, banging his head and whatnot so they’d strapped him into his chair and slapped him and yelled his name to no effect.
Nap felt something rummaging through his memories. Suddenly there she was, Madonna, hindquarters splayed and all the good bits visible. There was the fortune cookie girl … hindquarters splayed and all the good bits visible. He realized he seriously needed some diversity in his fond memories.
He moved the rummager into some pictures of forests he’d walked through and mountains he’d climbed. The rummage seemed disinterested and tried to return to attractive girls with their hindquarters splayed and all the good bits visible.
Nap then tried to do some rummaging of his own. The rummaged becoming the rummager, but all he found was cold. The coldness of space. A pervasive feeling of loneliness punctuated with black holes and supernovas, stars singing at a pitch of a trillion hertz and planets where it rains molten glass.
But mostly emptiness.
Then he was back in his own recollections and he realized that nothing he’d seen in his few years of existence on a single planet could match the comets. So he focused on his interactions with others. The orphanages he was raised in. Pets he’d owned. Attending sporting events. His first kiss. The countless people he’d killed.
He’s been asked by numerous people to approximate how many people he’d killed in his life but the topic had never really interested Nap.
It interested the comet.
The body count was impressive, they scrolled by one after another for what seemed an eternity.
“Most of them really deserved it” he found himself trying to say aloud.
Finally Nap was able to wrestle the presence in his head to more wholesome interactions with his fellow men. Laughter. Joy. All to the soundtrack of David Bowie singing Peter Shilling’s Major Tom. “This is my home. I’m coming home.” Maybe not a great time for his subconscious to poke its head up.
“Does being conscious presupposed a subconscious?”
And finally, back to the hindquarters splayed and all the good bits visible.
He felt warm.
“Comet? Can I call you Comet?”
Nap’s mind was filled with a creature. Tremendous in size. Towering. Completely alien and seemingly plucked from the furthest reaches of science fiction. What he didn’t know was that it was a tardigrades, a microscopic animal found on Earth and brought here by hypervelocity space dust billions of years ago. It crashed around inside Nap’s head but he was completely unaware of the importance of what he was being shown.
Then it was his turn. One thought to convince Comet to change direction and not smash into Earth.
He was back on the airplane.
The clumsy flight attendant and the food cart. The collision between the cart and his knee. How much it hurt. He exaggerated the memory and his knee went from throbbing to an excruciating injury.
“Do you feel pain?”
Now he was moving through an asteroid field. The smaller rocks vaporizing upon his approach. Plowing through them without a care in the world.
Nap wrestled back control. It dawned on him that this was his last chance. Earth’s only chance of survival.
He imagined every single person on Earth in a huge field. Waiting for their friend Comet the comet to fly by. To wave and send good cheer. He pictured the scientists lined up in front of chalkboards explaining in great detail, through numbers and charts, their plan to put their new very best friend Comet in an endless orbit around Earth so it would never be lonely again. He pictured small children holding up hand-painted signs with hearts on them. Attractive females with their hindquarters splayed and all the good bits visible. There’s never been a last chance that wasn’t improved with that visual.
Nap snapped back into reality. Back in the ship, Madonna and Chance each looking at him with apprehension. It was as if they both knew that this story only had one more installment.