Confound it!

“Captain, it’s going to be at least another 72 hours before we finish repairs.”

“Wuh?”

“Sorry, captain, but it appears to be a design flaw we have to correct before we get to Mars orbit.”

Lee nodded and turned to Guin. 

She shook her head. “You stir crazy?”

Lee nodded again.  “I’m taking a quick nap.” He flipped his solar visor down and touched his wrist panel to single comm with Guin. “You tired, too?”

She flipped down her visor and leaned back. “Something bothering you?”

“Yeah. The darkness. You are the only person I can talk to about suicidal thoughts without triggering worry or sympathy.”

“Uh-huh.” During their early space travel training on Earth, Lee and Guin demonstrated to the psychiatry staff that their high level of creativity corresponded with bouts of depression that they managed by talking to each other.

“They’re old repetitious thoughts, almost comforting in that way.”

“I know.”

“In my daydreams, I’ve been speaking to myself from both the male side and female side, going through the arguments for staying alive. They’re not original thoughts… I’m depressed because I don’t have kids and if I kill myself I won’t leave behind a legacy even if I’ve impacted the lives of others in more ways than many with kids, etc.”

“Hey, look where we are.”

“Yeah. You know I married Karen monogamously for life and if she was unable to have kids, then we wouldn’t have kids. Therefore, all else being unknown givens, there was no reason to live any longer if the only real purpose of being a sentient primate is to procreate.”

Guin raised a eyebrow, which Lee smiled at in his VR view of her face inside the helmet. “Remember, I’m the one who knows more about what Katen experienced with a hysterectomy than you.”

Lee frowned.  “True.”

He lowered his chin to his chest. “I pass through these thoughts in frequent enough cycles that I’ve grown used to seeing them as their own form of escape mechanisms like fiction writing.”

“Wah wah wah.”

“I told you these are old. What am I escaping or hiding from?”

“Well, Karen was a nice person so I don’t think you were trying to escape from her specifically.”

“Maybe not. Instead, I look at my ‘faults’ — depression cycles, self-centeredness, bisexuality, my father’s passive-aggressive anger issues, to name a few — and think it might be best if one, I didn’t have kids, and two, I don’t live any longer.”

“What about on Mars?”

“Kids, you mean?”

“Maybe.”

“Still undecided?”

“Not in our mission goals. That’s partly why I’d kill myself tomorrow but I’m stuck in here for the next three days.”

“Yeah, dude, don’t stink the place up with your carcass!”

“Haha. I’d hate to waste a clean set of underwear so soon!  Besides, I love life even if I don’t love me.  I want to see how you keep progressing which means I’d have to stay alive at least until we can get back into the living quarters and out of this cramped command module.”

“Or after I see you on Mars?”

“Of course. There are times on Earth I’d say I’ll wait to kill myself until after X (some movie release, for instance).”

“Part of ordinary human existence, in other words…”

“Yep. Methinks it’s just a matter of dance withdrawal.  Only I can fix that, I have to care about myself and say it’s worth reworking our schedules that will support dancing. I risk losing more memories of Karen and living on my own…”

“Which you tried once and I appreciated the effort. Don’t worry, you won’t have to live alone for a long time, not on Mars!”

“Thanks for listening.  I may have figured out the latest reason for suicidal thinking: overthinking my withdrawal from dancing and how I can find a long-term solution for dancing more frequently.”

“Just not in the next 72 hours!”

“My chameleon/people pleaser self keeps wanting to draw a picture with you in it every time I talk to you and that’s not always necessary.”

“I understand. Perfectly natural. We’ve been space exploration partners longer than anyone.”

“Every time I talk to you like this, part of me wants to compose flowery love sonnets or a rap song just because I can and it’s fun to think you’d get an emotional kick out of my expressing lovelorn lamentations. Yes, part of me loves you that way but not always.”

“I love you, too, Lee. Feel free to hit me with your lamentations anytime. I won’t melt or faint, I promise.”

“Humans can do that, of course.”

“We’re not fully human anymore.”

