TCL #33 – Autumn 2019

The New Nomad

“Chih-Tih!” Nall squeals, probing the translucent air bladder.

“Yes, baby, Chitlids.” My voice comes out tight. The spring has been so late, so cold—I’d thought we’d seen the last of the Chitlids. But this morning we awoke to hundreds of them, dragging their long tentacles through the air between the swaying dandular trunks.

Nall grasps at a Chitlid that puffs just out of xer reach. Pursuing, xe runs through a patch of yellow irrenes, spore pods bursting, and I hurry after. A rustling from a large spench bush pulls xer up short. A turam bolts from it, long legs and orange spots flashing as it disappears into the dandulars.

“Jaff!” Nall cries, clapping with glee.

“It does look like a giraffe, doesn’t it?” I laugh. “But giraffes are from Earth, baby. That’s a turam calf. Tu-ram.”

“Tuhm,” xe repeats, breathless with wonder, and my heart cracks. The turam’s diet relies heavily on spench berries. As our summers shorten, spench yields drop.

A familiar dread settles in my stomach, as I imagine the day I’ll have to explain to Nall that all the animals xe’s learning to name so lovingly will soon be gone. “We didn’t know,” I’ll tell xer. “Not until you were nine months big in my belly. We didn’t know that a solar system away, a star was collapsing, wrenching Coron from its orbit.”

Past the dandular canopy, our sun shines at high noon, a few dozen light-years farther away than it was at this time last year. Next year, it’ll be farther still. And ten years from now, after the last perihelion, we’ll be too far gone for it to ever pull us back. All the humans on Coron will descend into the subterranean caverns we are fervently constructing, to live off geothermal energy as Coron hurtles into deep space.

I wrench my mind back to the present, to Coron’s surface, where it’s, “nap time!” for this toddler.

I carry Nall back to the habitat as xe howls and makes xer joints all loose in their sockets, trying to slip from my arms. If Nall had xer way, we’d never come indoors. We’d explore gladial patches and hunt cardizes until xe passed out from exhaustion.

Back in the nursery, I dim the walls and set them thrumming with white noise. Nall calms down as soon as xe starts to nurse. Our bodies curl together on the bed, and I bury my nose in xer hair, wishing we were simple beasts. Turam and calf. Ignorant of the terrible future. When xer breathing slows to a snore, and my nipple slips from xer lips, I ease up out of bed.

But as I stand, the room reels. My vision clouds with spots, and I have to fight for consciousness. After a few moments, the dizzy spell passes, and I creep from the room, sealing the door behind me.

I must be anemic again. I’ve been breastfeeding Nall for almost two years now, and I get so sick of the daily nutrient injections. The med-droid will remind me to get my postnatal shots, and I’ll snooze its alert again and again, sometimes accidentally shutting it off for weeks at a time. So I keep making myself sick like this.

Now I summon the med-droid from its storage alcove and press my fingertip to the quick-read sensor, flinching at the prick. My vital stats appear on its face. Iron count could be higher, but I’m not quite anemic. I need some B12 too. One line of my health report is flashing red, and the information there is so unexpected that my brain takes long moments to process it.

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin detected.

For a thousand years, we’ve known that HCG in the blood means one and only one thing.

I’m pregnant.

The Cold Heart of the Sky

The accretion disc glowed from below, lighting Kazban’s way through the vast emptiness. He set his intention, and the ship Celerity responded in flight, drifting toward the heartring.

Before them the shape grew of the greatest station on the heartring, the Palace. It was situated as a set of concentric tori, on a plane tangent to the heartring so that the inner half always faced the black hole called the Heart.

Kazban angled toward the center of the tori, to the docks. A lesser ship would have required a pilot skilled in maneuvering, but Celerity responded to Kazban’s desire, twisting itself toward the port that opened to receive them. It slid its skids into the grooves of the station until the ship came to a halt.

Kazban climbed down the ramp that slid out Celerity’s aft. It had landed among the needle-like machines of the Royal Fleet, composed of brassy-looking alloys shot through with veins of jewel tones. Celerity, the latest the rim could offer, was dusty and dun. She spread out in a boxy V shape. Wires spilled out of her conduits.

Two dockhands came up. Their faces were narrow, and their eyes too close together even accounting for that, giving them an insectoid look. Even as laborers they must have Royal blood, here at the center of the system.

