By Eoin Flynn
SOMETIME IN THE EARLY sixties, the cosmonaut Aleksandr “Sasha” Borisovich Niebski emerged from his Voskhod 2 for a spacewalk and failed to get back in. He died. Gently spinning, his body was left orbiting the Earth.
The Worm Period
The inhabitants of Sasha’s intestines, who were only just getting their heads around the weightlessness thing, now found a change in their world. Food bombardments ceased and things got colder. On the plus side, Sasha was no longer the belligerent host and he turned out to be edible. As they were now thriving, it must have seemed to the worms that this was the beginning of a wonderful new era for them. Of course this is exactly what it was not. Worm society reached its peak in the moment when everything inside Sasha’s spacesuit was either hard bone or living worm. From then on, there was nothing for living worms to eat but dead worms. Among this non-aggressive people the situation resolved itself into a sort of sad round of musical chairs where the first individual to die would be eaten by his circle of chums. In the end, the poor worms were killed off by their own shit. More scientifically, they were poisoned by the gasses given off by the bacteria living in the excrement. The last couple of worms to die made a not very Spartan last stand above the crown of Sasha’s skull.
First Bacteria Period (Anarchic)
The extermination of the worms produced at a tiny level the same effect as the death of greater Sasha—a short period of plenty causing a population explosion and then total famine. However, bacteria are far better than worms at managing this sort of scenario.
For a long time it was all war inside Sasha. The struggle raged from armpit to throat to leg. For many different strains a heyday came and then went. There was one time when it seemed certain that the beings that had emerged after eating Sasha’s bones from the inside out were going to sweep everything else away. But the tide turned against them, also. In the end, there was established never really peace but at least a routine, balance.
All this while the external Sasha was waltzing ’round and ’round the planet.
Second Bacteria Period (Organised)
One day a cell living on Sasha’s visor found that it could get some good out of the sunlight it was receiving. This cell soon became the patriarch of a large family, all of them living just inside the glass and all of them able to milk the sunlight.
Over time this innovation brought changes to the purely cannibalistic society that had been operating up until then. Behind the photosynthesisers themselves there came to be partner cells organising their protection, and so on. But even outside of this golden circle, the produce of the sun was bringing benefits even as far down as Sasha’s toes (a deferment of the date when you will be eaten is better than nothing).
The fact that Sasha was all the time turning on his axis now became a matter of great importance. It meant that he was losing out on half the available sunlight. However this problem appeared to the world of little cells inside Sasha (a stuttering in the flow of nourishment?) they began to work on it. What a learning curve that was. How many tiny experiments, displacements, movements were made. But the fact is, Sasha succeeded. At the end of it Sasha was managing to keep his face directed at the sun all the time except when he was passing through the Earth’s shadow.
Getting himself to this point had brought on huge developments within Sasha. But before he could enjoy the fruits, catastrophe struck and he almost lost everything.
Sasha came off his orbit. Whether he had taken a bump from one of those satellites as ancient as himself, or from some other bit of space matter, or for no reason at all, Sasha began falling towards Earth.
Earth’s atmosphere, when he met it, erased all record of soviet manufacture off the outside of his spacesuit (but its integrity was maintained). Poor Sasha knew nothing of his doom—even as he was hurtling down headfirst he was still making his little efforts to seek the sunlight. The world didn’t notice the returning son—there was one little plink in the middle of a great ocean and then silence again.
If you could have seen him at all in the black cold place where he settled, Sasha was a sorry sight. He was lying awkwardly, on account of the backpack, on bare rock. His limbs were thrown asunder any old way and his head was hanging at an unhealthy angle. But it was only inside Sasha that you really saw the calamity. Death had always been part of the everyday but death like this had never been experienced. Almost everything had been destroyed. It looked as though this sad new era would be beginning at a level even lower than back when the last of the worms were dying. So Sasha just lay there in a stupor while the destroyed cells inside him were being disposed of and replaced.
A strange thing happened. When Sasha had largely reconstituted his body it began turning over onto its side. He had not gone all the way back to the old chaos. Somehow the cells that had eaten the corpses of those that had been part of the position adjustment system had also swallowed their purpose. In spite of the weight of a whole ocean coming down on him, and his being hampered by the god-blasted backpack, and their being no reason for what he was doing, Sasha kept on turning over. One good thing was that there wasn’t any vegetation and stuff that might have trapped him.
Compared to the time he had spent in space, Sasha’s pilgrimage from the centre of the ocean to its edge lasted no time at all. He only stopped his rolling when he noticed one day that there was some light. It was a long way down from the perfect light he had once enjoyed but it was light. Here again Sasha didn’t need to wait for evolution to strike the same place twice. Very quickly the inside of the visor was once again coated in cells that could photosynthesise. And the repositioning system that Sasha had to thank for bringing him this day was also back at its old task of keeping his face turned towards the light source.
It was noticeable by now that Sasha was reacting far more swiftly to changes in his environment. Getting himself to stand upright (nearer the light) should have been very difficult but he seemed to solve the problem in a matter of days. You would have laughed at the sight of him—a chubby little astronaut standing on the sea floor, looking up to the surface. Puffed out as he was, Sasha was now more streamlined—wear, tear and rust had relieved him of almost all the backpack. This made it easier for him to sway about as he followed the movements of the dull sun up above.
It was this activity which involved moving cells out of one area and into another that led to the next step. One day, while trying to get the best out of a declining winter sun, Sasha had mostly flowed out of his left leg. The current was strong enough to shift the lightened limb a bit. Now it happened that when Sasha returned himself to the leg he found that he had inched forward—towards the sun. Sasha went into a tizzy. He made experiment after experiment trying to replicate what had happened. Eventually he managed to take one spastic step to the front. He kept at this. His speed improved until he was taking a step every month. When he found himself breaking the surface he got so excited that he took three steps in one month. This brought his face clear of the water. Which was really all he needed for his purposes but he pressed on anyway, out of habit.
He kept advancing until his shoulders were out of the water. Then he did have to slow down. And he had to stop. He was left like that for a lot of years—looking in at the beach but unable to progress any further. So it did seem. But if you were only coming by once in a while to look, you might have asked yourself if the ocean was getting shallower. In fact, Sasha had not given up and he was still advancing in, still moving southwards. He was moving himself tiny amounts and very infrequently as he was learning to support and balance more and more of his body weight out of the water. Not easy when you consider that he was entirely soft tissue.
All that time being thumped on the back by waves stood to benefit Sasha as it helped to push him more out of the water than in it. Indeed when he did finally step out onto dry land to stay, his balance wasn’t so much worse than the last time he was on two legs. The way of walking he had by now developed was a kind of genuflecting lunge. The grey powder he was stepping on was very fine—at least he wouldn’t sink into it. There wasn’t really an end to this beach. It opened out into a plain as huge and empty as the ocean he had come from. But brave Sasha was already attacking it.
Eoin Flynn lives in County Kerry, Ireland. He has published a novel,“Ombraspatr,” a play, “An Expedition to the Most Remote and Inhospitable Part of Groenland,” and a book in German, “Vertankt.” He is working on another play set on a space station.