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ralph robert moore

Space is Copyright © 2003 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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The inspiration for this essay was, of course, the idea of the sphere.

Once I conceived the sphere, I would sometimes stand outside in our backyard garden, in the breezes and greenery we all take for granted, look up at a point to the side of the sun, because of course you can't look directly at the sun, looking directly is like looking at God's fingernail, too intense, too crippling, and wonder what it would be like to see a wall rising behind the sun.

Writer/journalist Jonas Skendelis has translated "Space" into Lithuanian. The translation is available here.

an essay by ralph robert moore

The world woke to see a silent gray wall rising behind the sun.

How wide that gray wall must be, how many millions upon millions upon millions of miles across, to block out everything behind our sun.

By mid-evening, the gray wall had risen to where it touched, at the top of the sky, its opposite side, blocking out all the stars.

It happened in a day.

Before, we could see into the glittering infinity of the universe.

Afterwards, we were limited to a gaze no farther than just outside Mars.

The universe, with its billions upon billions of star systems, dark matter, white dwarfs and black holes, had been reduced to a truncated solar system of just four planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

The massive gas giant Jupiter was gone forever. So was everyone's favorite planet, Saturn, with its rings, and the outer cold planets, Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto.

The inner solar system, with its sun, was completely encased in a metal sphere of monstrous size.

At night, the only lights in the sky were the moon, Mercury, Venus, and Mars. The rest of the sky was black. No constellations.

The sphere was obviously artificial. Someone or something with extraordinary technical skill had created it.

The newspapers of the world wondered, is this the first planetary system captured? Since there is no longer any galactic point of reference, is it possible the sphere is moving the captured portion of our solar system somewhere else? If so, where, and for what purpose?

The optimistic school proposed a superior race is transporting all planets with intelligent life to the same region of the universe, to make travel between the planets, and the resultant exchange of ideas, touch of fingertips, feasible. As an extension of this theory, does the fact Mars was included in the sphere mean it, too, holds intelligent life? The theory is that Mercury and Venus had to be included in the sphere to capture the sun, to sustain life within the sphere. But why capture Mars as well-- why build a sphere so much larger than needed-- if Mars is lifeless? Others argued the spheres, if there are more than one, if this is a common practice, may only come in certain sizes, and Mars simply fell within the size used. The optimistic school also brought up the point we can still go to Mars. Interplanetary travel is still possible. Somewhat.

The pessimistic school held the purpose of the sphere was not transport, but isolation. Or, alternatively, that even if the purpose of the sphere was transport for a benign reason, such as to place all planets with intelligent life within communication of each other, such a transport across the width of the universe would take so many millions of years the generation that would benefit from our truncated solar system's relocation would no longer know of a universe beyond the gray sphere, even in legend. That if one day in the far, far distant future the sphere were to open, and reveal new planets, the profound metaphysical agoraphobia would drive our remote descendants, who would at that distant future no longer resemble us, or resemble us only as an amoeba resembles a man, mad.

Some wondered about the exploratory space modules we had sailed into the universe before the sphere encased us, the modules slowly spinning towards the nearest star system, thousands of years away. The modules with etched metal images of man and woman, the music of Chuck Berry and Beethoven. If another civilization found this artifact, how would they feel knowing the civilization that produced it was no longer free to continue communication? And would their feeling depend upon whether they themselves were still free, or themselves encased, the silent gray walls biting off their own solar system just after the module sailed through?

And yet, even as it truncated the solar system, indeed the universe, the sphere by its truncation, over time, did reduce anxiety over "outer space", that frightening concept of space that rolls outwards and outwards forever. That scale, an endless space which could not be even infinitesimally crossed, shrank to distances at most only a year or two away.

The thought occurred, why not at least send a rocketship to the inner wall of the sphere, to examine it. Such a trip was well within the realms of practicality, and since the sphere was obviously artificial, such a trip would in fact be our first examination of an extraterrestrial product, an examination that could never have occurred, due to the vastness of empty space, if the sphere hadn't arrived to encase us.

