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Cosmic Voicemail

Nathalie M, Seattle, WA

“This is Major Finnigan broadcasting live, operating from approximately 1/26 lightyears off of
Blue Dwarf 673, Left Quadrant of System XIII from Perspective Earth. Do you copy? No, of
course you don’t.”

Major Finnigan let go of the broadcasting mic and turned around to face his crew.

“It’s like talking to space.”

No one said anything.

“C’mon, laugh, that was a joke. Because we are talking to space.”

A cacophony of garish giggles met his command. Major Finnigan sighed again. This crew, all
young men, so eager to please, so serious in their pursuit. The Major felt old. He looked around
the ship, his skin weathered by the filtered air, his feet planted comfortably on the invisible
floor. Below him, all of space floated. Above him, the ceiling equally transparent, all the rest of
space floated. And he was in between. If he could just forget his crew, it’d just be him and the
stars, floating on towards something like God.

The crew bustled about, preparing for the actual broadcast—this last one was a test. They
pulled sleek silver levers and pressed glowing white buttons, their uniforms creased smartly.
The Major beckoned one for a glass of water, then unfastened his white Captain’s Coat, and
plopped down on the nearest seat. His old man’s behind seeped over the edges of the white
chair which faced a window pointing in the direction of their broadcast.

Avant-garde. That’s how the papers described their mission. Avant-garde. The Major rolled the
French around on his tongue, tasting its promise and glimmer. Avant-garde. Major Finnigan,
Captain of the Avant-Garde Mission of the 22nd century. What was he up here for anyway? He
forgot sometimes. It’s easy to forget in all that open blackness, the Universe. Oh, yes. They
were broadcasting a light message, then racing it to its destination, and receiving it live. Like the
Sun’s rays to Earth, they’d be receiving the past.

If you really thought about it, this mission wasn’t even all that special. It was just about as
special as leaving yourself a voicemail. But it was a publicity stunt. Avant-garde. One for the
dreamers and theologists; the real scientists didn’t waste their time with such trivial matters
like space. No, they tinkered in atoms and artificial life, they sent old Major Finnigan up to take
care of the “New Frontier”, keep the public happy. But space was done. Space was passé. Space
was yesterday’s coffee, and today’s dirty mug. There’s nothing to space; space is nothing.
They’d shown that a while ago. But the people couldn’t quite let go of that dream, of their
astronaut costumes, their alien movies. So that’s why the Major was here, leaving himself a
cosmic voicemail.
“Cosmic Voicemail”, Nathalie M., Seattle, WA

“Captain, the equipment is set. Whenever you’re ready. sir,” The crewman who spoke placed a
tall glass of water next to the Major’s wrinkled left paw. The Major nodded seriously, then
tapped the mic.

“Ready all?” He checked, glancing around at their fresh, blank faces, like clocks, their eyelids
ticking the seconds with blinks.

“All right. Start the broadcast” he ordered a clock. The clock scurried to his side, and pressed
the white recording button reverentially. The others looked jealously at his blessed fingers.

“This is Major Finnigan broadcasting live, operating from approximately 1/26 lightyears off of
Blue Dwarf 673, Left Quadrant of System XIII from Perspective Earth, Base Camp 3. We’re
broadcasting live at 19:23 E.S.T. to test the light speed capacity of the S.S. Downer, Model

The Major droned on. A clock tracked his script for him with another blessed finger. Finally, he
reached the bottom of the script, his eyes itching with the last half hour of focused reading.
Twice, the Major stumbled on a number or word, cringing at the thought of having to listen to
his mistakes fractions of a lightyear later.
The Major awoke from his drowsing nap, his behind now permanently welded to his white
plastic chair. The very chair from which he had left himself his voicemail, 2 days before. The
crew of clocks bustled about him; his sleep-stuffed ears wept at the sound of the obedient
clicking of their heels. What a lonesome business this, traveling among the stars.
“How much longer?” he wondered at a clock.

“4 days left, sir,” he murmured apologetically, like he had run over the Major’s cat or stepped
on his toe, cringing around each word.

