Author: Michael Hopkins
Dr. Arden Hart floated through the airlock into the International Space Station IV.
“Well, well…daddy’s little girl finally made it.” Captain Gianna Moralez, the ranking office on ISS IV, hoped her new recruit would get sick. “So you have Doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and agricultural engineering. And you’re up here to study the weather?”
“Yes,” Arden said.
“Couldn’t figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up?” Arden floated towards the Captain to shake hands and was met with a stiff arm to the chest. “Or, you just couldn’t figure out how to make daddy happy?”
“I’m sorry, Captain,” Arden snapped back, “I missed your educational background.”
Captain Moralez got nose to nose with Arden. “I would match my Tech School Degree and 28 years experience up here against your green ass and alphabet soup credentials any day.”
The two other astronauts, Eun Jung Gwan and Antonia Petrov looked on and knew better than to come to Arden’s defense.
“Suit up Hart,” the Captain said. “You, Lieutenant Petrov, and I are going out to perform a status check on the orbital debris shields. Dr. Gwan will man the control room.”
Hart wanted to object but said nothing. She started towards the suit room.
“Hold up Hart,” the Captain said. “You got a brand spanking new suit. Are you good to assemble it? The O2 mini tank and CO2 scrubber are pre-charged.”
“I’ve been trained,” Hart said.
Antonia Petrov smiled and told Hart to call her Nia. “I’m EJ,” Eun Jung Gwan said with a handshake. “Be ready in fifteen minutes.”
They made their way out of the station to begin the task of checking the 200 debris shields protecting the orbital laboratory.
“500,000, Dr. Hart,” the Captain said. “That’s how many pieces of loose junk are orbiting the earth.” Hart wanted to tell her it was more like 550,000, but let it pass.
Two minutes into the project, Hart heard a panicked voice in her helmet. “Hart! Hart! Are you there?” EJ was frantic.
“I’m here,” Hart said. “What’s up?
“Simultaneous suit malfunctions. Both the Captain and Nia are unconscious. CO2 levels jumped to 10,000 ppm and are continuing to rise. They’ll be dead in 10 minutes.”
“How the hell could two suits malfunction?” Hart said. “Any new system updates?”
“Updates every day. But I can’t fix anything from here.”
Hart ignored protocol, untethered, and pushed across the station to Captain Moralez. She tethered to her and made her way to Petrov, and attached to her.
“Status?” Hart said.
“13,000 ppm,” EJ said. “Both dead in three minutes.”
“It’ll take at least seven minutes to get these two to the southern airlock,” Hart said. “I’m going to hose up to both of them. Meet me there.”
“Don’t do it, Hart,” EJ said, “You’ll all die.”
“Get ready to pull us in,” Hart said. She needed a trifurcated connector for a three-way hook-up. She remembered the damaged Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) she was assigned to fix. It was only twenty feet away and would have the junctions she needed.
Hart took the pistol-grip wrench from her belt, zipped out four bolts from the CATS unit, took the value, and made the three-way hook up. Her oxygen supply would keep Moralez and Petrov alive, but she would also lose consciousness in a minute.
Hart snapped her titanium carabineer back to the ISS and slinked around to the south side. She could see that EJ had the airlock open. Blackness crowded out her vision and she passed out.
“Wake up Hart,” Captain Moralez yelled.
Hart saw the other three astronauts sitting in the airlock, helmets off.
“Petrov your incompetence with the suit maintenance almost got us killed! Hart, our CATS is floating in space, and you performed non-regulated suit mods on a walk for god’s sake. As for me, I’m screwed for taking a rookie on a project walk without a checkout run. EJ you should report us.
“When Hart went off book,” EJ said, “I turned off the comlink. We’re still in blackout. They’ll do a manual connect in ten minutes.
“EJ, totally against regulations,” Moralez said. “If we don’t figure out a plausible story all our asses are going to be shuttled back and run out of the agency.” She looked around. “Anyone have any ideas?”
Hart raised her hand, “I have one.”
Moralez stood up. “Okay genius, let’s hear it.” The Captain smiled and offered a hand to Hart. “Welcome to the team.”
Author: Michael Hopkins
Author: Michael Hopkins
The root scurried across the garden and stopped. I had just dug and chopped it free from the ground, ripped it up with my bare hands, and threw it to the side. I was clearing some new space behind the old barn for potatoes, garlic, onions and other underground edibles.