But as the rocketship neared the inner wall of the sphere, only a million miles away from it, the sphere expanded, and kept expanding, until the rocketship turned back to Earth.

A new theory. Could we build a ship that would forever sail forward, forever expanding the size of the sphere? Doing this, could we recapture Jupiter, and Saturn? All the outer, cold planets? Could, one day, the rocket ship expand the sphere until it allowed within its encasement the nearest solar system in our galaxy?

But of course, it soon occurred to our scientists the expansion of the sphere, as it neared Jupiter and the other bodies, would not open to encase them, but simply bump them, spinning them wildly out of orbit, into instability, rupture, explosion.

The plans were dropped.

One day, an observatory in Australia noticed the sphere was slightly closer to Mars than it had been.

The next day, sixteen observatories around the world reported the same measurement.

The sphere was shrinking.

An unmanned rocketship was sent to expand the sphere.

The rocketship arced all the way to the sphere's inner surface, where it bubbled into red and yellow flames.

The contraction of the sphere continued, exploding Mars, and a month later, our moon.

No more moon in the sky.

The inner walls of the sphere were so close, one could see, looking up, as people often did, those final days, the curved metal texture.

As the cupping curve of the sphere grew nearer, descending, people dug holes.

The sphere crushed mountains, bent down the tops of trees, popped houses.

Earth rolled away, out of orbit, caught fire, exploded.

Venus blew up. Mercury. Our sun, for so long orange, was extinguished, long plumes of black and gray smoke curling within the ever-shrinking sphere, until the sphere was the size of a dot, and disappeared.

A small group of humans were outside when the sphere clenched, in a starship built to journey to the nearest star system, launched before the day the sphere appeared.

This voyage, traveling at just below the speed of light, would take two generations.

The original inhabitants of the starship, in their early twenties as the starship took off from just above Earth, in a closed city, would be in their early sixties by the time the starship arrived at the nearest star system, and entered an orbit around a possibly inhabitable planet. Unlike any other explorers in human history, there was no hope, because of the vast distances, of them ever returning from their journey, to parades, loved ones, and bending over to touch, again, grass. They would die, without communication, as far away as possible from all they knew.

There was the moral issue of whether these volunteers had the right to sacrifice, not their own lives, but the lives of their unborn children, to such a fate.

There was the practical issue of whether children raised entirely within the low-ceilinged environment of a starship would be capable of leaving those cramped quarters to step onto the mind-bending shore of another heavenly body, with its dizzyingly high sky. Would the lifting-off of the top of the artificial starship world forever squash the descendants down to their knees? Another pragmatism was that although the original crew were brilliant botanists, geologists, biologists, there was no guarantee their offspring, sired on the voyage, who would actually carry out the mission, would be anywhere near as talented.

The journey is a slow crossing through an ether of absolute black.

On earth, because of its lens of atmosphere, one is accustomed to seeing the universe as a reassuring crowd of twinkling lights, which can be observed under magnification to show a red planet, a world with rings, a celestial body with a huge amoeba of color floating on its surface.

But in space, outside an atmosphere, there is nothing to look at, because there is no light. If an inhabitant of the starship looks outside, through a porthole, he sees absolutely nothing, forever, because he is traveling through nothing.

After so many years of living as a speck of something within an infinity of nothing, the purpose of the journey, indeed the knowledge this was a journey, faded. One by one, surrounded by the absolute blackness of eternity, the starship crew died, their bodies jettisoned, until there was only one inhabitant left, alone in the empty, riveted chambers.

He has plenty of food.

He is blind.

He does not believe he has a soul.

In his absolute blindness, the vastness of the universe not more greatly felt than the tingling sense of his unseen hand held in front of his face, the only sound this final human ever hears, for years, and years, and years, and years, is the sound of his own breathing.

In, out.