Kazban waved at the two crates at the top of the ramp. They were packed with vernadia, a potent medicine grown on his homeworld. Nearly all that was produced was sent here to the Palace, to extend the already long life of the Royals.

“I need to take these to the Royal Quartermaster.”

One of the laborers, taller than the other, looked at his slate, then nodded. “We can take you.”

He went up the ramp, nearly tripping as the ramp jerked. Kazban felt a shock of anxiety. Not his own, but Celerity’s. The ship did not like strangers aboard. Kazban took a deep breath and thought of floating in the serene darkness, the gentle glow of the disc beneath. Celerity calmed.

The dockhands took Kazban through a maze of corridors, pushing the crates that floated above the enameled copper floors on cushions of magnetic eddy currents. The two made small talk with each other, some old fashioned sport that hadn’t been followed on the rim for centuries.

They came to a closed doorway with a pair of guards. Each wore armor in the style of the Succession Wars, padded at the thighs, abs, and pecs, but the metals and ceramics that showed were of the latest variety. Close-hung eyes stared out of visors in their brassy helmets. They gripped some sort of polearms, forked at the tip with green crystals entwined.

The one on the left spoke. He wore the insignia of Ensign. “Halt. Outsiders are restricted to the dock level.”

Kazban looked him up and down, noting his slim build, before staring evenly at him.

“My instructions are to deliver this shipment directly to the Royal Quartermaster.”

The Ensign shook his head. “I’ll sign for it.”

“I need the Quartermaster’s signature.”

The Ensign raised his faceplate. “Listen, convict.” He sneered, nearly spat. “I’ll take it from here. We don’t need your kind on Royal ground.”

Kazban’s back straightened. He felt his fingers twitch toward his belt, but his plasma pistol wouldn’t be there. It was in prison lockdown, back at the rim.

Kazban pulled out his slate. Through clenched teeth, Kazban said. “My directive comes from the Rimward Viceroy of Isle Yotta-12.” He showed the documents to the Ensign.

The man didn’t look. He stared at Kazban through narrowed eyes.

“You’ve heard my orders, convict. Leave your crates and get back on your ship.”

Kazban clenched his fist, and the Ensign smiled and shifted his foot back, taking his helmet off with one hand and leaning his polearm against the inner lip of the door with the other. A dockworker put a hand on Kazban’s shoulder, but he shrugged it off. Distantly, Kazban could feel Celerity respond to his feelings, turning on lights and rumbling its engines.

There was a sound of two voices beyond the doors. One high and loud, the other soft and low.

The doors parted. The Ensign and the other guard turned to see the two interlopers. The man was tall and gangly, hunched over in purple robes and wearing a bullet-shaped hat. He was half turned toward the other as he walked, a small girl, perhaps just reaching her teens. Emerald green locks spilled over her ears. Her eyes were barely separated by the bridge of her nose. Her head seemed to cut the air like an axe as she walked, legs kicking at voluminous skirts.

She stopped short, turning to look at the Ensign and Kazban, sensing the mood and seeing the Ensign with an incomplete uniform.

“What is happening here?” she demanded.

The Ensign bowed his head, staring at his toes. “We have a criminal rimlander attempting to access our inner station, Your Grace.”

The Princess caught Kazban’s gaze, sizing him up. “Is this true? Are you dangerous, sir?”

The man in the purple robes grabbed the back of Kazban’s head and tried to force him to look down. Kazban knocked his arm aside and pushed him back a step. The second guard lowered his polearm toward him.

It was unnerving to stare the Princess in the eyes, but he’d be damned before he looked away now.

“I am paroled, Your Highness. I am here at your government’s command.”

He handed her his slate. She read it with a furrowed brow.

“This isn’t parole, Your Grace,” said The Ensign. “This is his sentence.”

She waved him away, handing Kazban back his slate.

“Percilus,” she said. The man in purple bowed. “Take this man to the Quartermaster.”

“But, Your Highness,” he began.

She turned on him and held out her left hand. On her pinky she wore a ring that bore a stone that glowed with a Cherenkov sapphire.

Percilus bowed again, face pale.

“Come,” he waved at Kazban and the dockhands. They went through the doors. The Princess didn’t follow, but the Ensign’s glare did.

