Copyright is held by the author.
“I’m going to white.”
“No, wait. Don’t go. We have work to do.”
“This is my work. I’m gone.”
But it was too late. Rico, in his copilot’s chair, his legs crossed in the lotus position, had closed his eyes and with the telltale one large inhale breath followed by a long, slow, exhale indicated to Bascom that Rico had indeed “gone to white,” as he called it, no longer present in his body.
He could be gone an hour, or a day, or, once, three full days before returning to full body consciousness. This left Bascom with the tedious chores of capsule systems monitoring — even though the systems always worked perfectly and going through a checklist that could, if he consciously drew it out, take forty-five minutes, which left him three and quarter more hours before he had more work to do.
When Rico first started “going to white,” as he called it, Bascom employed and invented all manner of devices to bring him back, starting with simply shaking him, which worked at first, and then didn’t work, and then tickling him, and then pinching him, which, again, worked at first and then didn’t work.
“It’s just white shaking white,” Rico explaining, “and the vibrations are white reverberating in white.” White tickling white. White pinching white. Just white ripples and sensations in a sea of white.
Rico and Bascom had been expertly selected for this two year voyage — four-year round trip — because of their supposed similarities, mutual interests and ability to companion over long hours, weeks and months. Now Rico was more and more often “going to white” — just checking out, leaving Bascom alone in the capsule on its long voyage to Asteroid Linus.
Of course, they had a vast library of books, videos, games, and sensory stimuli apparatus that Bascom had been forced to explore in ever greater detail. These, alas, were no substitute for live human interaction. A third ‘Naut had of course been scheduled to go with them, and two back up in case any of the three were for any reason not able to engage the mission. To have all three stricken with the manufactured virus suggested to Far Star Corporation a sabotage by competitors. They had elected to send the ship with just two — Bascom and Rico — even though it was contrary to interstellar safety regulations. With the incentive of double wages — wages which were already extraordinary — Bascom and Rico agreed, knowing that on their return, after four years, they would both be set for life. The promised wages, of course, also per international standards, were already paid, earning interest, in each of their private bank accounts.
“Teach me to go to white,” Bascom had asked on numerous occasions, and Rico had done his best. Somehow, for Bascom, “going to white” had remained a thought experiment, rather than a direct experience and verifiable release of bodily consciousness.
“Just allow every sensation, thought, feeling, impulse to come from white, and be infused with white,” Rico had explained. “Allow your attention to go to the white, rather than to the particular sensation of thought or feeling or impulse. Just focus on the white, allow yourself to become white, in and out.”
Bascom had tried time and time again, but always the experience was the same: “Here I am, pretending to be white.”
The monitors in the capsule came awake and started flashing. “Approach Force Field.” Bascom looked out the capsule and for the first time in a month saw something different on the horizon.
“Rico, Rico,” he shouted, shaking him. “Look! Look! Wake up! Look!” Rico did not stir, of course.
The tiny ball of light on the horizon grew larger and larger.
“Rico!” Bascom shouted again. “Rico!”
Rico didn’t hear. This time, as the capsule met the fireball and disintegrated in ten thousand fiery meteorites, Bascom did indeed experience the white.
“There,” Rico’s voice whispered as Bascom felt himself peaceably floating and pervading the ten thousand stars across 10 billion galaxies. “Isn’t that better?”
Bascom felt no urge to answer either yes or no.
Contrary to company policy, in the fifth floor basement (five floors below ground) of the 85 story (above ground) Mercury Inter-Stellar Materials building, Watchman Third Class Mortimer “Mort” Conroy had both his feet up on the console and his personal Game Cube in his lap, engaged in a holographic Hover Craft race, when one of the monitors he was paid to maintain started flashing and rapidly beeping its “mortal danger” signal.
Mort’s heart started racing as he pulled his feet down and swiveled in his chair. He had only heard this signal when in training, and had been assured it occurred only very, very rarely thanks to the new safety technology and Far Horizon monitoring capabilities. When such a signal did occur, which did happen, again, only on very, very rare occasions, it did so 99 percent of the time either on lift-off or descent or during Interstellar multi-vehicle hook-ups. In such times, obviously, Mercury specialists far above Watchman Third Class pay grades would be in charge of ground monitoring and response operations.
With only a little hesitation, Mort lifted the protective cover and pushed the red button he had been trained to push, without hesitation, should this signal ever occur. By pushing the button, he not only alerted the literal higher-ups in the floors higher up as to the presence of danger, he also activated the endangered ship’s protective shield, shut down its auxiliary non-critical electro-magnetic devices which could make the ship vulnerable to fire or explosion, and put the life support and navigational enhancement systems into ready-stand-by alert.
Brenda Levinson, Mort’s immediate supervisor, burst through the door. “What’s happening, what’s happening,” she asked, eyes wide.
Mort, without looking at her, also wide-eyed, pointed at the screen. The red light was still flashing and the “Mortal Danger” signal still rapidly beeping. “Approaching Force Field,” a calm feminine voice in the computer announced.
“On Far Journey Three?” Brenda asked. Mort shook his head yes.
“There aren’t any Force Fields out there,” she said. “Not for another couple of months.”
Mort stared at the screen, showing him, with a 63-second delay, what the ship’s ’nauts — Rico D’Salio and Bascom Wallach — were seeing through their front portal. An approaching small white light growing steadily larger.
“What is it?” Brenda asked.
“White light,” Mort replied, his eyes glued.
“Yes, but what is it?”
And then all the monitors suddenly went blank, with the message, “No Contact,” flashing softly in green. The feminine voice calmly announced, “Systems Down. Contact Lost.”
“What the hell?” Brenda asked. Others were now coming into the room and a man’s voice on the overhead intercom said, “Station Four, please report emergency details.”
“What happened? Where is it?” Brenda asked.
“Brenda, what’s happening here?” a frowning man in a flight suit asked, coming up behind her. And then a third man beside the frowning man, asked “What’s happening?”
Mort continued staring at the screen. For some reason, he himself didn’t see the “No Contact” message or hear the computer voice announcing “System Down, Contact Lost.”
For some reason, Mort was watching a replay of the oncoming light.
The small white dot was growing larger and larger as he stared at it. And then, as he watched, the white light jumped out of the screen and everything inside his head exploded into white. He involuntarily shook his head, and then he was watching the screen again, and the small white dot oncoming, growing larger and larger, and then again, it jumped out of the screen and everything inside his head exploded into beautiful, deeply soothing white.
“Mort, what’s wrong?” Brenda asked. But her words, to Mort, were white ripples in a white ocean. He closed his eyes, to feel the white, be the white.
“What’s wrong with him?” someone behind Brenda asked. “And where’s Far Journey Three?”
“Mort, Mort,” Brenda said, shaking his shoulder. Mort felt white vibrations going through his body. He slowly opened his eyes, stared up at Brenda.
“I went to white,” he said. “It was nice.”
He closed his eyes again. And all went white.