Alone on a small ship, a man and a woman are traveling to a distant solar system. Their mission is to explore another earth-type world. But long before they reach it, they begin to discover that the speed of light and the human heart's imaginative powers are mysteriously linked.
By the fifth week I feel our vessel might as well be a shell lying at the bottom of an endless sea. Stars drift like luminous algae around us but my heart, satiated by waking dreams, has lots its appetite for them.
Alex is content because everything is running smoothly. He says the only excitement we can expect for a long time is a malfunction.
We’ve left the earth’s sun far behind us. That might explain why his blond hair looks brighter to me every theoretical day—in deep space the clock is an empty plate and the task of monitoring the ship’s vital functions as bland as the nourishment pills we survive on. I know time is passing only because we’re still alive and that’s the nature of things.
All I’m truly certain of is that Alex’s blue stare looks more and more like a beautifully doubled reflection of our home planet. Inside the intimate little ship’s unending violet twilight his eyes shimmer the profound depths of earth’s oceans. When we left they were all gloriously teeming with life again. It is increasingly difficult for me to look away from him as I keep stealing glances at his handsome features. His face appears bigger than all the worlds my brain tells me are out there as surely as dimples form in his cheeks whenever he smiles at me.
I wonder if I’m suffering from a mild case of interstellar fever. I don’t want to worry Alex by telling him but I may be forced to confide in him eventually. Last night—according to the ship’s computer it was nine o’clock p.m.—I found my attention wandering on the narrow cliff of his nose. When he suddenly looked up from the instrument panel and caught me staring at him, I dove helplessly into his cool blue irises. I think it was something about my expression which prompted him to suggest I take both his sleep cycle and mine. He insisted he wasn’t tired.
“All right,” I said, pretending to believe him. “Goodnight.”
In the rear of the quietly purring ship my red sleeping sack stood looking stiff as a bloody soldier from my week-long battle with insomnia. I pressed a button in the console and two round white sleeping pills fell into my palm. I thought of twin moons rising over the river delta of my life lines. If I can’t sleep again tonight, I’ll have to tell Alex…
* * *
“Landra, are you okay?” Alex asks me the next day when we’re sitting together in the cockpit.
“Not really,” I admit. “I think I might have a mild case of interstellar fever, nothing serious. I just can’t sleep.”
“Have you tried taking sleep aids?”
“Yes but none of them seem to work on me.”
“Then it is serious.”
“Oh no, I’m not at all tired really. Maybe I just need less sleep out here.” I think about the two bodies lying in the back of the ship. It’s much too soon for him to resort to such a drastic measure but suddenly I find myself leaning forward in my chair grasping one of his large warm hands. “Please Alex, don’t freeze me yet! I’ll be fine. I promise!”
He gazes into my eyes and says quietly, “I wouldn’t do that to you, Landra.”
“It’s just that it’s so empty out here I feel as if my heart is desperately trying to run somewhere and my imagination keeps up with it in the strangest ways.” Now I’m worried I’ve said too much.
“What do you mean?” he asks cautiously.
“It’s hard to describe.”
* * *
After I tell Alex what his eyes and the rest of him often look like to me he concentrates on his instrument panel. “Pressure?” he says shortly.
Not until we have completed this routine flight check does he turn toward me again. “I won’t mention what you just told me in the Log. I’m sure all you need is some sleep. I’ll give you something stronger tonight.”
Whatever it is, it works. I sleep for the first time in over a week and wake to his tired smile. “Now it’s my turn,” he says. “I’m dead.”
* * *
Everything is functioning as smoothly as Alex’s breathing. I leave the cockpit’s star-filled windows and walk to the back of the ship. Responding to my voice, the tree shaped sensor glows with green lights that make me think of fresh spring leaves. The aluminum door slides open slowly and I step boldly into the mist-filled space beyond it.
