The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

The Edge of Space

        I had grown up excited by space. Cape Canaveral was at the edge of it and I had never been there. I had endured a significant portion of my childhood at White Sands Missile Range — at times considered to be perhaps at the back door of space — and worked it into my story as something like comic relief.
        This was the real thing, where astronauts embarked on journeys into the unknown on the furiously blazing vessels of dreams. Close up, those vessels more resembled aging busses. What an astonishing revelation that turned out to be.
        Wasn't this supposed to be representative of the very best our species was capable of achieving? Though the touristy exhibits and museums were impressive enough, it all had this underlying tone of the whiz-bang of a bygone era, when crew-cut scientists and engineers ambled gawkily through newsreels with slide rules in their shirt pockets. They were still around, though much older, hairless, pauncy and even more hopelessly geeky. Added to that was the tiredness of a life worn down by bureaucracy.
        The visions of my youth, avidly sucked out of paperbacks and garish pulps, had lost their color and shine. So many disappointments had tarnished the yearning to be there at the dawn of the Space Age. That age had fizzled ignominiously after the glories of the moon landings, turning to embarrasing moments and missed opportunities, and we were now present at the dawning of a Computer Age that had bypassed the drones and bean counters of a nearly moribund government agency that just couldn't get it right.
        I'm too disheartened by the sadness of it all to write about things like how grossly inadequate the actuality of the Space Shuttle turned out to be in comparison to what was breathlessly promised, the near-sighted Hubble, the lost Mars missions, the uselessly Rube Goldberg space station, the antennaless Galileo, the software boo-boos, the flubs, the blunders, the lack of any kind of vision. Where were the orbiting hotels? Moon mines? Mars colonies? Daring journeys? Inspiring accomplishments?
        All anybody could come up with was, "Smaller, better, cheaper." And excuses when they couldn't even manage that.

        Christopher Colombus to Isabella of Spain: "Hey, you-a majesty. I'm-a gonna discover the New World and I'm-a gonna need three ships. You got?"
        "Certainly, Chris. In fact, here's the royal jewelry to finance..."
        The king interrupted. He had never trusted that Italian stallion, who was spending way too much time with the queen planning — well, who knows what…
        "My dear, please let me handle this. I've made arrangements for a new Royal Bureau to assist Mr. Colombo…"
        "You can call-a me Chris, king-a baby."
        His Majesty cleared his throat and started again, "All the finest minds in Spain: scholars, alchemists, philosophers, inquisitors, clergy, bookkeepers, accountants, scribes, procurement analysts…"
        "At's-a nice. So — when can I get-a goin', eh?"
        "I'll commission a feasability study for the next fiscal year."
        Chris was considerably older when he finally boarded his flagship. Well, actually, his only ship. Two others had been eliminated by budget cuts. But the Niña was a fine ship. Expensive, anyway.
        The original plans had called for a sturdy oaken hull. The appropriations committee objected to the expense, so pine was substituted. When it was discovered that pine had an unfortunate tendency to break up during re-entry to the harbor, the bureau devised an ingenious solution, covering the entire hull with bricks, each one a unique creation, no two alike. Though that solved the re-entry problem, it also made the ship sink, so they strapped a long pontoon to each side made up of a series of barrels. It was an unstable arrangement — if even one barrel broke, it could cause a catastrophic failure of the whole structure. The coopers advised the Harbor Master to postpone any launches if the weather was bad, but he ignored them.
        Chris never did make it to the New World. Due to a number of modifications to the sailing paramaters and a restructuring of the mission objectives, he was only able to discover the Canary Islands. After six trips that produced nothing but a few soil samples, the whole concept of manned voyages was scrapped in favor of sending robotic messages in bottles, instead.

        I had had some kind of nagging voice within me tell me that I needed to go to the Cape, that I would learn something there that would prove to be important for the story. I still don't know what it could have been — certainly nothing obvious. The book's not finished as I write this, so maybe I'll become enlightened somehow.
        I was impressed by the size and scope of it all, to be sure. Taxpayers were certainly spending a lot of money on something, but I couldn't help but feel a certain amount of disappointment, as well. Maybe if I hadn't come to expect so much from the sci-fi promises of my youth, it wouldn't have been so bad. The underlying frustration, though, is in the realization that the dreams had been co-opted by a vast, impersonal government facelessness that had no soul at all.
        Do you know what the conquest of space is all about? It's not the discovery of techno-doodads. It doesn't have anything to do with sample return missions. Science in itself is only something that we have to learn so that we can truly leave the planet of our birth. Nobody who works for the government could ever possibly have a clue as to what it all means.
        It's sex.
        I don't mean zero-g honeymoon suites. I mean the propagation of our seed into the cosmos, of making sure that our legacy will survive the vagaries of cosmic chance, of launching ourselves and our descendents into infinity.
        Our ripe planet should burst into space, carrying the little bits of us to new places where we can make new beginnings. We should swarm, bringing our knowledge and our courage to every dark corner of the universe. We should seek out new spawning grounds, create otherworldly nurseries, and show our children different-colored skies.
        That is what we are truly meant to do. I only hope that the bureaucratic rot that holds us back will eventually collapse of its own dead weight. It's a blind alley. We'll get there eventually when some greedy bastards figure out how to turn a buck from the endeavor.
        When the tour was over, I climbed back in my car and headed west.

Next: The Passion Café
Coming soon…

Proper Waffles
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© Patrick Hill, 2000