How Long the Night, Awake

We approached Xuthos, me carrying Bacenor on my back.

“What is that place?” said Bacenor, pulling at my ears. “Speak, you wretched slave!”

“That is Xuthos,” I said, “The City of Sleep.”

“Sleep? Sleep?” He dug his knees excitedly into my sides. “Do they have sleep contests, dream races? I’m no good at sleeping, you know!”

“I know.”

“Then why are we going there, slave? Do you think you will humiliate me?”

“You asked me to bring you, sir. Maybe they can cure you.”

“Cure what?”

“You haven’t slept for a thousand days.”

We hoped to cure his sleeping problem. But his addled memory might be beyond the healing arts. I served to help him remember. That was my function as his servant.

Xuthos sat like a traveler’s trunk on a mesa above the Arcadian Plain. It had three gates: one of iron, one of tin, and one of bronze. Iron for blood, tin for commerce, bronze for health.

We followed heavy foot traffic, up the switchback road carved out of the side of the mesa, then leading to the gate of iron. Carts pulled by work hounds carried produce for the markets or sometimes the very rich, who lay hopelessly awake in beds of useless comfort; mothers pushed carriages with infants or toddlers who could not sleep; men and women, of any age but with a distribution toward the oldest, shuffled and stumbled and sometimes conversed with the gods that only they could see, and a few other slave-master pairs like us approached the gate. Of note, one black-shrouded crone, fastened by a leather harness to a female, the girl tall but her chiton short and her thighs muscular and tanned bronze. They paid the entrance tax and disappeared through the gate before I could get a better look.

“Are you afraid, you wretch?” demanded Bacenor. “Your heart is beating harder.”

“No, sir. I just saw a girl.”

“Keep hiking, slave. I don’t pay you to be moonstruck.”

“You don’t pay me at all.”

We reached the gate of iron. Four hoplites stood guard, two each side the portcullis, their breastplates flashy and their helmets crested with blue peacock feathers. The guards looked green but their spears were sharp and while I could have taken out one or two, all four would have proved a problem. They eyed me nervously as I stooped before the metal-barred window in the wall. Bacenor pulled a coin from his purse and gave it to the tiller.

We were in.

In the city there were sleepers, the carved sleepers in the friezes on building walls, in one square the great marble sculpture of Athena on her divan, supine in a nightdress, yellow-painted hair let down, her armor shed beside her and her smiling face suggesting she had found bliss in dreams. Below her, ten or twelve sleepless men and women mimicked her posture, lying on the paved street of red brick, resting their heads on bedrolls or cushions. Mimicking her but poorly, for they fidgeted and groaned and did not smile. One man opened his eyes: eyes blue as the sky flashed hatred at us.

“What’s the matter?” Bacenor asked. “You resent your betters?”

I moved away before the man responded.

“Why did he look so angry?” Bacenor asked me. “Is it because I am a rich man?”

“No doubt,” I said, though in truth I doubted it very much.

“How rich am I?” he asked.

“Rich enough to buy this town,” I lied.

“Good. But we are here for sleeping. Over there—Zeus!”

He meant another plaza with another statue, this one of iron, thrice life size and with a bed to match, so big there were at least four sleepless on it, nestled against the metal god as if he might consent to cuddle.

“I’ve got a better idea.” I could smell lamb roasting in the distance. “We need to eat.”

Bacenor grumbled but let me take him to the city agora a few blocks away. Here a press of sleepless people, red-eyed, unkempt, and rank of odor, haggled with vendors for the accouterments of sleep—pillows, candle wax for ears, elephant bladders which inflated could serve as mattresses, music boxes which when opened featured tiny puppets singing lullabies. I pushed beyond them to the food vendors. From a barrel-chested Nubian with a golden earring I bought grapes and olives and a plate of cubed lamb that had been roasted with onions on a skewer. For Bacenor I bought chicken on pita bread and a flagon of white grape juice.

“What is this child’s drink?” Bacenor groused. “Get me wine, you ingrate.”

“They don’t sell it here,” I said.

“Anything can be bought.”

“Not wine in Xuthos,” I said. “It won’t help your sleep.”

“But it will!” Bacenor whined.

“It will push you to the edge of sleep, but not over. And then you will be more awake and hungover.”

“Lies! Cruel beast, why do you torture me?”

He twisted my ear till it hurt.

