‘The sky so blue’ by RJ Healey
‘The sky so blue’ by student RJ Healey is a work-in-progress excerpt from his science fiction novel and was developed in Building a Strong Narrative in 2022.
Grass seeds slid across Jacob’s palms and blew away in patterns he knew were as solid as that moment. He shuddered as the grass scratched at his waist through the black metal hessian that hugged his skin. He gripped damp earth between his toes, wondering why a spacesuit would leave his feet and hands bare – but filled his lungs without concern.
He was alone on a shallow hill, in a clearing, above a vast forest, the sun baking his hands and face. The breeze humid and soothing. He squinted as the grass rippled in waves beneath a halo of encircling light.
‘This forest—earth, is this Earth?’ he whispered. The words earth and forest felt empty. He imagined a helix unwinding through space, followed by the stars. ‘A billion years.’
The silence was broken by a distant rumble. He rubbed his cheeks and discovered a thick beard had grown. ‘Okay, this is—okay,’ he mumbled and rubbed his eyes, unsure when he’d last slept. ‘Time is… uh – there’s nowhere left to go – here should be nowhere.’
He felt pulled in a direction he could not point to. Trapped in too few dimensions. His head ached suddenly, warning of damaged synapses, but was quickly suppressed to warm pulses.
He looked for the direction. Out across the rustling, waxen canopy. He squinted, following the distant coastline. The ocean in heat-haze becoming clear azure sky, flickering with auroras along concentric magnetic field lines.
‘Nowhere to go here,’ he said.
An ancient mind had preserved Earth for Jacob. That mind was now so ancient it had forgotten why. This Jacob knew, but could not understand.
‘You told me, why here. I can’t remember.’
Jacob recalled crystalline structures organising as memories in a dark cave.
‘You’re there,’ he said, looking to the earth between his toes expecting the ancient mind to whisper in his thoughts.
The ancient mind had a name, but it was being suppressed, as was his own. It made his head ache and jaw clench to attempt to recall either – but a narcotic wash fell through his skull and down his back from a point above.
‘You, you warned me?’ He kicked damp soil.
His jaw released and he exhaled, relieved at not wanting to know.
The pull increased in the direction he could not point to. Jacob felt stretched through time. Like a wave; always a moment ahead, while always having passed.
He stood inside his memory of rippling grass and forest. The event of the memory had not yet occurred. He knew: he would turn his head to the left and his body would follow. It had always been.
He followed the impulse – closing his eyes, as he always had. He imagined the sky filled with a falling world. He opened his eyes and the moon filled the sky, scraping the atmosphere, desperate to become one with the earth.
He gripped the soil between his toes. The moon heavy. Its surface cracked with molten rivers, hanging in a cloud of rock that had become nebulous over aeons. Shooting stars fell like endless sparks from a broken machine.
‘Fire rain,’ he said. ‘Beware the god that manifests as time.’ He pressed his hands to his eyelids but found only dancing fractals.
The rumbling grew and from the forest alien birds beeped a chorus. At the bottom of the hill, where the grass met the trees, people with opalescent–exoskeletal bodies watched with ant-like compound eyes.
Insects were taking their turn to evolve and be perplexed by the universe.
One of the locals stepped from the trees – the First; the most curious, dressed in a handwoven worker’s coverall. It moved an exoskeletal hand to its brow, to block the sun. Jacob dropped into the grass, certain the creature meant imminent harm.
Perplexed by this behaviour, the First rubbed its brow and asked, ‘Now, what do you think that’s all about?’
‘It’s certainly curious,’ responded the Fourth, from behind a tree.
Jacob, in his temporal shock, had forgotten that a point of light hovered above his head; entangled photons directing and powering his jumps through spacetime. This point currently appeared like a tiny star – pulsing and spinning. It had a thing for following Jacob’s movements and was now hovering just above the grass, dwarfed by the moon, pointing to his location.
‘Hey, are you okay?’ the First called.
At first, Jacob heard only clicks, but the ancient mind, trying to recall speech after a billion years, remembered one of its earliest functions and began translating, the clicks tonal and nuanced.
‘We should move on,’ clicked a voice on the breeze.
‘I think it’s confused,’ clicked the First.
Jacob stood up.
‘It’s going to attract the fire rain,’ came another.
‘Do you think that thing’s harmless?’ asked the Fourth.
‘Maybe. It’s an animal, it’s aware,’ mused the First, rubbing its chin. The locals had passed that way for more generations than memory, and the moon fell so slowly as to appear static – though some had begun to wonder. And now Jacob had appeared beneath the moon, leaving the air heavy and thick.
‘An alien?’ asked one.
‘Beware the god that manifests as time,’ said the First.
‘What did you say?’ yelled Jacob.
