November 4, 2005
I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to go to the moon. Away from the blue sky and thunderstorms. Away from the gray asphalt streets and concrete sidewalk. The kids and their kickballs. Bounding between the craters, under the black nothingness, the pupil of God's eye. Aloft in a rocket. Riding the flame. Rising up. Past the sky.
Houston, it looks dangerous. And we are dangerous men.
I would miss my home and my family as all adventurers do, and sleep in my space bed.
I would dream of my room on earth. But I would grit my teeth and be strong.
Houston, it is unknown out here. Houston, we are lonely.
And I would be the first man to put down my foot, and mark the endless universe. One foot and five toes. I am here.
Because we all know that past the black nothing,
is where they've hidden the holy spark of our heart's desire.
November 6, 2005:
I dreamt about a girl.
November 19, 2005:
Went to the south pole.
"Do you believe in fate?"
He puts the soldering iron back into its stand. A thin line of white smoke rises from the tip.
With a toe she wheels herself on the metal stool closer to the lab bench. He's eyeing the controller board. Green and bristling with components. Desk lamp reflecting joints bright silver and clean.
She says, "You doing anything for dinner?"
"Probably working. Gotta catch up."
She picks up a pair of snippers. "What's this?"
He takes it from her hand. Puts it back next to the soldering iron. "Need that." One last resistor. Or maybe ten. Depends on whether or not the pull up was all he needed to clean up the signal. Could need a few more decoupling caps. He's got three left. Once they're gone it's back to mail order and waiting two weeks for the package to arrive via CHCH by guard mail. Then it's sitting around waiting. Breaking not broke stuff and making more work for everyone.
Last time they waited for parts Ben told him to get out of the lab. He hasn't seen any of Antarctica. Go outside for a hike.
That's where they met. That's how he got into this thing with her.
What is this thing?
"But you gotta eat sometime. Right?"
He's going to tell her there's a powerbar in his backpack. He's going to tell her it's enough.
He's thinking to say it when he does, unconsciously, what he's been avoiding consciously. To look at her. Eye contact.
Do you believe in fate?
It's like a camera flash that obliterates what can be seen and leaves spots. Everything goes off track. What is the communication bandwidth between two eye-coupled people? How many bits per second? What's the average energy of the signal against the background noise?
"I, ah..." he says.
She's pouring into his eyes. Simple shapes. Curves. Circles. Ovals in fractal patterns that self repeat. All abstract math. Chaos theory. Not one thing linear about a woman.
"We could go over to the galley together," she says.
"I've got a powerbar in my backpack."
She looks at the floor. Disengage. It goes cold behind his eyes so he should just shut up. But he thinks - let's try an experiment. Watch:
"But I can save that for lunch tomorrow."
She smiles. If there was a spectrum analyzer handy he could measure the signal intensity. It's got to be a kilowatt. One second. Two seconds. That's two thousand joules, right there. Could run a controller for a month on that.
"Let's go over," she says. Wraps a pinkie around his. Some kind of tiny nirvana at his finger tip. So not like the feel of a wrench or a quarter-by-twenty bolt.
One second. Two seconds. She slides off the stool. Now he sees what she is wearing. Something rectangular in her cargo pants thigh pocket. Three. Four. He can see the part in the hair on the top of her head. The weave in her sweater. A pebble that dislodges from the tread in her shoe. Thin marks on her earlobes where the earrings must go.
She says, "Come on."
Do you believe in fate?
"I don't believe in fate," he says, because it would invalidate everything else he thinks about the world.
"It doesn't mean things aren't meant to happen," he says.
"What could happen?"
She doesn't let go of his hand until they go through the lab doors and into the frigid Antarctic air outside.
November 21, 2005:
I dreamt about her again.
I'm always not good enough.
I miss her so hard it hurts to get out of bed.
I remind myself it hasn't happened.
But it won't stop.
December 3rd, 2005:
There would be snow. Billions of individuals fused into an ice continent. It would be firm, like pavement. So cold even street shoes wouldn't lose their grip.
The air would be sharp and turn every breath to mist. The sun would be dim but merciless like the stars in space.
I'll steel myself against the elements, and trudge forward into the white nothing, and find her there. Just below the faraway and forever. Toward a solitary pixel of color on the vast arctic screen. All of my warmth and heart in that minute atom of existence.
I will run the last few steps. We will know each other in the first second.
And will drench each other in an embrace.
And sinter to crystal.