The plot of land was sure to be fertile; a compost area on my farm where for years I had been dumping my failed CRISPR experiments. Discarded bacteriophages, gRNA plasmids built from E. Coli DH5-Alpha cells: a viral gumbo I thought would amalgamate with the existing organic and inorganic minerals: chicken droppings, cow manure, coffee grounds, food leftovers, and grass clippings. The spot had direct sunlight most of the day.
The root was pale brown and had four eight-inch legs, a gnarled horizontal body, topped with a bundle of thin tendrils twisted into a head and mobile antlers that fanned out in all directions. It stopped, faced me, self-assured.
My knees cracked when I stood.
It charged and leapt into the air.
I’ve always had great hand-eye coordination. My swing caught the root right on the sweet spot of the hand trowel. It launched in a long arc up and over the barn. I thought I heard it scream, a baby’s voice.
I dashed around the barn to find it. My foot caught on an old, buried piece of rusted barbed wire. I fell, hit my head on a tree stump, and blacked out.
I opened my eyes, and squinted at the bright sun. I was paralyzed, stuck to the ground.
The root moved around me.
It shoved portion after portion of something into my mouth. After each helping, it put a tendril to my head and triggered me to involuntary chew and swallow. I recognized the stuff being crammed into my mouth as the mushrooms that grew in the compost. The root’s active tendrils were stained blue.
An hour after the root stopped feeding me I regained use of my body and sat up. The mid-day colors were extraordinary; I could see the leaves of the trees breath; the breeze was a beautiful music; and the clouds performed a synchronized dance. I dug my fingers into the ground and felt the earth as an extension of my body. I was one with every living creature, every star and galaxy in the universe – pure bliss.
The root and I connected. I now knew its name was Craig.
Craig and I worked twenty-hour days in my lab. He sat on my shoulder. When I was uncertain about a next step, Craig would climb on my head, dig his tendrils into a few spots on my skull and I would know what to do.
Three months into our project I began injecting myself twice a day with the genetic goo we made. Craig just dipped in his trichomes. We both changed.
The water in the toilet bowl swirled; it took three flushes to get rid of all my meds: lisinopril, atorvastatin, lamictal, metformin. I never felt better…except for the warts.
Rough bumps grew everywhere on my skin. The smallest were pinhead sized, the largest about the diameter of a quarter – one or two inches high. Some were white, some red, others blue.
Craig led me to the woods behind the county reservoir. With my new claws, I readily dug a big hole, a grave. I got in and pulled the dirt over my body until there was no room for me to do anymore. Craig scurried above me, with some new helpers, and finished the job.
A heavy summer rain saturated the ground. The dirt around my body became moist. The growths on my skin extended, detonated, in all directions: biophysical renovators, mycelium.
I was home, reunited, at rest, yet restless: samsara. New realms rushed through me.
In time the world would follow.
Author: Michael Hopkins
It knew itself as awareness. No center. No end. Awareness. It did not know its name. It had no I. A perturbation arose – from where? The agitation expanded – a significant change. It grew. It caused disruption – a point of focus with hope for discovery – all new concepts for it. It asked why. It hoped it would speak its name.
Scientist arguably decided that the universe was billions of years old. From the pinprick of the big bang it was expanding in all directions at the speed of light. Intelligence, as measured through the development of languages (approximated at seven thousand) were starting to disappear. But as the dialects of man dwindled, with increased attention to the universal tongue of mathematics, the languages of animals were discovered and categorized: the song of whales, the chirps of birds, the movements of bees, the barking patterns of dogs. Beyond these, the languages of what were once thought to be unintelligent objects made themselves evident.
Aspen trees with their interconnected root systems, and ability to sway in the wind, which freed microscopic cells to be carried through the air to others of its type, were found to send messages of drought and fire over hundreds of miles.
Mycelium roots were determined to be the largest living organisms, connecting and communicating over thousands of miles.
The movement of the wind and seas, thought to be results of physical phenomena, such as changes in atmospheric pressures and the gravitational pull of the moon, were discovered to be complex dialects, with messages that gave rise to the climate transitions on the earth. The oceans, the large lakes, the small trickling streams carried their messages across the earth: water evaporated, molecules transmitted their utterances through the sky, the wind moved these codes, depositing information, to receptors, with rain.
The name of a god was thought to hold a final power; to know a god was to speak its name. Christ. Allah. Shiva. Vishnu. Elohim. Elah. Shangdi. Maykapal. Bhargava. Surendra. To know this name was man’s purpose for existence; its discovery, spoken aloud, as a prayer, would bring the purpose of man’s existence to an end.