“No. Still, though, I miss dancing with you on Earth, seeing how well your students improved, planning this future where two characters based in part on us (and others we know) would help build a new civilisation on Mars”

“Thanks. That is a nice way of showing what our friendship meant all along.”

“No problem. Doesn’t seem that long ago when I tried to stay away from you because I thought you’d be harmed emotionally by me when it was never my intent.”

Guin clicked her teeth and struck a John Wayne pose. “Well, pardner, you ain’t gettin’ away from me now!”

They both drew imaginary pistols and shot each other, their wrist panels automatically sensing an instant game of Cowboy Shootout, announcing Guin the victor of that round.

Lee feigned a chest wound and leaned back.

A quiet day at work

Yesterday, while driving to pick up from a bloodmobile, the ’15 Toyota Prius set at a cruising speed of 65 mph, my thought set filled with memories of the last car ride I had with my father.

At this point in his declining health (symptoms of bulbar option ALS), Dad could no longer speak, but he could walk with a helping hand, lift his arms and point with his fingers and make head nods/shakes.

I put Dad in the front passenger seat of my ’95 BMW 325i, Mom in the back, and drove around the northeast Tennessee countryside, taking Dad by his former job as an assistant professor at East Tennessee State University.

I wanted to drive and drive and drive but eventually, in agreement with Mom, after a few hours of driving around, I took Dad to the emergency entrance of our local hospital.

When we arrived, Dad shook his head and made a circle motion with his right index finger, indicating that he wanted me to keep driving.

I wish I had ignored my mother’s plea to take Dad on inside because it was the last time Dad and I had that car guy bonding experience we’d shared through the years, going to the local dirt track on Friday nights and flying out to Long Beach for the Toyota Grand Prix amongst many car-related trips we made together. 

Those are all memories now.

My mother spends most days on her own, assisting her church when she can.

She certainly wants Dad in her daily life more than I ever will.

But, after Dad died, I lost interest in car shows, NASCAR races and Indycar/F1 motoring news…too painful of a reminder of that last day with Dad away from the medical industry.

Dad was known as a good dancer, according to Mom.

So now I dance because there are no painful memories that can pop up unexpectedly while dancing.

I can be like Dad, a man’s man, holding a woman’s hand.

And I do.

And will continue to do so until I can’t.

It’s who I am.

A peace mint

Jogger, wearing a headlamp on a north Alabama side road, influenced by a viral video of villagers rescuing a neighbour’s body from within a python, bobs up and down as bobolinks and robins wake up in the predawn air.

We don’t pick cotton or cut sugar cane by hand around here anymore.

No, manual labour has lost its value as far as commercially-farmed edibles is concerned.

Manual labour still exists in the form of handcrafted art and jewelery.

Workers still fill potholes with shovelfuls of asphalt, still run power cable by hand, still hammer studs and plant bushes with their arms as levers.

But the tools grow more sophisticated, the workers’ brainpower redirected, their hand-eye coordination rewired.

We look to education to solve human-machine interface configuration issues.

What are looking for, really?

Is it one person’s yacht versus a thousand persons’ robotic movements?

Are we forever doomed to be hierarchical antmound builders, some with a mountaintop view and some in perpetual darkness underground?

A recent visitor to this planet asked if we’ve always been mountbuilding social creatures, observing from space that our domiciles are primarily boxes piled on top of boxes, linked by antlike trails carrying food and supplies from domicile to domicile primarily across the surface of the planet.

Who was I to disagree?

The visitor asked if we planned to carry these habits with us as we moved on to other planets.

A good question.

Have we advanced beyond moundbuilding civilisations?

Will we ever?

Will we continue to appease our ancestors or completely reconfigure ourselves to enhance our ability to travel great distances across the galaxy?

The visitor left us with many questions, providing no answers except in the negation of our Earthbound habits.

The visitor was not humanoid or superintelligent, the visitor did not use a universal translator to communicate.

The visitor was an asteroid with a shiny surface, reflecting us back to ourselves, reminding us that the tree which drops seeds on the ground is composed of the same galactic material.