"Okay. So. What are you thinking?"
The brilliant white sea is covered in chunks of clear ice and upthrust plates of compacted snow impossible to glide over. His thin cross country skis are no match for the frozen rubble. The only hope of staying upright is to keep his skis in the tracks worn on the frozen ocean by the passage of snow machines that traverse the miles between McMurdo and Willie Field.
White Island pierces the horizon ahead, low and jagged, encased in glaciers.
Thinking to answer her makes him lose concentration. His ski catches on a hard crystal ripple.
Falling is not so much the body hitting the ground, as the ice coming up to meet him. The impact knocks the air out of his lungs.
A ski pops off. Falling onto his poles, a point jabs his leg.
"I'm thinking I don't know how to ski. I should have stayed in."
She glides over to him. Retrieves his loose ski. Helps him to his feet.
"Big baby. Come on. It's just another type of walking."
She fiddles with his ski binding. Opens it up. Sets the ski in front of him.
She says, "Okay. There you go."
And the moment of eye contact, it's solid and feels like a door latching, tight in his throat - makes him think that everything has brought him here - the sum and total of his days and efforts, he couldn't have changed it, and it was all for this moment, this now.
He's usually great with words, which keeps him silent. He could succumb and say the things that stream into his mind but he's not brave enough. Doesn't believe it enough.
"I have..." he manages to spit into the frigid air.
She gasps a little. Laughs a little. Puts the back of her glove to her mouth and looks away.
"...these dreams," which he's never said to anyone but paper and unsent e-mail before. Sounds so odd, his voice on the air, a strange thing to say.
How weird, she seems to be saying but silent, now staring at a spot in front of her as she kneels on the ice and helps him on with his ski.
She pauses just long enough for him to see her stop, the start again. Now he's afraid of what he might have started.
He says, "I've been dreaming about her since I was a kid. Don't know who she is."
"That happens," she says, then pointing to the green buildings on shore, "Let's cut over to Scott Base. I'm getting cold."
And then hanging onto the strap as the shuttle van climbs the gravel track to McMurdo she asks, "What is she like?"
It's been a while since he mentioned his dream. He could ask who she means and deflect the question, but he's getting comfortable with her next to him. He says, "Little taller than you. Different color hair. Different eyes."
"That really narrows it down," she says.
The van jolts through a large pothole in the gravel road. It gently slams her against him.
She says, "Sorry."
He says, "For what?" and means it.
She shrugs, he thinks. She looks beyond him toward some of the other people on the shuttle and says, "She's pretty. Maybe it's her."
He turns to where she's looking.
"No," he says. "Not her. Dream girl's not in the program, far as I know."
"Harsh continent," she says.
And when they turn in their skis she's heading back to her room. His is in the opposite direction. He takes a few steps with her anyway, and she stops and faces him.
"What do you dream about?" he asks her.
She purses her lips. Shakes her head slightly, slowly. Says, "No. Not now." She holds out a hand, he takes it, instinctively, and she shakes it as if they've just met. "Thanks. It was fun."
She walks away.
He says, "Hey."
She walks away.
He says, "Wait."
She walks away. Each step another thousand miles.
He thinks - don't go - prays to wake up.
Never good enough.
She goes through the doors.
He's already missed her for decades.
And helicopters take him with his science crew to a remote science outpost to sink their experiment in the Antarctic ocean, so the crew can collect their scientific data, and he's hundreds of miles from her.
He's got no words in him so he's not writing in his journal.
And the underwater ROV works and he's hundreds of miles from her.
Not internet blogging so far away. Far as dreams with no color. White with black.
And the data comes in - amazing spontaneous serendipity - creatures older than humanity no human has seen are crawling before them on LCD television: telepictures from the deep down robot camera, far away.
The crew is taking notes. Typing e-mail. Discovering things hidden by God billions of years ago for people to find just now. Raising their voices in excited conversations. Everything is going better than expected in his gray shapeless world.
He's tending the data stream in an olive drab tent above the dive hole when it starts to snow.
The wind grows fierce, and the tent rattles, a ninety-pound weakling daring the heavyweight to knock it down. In the end the wind will win. The invincible lonely force has run over this land for millions of years and doesn't know they're here unlocking nature. Will hardly notice if it extinguishes his tiny soul fire.
He could disappear into it without a trace. And no one would know or remember except for the glitch in the data that streams from the hole in the ice to the satellite in orbit above them.
