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Body Solar

Breathebreathebreathebreathebreathe . . .

I can’t remember how to breathe, he thought. Panic began to set in, but he managed to fight it back down, turning it into a cool lump in the pit of his stomach, rather than a piercing starburst.

There’s a breath now. He felt himself begin to relax. Remember what the lady said . . .

The voice in his head seemed to become urgent. He turned his mind away from the new sensations and tried to concentrate on what was being said. Words and thoughts danced away from his grasp for a moment before he found the ability to focus.

“Simon, this is Anna.” The voice sounded lovely, and familiar. He imagined himself frowning as he tried to place it. “We need to test all systems before you get too far away from us. Can you please try to take a breath?”

A breath? With a shock he realized for the first time that he hadn’t been breathing. Fear started to override his somewhat dulled senses and he tried to take a great, shuddering breath, like a swimmer who had dived too deep and only just made it to the surface in time. Instead, he felt his chest lift very slightly and a small amount of air move into his lungs.

It didn’t feel like enough, and he struggled for another. His body wouldn’t cooperate.

“No, Simon,” said the voice in his head. “Don’t try to take another. Your body knows what to do now and will breathe when it needs to.”

“Who is this?” He had tried to speak, but rather than hearing words from his mouth, it felt like he had spoken inside his head.

“It is Anna, Simon. Dr. Schaum. Do you remember where you are?”

His thoughts slowly stirred about for a moment, then as they neared the answer they seemed to pick up speed, making him think of the rats in Africa scurrying about when newslights were turned on them. When he managed to pin one thought down, it struck him as the right one.


His back felt warm. Kind of itchy, too. Turn my head, he thought. Then, I remember, it takes a long time. But I can wait.

His eyes took in everything around him. Mostly, it was just blackness, punctuated by dots of light. Nothing but stars all around me. Stars and me and my sail.

He hadn’t turned his head enough to see the sail, yet. Funny how he hadn’t thought to look at it before now.

How long have I been out here?

Eyes still seeing the black velvet with the pinholes, he tried to remember the name.

Oh. “Anna?” There was no answer, but he didn’t feel hurried. He easily remembered that patience had never been one of his strong points, but he felt no anxiety now.

A shock of recognition went through him. My arm. I can see my arm, stretched out, reaching up and to my side. His head was still turning, slowly, as he could gauge the rate by watching how long it took to move the view along his arm.

“Mr. Helbrecht?” a voice spoke in his head. It didn’t sound like Anna, but he thought it best not to take a chance.


Again, he waited. He could see his hand now, at the end of his arm. It looked funny, with the sail attached to it, like it was caught in the middle of metamorphosing from flesh to gossamer. And just beyond his outstretched fingers he could see where the sail broke into the vacuum; the optical distortion that made the sail look as if it were broken in two at the divide. Like looking into or out of water.

A fish in a bowl, he thought. That’s me. Except that my bowl is going places.

“No, Mr. Helbrecht. This is Michel Giroux. Dr. Schaum is not currently monitoring this frequency. Are you in need of something?”

“I don’t remember you.”

The sail seemed to go on forever, shining from the light behind, a beautiful thing to see. He pretended he could see the little photons crashing up against it, forcing him faster and faster towards . . .

Hmm. I can’t remember where I’m going either.

That could wait. His head had turned enough that he could see the top of his shoulder now. It was covered with green, a sort of algae. That much he could remember.

Ironically, he felt his body take a breath.

“Yes, Mr. Helbrecht, I know you don’t remember me. I am new at this position. Now. Did you have a question for me, Mr. Helbrecht?”

A question? I wanted to ask . . . No! I mean, “I wanted to ask how long have I been out here? And before I forget again, where is it I’m going?”

If he watched closely and for some time, he could see the algae shift positions along his arm and down over his shoulder blade to where he couldn’t see.

The sun felt warm on his cheek.

“How do you feel?”

Simon heard the voice, but he didn’t want to open his eyes. Instead, he grunted.

“I’ll take that to mean lousy, which was expected. Do you know who this is, Simon?”

