And there we are
by Kim Goldberg
Looking back on it all, it is as though I was stranded aboard a shuttlepod trapped in a decaying orbit around a moribund planet without enough fuel or insight to achieve escape velocity. I pushed buttons, logged plot points, watered the arugula in the shipboard biodome as though the mission was still in progress, with a purpose that would mean something in the end. I ignored the approaching craters. So slow was their expansion, I could pretend I was simply in a holding pattern. And then you came aboard, teleported through the titanium hull. Or perhaps you were there all along, stowed away in the air-recycler. Or maybe you are the shuttlepod itself, my reality-husk handspun from prismatic filaments of my own hair. Whatever. You take control of the guidance system (which wouldn’t be hard if you are, in fact, the shuttlepod) and alter the course heading.
It seems all wrong. We are going deeper in. I have no confidence. How can this ram-thrust toward disaster achieve a positive end? We struggle (for years, according to the ship’s log) but not too fiercely, as it turns out. For beneath the churn and spew of river run, my dipper-faith (that pinfeather submarine in my breast) is quietly threading its way between the stones. The gyroscope gimbling below says this is a stable heading despite all optics to the contrary.
The pockmarked surface of the planet is about to swallow us. I close my eyes, brace for impact but feel only the skin on the back of my head wanting to peel away from my skull. I look up and see stars smashing toward us. You have somehow steered us off the crush at the last moment, parabolicly arcing us back up toward an outer orbit, using the planet’s own gravitational force, stretching it like a rubber band until it slingshots us off on a new trajectory with enough recoil that we can at last break free from the gravity trap of this damned planet (which turns out to be our salvation in the end, so there is some kind of a message here about suspending judgment or loving ourselves or being big enough to contain contradiction). And yes, we all saw that Star Trek episode. But that was the great thing about Star Trek—it was never really about outer space.
But wait. We are not done yet. Not while I’m still locked in this far-flung shuttlepod shooting etheric rapids, dodging howler fields and elephant swales, chasing this swelled mango of a universe begging to be split, known, named, tasted. And my shuttlepod has become a dull blade in the back, a whalebone corset, its own electric cliché dumbly blinking in a hydrogen haze of seven infant suns raggedy-dancing up a ridgeline at daybreak. It is all that stands between me and whatever-is-not-me. I want to touch something bigger than the buttons on my console. I was going to offer a clever contrivance at this point. Perhaps: “So I peel off the shuttlepod like a soiled sock, like a debutante’s gown…” But this stiff husk is already gone, vanished as soon as I touched its rusted strands, heard the treefrog peeping from the mossy crust of rotted fencepost.
Yet somehow (and I do not remember doing this) I managed to take the shuttlepod’s guidance system with me before the craft blinked out. (The guidance system would be the best of you, I suppose. Although you may really be me. But I still think of you as “you” when I miss you, which does not happen as often as it used to). I apparently folded it into a series of ever-smaller triangles as one might fold a flag when putting it to bed for the night. And this infinitely tiny wedge (for the folding will go on forever—it’s a sort of Zeno’s paradox) now seems to be contained in a small medicine pouch sewn from my own excess skin and strung around my neck, beneath my clothes, beneath my remaining skin, beneath my skeleton even. And there we are.