Then she sends him a message. Her name as sender from an untouchable world appearing in a window on his cold laptop.
He has to take off his glove to click. Hitting the wrong keys, his hands stuttering in the cold, unable to aim his numbed fingers.
Four words from a dreamworld distance. He closes his eyes and opens them to make sure he's not imagining.
Opens the e-mail.
*I dream about owls*
He marks the days in camp. In the dead time he finds what he can. Mythology. Ornithology. Biology.
Who knows what. And what is where.
Network bits beamed from space through ion-propelled military satellites.
Barn owl. Screech owl. Phylum chordata. Subclass neornithes. Order strigiformes.
The sorcerer's bird. The harbinger of evil. Protector of children. Angel of death.
Reverse engineering his own mind, dreams in a petri dish; a woman is the dream that becomes her, becomes a predator, owner of perpetual night.
"What are you figuring out?" Ben's in from the outside. Pulls off his gloves and shoves them in his parka pocket. Takes off his coat. Hangs it on the peg. "You're studying something pretty hard."
One of the assistants is boiling dinner in a big pot of glacier water. Steam fills the cabin in beautiful warmth.
"Owls," he says.
And Ben raises an eyebrow. "Going zoological?"
"Let's finish with the foraminifera first. You caught some good ones on the cam today. Can you upload the video before dinner?" Ben says, heading toward the boiling pot on the camp stove.
He grunts and nods. Keeps scanning the internet. Searching. It's there, buried. He knows.
Blindness and desolation. The carriers of the souls of the dead.
Snowy owl. Little owl. Horned owl. Spotted owl.
Lifting a veil on his dream memories, or has he changed them all to fit?
Barn owl. Ural owl. Joseph Owl.
There's no thread of logic between him and her birds but the only way he can sleep is to tell himself there is. He'll find it.
It's so easy to get dreams wrong. For your whole life. Night after night. Dreaming about someone who doesn't look like her.
But now he knows it's not how she looks.
His careful return e-mail says, *Okay. Maybe I can see you when I get back, before I leave* because he doesn't want to be too forward.
Because who knows how anything in a dream really looks? And one person's dreams are not another's.
And he doesn't believe in fate.
She's waiting when the science team returns to town. She'd searched the helo manifest and found them. Radioed the pilots to make sure he was aboard.
After the rotor blades come to a stop he's collected his orange duffle and is barely off the helipad when he sees her. He drops his bag. She comes into his open embrace like falling. Everything he thinks is gone in glorious chaos.
First kiss or the millionth. Lovers for thousands of years together again after a century's absence.
"Woah. That's some greeting," Ben says. Ben tosses his gear into the back of the pickup and climbs up. The rest of the team follows, unloading their field gear from the bird onto the waiting pickup truck.
"Hell-oo Christine," Jeff says as he passes them with arm loads of science gear. "Don't bother saying, 'hi,' or anything. I see you're busy."
Chris makes a girlish squeaking grunt. Her eyes stay closed, lips touching, parting, brushing past John's.
Judy stacks another box on the truck bed. Says to them, "When did this happen? John. You have some explaining to do," and she climbs aboard with the gear.
When they stop eye contact is deep and comfortable. Could stay here and not look away for days.
"Get a room," says Tony, climbing onto the bed of the pickup with a couple more pelican cases of gear. Smirks and says, "Thanks for helping us unload."
John can't think of what to say. Feet solid in his boots, boots on the ground, ground cemented to the core of the earth, earth to the sun, sun to the universe.
When the rest of the team is on the truck Ben says, "Guess you guys will be walking," to John and Chris, and he bangs the side of the pickup with a fist. "We're good. Let's go." The truck starts with the crunch of gravel and dust, up the hill to the lab.
John slings his bag over his shoulder and he and Chris start trudging, hand in hand. No particular hurry.
He says, "What's with the owls?"
John says, "I've been dreaming of you since forever. You have owls. There's not a lot of happy mythology around owls, you know. They're the bringer of bad news."
Chris says she knows. She says it's not like she chose it or anything. It's what happens.
"So, please tell me you don't have any bad news for me," he says when they get to the stairs leading to his dorm.
She kisses him again. Then,"they tell me about you."
A guy pushes past them. "Some people. PDAs."
John says, "Maybe I'm bad news?"
Chris's eyes glisten bright.
She smiles and nods quickly. "Very."
And from her next kiss they could be anywhere, always.