“Anna,” he grunted. “Why do you always ask me that question?”

She laughed, and the sound of her unforced humor drained a bit of the pain away. “You’ve gone through two years of sessions and restructuring, Simon. You tell me why.”

He finally managed to pry open his eyes, blinking the lids to try to lose the gumminess, but she was nowhere around. Then he remembered his neural input. “Because I’m likely to forget all sorts of things while I’m sailing. So you are doing your best to at least imprint your name into my memory.”

“Very good. Now, is your back itchy?”

He paused for a moment to sort that question out. Then, “Yes, it is. Oh, I wish you hadn’t said anything! Now I want to scratch!”

“Well, please don’t, Simon. The algal implant needs about three days to take hold. And if you can’t control your fingers we may have to strap your arms down.”

Simon kept his arms down, trying not to think about the light tickling sensation of the huge mass of algae growing on his back. He had already spent an inordinate amount of money, over half of his personal fortune, and if any step of the procedure was unsuccessful he would lose his chance and forfeit the money spent. Many others had spent almost as much, only to lose out on the newest vacation of a lifetime because their bodies and psyches could not handle the stress of the transformation.

Aside from some minor mechanical details, the algal implant was the second last stage in the process leading to his trip. It was also one of the single most important. Without it, he would have no air to breathe and no food, as it were, to eat.

“Mr. Helbrecht, I’m not allowed to tell you how long you’ve been gone. Remember? We don’t want you getting hung up on time. You paid good money to take a trip where you didn’t have to worry about what the time was.

“As for your destination, you are proceeding to a predetermined location approximately equal to one-point-five A.U. from the sun.”

“Oh. Thank you very much. Can I talk to Anna now?”

His neck had seemed to have reached its maximum extension. He tried to turn his head further but couldn’t.

Happy he had seen this view, Simon started turning his head again. This time he would look down, to his feet and beyond.

The man had said he didn’t have to worry about time. Certainly he wasn’t bothered by the length of time it took him to move his head, so he guessed this to be true.

“Hello, Simon. This is Anna. How are you doing?”

“Hello, Anna! I’m doing wonderfully, thank you! I don’t know how long it has been since I launched, but I think that for the first time since then I’m really and truly aware of things!”

Off to his right, where his head was still facing, he saw a bright light that made him pause in his thoughts. It flared brighter than anything else he could see in the sky, and seemed to be lasting for a very long time. Only after it had decreased in size by a bit did he remember he had been talking to Dr. Schaum.

“It’s very beautiful out here, Anna. I just saw a very bright light. Was it a ship, perhaps even your ship?”

After seeing the flaring light and the shine of the sun reflecting off his sail, the rest of space seemed very dark. As his head slowly turned to look down, his eyes moved along his body. It was in shadow, lit only by the low light of distant stars and by the one dim light of a small box embedded in his otherwise naked belly.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, Simon. I must warn you that we can’t keep this link up for very much longer.”

“That’s all right, Anna. Hey! What’s this little thing on my stomach for? I can’t remember.”

The light from the box was a steady, mesmerizing glow. The box was small, only a few centimeters by a few centimeters. He felt his body take a breath and watched as the box rose and sank slowly and not very deeply.

“Yes, Simon, it was a ship. A barge boosting for the asteroids. You saw its fusion rockets.”


The box eventually lost his interest. He focused his eyes beyond the box; first on his feet, then on the vacuum below. His mind experienced a brief moment of vertigo as he stared down into nothingness, but he quickly recovered.

“That box, Simon, is your force-field generator. It helps keep you alive.”

He felt like a freak. Standing in front of the floor-length mirror, his body had to be the most bizarre thing he had ever seen in his life. Perhaps, he mused, if things didn’t work out he could join one of those old-time circus side-shows that were now sweeping the continent. Or maybe hide away in some religious retreat.

Simon was naked, standing and staring at his body straight on. A small gray box was on his belly, embedded in his skin so that it was partly inside his body and mostly out, fixed in place just above his belly button. He touched it with his hand; it felt warm, but not uncomfortably so.