Hebrew intellects searched the ancient texts for the all-encompassing name of god. The many representations all had their purpose. The Tetragrammaton YHWH: Yahweh: Jehovah, a piece, yet incomplete. The art of Kabbalah merged with the complexities of equation to divine the name. But it was the final discovery that gave the greatest hope.
Geologists agreed that the most inanimate of objects were alive – and had language. Stones spoke. The earth’s landmasses, once a single unit, had split into continents: separate parts that yearned to be whole. The 500,000 detectable earthquakes every year began to shape into an alphabet. Many, perceived by only the most sensitive scientific instruments, were seen as a constant chatter: words, sentences, and paragraphs. The largest destructive quakes were theorized to be shouts of pain, calling to their distant pieces. The religion of Gaia: a sentient earth, characterized these as soulful cries of longing across the chasms – lost love.
The earth went silent. As decades progressed with no quakes, the geo-linguists (a science to some, a religion to others), developed more precise instruments and found the mountains themselves spoke. The utterance of a single syllable took years. A word – centuries. The meshing of science and religion turned from the subatomic world for answers, to the macro, the large, the most visible of physical entities. It gave man hope that in the study of these ancient beings, the purpose of creation had focus, and struggled to speak the name of god.
Society, with its diverse economies, competing philosophies, anxious religions, and growing technologies, served to further divide man, rather than make them whole. Peace was always torn at its fundamental fabric by war. Love was subdued by hate.
When the sun grew in size by twenty percent (a surprise event that would reshape the theories of astrophysicists – if there were any to see it), all organic life on the earth was destroyed – in an instant.
The rocks continued to talk, for thousands of years, in the quiet of a dissolved humanity, and moved toward the first utterance of god’s name. When the sun expanded again, the earth was gone, vaporized – its quarks, fermions, and leptons, pulled apart, separated forever, blown in all directions to chaos, to nothingness.
It sensed the loss. It asked why. It wondered if it had a name. It became as it was before. It knew itself as awareness. No center. No end.
Author: Michael Hopkins
Olivia told me she saw a double rainbow. She said it just as she stepped through the front door. Water dripped from her long brown hair onto the wood floor entryway, she said it was a sign from god, an answer to her prayers. This was after she saw the funnel cloud, raised her hands to the sky, and prayed that the tornado would shift direction away from our Wisconsin house. The storm intensified; eighteen people were killed one town over.
We watched whales off the coast of Cape Cod. Olivia held her hands over the water. I need to calm the tides, she said, I’m getting sick. The waves disappeared. Praise the lord, Olivia said. Seven humpback whales and three fin whales beached the following day: dead on arrival.
This heat is oppressive; I can’t breathe, Olivia said as we lay on the pristine white sand of Siesta Key Beach in Florida. She raised her hands and the air cooled. The next day a red tide swept through the area. Thousands of dead fish, turtles, and a few dozen manatees washed onto beach.
It was in the boundary waters of upper Minnesota, a place far off the grid, that helicopters found us. Olivia was sedated. I will ask god for deliverance, she said to me before her eyes shut.
Make her love you, they had ordered; you’ve done it before. Have some fun, they said. In a few months, the bio-electric mycelium DNA in her brain will have spread. She will forget her identity. You will be her control panel. Orders for deployment will follow.
She was more than a person altered, weaponized, to control the elements. Her innocent belief in a higher power, something much greater than herself, endeared me to her. Her crooked smile, the magical fragrance of Rive Gauche perfume. An angel I wanted to protect from being turned into a demon. A woman in whose arms, I felt safe.
They reinserted a tracking chip into my neck, a new scar next to the one where I cut one out three months ago, when I took Olivia away. I was ordered to report to the Arkansas base in three days. I asked for a ride. They told me it was out of the way, not their problem, they said.
I watched the copters fly away. Heard the chuf, chuf, chuf of their rotors. Then, too soon, silence. An explosion. The cloudless sky glowed red, flames crackled.
It started to rain. Torrential rain.
I stood watch at the wood’s edge. She would appear, I was sure if it. Praise the lord, I would say. Yes, praise the lord, she would answer. We would hug, I would whisper in her ear the name of a far-off country, where this time, we would never be found.
Yes, she would say, just us, we’ll drift away. People will say I remember them; they were so much in love.
In the rain, I waited, watched, and prayed.