Peter called from the couch, “The last reportings of a black hole is the story you just told me.”
“What about satellites?”
“One minute,” COMM spoke. Less than five seconds passed. “I found 1,916 satellites in our solar system.”
“What about outside of it?”
“You say you don’t know where black holes lead?” Peter asked.
“No.” The image on the screen filled his heart with dread. “They might lead to nothing, just a black space of nothingness. No life, no light, no time, nothing.”
“Kind of makes your blood run cold, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” he answered.
COMM returned, “Sir, I found one-hundred-and-three satellites outside of our solar system.”
Cochner rounded the couch but did not sit down. “Do any of them carry any information about a black hole in their solar system?”
“One of the one-hundred-and three that I found contain information about a black hole.”
His heart raced. “Can you get a picutre?”
Peter leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. He looked up at Cochner, then at the screen.
The bookshelves on both sides disappeared to provide more room. The picture expanded from end to end. The sun burned bright through the screen door, but the picutre darked the off-white walls. Peter’s eyes dimmed again at the sight of the monster he peered into. Both men’s fingertips went numb. Cochner did not want to know where that hole lead. No man could look into its eye and maintain any sense of hope.
COMM broke the grim silence: “In 2102, the solar system was named the Red Sea.”
“Because the planets are split into two sides during their orbits around the sun, like when Moses parted the Red Sea,” Cochner finished.
Peter could not look away from the image. Cochner was back on the Perseverance. Three planets were on the right and three on the left. The sun floated in the center. Beyond that, a dying star.
But that was over one hundred years ago, he thought.
“At the end of one star’s death in its solar system,” COMM said, “the information I’m receving is that another star not from it is also dying.”
The image of the black hole was replaced by two exploding stars. The naked eye could see those stars collapsing on each other like two gouged out eyes. In the center, there was no light. Just black.
Peter shot up. “How did you get back here? Where’s your ship?”
“I landed in South Dakota.”
He ran down the hall, into the bathroom, and brought out the orange suit. “You’ll need this, won’t you?”
“Are you suggesting that I go into that thing?” He pointed at the screen. “Can you tell me what’s inside there?”
He lowered the suit in his hands. “It’s your only option.”
Cochner wiped his mouth. “No one knows the consequences of going back in time, if it’s really possible.”
“What are you talking about? It is possible. Didn’t you read that article?”
“Sending a message to the past is different than sending a human. No man has dared go back in time because he doesn’t want to ruin it. It’s fixed, it’s already happened how it should have happened. The past is not meant to be tampered with.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”
“You can’t prove that black holes allow you to go back in time. What if I’m sent to a new dimension and can’t get anywhere?”
Peter held out the orange suit. “Sir, knowing what you know now, about immortal fertilization and how overpopulation isn’t an issue, do you wish you never went on that mission?”
If it weren’t for his blue eyes, it was Parker standing before him, holding out his orange suit. It was his son pleading withim to do everything in his power to make it back. “Yes, I wish that,” he whispered. “I don’t want my son to let me go.”
Peter took a step toward him. “He already did. But what if you had the chance to take those words from him?”
Cochner looked down at the suit. Rank sweat marks coated the inside. A faint, sour odor wafter into his nostrils. Wrinkling his nose, he took the suit from Peter.
“What if none of it works?” Cochner voiced. “What if I come back here three hundred years later?”
A small smile reached Peter’s eyes. “Your grandson will still be here.”
“Peter, should I get ready the jetsor?”
“Yes, COMM, and you’re coming with us. Do you know the coordinates at which you landed in South Dakota?”
“It’s programmed into the suit.”
“Good. Give them to COMM.”
Peter went back down the hall. Cochner gazed up at the ceiiling, trying to find where COMM was located. Just after he put his orange suit back on, the front door opened. A petite woman with blonde hair running down the mid of her back clutching a small silver purse entered. She screamed at the sight of Cochner.
“COMM! Intruder! Intruder!” She shouted at the top of her lungs as she pinned herself against the wall. “COMM––!”
“Kate, it’s okay!” Peter rushed down the hall. She latched onto him with delicate hands. “Kate, calm down.”
“Who is he, Peter?” Her chest heaved up and down. Cochner saw her knees going weak.
Peter caught her. “He’s my grandfather.”
“What? You don’t have a grandfather, Peter. No one does.”
“I do, Kate. Breathe. Take a deep breath.”
After three short hiccups, she closed her dark blue eyes and breathed. She let go of her husband. When she opened her eyes, she looked right at Cochner.
“How is that possible?” she asked.
“It’s not,” Peter told her. He looked to Cochner. “No naturally, anyway.”
