A book called 'previous, next'.



Chapter 1

An ASSUMPTION

'Am I to get up?'
He looks at his watch.
5.30 am

The technicians insert thoratic leads beneath his surface to transmit his inflight electrocardiography to the ground. It takes twenty minutes to enter his costume. They pull the quilted rubber inner over his skin. They seal him point six millimetres deep in polyester. They make small talk. They tension the steel cable from his neck to armpit and hip to groin, with ratchet and pawl. He asks for music. They tease the hand knitted sky blue wool jersey over his limbs. They zip up his orange nylon overall. They are quiet. Over the head set the opening to Four Songs on Verses by Dolmatovsky for voice, chorus & piano, Opus 86 (1951) unfurls; Part 1, arranged for baritone and orchestra. He hums along.

The SK-1, short for 'diving suit for space' becomes him. Weighing twenty three kilograms including life support, the bird suit is both mortification and escape. Compressed in the machine, soft joints in mutually perpendicular planes allow the changeling two degrees of movement while falling at altitudes of up to eight kilometres at dynamic pressures of up to two thousand eight hundred kilograms per centimetre squared. He mouths the lyrics,

'where in the clouds her son is flying'.

The skeleton of a man and skull of a bird, the suit was built at Factory 918, the form a function described as Intra Vehicular Activity, a bespoke and conspicuous garment and like it's passenger, a prototype with a mirror up one sleeve. Man and machine are one. Appropriately code named Falcon, the helmet and suit are integrated, his inner liner attached to his visor by a carbon dioxide collar, which at splash down inflates, providing him with buoyancy and life support for three days at minus fifteen degrees.

He watches as the technician paint the cyrillic right to left upside down on the rim of his vision across his helmet, in large letters as he wears it, for fear he might be found unconscious or thought an alien.

The acronym - his origin and destination- is difficult on a radius, more drawing than font, red kerning in a white contour, the serif figures glide around the circumference. The pigment bends and slurs the slow curves of CCCP. A drop of enamel exceeds the surface tension of the loop of the last letter, pouts to become pendant and with a force proportional to its mass, detaches and falls. At bottom edge flattens to bowl, stretch and asterisk. Splash down. The technician checks. He looks at his watch.

07.00 am

Ground control is code named Dawn. He is the Chief Designer and head of Project Section 9. A 54 years old ballistician, birder and in his day accomplished gymnast, he is the father of acoustics, now partially deaf, making birdsong indistinct, probably the result of rocket engine testing. His brown eyes now have poor colour recognition but remain good for silhouette identification. On file, he is referred to as No.20 and characterised as cautious with strengths in design strategy, integration, and organisation, though not good with money. He drinks tea, often one point two litres or six cups per day. He is known informally by his initials, SP. His actual name is a state secret to be released only after his death.

Tea?

Dawn nods. He looks down. In the hollow of his cup, the infusion rotation is slower deeper. Outward currents steer the tea leaves up, out and down to dock in translucent pictures against the white hull and migrate to prophesy. He reads the leaves. A swallow. He sees a man rise. He hears music. A falcon. A winged man, cast clockwise from day beyond night and back. A jackdaw, he will lose weight. A spiral. He will see exotic lands. The leaves zero. He will be delayed and then, lost. A barking dog. He will suffer exertion, malfunction and fall. A partridge, up side down. The leaves rustle. He has a trick up his sleeve. A four thousand seven hundred and twenty five kilogram bounce to the present. A swallow again, at three hundred and forty degrees over one hundred and eight minutes at twenty eight thousand kilometres per hour at an inclination of sixty four point nine five degrees. A nought. A ball of fire lettered east laps the earth to fall three hundred and twenty seven kilometres and land with a skip of almost one hundred metres and roll of more to a spherical full stop. A goose, mating a swan. He will be promoted to captain by launch and to major by landing and remembered eternally on the night of April 12, and every four point zero one seven three years, asteroid number 1772 will loom closer, in his memory. An irregula lip will be called after him in the southern hemisphere on the far side of the moon, the crater will be pocked in multiple impact overlay to a low pucker of bowl of collapse depressions over a diameter of two hundred and sixty five kilometres. He sees a griffin. Astronauts will drink tea at the copy of his house in Klushino, in the morning of March 9 which is always overcast in his honour. They will raise similar cups from the original well, look to the cloud and wish him a happy birthday. They will sign his visitors' book in his office at Zvyozdniy Gorodok, preserved as he left it and fly later from Star City to Baikonur, once Tyuratam, from which he is about to depart. A ptoroceratops. They will bring carnations to his ashes, the day before and take pains to avoid saying "?????????, poslednii", "the last", and instead use "???????, krainii" or "final"" and later that evening at the cosmonaut hotel, they will say little or nothing and next morning, sign their doors according to tradition before the twenty minute drive, to the launch pad during which the transport bus will stop on the steppe to allow them to relieve themselves, facing the glinting sun, on the rear left hand wheel as he will. He sees a statue.

