TRAMPING THE CELESTIAL SPHERE: IN WHICH, I, THE PROTAGONIST, DO TRAVEL ACROSS OUR DOMAIN FOR YOUR PLEASURE
I lay in the grass one day, counting the number of blades within a modest area, when I decided to try something. I stuck my foot out in the open air and probed a bit, and felt a precarious platform. Ah, there it is, I can walk on light. How convenient! Probing with my other foot, I found a slightly more stable hold. With a push off the ground and a warbled dance, I was airborne, suspended on a sun beam.
I have to admit, it was difficult at first. You think otherwise? Try balancing on a particle that has a surface area less than a mote of dust! With a few steps, though, I found the best photons—deep sumptuously violet-colored—in which to support my weight. My legs, having long been atrophied from only walking on the rather pedestrian terra firma, needed a little stretch, and a short jaunt to the upper atmosphere only a handful of kilometers away seemed apropos.
Simultaneously, Earth’s curvature manifested as the shadow of night marched across its surface. I dipped my hand into a stream of orbiting junk and snatched out a wayward screw: small and pristine, with slowly meandering threads. There is no rust in space.
This time of year so near periapsis is perfect for walking on light. I prayed to Michelson and Morley to conjure me a cane from the aether, a nice sturdy knotted one with a worn handle speaking silently of past adventures. Of course the old codgers refused. Still bitter about your failed experiment, gentlemen? As the Earth occulted the sun leaving only the fiery corona to pave my way, I struggled to keep my footing. But, some how, some way, I kept upright by some philanthropic object. Who could it be? I scanned the heavens. What—? Is that…? Orion’s Nebula! Thy haziness doth suporteth my path! Capital! To think: for hundreds of thousands of years, humans have looked at this dot and thought it to be just another star. The arrogance. Serendipitously, the first Übermensch raised His fancy polished glass and—what do you know!—it’s a big splotch of fiery gas, dust, and infant stars.
I passed by Beteigeuze and doffed my proverbial cap. Now this is a star, my friends! Bloated and boiling! Our star is but an ant, an aphid! Orion’s Nebula eventually expanded so large as to fill my field of vision. Plenty of paintings have been inspired by this tepid dust cloud, and I can safely say they got the colors all wrong; too heavy on the fuchsia, or magenta. I recognized the Horsehead by the breed, and maneuvered myself such that if any learn’d astronomer were to point their engorged tubes this way they would see a man straddling a horsey, hand raised in mid-gallop, face contorted in a yokel grin.
Having had my fill of this particularly average universe formation, I set out on a random walk, strolling across gamma rays towards whatever piqued my fancy. I passed through super-heated clouds of electrons and giggled as the nanoest of amps tickled my feet. I crawled inside the core of a neutron star and played marbles with free quarks, keeping in mind to collect three for Muster [sic] Mark. I stumbled across two merging galaxies, frozen in a chaotic dance which had torn apart their bodies but left their cells intact. A wayward chunk of Dark Matter lent itself as an ideal chair as I waited for the galaxies to make a pretty picture. They never did, not even a bunny rabbit, even after a hundred thousand years of melancholic observation.
There was little left to see in this universe. Dark Energy turned out to be a simple misunderstanding. Really, just a mistaken sign somewhere. I’ll explain later. For a bit, the jet of a blazar propelled me towards The Great Void, but eventually the friction from lonely hydrogen slowed me to a stop. There I rotated, watching as the Great Black “Nothing” orbited me. Sure, fine, I’ll walk towards it and try to find this fabled Supermassive Black Hole with its postmodernist properties.
On exactly my thirty-third step, a photon beneath my left foot gave way and I tumbled downward. Despite my lightning-fast reflexes, the radio photon I nabbed—a regrettably redshifted A note from some ancient and forgotten civilization—was not enough to support my weight. I fell. My flailing arms and legs eventually quit from exhaustion, and my voice had no medium in which to send out vibrations. As the lights of even the closest galaxies blinked out, I resigned myself to an eternity of meditation towards the single-minded task of converting mass to energy. Only then would I be rid of this cursed existence.
I struck something and heard my back snap. Several decades passed as I rolled like a terrapin trying to right myself. During my frequent breaks of frustration I ran my hand over the surface below me: smooth, not chaotic like the other photons. I tried to push through the surface but found it rigid. When I righted myself and popped two vertebrae back into position, I explored a shell of colored light, stretching off to the horizon of four dimensional space.
Only when placing my eye yoctometers away from the shell did I notice a variance in the color: mostly blue and green, with a few scant islands of yellow and red. My silly Earth-centered culture resurged when I found a huge patch of blue in the shape of South America.
The sight, feel—and, why not be literary, smell!—of the shell pleased this universe-wise and weary traveler. Its gentle caress and cool temperature soothed the knowledge that I would never breach it. None of my species would. The aggregate of the joy and suffering felt beyond the wall, the thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and—oh—of course I would forget the rest of the damned quote now!
It was then I decided to take a nap. I lay back against the shell and caressed it lightly with my fingertips, trying to differentiate between the colors as I lulled to sleep.