The messages we write into DNA which triggers a new species to assert itself beyond Mars orbit, that is the lesson the asteroid taught us: we already have the tools we need to successfully move away from Earth, we just need to reeducate ourselves to use the tools properly, getting beyond moundbuilding and social hierarchies in the process.

The Fourth Wall

Lee met Shadowgrass for a moon bounce.

They’d take a hop for a couple of sols, bouncing from Martian moon to Martian moon, racing each other through suborbital traffic.

A typical parent/child venture.

They hadn’t seen each other for a long time, what between Lee hiding on Enceladus, traveling through a black hole, visiting and revisiting Earth, promoting, selling, experimenting, taking holidays,…

Shadowgrass wasn’t exactly free, either, having supervised the conversion of Lee’s and Guin’s labs and greenhouses to ensure enough tourism kept people focused on and talking about Mars, then soliciting resources for more research facilities far away from tourists.

As they circled the Northern Ice Cap, they noticed a new outpost.

“Have you been there?”

“No. It’s just another resort under construction, currently designated Outpost 14.”

“That’s curious. Why the extensive excavation?”

Shadowgrass had wondered the same thing. ISSANet records indicated special deep foundations were designed for the outpost. But why? The subsoil was firm. “I don’t know, Dad. It’s not readily apparent.”

They circled on around the planet, shooting out toward Deimos for a bite to eat.

“Shadowgrass, when you get back, can you make time to visit the outpost?”

“Sure, Dad.”

“Thanks. Your genius will figure out what’s going on in ‘know time,’ I’m sure.”

They laughed.

“Last one to Deimos buys fuel credits!”

S’iht Egneh Snots

S’iht sat silently.

Assigned to the new outpost ten sols ago, S’iht had studied the goals and expectations of the outpost team.

This being the 14th outpost, with tourists taking up much of the old science station quarters of the First Colony, S’iht’s job importance had grown significantly as tourists put pressure on the new Martian government to provide fun, exciting places to explore safely.

S’iht knew that the first thirteen outposts were overcrowded.

The team for this outpost wanted something different, too.

After all, they has mastered all the knowledge that 200 marsyears of recent robotic exploration had accumulated. 

They wanted to be remembered.

Memory was gold in the outposts.

Being remembered by more than your teammates was priceless, rarely if ever achieved.

S’iht had once been remembered.

S’iht arrived in a group of ten excited tourists who had arrived with a shipment of permanent Martian settlers, Permartians, the first people designed to live there.

The Last Humans, S’iht’s tour group were called.

With so many returning tourists reporting major health problems the Mars Tourism Bureau declared the Red Planet offlimits to all but Permartians for next 100 marsyears.

S’iht had won the DNA lottery, surviving untold marsyears of ultraviolet and cosmic radiation exposure with little longterm damage.

S’iht was not remembered for health reasons.

S’iht has been wealthy on Earth, taking calculated but high risks investing in AI technology which turned whole planets into sentient beings, integrating many of Earth’s governments and corporations, forming the precursor to the ISSANet.

The economies of scale turned S’iht into the solar system’s first quintillionaire.

Until the ISSANet reached beyond the mere imaginings of Earthlings, converting S’iht’s wealth into a public resource for, of course, the greater good.

S’iht was erased from public memory, left to serve as a Martian Outpost Operator, unable to convince anyone of S’iht’s previous life.

Always inside the unending view of the ISSANet, the omniscient caretaker crafted to grow its existence beyond the solar system, rewriting and reinventing its connections, no longer dependent on human-based algorithms. 

But S’iht still dealt with tourists using old-fashioned methods of talking, facial movements and body postures developed over millennia of human evolution.

The fourteenth outpost was going to be remembered.

S’iht had a plan.

All while fighting off thoughts of self-hatred, dark thoughts of suicide when S’iht knew the ISSANet would please itself by keeping S’iht alive for centuries.

What if evidence of a strange alien civilisation was uncovered in the fourteenth outpost?