A grieving growl stumbled drunkenly from the Major’s sleep-slurred lips. A few days left on this
godforsaken ship! The Major tapped his toes inside his pristine shoes where the clocks couldn’t
Day 4. He snapped his fingers. “Water.” He demanded. A clock refilled his glass. The Major had
only risen twice since leaving his voicemail. Both times were for the restroom, and nothing else.
The Major stared sullenly at each clock’s blank young face, at their pearly unscuffed shoes. The
glare from the white uniforms made him squint. It had been all white shoes and black space,
white and black, black and white for the past 96 hours and the Major seethed with it.
Everywhere, anywhere he looked was ivory clothed clocks or endless onyx universe, the stars
erased in the speed of the Downer. Even the Major’s hands were starting to bleach white in his
gaze if he stared too long. He was beginning to doubt that he would recognize colors besides
black and white if he saw them. Maybe grey.

“Cosmic Voicemail”, Nathalie M., Seattle, WA

Day 5. Today he got up again, this time to unmold himself from the white chair and stretch his
legs. His behind however, retained the plastic’s bowl curve. 5 nights and four days he had sat in
that chair. He shrugged the fatigue from his shoulders like a shawl and staggered stiffly to the
clocks seated respectfully on the steering deck.

“Where’s the kitchen?”

A clock scuttled to his side (“This way sir,”) and led him across the deck and to a white door on
the other side. The Major nodded brusquely, indicating the clock leave him. The clock scuttled
back as the Major flung the door aside, his hand hesitating to touch the white. He traversed the
glass floor and grabbed a cup from the white cabinet next to the white sink. His hand shook the
faucet open and suddenly water was flowing from his eyes too. Softly, he fell apart. His tears
were stars and he was the lonely moon inside them. He had no earth to orbit. Click. A clock
peeked through the door. Sir? The Major threw is overflowing glass at him. It shattered at the
clocks feet. Silence. Click. The clock left. Avant-garde.
Day 6. The Major had returned to his seat. The clocks hadn’t dared to mention his glassy
tantrum. Everyone sat in silence. The Major wiggled his toes, freed from his shoes which he had
kicked off some time ago. Pinky, fourth, middle, second, big toe. Why didn’t toes have special
names like fingers? They were individual digits too, just as important as fingers. Toes helped
you walk. Kept your balance. They wiggled assuringly, kept you company.
Day 7. The major sat flaccidly in his white plastic chair. The clocks scurried around him
preparing for receiving the broadcast from a week ago. Water swished in the half-full glass by
the major’s hand. Finally, a crackling over the radio. A murmur tilted the clocks’ otherwise
straight lips. They had the cameras ready, recording this historic moment, this avant-garde
moment, for all the little people back on earth. But the crackle died. “False alarm,” some-clock
whispered, and they returned to their mindless bustling, switching the camera off to save
precious battery. A clock stepped up to the major to pour water into his glass, the pitcher tilted,
ready to bleed its contents. The water trickled and the clock’s shoes were white against the
black space below. The Major watched, frozen. The last drop fell into place, and the Major felt
his heart squeeze. The squeeze was hard and painful, but it passed in the next moment. The
clocks had stopped though, shock frozen on their otherwise blank faces. The major looked
down and noticed that his hand shook, and the clock gulped, the pitcher trickling feebly at his
side, the water turning his white shoes dark. This made the major smile, seeing those white
shoes ruined ruined. No more white. He wondered for a moment if the clock’s toes were
getting soggy. This made him giggle. The clock choked on a gasp. The giggle slithered back down
the major’s throat.

“What?” Silence met his rasping voice. The major wondered why the clocks didn’t do anything,
not even to fix the growing puddle on the floor, or start up the recording material again.
“Is he dead?” A clock spoke. The one with the pitcher reached his hand up to the Major’s hand.
The Major reeled back—but his body stayed in place. The clock’s hand closed over the Major’s
wrist, the wrinkles in stark contrast to the clock’s youthful skin.

“Cosmic Voicemail”, Nathalie M., Seattle, WA

“Yes. No pulse. He just turned all purple and… I don’t know.”

The Major gasped and stood up. But there he still was, sitting in the chair. He turned to shake
himself. “Get up!” But his body rested in the chair, shoulders slumped and eyes frozen.
So much could happen in a week.

A crackle and buzz. “This is Major Finnigan broadcasting live, operating from approximately
1/26 lightyears off of Blue Dwarf 673, Left Quadrant of System XIII from Perspective Earth, Base
Camp 3. We’re broadcasting live at 19:23 E.S.T. to test the light speed capacity of the S.S.
Downer, Model 4T3…”

The clock closest to the camera switched on the recorder. The show must go on. The Major felt
his breath go slack; it slid by inches down his throat. He turned away from his body, so old and
paling quickly. He listened docilely to his cosmic voicemail as a clock cleared his Captain’s chair.

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