This is a photo comic of my short story “I was a Translator for NASA”. It will be posted one page a day or you can get the full pdf version for “name your price” on Gumroad.
They came from deep space, hurtling through our orbital plane at such tremendous velocity we thought they would be gone before we got more than a brief look at them. But then their trajectory shifted. As they shed speed in Saturn’s gravity well, eighty-three satellites focused on the two objects. Ovid bodies, covered by near-black armor plates, a single “head” plate covered the blunt end of their bodies, near the tapered rear two “tendrils” extended backward, twisting and flexing as they changed course. From Saturn, they looped around Venus for a final course correction, before heading toward Earth.
Five hundred years ago, we invented the Gravity Wave Space Drive and the solar system became our new frontier.
The two creatures that had traveled untold distances in lockstep, now separated in Earth orbit. For several weeks they called down to Earth with bursts of radio chirps, squeals, and tones. We think they were searching for others of their kind. The two reunited and drifted into a higher orbit. They turned their bellies toward each other, armor plates parted, lifted, opened allowing them to join as one. Together they slowly spun as they orbited Earth. Three days later, they separated and returned to their previous orbit.
Gregor Snadbar is credited as the inventor of the GWSD. Just twelve years after gravity waves were confirmed to exist, he found a way to bend and warp them around an object to create lift.
Six months after the space whales’ romp in orbit, one descended to fifteen thousand feet over the Pacific Ocean. The plates around its tapered end parted and something fell. The blue green-brown object tumbled through the air for what felt like hours but it was less than a minute before it righted itself and flew back up to its parent. Four more fell and flew over the next six hours. When the parent began to ascend two days later, the calves followed into the upper atmosphere but would not or could not follow into space.
There are children’s stories about whales flying through space, coming to Earth, and teaching us to ride gravity waves. Those were just stories, right? Surely if alien creatures had visited Earth we would have recorded it.
The calves are miniature versions of their parents except where they are solid black, the calves have pale blue undersides and green and brown molted backs. Camouflage from predators perhaps; but what could prey on small-airplane-sized creatures?
Perhaps their first visit was much shorter, just long enough to find an empty nest and for us to observe them bending gravity waves. Short enough for us to forget. But someone remembered. Someone remembered who we owed for giving us the solar system. They remembered and turned it into a story.
In five years, the calves have doubled in size but are still dwarfed by their parents. We think it’ll be a few decades before they can leave Earth’s atmosphere maybe longer before they leave the solar system. Their parents come down into the atmosphere on a regular basis to spend a few days at a time with them. The rest of the time the calves wander around the planet, riding jet streams or skimming through clouds. They keep their distance from planes and rarely come closer than several hundred feet of the ground. There are websites and apps to track their movements. Even an animated show for kids.
Perhaps this time we won’t forget them.
I had an encounter tonight.
Part of my walk home goes by a church parking lot. The sidewalk has a bit of grass on either side between the street on my right and the church parking lot on my left. As I was walking by I saw a police suv in the parking lot, which is not abnormal but this one was parked across several parking spaces.
So, I glanced at it a few times and one of those times I saw something move in the periphery of my vision. I looked down at the motion and there was a small black shadow moving around. For a second I couldn’t resolve what I was seeing then it turned and I saw a shock of white fur. It was a skunk less then five feet away with its tail up. I jogged a couple of steps diagonally away from the skunk into the grass by the street. When I glanced back the skunk was hiding under a car.
Several weeks ago I saw a skunk in a bank parking lot but from a much larger distance. Tonight’s encounter was a lot closer than I ever wanted to come to a wild skunk.
My first breath was deep and sweet. It filled me with life and thoughts. I laid still on the ground breathing in and out. A Voice said, “Wake Up,” so I did. Bright sunlight filtered through the leaves of the tree I laid under.
Sun, leaves, tree. I had never heard these words yet I Knew them.
“Come,” the Voice said.
I stood and followed the Voice into a clearing. Animals of all types surrounded me. I was not afraid because I did not Know fear. An animal approached me and bowed its head.
“What Is It?” the Voice asked.
I reached out to touch the animal’s forehead. “Deer,” I said Naming the animal.
