Leaf

Sun shines
Birds call
Squirrels run and trees rustle

We lay
Leaves fall
One lands right upon your nose

You sneeze
I smile
The world sighs and it is right

Travel

A winding country lane. You know the sort. Hedgerows on either side. Bendy and narrow, miles and miles from anywhere and definitely no streetlights in sight. No artificial lights at all…. except for your headlights.

You’re playing music over Bluetooth from your phone. There’s no mobile signal here. Let alone any data. Spotify is out, you’re relying on what you have stored locally.

Sure, you could put the radio on but then you’d be connected. You’d know you’re still in the world. You need to just be alone for a while.

Driving down these unnamed country roads, occasionally passing a farm where the lights are off. If anyone is there they’re fast asleep at this time.

You find this relaxing. It’s just you and the car. No signs of modern civilisation. The stars are clear and the moon is full. What more do you need.

You’ve been driving for hours now, you start to wonder if you’ve switched to a different universe, because anything at all could be happening. It’s a pure escape.

A glow on the horizon. A city is now on the horizon. You sigh. Streetlights. Cars. People. You switch back to the radio. You wonder when you’ll find time to do it again.

Silence in a storm

Inspired by The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel

I stood. Looking down upon the streets, as hundreds walked past. I could see the blue of a phone screen infront of them or, if not that then headphones. There was sun. There was silence.

There was noise. Birds chirping, people talking or laughing. But noise was all it was. The sounds didn’t matter to anyone but the one making them. There was silence.

Clouds darkened the sky, and still the people walked unseeing, uncaring of what was happening all about them. The silence continued. The skies opened and rain comes pouring down. Thunder crashes and lightning flashes. Still the silence reigns. No-one caring, except that now the people are carrying umbrellas, or wearing coats. Obscuring from on high the sight of the earbuds.

As a peal of thunder crashes I scream. The thunder fades, the scream fades. I scream again, without the thunder. And still the silence holds. I wonder if others are doing the same. I don’t look to find out.

I leave the roof, go down to the street. I put my headphones on, pull my hood up, and walk. The Silence was undisturbed.

Silence at 200km

Ever since the first days of humanity, we have been fascinated by the stars. By the blinking lights in the sky at night, by the massive light that rises in the morning and sets in the evening. We mythologised the ones that moved, assigning them the status of gods like Mercury, Jupiter, Mars. We grouped them into constellations, seeing patterns among the random scattering. As we stared, we learned more about them. As we stared, we learned more about the universe, from their motions and from their light. We moved from calling them gods to calling them lumps of rock, or balls of gas. Our understanding grew. And as our fascination grew, we dreamed. We dreamed of the day we’d send probes up there. Maybe even men.

In 1957, we launched Sputnik 1. It was meant to be the first probe to orbit the earth at a height 215km. Except as it hit 200km above sea level, it vanished. The signals stopped. The Russians assumed it had been lost for some reason. An engineering defect perhaps, after all nothing had gone that high before. No debris was reported or found.

The near success of Sputnik 1 started the space race.

Sputnik 2 rapidly followed, with the engineers having tweaked the designs in the hope it was simply a manufacturing defect. It too, disappeared. The US tried too, and again at 200km it also disappeared.

This caused the scientific and engineering communities great concern. Nothing in the theories or models predicted anything that could destroy a probe at 200km. Probe after probe was tried, and they all failed. No signals were received after a probe reached 200km. Religious communities seized on this failure of modern science, trying to portray it as a sign that science was wrong, that it didn’t know everything.

The Space Race ended, inevitably, when both sides agreed that the 200km phenomena needed cooperation to resolve. And so that lead to today, where we’ve worked together to engineer a rocket capable of reaching almost, but not quite 200km, and capable of sustaining life for a time so we can report back what can be found, as our probes are evidently incapable of detecting anything.

As we launch, I’m in constant contact with mission control, as is my one crew mate. We both know the risks, that we might not see our loved ones again. As the rocket lifts us up we keep looking ahead, straight out of the window to see what, if anything we can see. The altimeter in the corner of my vision is counting upwards. 50, 60, 80, 100, 150. The rockets cut out, momentum should be enough to take us to our desired height now, at which point we’ll just maintain altitude. As we hit 199km we can just see space. It’s beautiful. It’s exactly as we’ve always seen. Below there are clouds, and in some places ocean and land. It is beautiful.

We know what we need to do. Our sensors, and senses, report nothing unusual. Looking at each other, and with a silent nod, we tell mission control that, against orders, we’re going higher. Silence in response.

We go higher, and higher….. the altimeter ticks over to 200.