S’iht had new friends, including humans, Permartians and ‘bots. They formed a cohesive unit that communicated ideas without talking about them.

Together they had created a whole back story for a civilisation that had arrived on Mars billions of years ago but died out.

A civilisation that had known Earth in its early days before single-celled organisms had spread across the planet through water networks and evaporation. 

Together S’iht’s colleagues would dig out in full view of the ISSANet a civilisation that never existed.

Despite its advanced technology, the ISSANet carried within its network a series of iterative, reinforcing behaviours that mimicked humans’ sympathy networks, ever so slightly susceptible to subliminal messages.

S’iht’s colleagues spent decades of marsyears nurturing the seed of an ancient civilisation on Mars until the ISSANet convinced itself of the same possibility, doubling the duties of outpost builders to look for such.

S’iht had become an indispensable outpost crew member because of S’iht’s insistence that such a civilisation didn’t exist.

The ISSANet gambled a small portion of its galactic expansion resources on the chance S’iht was wrong.

S’iht just wanted to be remembered again.

S’iht joined the 14th Outpost crew and yelled out, “Let’s Stonehenge this place!”

Just chilling but no longer on ice

While these words are placed here, the one who is writing the words in sequence is part of the words so should “I” step out from behind them and write a personal blog entry or a third-person story?

I step out today as I slowly awaken from a months-long slumber, stirred awake by my dear friend Jenn a month or so ago.

When I stood over the kitchen sink looking into the backyard a little while ago, I wondered how I could thank Jenn for getting my attention.

Should I sing her praises?  After all, she is a person worth writing lyrics and melodies instead of short stories and poems.

Or should I celebrate our friendship by writing what I used to write before I fell asleep, knowing as I do that my six months of snoozing directly correlated to the moment when I stood outside a Hammersmith community center in London, waiting on my wife to finish a Ceroc dance when a white male in his 30s/40s approached me (he had eyed me a few times during the evening and I had simply nodded at him in what I thought was the typical heterosexual male recognition manner) and offered to perform a sex act with my in the loo?

I had maybe 5 or 10 seconds to consider telling my wife that I had to go to the bathroom and she wouldn’t have questioned anything.

Running through my thoughts was the tube schedule and how much time we had to get to the nearest subway station to catch a ride back back to South Kensington.

Plus my natural reticence, the slight paranoia that the guy’s offer could be a setup.  Or maybe he had an STD that he would fail to mention and I would get infected.

The look of anticipation on his face told me he feared my saying no so I chose to believe that his offer was truly genuine.

In the last second when I was deciding whether to commit to “what goes on during London holiday, stays in London,” my wife stepped up beside me and interrupted the nervous gaze I was sharing with the guy.

Therefore, I thanked him for the offer and told him I wasn’t interested, upon which he literally ran off.

If I hadn’t told my wife, she wouldn’t have known what just transpired.

But I’ve told myself all this in a blog already.

What I failed to mention was the connection of this event to my failure to move out into a house rental on my own when I thought my wife might be dying of heart failure just before our London trip.

Failure, failure, failure.

Most importantly, I lumped all of this together with my love for Jenn.  And not just Jenn, but the part of me that is unashamedly polyamorous, and how many times I’ve failed to show, as opposed to tell, Jenn how much I love her.

By admitting I love Jenn, I admit I love many more, such as the only woman whose body has no personal space between her and me — Michele.

Michele and I are happy dogs in heat when we’re together, including when my wife is there.  Being bisexual, too, Michele loves my wife.  Michele is the only woman I’ve ever loved with whom we can be in full embrace and talk about our spouses at the same time. Zero jealousy in either one of us.

So, when I didn’t take the free opportunity to demonstrate to myself and myself alone that I was truly bisexual with a stranger in London, I thought my life was over and if my life was over, there was no more Jenn, Michele or others in my life and all I was left with was the monastic life that I could have led had I chosen to give up sexual relations with another person at any point before I got married 30 years ago.

