This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
It is a summer evening, and warm. Not hot here in the hills, but warm nevertheless, and the power goes.
You shut off the computer before the battery dies on you. For a moment you think of reading by the emergency light, then think again. The damn light always gives you a headache, and when the power returns you have to get back to work. You have a self-imposed deadline to beat.
It is the warmth indoors that makes up your mind for you. Outdoors it will be more comfortable, at least. You step through the door into almost complete darkness. No moon, not tonight. Damn, again.
For a moment you want to go back in. But the night is warm and fragrant, and the sky is pricked out with dazzling points of white. You stop and look up at the sky. It’s been a long time since you did this, you tell yourself. And the last few times, the lights of the town blotted out most of the stars that were.
Tonight, there are no city lights; there is not a cloud, not a starlit patch of grey, or a black opaque mass blotting out the sky. There is only the black ceiling of the night, and the dazzling points of a million stars. You look up at them and find yourself suddenly lost.
Half a lifetime ago, you stood like this with a man long dead, a man whom you called father, and he pointed out this planet and that constellation (you can see one of those constellations now, the Plough, and is that Scorpio?). You had stood on a summer night not too different from this one and were introduced to the sky. You feel a sudden wrenching desire for that man, that time. You wish you could have that time back.
High above, a few degrees above the hill-defined horizon, where once, many years ago, you had watched the two-tailed patch of light that was Comet Hale-Bopp. Just there, you see the dot of red that is Mars. You remember the photos from the explorers: the pink sky and the rust-red rock, the barren plain. You remember how tiny the sun looked in the photos from the planet. You wonder if someday within your lifetime there will be a chance to visit the planet. Or maybe it would be a good thing if there were never any such chance; the human cancer should be confined to one planet, you think. One planet is damage enough.
A tiny point of light arcs past Mars, swiftly crossing the sky. It’s a satellite of some kind, perhaps an American spy satellite, with cameras digitally recording the tiny lives of ordinary human beings with an eye like that of god. Your eyes track the satellite until it reaches the zenith; and there is the great faint band of the Milky Way, layer on layer of starstuff, great star clusters of millions of glowing points, and you wonder what eyes might be staring at you across the parsecs and wondering who might be looking back at them. At that moment you want immortality and a chance to roam the realms of space forever.
A long, long time ago, there was a comic of some kind, and on the back of it was an ad for the film of Star Trek. The Starship Enterprise, bejewelled with lights, going boldly ‘where no man has gone before’. How would that play out in reality?
Suddenly it happens; a streak of light, green and silver, flashing across the sky. It is a meteor, of course; that long-gone man had shown you the first meteor of your life, and you remember that one, too, and smile. You have watched many meteors since then, but it’s been years since you lost touch of the Leonid and Perseid Showers of your youth. Who ever had the time?
A soft cold wet nose nudges at your hand. You stroke the warm head, and the large dog stands happily by your side, pressing her body to your thigh. You stroke her head and watch the Cosmos, and remember a poem by John Jakes:
Where no man has gone before Venture boldly now, To the blazing sea of stars Point the shining prow. Range the neverending dark Seeking life’s undying spark Out beyond all matter’s end Bear the race that comes as friend. Light years beyond the last red sun Leave the mark of men Then turn homewards, towards the day You set forth again.