06.12 am

The sun rises slowly on the bus, engine running. He faces into the back left hand wheel, concentrates on the pale stretch of the sky and in a slow arc, urinates. He looks at his watch.

06.26 am

He nods. Twenty storeys up. He hums the Shostakovich. He lifts both his arms, twice, once to ground control, and once to the music in his head. He turns to be lifted astride the SS-6 Sapwood Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. He is attached to his ejector seat. He waves. The hatch is screwed closed pneumatically, twice, above his head. The technician says something as he retreats. He winks. His visor is closed. He pulls on his leather palmed gloves; opening and closing his fingers at the silence. He looks at his watch.

7.10 am
The radio fizzes.

'Hallo, Earth. I am Cosmonaut. I have tested the communications. The tumblers on the control panel are in the assigned initial position. The globe is at the point of division. Pressure in the cabin-unity, humidity-sixty five percent, temperature nineteen degrees Celsius, pressure in the compartment one point two pressure in orientation systems normal. I feel fine and am ready for the start.'

Dawn replies.

'Got fine you,
Got you.
Pings.
How do you read?
You heard right.
Like me?'


He replies
'You hear perfectly.'


8.27 am

His face flickers in black and white, already remote at ground control. He smiles in a perigee of one hundred and eighty one kilometres and an apogee of three hundred and twenty seven kilometres for the camera.

Dawn smiles back, distantly. He looks at his watch.

9.01 am

He recites.

key put to drain,
drain valve closed,
air purge,
went cable mast,
idle run,
ignition,
home,
get up.


The spaceman replies, at a slight delay "???????!" - you, singular and plural, went. He uses the past tense for urgency in the present, that Wednesday morning. His exclamation mark depicts lift off while indicating high volume, perhaps precaution or even the factorial of the column of liquid oxygen upon which he sits, awaiting assumption.

The Chief Designer had specified the first human in space to be male, aged between twenty five and thirty, no taller than one point seven five metres and no heavier than seventy two kilograms. The man he chose was five foot two and twenty seven years old, photogenic with a personality he evaluated as modest, with strong memory and significant ability in higher mathematics, celestial mechanics, ejection, breathing apparatus, and isolation.

The small man is protracted a square, and splayed in his pelt in the diameter of the capsule. Eight heads high, his palm spans four fingers, a foot four palms, a cubit six palms, four cubits the man and his pace. He cannot move, now temple and cosmos. By the 1490 edition, the pen and ink illustration show him hirsute and akimbo, his eyes wild to square the circle, the geometries are awkward and refuse to both spring from his navel.

'We were kept in a pressure chamber from which the air had been exhausted to varying degrees, we were tested while breathing oxygen under conditions of high pressure, we were whirled in a centrifuge like a merry -go-round. The doctors tested us for memory, speed of reaction, the rapidity with which our attention could pass from one thing to another and the ability to perform swift, precise and collected movements.'

In Dawn's drawing of 1961 he is still off centre but his hair is now side parted, beneath a helmet his eyes blue and smile winning, he manages constraint, his head aft to eccentrically load and orient ballistic re-entry. The thickened layer of heat shield at his back, to face into the onrush of atmosphere, is legible. The arc of his ejector seat rhymes the globe of the ship in cross section and creaks with his life support. His grey checked pressure liner promises ten days assuming orbital accuracy. On the drawing, with the communication hoses cut away, the ejection mechanism is visible.

He looks at his watch.

Also after nine, on 15.08.33 the first assumption was made, they say as a lady idled on mount Koressus, at home alone on a couch in an alcove. Perhaps she drank tea between dormition and ascension.

A secondary occurred mid morning on the feast day of the latter later in a basilica on the Salento, at first mass and to heavenly music they say. The man looked skyward, gaped and lifted to be further elevated in death to patron those of little concentration and aviators.