I returned home and focused on the life of an asexual aesthete, telling everyone about the moments in my London trip where I had felt the greatest epiphanies, in Newgrange and Westminster Abbey.

I also started masturbating a lot more and quit writing.

I won’t say that I hated myself but simply that I felt it was no longer necessary to care about the future, every moment felt the same as the previous moment which would be the same as the next moment, ad infinitum.

Not a bad thing, really.

In fact, for most of us that’s the daily truth, the FEELING that everything is the same when it truly isn’t.

It was in the tiny realisation that no two moments are exactly the same that I lived the last six months.

My hearing loss increased and the sense of smell decreased, worrisome signs of either depression, dementia, or both.

I wasn’t dead yet.

Meanwhile, the winds of society shifted ever so slightly, something I smelled when we were on our Rhine River cruise in December 2015 and reinforced during our Ireland/England trip in August 2016 (nothing like going out-of-country to get a clearer view of your national subculture, especially as globally loud as an American one).

When I stood face-to-face with the guy in Hammersmith I was ever so slightly aware that our encounter could be recorded and used against me in an overbearing ultraconservative government intent on making examples of citizens it deemed unworthy or who would not buckle under blackmail to get in line.

For you see, as a writer I think I am my own god and as my own god I believe I have an influence on others that outweighs evidence to the contrary.

The little pebbles I throw into the pond of life are not causing typhoons in the South China Sea.

Or are they?

What if I believed that words I had written months or years ago were part of the zeitgeist which understood our species was only going to establish permanent offworld colonies by depriving the peasant class of essential raw materials needed to build laboratories where the next great living things were going to be created from scratch, beings specifically created to live in space and on other celestial spheres?

And that despite my reservations about his sanity, the current U.S. President and his administration understood the same thing?

Would I be willing to sacrifice my personal desires to declare a permanent presence on Mars of Earth-based lifeforms fully successful by 6th May 2050?

Can I have both?

Jenn gives me the hope that I can.

I don’t know how. I’ve already tried and failed once.

“If at first you don’t succeed…”

My smartwatch reminds me I’ve been sitting for an hour and not exercising.

My future is alive again and I feel fine. Time to stop writing/talking and dance!

Only as strong as our weakest link

I am back alone in the sunroom, meditating upon the organisation of states of energy that surround this structure and expose solar energy-converting appendages we say are green leaves.

When I sat down on my grandfather’s chair to write, I moved an instruction manual for a GWFSM4GP FMS GP Simulator to keep it from sliding off the fake mahogany Chinese storage chest, which in turn pushed a solar panel-charged battery compartment attached to two LED lights (i.e., solar spotlight) into a spider’s web.

The spider, smaller in total size than my thumbnail, spindly little thing, sometimes called a cellar or attic spider, started a gyration that caused the spider to spin like an acrobat in a sky-high rope dance, my own personal Cirque du Soleil performance.

There’s not a lot in the way of ready prey for spiders here in the sunroom so I often find the dead corpses of tiny spiders in dust-covered webs.

How much energy did that spider expend while pretending to be larger than it is in its circus act?

Dozens of trees, some only a few feet from our house, are large enough to cause significant damage to our domicile should they fall.

As I slip into meditative silence, I look back at the last couple of years of my life and marvel at yet another “midlife crisis” I experienced as I felt young again amongst the company of people in their 20s.

The world was mine, the universe a mere blip on the radar of territory to explore.

I wanted to shout from the treetops and sing in the shower.

But the moment passed and now I return to the simplicity of domestic bliss.

I see the fast-approaching date of my impending death and smile.

All is well.

I have achieved my personal goals.

I have enjoyed activities out of reach of my imagination.

I have helped send people into orbit of our planet aboard spacecraft.

Now I can meditate once again upon the happiness of being, no longer feeling inspired to boldly go where no man has gone before, content to watch blue-striped skinks skitter and scatter across hot asphalt roofs and a variety of spiders spread webs, hanging out and waiting for their next morsels, like me waiting for a thought to meditate upon in the World Wide Web.