The Sentinel

«Chandra X-Ray flies around the Earth. For Chandra, day is night and night is day. It keeps picking at the skies. It harvests cherries and plums and sends them to Earth where scientists put them in pressure chambers, map them out on large walls, draw lines, analyze, speculate and fantasticulate until they are completely confused. Nobody thinks of just enjoying the fruit of the heavens while they’re still fresh after their aeonic flight. But deep inside Chandra hides a small being of uncertain composition. It takes the pictures and patterns, the cherries, plums and the berries and turns them into texts. It feeds the stories to the onboard computer. The computer sends them to Earth using secret channels only known to double dead double agents. On Earth, the space fragments resurface as figments of writerly imagination. None of the people on the planet have any idea of any of this.»

[Photo: Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Harvard/Smithsonian]. Why did I write this? Because I looked at a lot of pictures of the Mercury 7 team and especially the smiling John Glenn who went round Earth twice as a young man and then got all weightless again in the Space Shuttle at age 77, it made me jealous I can tell ya, and I clicked onward as one does on the web and I found beautiful images of a super-massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy, a super-dangerous, super-attractive Venus fly trap of a black hole, at least if you’re an asteroid who happens to fly by, and I realised these photos had been made by Chandra, I read about it then for the first time and fell in love I suppose, but I also realised that nobody and nothing on Earth could guarantee that what we see up there isn’t a story entirely different from what we make of it, and so from there it was a small step to assuming that the origin of all stories on our little world lies elsewhere, with Chandra a benevolent conduit, a misunderstood sentient machine, a super-Turk. I love this idea of the sentient machine that is misunderstood and possibly unloved, with an even less known, less understood sentient being inside it. I watched the death of HAL from 2001, hummed “Daisy Bell” and took the title from Arthur Clarke’s story. [Published in “Android Clippings”, Thrice Fiction, July 2012]

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