Then he raised his arms straight into the air and watched as the mutant algae slowly migrated from his armpits and around to his back. He then shifted a couple of the mirrors and watched all of his back, a brown and green carpet slowly but constantly changing positions.

Next his gaze fell downwards along the mirror, to his buttocks. The only area along his backside where there were none of his life-giving little plant friends, but only because of the waste reclaimer. It looked for all the world like somebody had mounted a shiny metal helmet on his ass and crotch to function as a diaper. Which was essentially what had happened, except his wastes were undergoing drastic changes in composition, and this diaper took those wastes and changed them into something he could use.

Finally, he looked at his right arm. Several dozen small yellow bruises marched up and down the length of his upper arm, signs of the time-delayed implants that would slow his bodily functions to help him survive his trip, although they could also contribute to the forgetfulness Anna had warned him about.

“You ready for the last stage?”

Simon turned around to look at Anna, who was standing on the other side of the force-field that kept him safe from contaminants. She had her hands in her pockets and was obviously making an effort to look into his eyes, and nowhere else.

“Sure,” said Simon. “When do we start?”

“Right away. I’ll get you to go place yourself in your body sling, and then we will be shutting off gravity and putting you to sleep.”

He walked over and strapped himself in. “This is the last time I’ll see you, right?”

“I should be on the ship when it picks you up. But yes, this will be the last time for some years.”

“Mm. Then perhaps I can invite you to meet me back on Earth after this is over; I can buy you lunch in Paris or Frankfurt.”

She smiled warmly. “I’d like that very much, Simon.”

He returned her smile. “Until then, Anna. Thank you for all your help.”

“You’re welcome, and thank you. I hope you enjoy your sail, Simon.”

He tried to tell her that he thought enjoy wasn’t necessarily the best word to use, but he felt himself nodding off and so just went with the flow of sleep.


There was a lot that could be said for solitude. Since his last conversation, Simon had not tried to contact nor had he been contacted by Anna.

At first he did talk to himself, at least within his head. Short little discussions, reminders to himself to do something or another when he finished this voyage; more often than not they were business related. But over time the need for that tapered off, and now he rarely did anything like that any more.

Instead, he just was. Existence was enough. He was a part of the blackness that was in front of him, and of the light that he was slowly leaving behind.

No more thoughts of home, of either his penthouse flat in the co-op in Bruxelles or of his winter retreat off the coast of Thailand. No more thoughts of business, the nano company he owned that he had left in capable hands while away. No more thoughts of family, his sister who he dearly loved and who had cried uncontrollably when he had boarded the railgun shuttle, and his brother who he despised and yet was saddened by the strength of that hatred.

His awareness was limited, but in the few moments of reflection he did have he realized that that made it all the more complete. He was a piece of cosmic dust, being carried by the solar wind.

He supposed that time was going by, but it didn’t really seem to be anything to concern himself with. He was where he was, and he would get to where he was going when he got there.

There was a large clump of algae that had made its way up his neck and around to the side of his ear. It was now hanging from his left earlobe. He couldn’t see it and he could barely feel it, but Simon guessed that it looked like a strange green and brown earring.

He currently had his head tilted down and to the left, eyes gazing off onto the dark. Thus he felt, more than saw, the algae break loose from his ear and slide slowly through the air to the front of his throat. It stayed there for a long time.


He spent all of his time just watching the algae. It now covered his chest and was halfway down his belly.

It moved slowly, but whenever his body took a breath he could see little pools of it stirring within the main mass. He had no idea why it was still alive on his dark side, facing away from the sun, although a distant part of him did remember seeing it collect under his armpits before he had been launched.

“Simon, this is Anna. We have received a distress call from the barge you saw boosting last year.” Last year? Last year! “We are the closest ship and have been asked to attempt a rescue. I’m afraid we won’t be able to pick you up, as we are just about to commence acceleration.

“Instead, a ship is being prepared in lunar orbit right now, and will be able to leave in just under three weeks. It should be there to pick you up about four months later than planned.