There was at least a third recently, before lunch from a ledge outside Paris. Another leapt into his own blue yonder in protest, they say at the immanent exploration of space. There is a doctored photograph.

'A leading specialist in aviation medicine told us in great detail of the factors affecting a living being during a flight in outer space. He divided them into three categories. The first were factors depending on the physical properties of outer space itself-low barometric pressure, so low that it is actually an almost perfect vacuum; a surrounding medium with a gas composition that differs from earth's atmosphere; sudden temperature changes; various forms of ionised radiation, and meteorite hazards. The second category were the factors of rocket flight itself noise, vibration, high pressures and weightlessness. The third and last category consisted of the artificial atmosphere in the capsule, the limited size of the cabin, the restricted movements of the pilot, his emotional tension, the strain on his nerves and psyche and lastly, the inconvenience of the pressure suit.'

By his assumption, Dawn could not predict the effects of absent gravity on the mind and so, for safety, he made the machine remote controlled. The pilot cargo supervised switches and buttons for cabin temperature, radio telephone, and retro-rocket fire to his left while on the right, was the receiver, orientation handle, food container and in front a panel with indicators, an electric clock. As a gesture, in emergency, a left hand panel with a numeric keypad was mounted on the vault of the cockpit, two rows of three switches combined to unlock the ship. The passenger knew the first three by heart with the remainder sealed in a small white envelope in a safe place, at arm's length.

As he closed his visor on the din that morning, the suit technician mimed the numbers, one, four and five with a wink. Behind the acrylic, the cast away shut one eye in response to acknowledge, suggest and perhaps, flag.

Straining at the heft of a whistle, the taut bow of the digit seven, The white noise cuts a lovely figure. The R-7A, Semyorka is a two stage instrument capable of over eight thousand eight hundred kilometres to a precision of five kilometres. The three metre girth cusps the light. The fuel quartet weighs two hundred and eighty metric tons with a primary thrust of 15.83 kilo newtons. The thirty four metres high prefabricated nitrous oxide/amine vehicle is fluted, not for proportion but propulsion. Frozen, the column looks white, as it disappears into the entasis of the morning. He hears a trill sharp above the cloud of sound. The guys fall. He looks at his watch.

'I felt an extraordinary elation. With every fibre of my being I heard the music of nature: the quiet rustling of the grass, then the noise of the wind which merged into the roar of waves beating against the shore during a storm.'


9.07 am

'The giant ship shuddered, and slowly, very slowly lifted from the launching pad. The roar was not louder than that one hears in the cabin of a jet aircraft, but it contained a multitude of new shades and pitches that no composer has ever put down in music or any musical instrument or human voice can as yet reproduce. Flames were ejected from the nozzles and in the noise of the increasingly roaring engines the tall and heavy hull of the multi-stage rocket rose, as though reluctantly, above the starting ground.
Like a living, sapient being in meditation, slightly trembling, the rocket hovered for a moment or two close to the ground and then imperceptibly, with a whirling vortex of fire behind, disappeared from the field of vision leaving a fiery trail in the sky.'


9.09 am

The noise continued to increase with frequency inverse to amplitude. The four booster sections of the rocket exhaust the propellant, shut down and shear away. The third law of motion is insistent. His soft tissue deforms and body fluids redistribute as the cryogenic column dances beneath him, fuller and faster. Dawn's voice is compressed in his ear.

'I became part of the machine. All the parts of the machine became transmitters of my will, the machine was obedient to my wishes and did whatever I wanted it to.'

The column accelerates upward at one hundred and seventy five kilometres per hour per second beneath him. His blood is driven downward.

'Seventy seconds since take off.
I hear you, seventy. I feel well. The G-forces are increasing.'

At fifty feet, his sight drains of colour. He sees a man circle a merry-go round of rooms, ruined by design and invaded by exotic plants.
Inside the white column, time slows and the paradise recedes, his folly curling upward in the porthole.

At sixty feet, he cannot speak and time stills. Struck by lightning, he falls into the whorl, the column is now anthropoid and much reduced, squinched between heaven and earth in the rubble of his basilicas, his peripheral vision fades.

At three thousand seven hundred and ten feet, the column disappears, corinthian for the first time, backlit between spur walls in an ionic cella of a doric temple, abacus concave girdled in leaves, lovely in the east light, outscrolling in acanthus, lithe votive to volute.

9.17 am
Desert