The deer raised its head and bounded away.
“Good,” the Voice said and I felt good and loved.
Animal after animal approached me and one by one I Named them until none were left. I laid down under a tree and breathed in and out. A squirrel ran down the tree and buried a nut. Nearby deer grazed in a meadow. Sparrows flittered from branch to branch overhead. A thought collected itself in my mind.
“What am I?” I asked the Voice.
The presence of the Voice grew greater. “You Are Me Made Flesh. I Merely Spoke The Sun, The Moon, The Stars, The Land, The Waters Above And Below, The Sky And All Animals That Walk Fly And Swim Into Being. But You Are Special. I Molded You And Shaped You From The Earth And I Breathed Life Into You.”
“Is that why I know Words?”
I thought about this as the sun traveled across the sky. As the sun reached the boundary between sky and land, a new question formed itself. “Who am I?” I asked.
The Voice was pleased and happy. “You Are Yourself. Chose Your Name.”
I thought of all the words I Knew and selected one.
“I am Eve,” I said and it was Good.
“What did she just say?”
“She said her name was Eve.”
“But Adam was the first man. How can there be an Eve before an Adam?”
“The game is programmed to adapt to the player’s gender identity. Its standard game design.”
“This isn’t a game. It’s supposed to be a recreation of The Holy Bible.”
“Well, regardless it’s unethical to override a user’s gender without their knowledge and since the ‘recreation’ includes memory blocks and no setup screen, remember you wanted the ‘recreation’ to start with no title screen, there’s no way to get consent.”
“So, what happens next? Adam is created from her rib?”
“That’s not how the bible goes. Fix it.”
“I can’t without either loosening the memory blocks or adding a title screen.”
“The whole point is for people to experience the Garden of Eden and the Fall From Grace first hand. Wait, if she stays in the recreation will the serpent tempt her or Adam?”
“Adam. We found that in playthroughs with women only 40% would be tempted by the snake but 90% would be tempted by their in-game mate.”
“At least it’s always Adam and Eve.”
“Well, we can’t override the player’s sexual identity without consent either.”
“So, what happens if a gay man enters the recreation?”
“He would enter the game as Adam and eventually another Adam would be ‘created’ from his rib.”
“No, it’s ethical game design.”
Death was a shadowy figure, standing in front of three identical doors. “Choose,” they said.
“Am I dead?” I asked. Thick fog obscured the world beyond.
Death inclined their head ever so slightly, extended an arm towards the doors and said once more, “Choose.”
I paced in front of the doors. “Ok, so these doors lead to like different afterlifes, afterlives?, or rewards or punishments, right?” I stopped and held a hand up towards Death. “No, don’t answer that.” I resumed pacing. “They could also all lead to the same place as some sort of metaphor about humans not having free will.” I stopped again with both hands held up. “Don’t tell me.”
I turned to study the doors. All three were plain wooden doors with a regular door knob on the right. No locks of bolts. I looked closer at the patterns in the wood grain. Was that a face on the second door? Whose face, my fathers? No, he wasn’t dead, yet. But maybe this was happening outside linear time?
“Hey, do I have to chose now or can I think about it for a while?”
“Chose,” Death said again in their monotone reverberating voice.
“Can I glance through the doors first?”
Death leaned back as if considering my question. After a minute, they nodded. I heard three sets of clicking and clacking as the three doorknobs turned. The doors cracked open.
Behind the first door, I saw a living room. Pleasant music drifted out. Seated on the sofa was my grandmother knitting the sweater she hadn’t finished for me. On the coffee table, a spread of cookies, homemade, sat.
Behind the second door, I saw a street. People walked back and forth between street vendors and food trucks that lined the street. Others sat in the shade talking, laughing, or just resting contently. Distantly I could hear a band playing on a stage.
Behind the third door, I saw a black void. As a stared into it I began to see shapes without borders and hear sounds that bled into each other. It was empty of meaning but full of potential.
The doors closed. I turned to Death. “Thank you, for letting me see what was on the other side. I’m ready to choose now.” They said nothing.
I walked up to my choice, opened it, and stepped through.
Inspired by this writing prompt: https://deepwaterwritingprompts.tumblr.com/post/185891958305