A man and a woman are lying on two separate tables, the soles of their bare feet facing each other. Both are completely naked beneath the skin-tight suits of ice encasing them—willing players in the disturbingly passive game of suspended animation. I can’t understand them. Personally I would never be able to give up dreaming. I go and stand beside the female. Her full breasts resemble snowy mountains. Her nipples shine hard as crystals. Her smiling mouth is a silver crescent moon rising over the frozen lake of her chest. Her closed eyelids look fragile as birds’ eggs nesting in her stiff black lashes beneath the icy ledge of her forehead. Combed tightly back away from her face, her dark-brown hair evokes a newly ploughed but lifeless field in the dead of winter.
I am still afraid Alex will wake her to take my place if I give him anymore trouble yet my feelings keep obsessively orbiting him and all the beautiful things he reminds me of.
I leave the deep-freeze chamber and return to the cockpit. Unfortunately the two curving windows now remind me of a fly’s bulging eyes, the stars its hundreds of retinas and the ship’s engines its incessant buzzing.
I shake my head, denying the image even as it makes me question what Alex and I are doing. I have no idea what plans Ground Control has for the planet we’re bound for—an earth type world hanging from one of our galaxy’s branching arms. Like a temptingly luscious fruit? My face falls into my hands as I picture landing on its possibly pristine surface like the first little locust in an incoming swarm that will devastate all the life on it.
I tell myself humanity has learned from its mistakes but the only thing that makes me feel better is walking back to our private quarters and gazing at Alex’s sleeping face. His soft smile reassures me, silently telling me there really isn’t anything to worry about and everything will be fine.
Once more I return to the cockpit and fall into one of the comfortably curved chairs, turning it to face the universe. I still can’t quite believe how fast we’re traveling. It’s like daydreaming—my body sits perfectly still and everything seems to stay the same around me yet I journey immense, incomprehensible distances more swiftly than I can blink. Together Alex and I are surfing a darkness that is really an infinite sea of light—termed the Zero Point Field by scientists—that exists beyond our universe and all the known laws of physics serving to manifest an infinite potential I still prefer to call God. I know now what God looks like. He looks like Alex. He looks like me.
“I knew it would be like this out here,” I say out loud.
“So did I.” Alex seats himself in the chair beside mine.
The unexpected sound of his voice sends my pulse racing as though my heart can actually beat faster than light travels. I stare fixedly at a particularly bright star until I feel my eyes burning like its reflection.
“Yes?” The star appears to expand in the heat of my intense concentration, as if it’s about to nova from the pressure caused by the supreme effort I’m making not to look at the man I love beyond reason.
“Look at me,” he commands.
“Because you’re just too beautiful!”
An irresistible force I realize are his fingertips grip my chin and turn my face toward his. “It’s all right,” he whispers. “I think I’m sick too.”
“Do I look like anything to you, Alex?”
“Yes.” He smiles. “Like a beautiful woman.”
“You’re not… seeing things?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe I am…”
* * *
Alex’s fingers resemble rays of light emanating from the concentrated warmth of his palms. His hair is a luminous shower, each individual strand so sharply defined that when I caress them the sensation is delicious almost beyond bearing. The stubble in his cheeks and chin pricks me with its frustrated desire to grow, scalding my skin even as a much deeper and powerful current of pleasure totally indistinguishable from joy courses through me. I’m on fire inside, there’s no way I can survive. Alex understands I’m burning up because he rips open my suit and how intensely I desire him flings the four mysterious doorways of my heart wide open—I feel energy pouring into my body, breathtaking pulses of energy surging into my belly and sparkling like stars in my nerve ends.
“Oh my God, Alex!” My voice comes from every conceivable direction. “What’s happening to us!”
His whisper sounds like a gale-force wind “Don’t be afraid!” trapped in the shell of my ear.
“But the ship’s breaking up!”
“No, Landra!” He cradles me in the safe, relatively calm orbit of his embrace. “Ground Control set us up! I think this must be our real mission—to test the speed of love!” He kisses me.
Suddenly I’m floating in a deliciously warm ocean and Alex’s tongue is, for the moment, an energetic dolphin swimming playfully around me.