I grunted to give him satisfaction, and he let go.

At the center of the agora there was a fountain encircled by a granite bench. We sat there to eat our lunch. Bacenor beside me looked worse for our five days of travel. The hunch of his crooked back looked larger. Sun-reddened flesh hung loosely at his throat and around his eyes, as if he had climbed into the skin of a much larger man. Brown age spots on his scalp showed through his thin white hair. He scratched his jaw; he had a five-day growth of bristly white whiskers. “What happened to my beard? Didn’t I have a beard?”

“You had me shave it off,” I said.

“You cur! Why do such a thing?”

“You thought that you would sleep like a youth, if you had no beard like a youth.”

“Foolishness!” He busied himself eating, his gnarled arthritic fingers dropping clumps of meat onto his knobby sunburned knees. I turned my attention toward the crowd. He asked: “What are you looking at?”

I saw the tall girl again: her bronzed thighs, her breasts which filled her chiton, her uncovered sun-bleached hair, in contrast to the silver hair, mostly covered by a black shroud, of the crone upon her back. The girl was buying fruit—a mango and a pear—from a produce stand. I wished she would look my way.

“What are you staring at?” Bacenor asked. “Tell me!”

I ate another olive, chasing it down with a swallow of water, then said, “Beyond the red building—the Temple of Ares—is the Temple of Hypnos. The god of sleep. Let’s go there.”

“Hypnos? Do I know him? Do I pray to him?”

“You pray to Ploutos, the god of wealth.”

“Ah. He favors me, for I am a rich man.”

“A very rich man,” I agreed.

I carried him past the Temple of Ares, ochre-painted and poorly maintained, for what man makes offerings to the God of War for sleep? Next to it the Temple of Hypnos gleamed, polished white marble of its exterior contrasting with the dark within. I lugged Bacenor up the staircase and past the blue-painted Doric columns into the cool shadowed space of the interior. Hypnos, carved from unpainted obsidian, reclined on his side atop a bed of ebony shot through with veins of gold. Unlike the other gods in Xuthos he seemed awake, not sleeping, the strange little wings coming out of his brow like the erect ears of a dog. “Can he fly with those?” Bacenor asked.

“A little,” I said. “When he flaps them it makes a soporific breeze.”

He snorted at my little joke, and a middle-aged woman in a knee-length hair shirt regarded him judgmentally. No one else paid us attention, except for a guard in leather armor and a red chiton, who told us that slaves were not permitted to carry masters inside because it was not respectful to the god Hypnos. “The god Hypnos,” Bacenor sneered when the guard was out of earshot. “Who has even heard of such a god?”

Despite his sneers he climbed down and stood beside me, bow-legged and pigeon-toed, clutching my elbow for balance. We stood in a queue of fifteen or so sleepless. Unshaven, hollow-eyed, smelling of musty unwashed bedclothes. Grooming and cleanliness are the handmaids of good sleep. “What are we waiting for?” Bacenor said. There was a green door, before which stood a priest or clerk in a blue himation. Presently the door opened, and the first man in the queue was motioned in. “What’s in there?” Bacenor asked me. “A sanctum? Do they make an offering, slice open a sheep’s liver?”

“There’s a physician in there,” I said. “He treats insomnia with the latest in the healing arts.”

“Art? He plays the music of the spheres?”

“He performs medical techniques so as to make you amenable to messages from Hypnos.”

“Pshaw! Pshaw and poppycock!”

“The poppy, incidentally, is his flower.” I waved toward the jet-black planters set in sconces in the walls, orange petals vivid even in the gloom. “Narcotics come from the unripe fruit of the poppy.”

“Ah, yes, Nepenthes, the stuff is called.” Bacenor grinned triumphantly. “I remember the name! Buy me some.”

“You were addicted to it, master. After a fortnight of use it works badly and it gives you awful dreams. It gives you constipation, also. And it made your memory far worse.”

“You scoundrel!” He pinched me, digging his long yellow fingernails into my forearm. If I could get him to sleep I would cut those nails short. “Why torture me with these tales?”

“Only to caution you, that you might make better choices.”

“I pay you good money for this impertinence?”

“I am your slave, not your employee. Sometimes on festival days, you give me a drachma for a gift.”

“Yes. How likely.”