Kate’s brow furrowed. Noticing the look the two shared, she eyes grew wide again. In the living room, she noticed the projector-tel. “What is that?”
“A black hole,” Cochner answered.
“What’s a black hole?”
Peter grabbed both of her arms, squeezing gently. “He’s going to find out.”
The sentence produced an ounce of worry in Kate and Cochner’s faces. She asked, “What do you mean, Peter?”
“It would take too long to explain right now, and we need to get to South Dakota.”
“Why on earth would you need to go there?”
“To get my ship.”
She turned to Cochner. “What ship?”
“Kate, listen to me.” He place two fingers under her chin and rotated her head to face his. “You can ask as many questions as you want when I get back. If he’s able to leave today, I should be back by tonight. Right?”
“So, don’t worry. Everything is okay. He needs to get back to his son, my dad.”
“Your dad is dead, Peter.”
The statement visibly affected her husband. His calming expression turned into a slight frown. “I know, Kate.”
She glanced back to Cochner, then to Peter. “Okay,” she said. “I turst you. Please be back tonight.”
“You can count on it.” He leaned down and kissed her. She closed her eyes and hugged him. “Love you.”
It was obvious she wasn’t totally convinced, though she returned, “I love you, too.”
Opening the front door, he said to Cochner, “Ready to go?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be, I guess.”
In the driveway sat Peter’s jetsor. To Cochner, it resembled a compact jet built for two. A sportscar to the upper-class. He imagined the upper class today consisted of all the four billion here. In the back of the jetsor sat a chrome machine that folded down from the ceiling. Half of it was a screen and the other half was a sleek, flexible chrome body. That half bore the name “COMM.”
“It’s nice putting a name to a face,” Cochner said to the machine.
The screen showed a picture of two men shaking hands. “I’m a fan of formal meetings, as well, sir.”
“Call me Landon. You too, Peter.”
“Very well, Landon. Are you ready for take off?”
Cochner buckled himself in and did everything he could to relax. “At the moment, yes. In a little bit, I’m not so sure.”
The flight lasted one hour. There was no point in looking out the window at the scenery because it was green and brown, like a skid mark on a kid’s shorts. Cochner was aware that the speed of air navigation was increasing, but he wasn’t aware it could go this fast safely. The entire ride he had a white-knuckle grip on both arm rests. Peter enjoyed a cup of coffee and a magazine. COMM played soothing jazz while he flew the jet (Peter said that was COMM’s favorite type of music).
Cochner had an underlying fear that the ship wouldn’t be there. Surely someone came across it and reported it to someone. If it was gone, he wouldn’t expect to find it again.
Before they touched ground, however, Cochner identified the Perseverance. Its chrome body cast a glare that temporarily blinded Cochner. A quarter of the ship was buried in the earth from its rough landing. Before Cochner left the ship, he made sure everything was intact. Beside him, Peter’s eyes gleamed like a child’s.
“Wow,” he breathed.
It wasn’t a big ship. When Cochner took it off the surface of the earth in 2102, it was the latest space craft model to date. He knew this because he was one of the primary designers. There were the usual manual and autopilot settings and an array of controls known only to the people that made them and used them. Commonly known as the Perseverance, it was also known as P-21024. Red, white, and blue stripes (for design and identification purposes) started at the nose and ended at its hexagonical tail. In it descent into the earth’s atmosphere, two small trajectory wings burnt off from the rapidly increasing heat. Cochner didn’t think the absence of the wings would interfere with take off or navigating through space.
“You know what I don’t understand?” Cochner said as COMM landed the jetsor thrity yards from the Perseverance.
Staring at the ship, Peter replied, “What?”
“That no one is aware of space travel at all. Everyone I talked to from the moment I landed to the moment I met you, no one understood a word I was saying. It may be extinct now, but how can people forget about it completely?”
“It’s no completely forgotten. There are books, museums––there’s someone out there who knows what Galactic is.”
Cochner was doubtful. It doesn’t matter how old someone is, education is timeless. No one is too old to learn something new. Even now Peter was being educated, and it was clear that he was enjoying every minute of it.
He isn’t the one who has to go through a black hole.
The jetsor touched ground.
Cochner was looking out the window, his stomach digesting itself. “There are museums still?” he asked. “Does anyone go?”
“Sometimes, I think.”
“But not you.”
He shrugged, pushing a button that opened the top of the jetsor. “Every once in awhile.”
The hot sun followed them from Texas to South Dakota, though it was nearing the flat horizon. Peter’s eyes got bigger the closer they got to the Perseverance, as though he could hardly believe what he was seeing.
