by Mike Adamson
When I was a child, I saw a meteorite come down. It was a blazing streak in the night sky, then a concussion that hurt my ears, and next morning my Dad and I walked up from our camp in the last, dying woodlands of Ontario, to find a crater in the hills. I helped him dig, watched his shovel clearing great loads of dry and dusty soil, until we found it.
The piece was small and organic, a fused mass of pitted ironstone, but it had come from far across our solar system, and I treasured it, carried it home in a box, and it set me on my course to space. John Eagle, astronaut, in the days of the dying Earth…. An expert looked at the stone, it was nothing special and I was able to keep it, and a small newspaper called me ‘Meteor Boy’ in a sidebar. But from that day on my path led to science, and thirty years later I was with the crew who chased Comet Enke on her passage. I sampled a snowball from the outer dark, and then they called me ‘Meteor Man.’
I went EVA with my science buddy twenty million miles from home. We spacewalked by the cometary mass for four hours, and no one in this world has ever done that again. We must have been mad, but we touched the stuff of creation and our samples are still studied in a dozen labs today.
That was one of the last deep space survey missions, before all emphasis and funding shifted to building the L5 colonies. We’ll go out there again one day, when it’s all taken care of, survival, the future….
I blink awake in a sterile white room and for long moments cannot remember who I am. I remember who I was, but that’s not the same. The boy who found the meteorite and the astronaut who stalked the comet are not me anymore. Not this man who lies in a bed, a respirator feeding him oxygen as a monitor blips quietly.
Who am I? Something about falling, pain, the sudden notion that time is a circle and fate the hunter. The images are disjointed and my uncomfortable mind searches for easier things to process.
I let the memories come, revel in their detail; fighting through school, winning grades by slogging effort, always inspired by that star-stone on my shelf, and the overwhelming need to escape from the doom to come. It was never easy for First Nations people to make their mark, and the 21st century was no better than those before. But we had lived into an age when skilful scientists mattered, and my chance came. I faced up to the challenge and graduated, my feet left the soil of the ancient land and I walked the sky.
I dream. I dream of the Enke mission, long months of uneventful flight until we closed in on the tumbling mass of rock and ice, and had our glory days. Infinity beneath my boots and the stars of heaven around me…
Sleep is comfort, and when I wake I know I’m in the hospital of Icarus City, one of the flock that trail the Moon. I remember falling now, from the zero-G centerline of the rotating cylinder of the habitat, plunging into Lake Aldrin, which alone saved my life.
A nurse looks in and soon a doctor is with me, and she has an unusual gift. A sphere of plastic set upon a cheap plinth, and in its heart lies what looks like a grain of sand. I’m propped on pillows afresh, and lift a hand to feel a bandage at my cranium where my long, black hair was shaved away…and my skull opened.
“What happened?” I whisper.
“A one in a million chance,” she says softly, a smile lighting her Caribbean good looks. “You were overflying the water when you were hit—not your glider, but you—by a fragment. From outside.”
She takes it slowly, knowing my mind is still fuzzy. “As you know, the station skin is multiple layers of self-healing active nanopolymer. It seals a thousand micro-punctures every day. Most burn up in the air or embed in walls and ground. Environmental nano is repairing minor damage all the time. But this one….” She tapped the strange trophy. “It’s all that’s left of a pea-sized pebble. Most of it shattered on contact with the hull, went in a thousand directions. Of what passed through the skins, some burned away by air resistance, but this mote drove clean into your brain like a just-spent bullet. Sterile, sure, and a wound fine as a needle puncture.” She smiles. “The damage was entirely repairable. I thought you’d like it to go with your other trophy…Meteor Man.”
Maybe that’s always been my nightmare, the doom I’ve run from, that forced me to space. The thought that old meteorite could as easily have landed on our tent as five miles away. Crossing billions of miles of cold space by the interplay of gravity and time until intersecting with a planet, our planet, and not just anywhere, but precisely where I lay…
The scientist in me knew the odds were almost beyond calculation, and had discounted the notion as the fear of a child. Yet here, decades later and far, far away, it seems some cosmic memory of my disquiet makes good my fear with a tap on the shoulder from infinity. Not a lethal punch, but the universe chuckles softly, on some deep and quantum level, tying off the great circle of my life and saying you’ll be fine.
The doctor checks my vitals and leaves me to rest, and the trophy holds my gaze until my eyelids droop, and I meld insensibly once more with my dreams.
Mike Adamson holds a Doctoral degree from Flinders University of South Australia. After early aspirations in art and writing, he returned to study and secured qualifications in both marine biology and archaeology. Mike has been a university educator since 2006, has worked in the replication of convincing ancient fossils, is a passionate photographer, and a journalist for international magazines. He has placed some 165 stories to date, to markets like Metastellar, The Strand, Little Blue Marble, Daily Science Fiction, Compelling Science Fiction, and Nature Futures… as well as an earlier story in Abyss & Apex. You can catch up with his writing at ‘The View From the Keyboard,’ http://mike-adamson.blogspot.