We waited in the queue, a few more went in to see the Physician, one came out. Bacenor asked me why so many went in without coming out. I told him that the building had a level beneath us and that the rooms down there had walls so thick that a battle could be fought in the streets without you hearing anything inside. Each room had a bed for a patient to sleep in and for the Physician to observe the patient and to try his treatments. It might take a few days to find the correct treatment.

“Hah! Thus to milk us poor insomniacs for as much money as he can!”

“I do not know if he charges for anything but results.”

He fell asleep momentarily, literally fell, collapsing but waking even as I caught him. “Where am I? Who am I?” Panic-stricken, bulging frightened eyes.

“You are Bacenor, a rich man. You are at the Temple of Hypnos to—”

“—to get my insomnia cured,” he said.

“Exactly.” I was relieved. Sometimes his memory could be very bad after he had these little sleeps.

“Who is she?” he asked about the woman in the hair shirt. “Is she Cybele?”

Cybele was his wife. Or she had been, for she was long dead, having perished with their son Timotheus when Bacenor’s ship, carrying a cargo of ninety amphora of tawny wine, sunk off the coast of Rhodes. Bacenor and I were the only survivors.

This woman turned. She did have Cybele’s long aquiline nose, but her face was broader, her hair was white where Cybele’s had been silver, and her hair shirt—of stiff brindle horse-hair that left the skin of her throat raw—was nothing like the soft purple and white robes Cybele had loved to wear. “I’m not your goddess,” she said. “I’m a barren old woman.”

Cybele is also the goddess of fertility.

“See?” I asked him. “She’s not your wife.”

“Then Cybele—” He remembered, lips drooping, eyes downcast, forehead furrowing with anguish. “The water—the storm—the cold night—my wife—my boy. He was only eighteen. My boy—why did he drown?”

“He stayed on the ship too long,” I said. “He tried to unlock the chains of the rowers.”

“Rowers? Slaves?”

“There were forty of them. The ship was already half-sunken. As the slaves screamed he dived down with the key so that he could unlock their chain. But the ship sank so quickly that it sucked him down and he could not save a single man.”

“My son died to save slaves? Say rather that the slaves killed him! Monsters, beasts! They lured him to his death!”

The woman ahead of us looked appalled, whether at the story or Bacenor’s lamentation I could not tell.

“He died a hero’s death,” I said.

“My wife—why did she die?”

“She could not swim. I had to let her go.”

“You were there? You let her go? A huge strong man like you? You let her drown?”

I whispered to Bacenor. “I was just a boy of ten. I was strong enough to carry only you.”

“I can swim!”

“You were drunk, and half-passed out.”

“Don’t lie, slave.”

I breathed deeply. The woman was not looking at us but had the erect posture of someone who was listening with intent. “You would get seasick on your trading voyages, and would break into the trading stock to find wine to calm your stomach. But wine is a poor medicine for nausea. It would roil your stomach, not soothe it, and you would drink more to compensate. You drank seven bowls the night of the shipwreck.”

His eyes rolled back in his head and he gripped my elbow as though he meant to pull me down or climb me. But he was not having an epileptic fit. He was merely thinking hard. He said, “Hypnos is the brother of Death?”

“Death is called Thanatos.”

“Maybe I should pray to Hypnos? Does he talk to Thanatos? Would he be able to get a message to my wife and my boy, asking them to forgive me?”

“Forgive you for what?” I asked.

“For bringing them on that fateful journey.”

“I can talk to the priest about that while you see the Physician. Maybe he can make a sacrifice.”

He let me go so he could pull out a ten drachma coin for the priest.

“Isn’t that too much?” I said.

“I am a rich man, am I not? Take it!”

I put the coin in the leather pouch that I kept tied around my neck.

Not much later the silver-haired woman was admitted to the sleeping ward and then it was our turn to be interviewed. The clerk, in a blue himation, bald, black-bearded, and officious, stood behind a high desk with a goose-feather pen in his hand. He wrote into a vellum ledger as he asked us questions. Who are you? Where are you from? How long since you last slept? He asked Bacenor at first but as I was the one who answered. He directed the balance of his questions to me. “Does he take stimulants or sedatives?”

“No longer,” I said.

“And do you ferry him everywhere, or does he walk on his own?”

“Almost always I carry—”

“I am a rich man!” Bacenor cried out. “Only hoi polloi walk!”