“I’m sorry, Simon. I really wanted to be there when you came back on board. I hope the extra time doesn’t hinder you. The company has asked me to tell you that they will refund some of your money, and I’d like to ask if we are still on for lunch. Take care, Simon.”

An extra four months.

It took him, he supposed, some time to find the words, as he had used none for what must have been a very long time. “Anna, this is Simon. Since I haven’t been paying attention to the passage of time, I would say that it is not a big problem. I hope you are able to save people on your mission of mercy. And yes, I do remember something about lunch, so I hope to see you back on Earth. You take care as well.”

That was that. He had extra time, but no way of really perceiving it.

The algae had surrounded his force-field generator. With his head hung down he watched, curious as to what the little plants would do next.

They had been there for what seemed a long time, although he conceded to himself that it could have just as easily been almost no time at all. But now it seemed that something was happening; the generator started to fizz and shake, and he was suddenly afraid that some algae had managed to worm its way into the box.

A few sparks flew, and then with a loud BANG! a bolt of electricity shot out and found the only other power source within the field; his neural input.

The jolt fried his connections with the input. As the device was intertwined with his speech centers, the shock he suffered caused an immediate loss of his ability to speak, or even to form cognitive thoughts that he could translate into words. As well, the input’s link with the company command vessels went down.

When the main shock hit him, Simon lost consciousness immediately. His body reacted at the same time, however, much stronger and faster than it had been for some years, as the surge of electricity forced his muscles to override the time-delay implants.

A sudden, involuntary jerk pulled his right arm in towards his body, which caused the sail on that side to begin collapsing. The force-field generator, while damaged, was still operating, and sensed the fall of the huge solar sail. It immediately cast out a micron-thin force-field fan, propping up the sail until it could again fill out with solar wind.

In the meantime, Simon’s course had changed.

“We’ve lost a signal.”

Dr. Petrone rushed over to the board. “Whose?”

Karl called up the readout. “Simon Helbrecht. Nothing coming from his input unit as of forty five seconds ago.”

“Try to coax it back on line. I’ll get Claire to plot his trajectory.”

Dr. Petrone thrust his body into the slot and pulled himself along the tunnel that connected the tracking station with the ship’s control deck. In his hurry he cracked a hand against one of the grips and then bashed his head against one of the daylight-balanced light panels when he pulled back in pain. Nursing his sore hand he pulled himself along a bit more cautiously. Claire, the ship’s brain, had anticipated the call and had the trajectory projection ready when Dr. Petrone pulled himself into the control deck.

Captain Galvez and two of her crew were also waiting for him. “We can leave in eight days, Beni,” she told him. “No sooner.”

He studied the trajectory map and sucked on his sore hand, nervous and angry.


He couldn’t remember who he was, but that didn’t really bother him. It felt like that was a normal state of affairs.

Come to think of it, he didn’t know what he was, either. Turning his head slowly, he looked at as much of himself as was possible.

All he could see was a brown and green mass, lumpy and shifting ever so slowly. And beyond that mass was blackness, punctuated by points of light.

“Our scans aren’t turning up anything, Captain.” Claire spoke out loud, for the benefit of the two people on board who did not have neural inputs.

Captain Galvez floated over to her chair and strapped herself in. The rest of the crew did the same. She turned on the pager and spoke. “All hands, strap in for boost to next search zone. Thirty seconds.”

After the thirty seconds the fusion rockets kicked in, and she was punched back into her form-fitting seat with a force of over three gees. The boost lasted for three minutes, followed by a break of equal length, before an additional two minute boost.

Then the search continued.

The first few times that he had felt his throat begin to be blocked he had managed to swallow. Whatever was in there would drop down to his stomach and he would feel comfortable again. But during one lengthy period where his mind was elsewhere, the constriction became too much to swallow away.

Because he was used to taking breaths far apart from each other, it took a long time to realize he was no longer breathing. By then, his mind had slipped into an almost total fog. What used to be Simon tried one more time to claw to the top of his consciousness, but the well was too deep.

Still, something of him remained.