“Wow.” The expression left his mouth again in a whipser.
A grin blossomed on Cochner’s face at the sight of it. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Peter nodded in amazement. Reluctlantly, he stroked a hand on its hard surface. Despite the heat, the body was cool to the touch. He smiled. “It’s amazing,” he said.
Cochner typed a code on the keyboard bulit into his suit’s left arm. There was release of air as the door opened on the other side. “Come help me get this thing started,” he said.
Peter hesitated. “Isn’t she still in there? Amy?”
Cochner didn’t forget, he simply pushed that horrible thought to the back of his mind.
“What are you going to do about her?”
“Take her with me, I guess. Tom’s in there, too. It would give their families closure.”
Would they need closure? If they made it back to when before they left, would they not be there because they were dead right now? Or would it be the opposite: if they made it back and if Cochner openend Tom’s sarcof-bed, would he be greeted by nothing but the chemicals administered to keep the body healthy and alive? It wasn’t something he had time to ponder.
Still clearly hesitant, Peter followed him inside the Perseverance. In ten minutes Cochner had the main controls warming up. He gave Peter a small tour of the cockpit and that was it. He didn’t want to get anywhere near the death that loomed in the other areas of the ship. It was like a bad omen or terrible dream that stayed a dream if he didn’t confront it.
That fascinated expression came to Peter’s face again. He was overwhelmed by all the controls and information, as well as with sheer joy. It was the expression one had when learning about something he absolutely loved but didn’t know it yet. As Cochner watched him, he remembered what his mother always told him as a child: that everything happens for a reason. Even now––when everything between 2102 and 2256 seemd like a mistake––Cochner believed there was a reason he was in here, with his grandson. A reason beyond his miscalculations. A reason beyond time.
“What do those do?” He pointed at an assemblage of blue-lit buttons under a loading screen.
“Those control the wings on the left side of the ship.” He pointed to an identical array of buttons to the right. “Those control the right side.” He pointed to another set. “Those control both at the same time.”
Peter blinked. “How do you remember all this?”
“It’s my job.”
“You really know every button in here and it’s function?”
His eyes glazed over. He wet his lips.
“Every button, everything in here has a purpose. If anything in here was missing, it would be an incomplete ship.”
“All of this information…” He did a three-sixty, studying every inch of the place. “All of this knowledge…It’s gratifying. It has meaning.” He looked at Cochner. “It’s like it’s not a product, but a human.”
This enlightening statement made Cochner laugh. “That’s a very astute observation.”
A screen to his left blinked blue. A mechanical voice spoke: “Ship is ready for ascent, Captain Cochner.”
“What’s his name?” Peter asked.
“We call him Rick.”
“Rick.” He nodded. “I like that. Is there anything else you need to do?”
“Not until I take off.”
Cochner was the type of man who had a hard time saying goodbye. Peter, on the other hand, seemed to be above the discomfort of sentimentality. He looked at his grandfather with sincere eyes, the right side of his mouth curling upward. He said, “I’m sorry for all the bad news you’ve learned in the past couple days, but it was a privilege meeting you, Landon. An absolute privilege.”
Cochner shook his hand. “Thank you for everything and for understanding. I’m glad I got to finally meet my grandson. You’ve made me an even prouder man.”
He lowered his eyes to his feet. “I wouldn’t say that to someone who’s just a furniture salesman.”
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Outside, the sun was half gone behind the horizon. The blue sky had gradually turned purple and pink. The field blew lazily with the breeze.
Peter ran a hand over his mouth. “Now that I know who my grandfather is––or was––or whatever––I’m not so sure about all that I’ve done with my life anymore.” He gazed at all the controls again. “I haven’t been truly passionate about anything in my life. I literally have all the time in the world. Sometimes I wonder how I would live my life I had an expiration date. If I was mortal. Life is too long to live it in regret.”
“That’s the beauty about your life. You have all the time to do anything you want for as long as you want. All you need to do is find it.”
“After everything I’ve learned today, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve found something. I’m only afraid that it’s a lost art, all of this.”
Cochner placed a hand on his shoulder. “Space is the last frontier. We know everything about earth but nothing about what’s up there. If this all works and I find myself back in 2102, before any of this, before you were even born, I’ll teach you everything that I know. If I get a second chance, why should that mean you don’t?”
Peter’s Caribbean eyes sparkled. There was a double standard to everything, even to an immortal, who might be plagued by regret for all of eternity or who never truly learned to live. Peter brought him in for a warm hug. Cochner could feel his grandson’s heart beating like a hummingbird’s against his chest. Or perhaps it was his own.