* * *
By the time Richard realized he was losing the details of his existence, he’d already forgotten his middle name. It wasn’t long before his last name was gone as well. Scared, it took Richard a long time, one night, after an unknown number of “nights” or “days” in solar orbit, where there is no true night nor day, for him to fall asleep.
When he slept, he rarely remembered his dreams. This one, he remembered.
He was plummeting to his doom, from a great height. As he got closer to the ground, he wished he were not there. And then he wasn’t. He fell right into the ground, and then kept going. What in hell is going on, he thought? He thought of his last science class, for the first time years.
He was trying to figure out what was going on when the direction of his fall reversed itself. It was an odd sensation. He felt as though he’d turned inside-out. However, he wasn’t too disoriented to think, and he realized he must be inside the earth. He didn’t know what would happen if he returned to his normal state while inside liquid or solid rock, but he didn’t want to find out, either. He waited, therefore, until he came flying out of the ocean on the other side of the earth.
He woke up. Earth was recognizable in front of him. Soon, it was larger in his field of view. He reasoned that he must be moving very fast. How fast, he thought? He didn’t know.
Richard didn’t want to come out the other side, above — what, the Indian Ocean? — some ocean, apparently, he thought, as he tried his best to picture all sides of a globe in his mind.
In the dream, he remembered having the idea that his density were under his conscious control. He had lowered it to essentially nothing, and had passed right into the ground. No longer dreaming, he raised a hand and looked at at.
Rather, he tried. It wasn’t there.
Panicked, he ran. On what? There didn’t seem to be a floor below him. A door did appear after a time, though, and he opened it, reasoning that what lay on the other side must be better than what there was here, where he apparently didn’t exist.
He opened the door, and saw two corridors before him. On the left, a bright light shone, but was very far away– he couldn’t tell how far. On the right, the passageway became darker as it receded from him, until an absolute darkness appeared, in which no detail could be seen.
He stepped just inside the passageway on the left, choosing light, at least for now, over darkness. He closed the door behind him, after passing through it, whereupon it promptly vanished. The earth grabbed his attention, which wasn’t difficult, considering that it appeared larger than before.
The corridors could no longer be seen, but they could be felt. He could control his density. The singularity had . . . had . . . told him this. So they knew. Wait — they? Who are we, he thought, and where did the singularity go?
It was then that he realized no one had told him about a singularity. He didn’t even know the word. The idea had been communicated to him, but not by anyone he could see. By the singularity itself, conscious, apparently, only from the time he, and his small space pod, had fallen into it.
The space pod had been destroyed — ripped apart. Richard remembered that. He did not remember losing his hand, nor the rest of his body. But, wait, there it was now — but faded. He could see stars through it.
With a thought, he increased his density. The stars vanished. He stayed that way for a time. He slept, and woke again. Earth was larger still. He could see South America, and remembered studying it in school.
He was obviously moving quickly, and chose to reduce his density to a very low amount (making the stars appear though him again) before encountering the atmosphere. It would be good, he reasoned, to slow down, and not repeat his dream with his actual life.
When the atmosphere came, he knew right away, for the thin bits of matter he was permitting into his body’s normal, human-shaped volume lit up, flaming from the friction. He became aware of the heat, but it did not hurt him. Arriving at sunrise, some from the unlit side of the earth thought they saw a meteor. On the sunlight side of earth, no one noticed, for the light of his re-entry was indistinguishable from the sunlit clouds watched in that morning’s sunrise.
For a time, Richard saw little but flame, but it began to fade once friction had slowed him down enough that the heat radiation produced was no longer visible. He could still perceive it, as a color he had never seen before (and would be helpless to explain), but he could use the parts of the spectrum normal humans can see to look “above” it.
He puzzled over his seeming to intuitively understand physics, which he had never studied, while he used this knowledge to slow himself down, and land, slowly, at normal density for a human. He was glowing red-hot, still, from the heat of re-entry, but did not feel uncomfortable. A lone tree nearby caught fire, and burned up quickly, but there were no other trees to which the fire could quickly spread. There was dried grass and leaves burning, though, and that could spread — just more slowly. Richard felt compelled by conscience (a completely new feeling for him, and he didn’t know why he had one now, but not before) to put the fire out. As soon as he had cooled off enough to do so, he put the fire out by stomping it out with his boots.
Boots? When had he put boots on, he wondered? How did they survive re-entry, as had, mysteriously, the clothes he had on, including a favorite t-shirt from when he had been a teenager, lost, in a move, years ago? He tried, but could not figure out how this was possible.
He wondered one thing, above everything else: where was he?
The question “What was he?” was a better question, but that didn’t occur to him for about twenty minutes after he stomped the last of the fire out.
Once he was sure it was extinguished, he started walking forward through a grassy area, along a gentle upward slope, following his shadow to keep himself going the same direction, and practicing his density-control as he walked, which caused his shadow to fade, disappear, and then gradually reappear, over and over. He found that he preferred walking at about half his normal density, simply because he didn’t weigh as much in that condition. He walked for many hours; later that day, he was walking away from his shadow, because the sun had passed overhead, and was now behind him in the sky. Later, the sun set. Richard then stopped walking, until a dozen or so stars were visible. Richard set his gaze on the brightest star he could see, near the horizon, that was in the general direction he was going, for he didn’t want to double back by mistake and come back to the burned remains of the tree near his landing-spot. He walked all night.
[to be continued]