Captain Galvez exited her ship. Ahead of her hung the massive bulk of the research ship Waldsemüller, its bulbous front end pointing her way. Her personal force-field irised minutely and for only two seconds, and air jetted out behind her, pushing her towards the other ship.

Claire spoke in her head. “Dr. Schaum is requesting that you use port number three, Captain. And to please maintain silence unless you are talking through me. Her own ship’s brain is not as sophisticated as I.”

Galvez grunted in response and irised her field again, this time in front. She bumped up gently against the ship and then created a pseudopod to grab hold of a handle while she waited for the airlock door to open. When inside and the ship’s oxygen had finished cycling in she shut down her field and waited for the inner door to slide open.

When it did, both Dr. Schaum and Captain N’Dour were waiting for her. Schaum was tall and blonde, graying a bit, with light blue eyes. Worry lines creased her face. N’Dour was a huge, dour-looking Azanian, hair shaved off and with three earrings in each ear, emulating the style of imagined pirates from long ago. Where the doctor wore a jumpsuit, N’Dour wore shorts and nothing else. His body was well-muscled.

All three nodded tersely and exchanged quick greetings before the two turned and led her down a short hall to a small, plain room with a low round table and four chairs. They sat down, although Captain Galvez found the artificial gravity strange, having been living under SAR procedures for the last four months on her own ship, the naval vessel Mitterand.

“Claire tells me you think you’ve found Mr. Helbrecht, Captain,” said Dr. Schaum.

“We think it’s him,” she responded, “But . . . he’s not in good shape. Even for someone who is probably dead. We sent a snooper and the graphics it brought back were not very promising.” Galvez pulled a portable viewer with multiple jacks from her kangaroo pouch.

Both Dr. Schaum and Captain N’Dour plugged in and watched with the snooper’s eyes as it probed alongside the lumpy brown mass that seemed to have once been a human body. Captain Galvez noted with interest the looks of horror and then sadness that crossed the doctor’s face. They both unjacked.

Captain N’Dour leaned his imposing bulk forward, elbows on his knees and hands clasped together. “I understand that Claire has briefed you on the need for silence from the navy, Captain?”

Galvez nodded, angry that she had to follow orders to serve the needs of a conglomerate over the needs of an individual, and angry that N’Dour was emphasizing his point with his bulk. She leaned forward as well, putting her face uncomfortably close to his. After a brief hesitation, he leaned back a bit.

“I sympathize, Captain Galvez,” said Dr. Schaum, looking a bit confused at what was playing out in front of her. “It infuriates me, too. But if this gets out, the regulatory boards would shut us down, and I think you’d agree the research we do for you is too valuable to lose. But our commercial public ventures are important to us getting, and I quote the company line here, ‘much needed short-term capital to aid in the financial upkeep of the corporation.’ And since the boards check our ship’s brain every time we re-orbit, we have this need for secrecy even out here.”

“So we just leave him out there?”

She nodded. “We can come up with a half-dozen reasons that his telemetry shut down, all having to do with his actions or else the people who installed his neural input, which was manufactured, incidentally, by a Chinese company. We’ll get a little bit of heat, but not enough to shut us down.

“But if we bring the body on board, then people will see what happened to the algal implant. That will be the end of this business, as well as the end of research that has supplied you with things like your personal force-field.”

Captain N’Dour stood, evidently trying to tilt the intimidation factor back in his favor. “He’s gone, Captain Galvez. Consider him our latest message to the stars.” He walked out, followed by Dr. Schaum. Then a crewman came in and led Galvez back to the airlock.

As she coasted back to her ship she watched the blackness beneath her feet, and wondered what it would be like to drift this way forever.


The thing lit up and moved away. Watching it leave, it was as though he were looking through a thick gauze.

It had been with him for some time: above him, below him and beside him. And then when it left he was alone again.

For a long time he waited for it, or something like it, to return. He seemed to expect it, although he wasn’t sure why. But nothing else came.

When he finally realized he was truly alone, he turned all of his attention to the distant stars. Arms spread wide as if to embrace them, he glided silently towards the unknown.

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