‘What was that?’ responded the First.
Jacob turned to face the moon.
The First placed its hands on its hips and scratched its antennas, wondering if the creature’s rude behaviour was normal.
Jacob could feel the moon’s inertia. From it, something whispered in the back of his thoughts. He held his palms up instinctively in telepathic commune, running them across its cracking, molten surface. Then dropped his hands by his sides.
The voice fell silent.
‘Have I done it!’ yelled Jacob, across the forest, to the ancient mind. ‘Does this please the blind god… is this it?’
The First called, ‘Who are you talking to?’
The wind picked up, hot from the moon’s direction. Déjà vu tied a knot in Jacob’s stomach. ‘Beware the god that manifests as time!’ he yelled at the moon, the forest, and the mind beneath the earth.
‘Can we help – are you okay?’ called the First. ‘Do you understand me?’
Desperate for an answer, Jacob pointed his palms at the ground attempting commune, but found only silence. He sensed its crystalline mind growing through the earth and moon. He felt sick. He had done this all before.
‘You promised me erasure,’ he whimpered, and hunched.
The locals moved from the tree-line – eleven gathered – all concerned for the eccentric and distressed creature on the hill. They watched in silence as the light above Jacob’s head began pulsing in gold and orange.
‘Correction,’ said Jacob, mirroring a voice in his head. The muscles twinged in his back and arms. He pushed the impulse away, but it returned. ‘Correction,’ he said again. He fought the desire to close his hands to complete a circuit. It would activate a jump, and force his reset.
Above his left palm a glowing orange sphere blinked into being. Looking at it, his muscles tensed, calling him to enact the command.
He felt time reverse. The solar system’s helical movement across the galactic plain pulling backwards with the stars through space and time – actions collapsing into potential, effect dancing before cause, refusing after from before. He was locked in a helix, falling towards his origin point.
His head stung as the ball of light manipulated his subconscious to calculate the return journey. The suit suppressed the pain; the suit guided the manipulation. His jaw clenched and his teeth felt a moment from shattering.
The ancient mind watched, in ecstatic wave function collapse. Soon it would finally die; and remembered its promise to share that end with Jacob. It looked through his augmented brain – remembering long ago, weaving his mind with an extra-temporal cortex, saving his life – and lamented terms like temporal inversion field, hyperspatial dynamics, retrograde temporal loop and retrograde immortality.
The words echoed through Jacob’s head. He fought his hands’ desire to close.
The ancient mind found words, whispering in Jacob’s head, ‘The extradimensional defragmentation of your brain has not relinquished the evolutionary stranglehold of the R-complex. Your brain is interwoven with the photon processor above. Don’t listen to it – let the moon fall.’
The ancient mind remembered its promise. But it was too late. Jacob saw the linear trajectory he traversed in nonlinear time. A retrograde helical loop, leading back into itself. Somewhere in his spacesuit a programme was being rewritten that had forever been.
‘What year? Calculating, CE, BCE, Sum orbitals,’ he gripped his scalp as the light glowed brighter.
The locals stood in collective shock as waves of Jacob’s own obstinance pulsed into their minds: the part of him that needed to stay overcome by the animal call to survive.
‘This time!’ yelled Jacob.
The déjà vu evaporated. He could see and taste dynamic spatial and temporal coordinates. Calculations were pulsing objects in his thoughts, coalescing into a moment. He looked to the cracking moon. He was standing on its surface beneath lunar dome four, one billion years before – in his future as much his past.
Jacob called to the ancient mind. ‘Beware the god that manifests as time, do you hear me?’
It watched, silent and ecstatic.
Jacob turned to the locals. He could feel himself, cold and in the dark, on the moon a billion years before. He could feel himself leaping into a singularity to meet himself, on that dying Earth. He could feel his jump drawing the moon in towards them. ‘Causality is my keeper,’ he thought.
‘And it’s keeping you locked,’ said the ancient mind.
Jacob felt pulled in every direction at once, like a trillion mirrors in the spinning ball above his head. He felt the half-charge holding for his return jump. He felt the energy potential within it – locked across a seemingly infinite set of realities which for him always equalled one. All he had to do was allow his hands to come together.
He hesitated for one final moment – holding against his decided muscles – to take in the last blue sky on earth.
‘What are you?’ called the First.
The First shuddered as the wind blew hot and thick, and the ground started vibrating.
Jacob took one last breath, then gave in to his hands and vanished – and for a moment left a void in the air shaped like a human.
Author bio: RJ Healey is an emerging writing living in Melbourne–Naarm working on his first sci-fi novel, short stories, and poetry. By day (and night) he works as an AV technician, and produces electonic music as Ghostsoul. Currently, he’s studying Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT.
Photo credit: Robert Healey