The clerk nodded and entered a mark into his ledger. “But he can walk if necessary?”

I affirmed he could.

“You can go through that door,” the clerk said. Bacenor gestured at me to stoop so I could carry him, but the clerk said, “No, you must go in alone.”

“But my slave is my memory,” Bacenor said.

“Your memory will improve once Dr. Phobetor has treated you.”

“Ahh,” he said uncertainly. He stared at me, his face twisted by confusion and fear, then found some remnant of dignity, and stood up straight as he could given his hunchback, and walked through the doorway.

The clerk told me the name of a cheap inn I could go to where slaves could sleep. Bacenor’s treatment, he said, would take at least one full day and night.

Always a Sunrise

Forgive me. This story’s a jumbled mess. I guess the drugs got the better of me. No idea where to start this, so I’ll start with the uniformed lady with a face like white dogshit.

“Miss Lynch. Why do you want to go to Mars?”

Why indeed? Nobody sane wants to go to Mars. All good. I’d practiced this line before, even drunk, even stoned, like I was right then. “I always dreamed of exploring the stars.”

“Your family, your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues? You’ll never hug them or shake their hands again. Only video chats with a three minute lag. You’ll miss birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Are you willing to make that sacrifice?”

I hoped the sunglasses covered my bloodshot eyes. I hoped my breath and armpits, reeking of Bombay Sapphire, didn’t carry. “Yes.”

“No more blue beaches, you’ll never feel the cool ocean swallow your toes in the warm sand, no more green forests full of fog and silence and rain so faint it tickles as it touches, no more snowy peaks that tower over the clouds and awe you to silence. You’ll never see anything but rusty red craters and white dry-icecaps. You really want that future?”

I never gave half a shit about the stars or the planets or anything like that, I wasn’t one of those kids with my neck craned skyward, those kids who ate up movies and stories about space, the final fucking frontier. Wonder was never a word in my world. “I’m an explorer at heart.”

“You’ll never run through an open field without a suit, and only hours at a time, lest the radiation bake you. You’ll never see a breathtaking pink or orange or red sunrise or sunset again, just a tiny gray smear on the Martian horizon. You’ll miss out on what it means to be human. Why do you want to go to Mars?”

Because dad had found me. “I love space, loved it since childhood.”

A window opened behind her. A rocket forty stories tall loomed on the launchpad and rolled my heart along a gravel path. She smiled. “You step aboard, goodbye Earth. Life flutters away forever. You’re really going to throw it all away?”

She wouldn’t stop me. If anyone’d stop me, it’d be me. A thousand people before me’d gotten weak-kneed at the sight of that rocket and turned back. I was about to too. What the hell was I doing?

Dad’d pinged my private email days ago. I’d read his brief words about wanting to reconnect and my chest clenched and my childhood came back and I cried. I recalled a warm summer day when I, bruises ringing my neck, crept to the garage and took one of dad’s rifles, the old breechloader he called the forty-five seventy, and placed the barrel in my mouth. It tasted cold on my tongue, it tasted of motor oil, it tasted bitter and burned a little, and it smelled of synthetic orange-citrus, that cleaning solvent I loved to sniff. The barrel was too long for my hand, so I braced the gun on the ground and stuck my big toe on the cold trigger. I laughed and wailed at the same time. It’d be so easy to stop the pain, but I couldn’t do it, as if an invisible, immovable hand clenched my big toe and stopped it from twitching a titch to throw my brains across the garage ceiling. I was eleven.

“I want to go to Mars.”

The lady with the white dogshit face nodded. “Very well. Sign here, and it’s all over.”

My hand hovered, pen ready. I was afraid that invisible hand would stop me again, stop me from signing the form, stop me from this long-overdue suicide. I thought about the beauty and ugliness Earth offered. I thought about my coffin-sized flat that gave me panic attacks, and thought about how much worse it’d be on Mars. I thought about all those bowls of kush and bottles of Bombay Sapphire and acid blotters that’d colored my life, drugs I’d never find on Mars. I thought about the times I’d escaped the social credit ratings, only to return to buy bread or be deemed “not a deviant” on the dating nets or to snag a bottom feeder job to earn a few dollars to dream with. I thought about how dad’d found me no matter how many times I tried to disappear from Earth.

I took a deep breath. I signed the waiver.