Journey through the Heavens

January 18, 2012
By Maxwell Leonhardt BRONZE, Delafield, Wisconsin
Maxwell Leonhardt BRONZE, Delafield, Wisconsin
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Opening his eyes, Robbie found himself in the cockpit of Plutus I, the first shuttle of its kind, looking down upon Earth. This was his spacecraft and his face burst into a large toothy smile as he heard a countdown through his headset. At the age of 42, Robbie looked like any old astronaut sitting in a shuttle above our planet. The only difference was that this wasn’t any old spacecraft, and Robbie wasn’t even an astronaut.

“How’s it feel to be sitting on top of the biggest bottle rocket ever?” a voice on the headset crackled. It was the man who made this all possible for Robbie, his father.

“Just great when you put it that way, Dad.” Robbie thought back twenty years, when he had first found this crazy new idea for creating propulsion.

Twenty years, countless of billions of dollars from his single father, and now Robbie was about to embark on the first light speed trip ever. His father had always had money for Robbie to do whatever, though there were rumors about whether he had earned it all cleanly or not. It didn't matter to him, and Robbie never cared what anyone thought ever. All he had wanted was to visit the stars, and he was about to do that.

It was actually the planets Robbie would be visiting, all of them. Due to his light speed formula, Robbie had planned a trip orbiting every single planet, including Pluto. NASA had tried to fight him at first, but this was no longer the Cold War Era, and Robbie's dad had helped buy him into space, sacrificing only his secret formula after he made it home from the first trip. That was over now, though, and it had all been worth it to Robbie. There had been an initial take off using older rocket fuels, to get out of the earth’s atmosphere where Robbie would be able to initiate his light speed fuels, and now he sat awaiting his revolutionary voyage, looking down at Earth.

Robbie had left his home planet out of his journey for a few reasons. His father had asked him about it, and Robbie answered: "I'm already here on Earth. Why would I need to orbit it? I've never needed it before." Looking down he saw the beautiful green expanse across America and cracked a smile. But as Robbie's eyes followed towards the sea, he lost his smile. The green had disappeared, only to be replaced by a gray smudge that marked civilization. His lips turned up thinking about how beautiful it would be without all those da** people. Robbie focused back in to his dad’s voice slowly getting louder on the headset; “T-minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one!”

"Blast off." Robbie whispered as the countdown reached zero, and he jabbed the final button. The ship made a bubbling noise as the organic compounds met with the inorganic catalyst, breaking down the bonds at such a high pressure, releasing the energy behind Robbie, blasting him into space. The propulsion that had been through all of Robbie's equations shook his entire body and he laughed all the way into light speed.

Suddenly, the ship seemed to stop moving all together. Robbie wasn't moving at all. He stopped laughing. He felt as if his brain was shrinking and growing all at the same time. His eyes were focusing on nothing, yet everything. All of a sudden, his mind was hopping around every time he blinked.

He opened his eyes and saw he was sitting in Widener Library on campus at Harvard. Papers and books were strewn across the table in front of him, covered in numbers and letter that any normal person would see as a different language. He recognized this as his work immediately before he discovered the secret to light speed. Surrounded by thousands of stories written by thousands of people, and he knew what would happen next. As he stretched out, and tilted back on his chair, he felt contact on his left side, and soon an unsuspecting student was tripped, his coffee sent flying through the air. It landed directly on Robbie's work, and just like the first time it happened, Robbie shot up and started brushing his things off and into a pile, screaming at the startled underclassman. And then he stopped, and looked down at his work. The coffee had wetted parts of some papers, and as he looked at the equations, he saw it. Through one sheet, he could see the numbers from the sheet behind it, and the coffee had highlighted just the right words in his text book. His eyes widened, and his mouth dropped in disbelief. Robbie turned and enveloped the young student in a bear hug. It was all chance, purely chance, but no one knew, and no one ever would know.

Suddenly, his mind was shot back into the space craft and he looked around. Sweat was running down his chest beneath his thick suit. Out the portal he could see Mercury. It was the first stop. He made contact with his father back on Earth, and orbited the small desolate planet, at one point, being nearly blinded by the sun, soaked in sweat the entire time. Soon it was time to make the hop from Mercury to Venus, so he engage the switches, heard the bubbling, and shot into light speed. Again, he felt his brain start moving in and out, and he had no idea what was going on once again. He closed his eyes to try and stop the pain. It wasn't working so he opened them up again.

The first thing that hit him was the salty smell of sea foam. Robbie felt the soft silk covers and the thin sheets. He didn’t remember ever being here, but somehow he felt as if he knew where he was. He was lying in his bed with nothing on, and as he looked out the open door he saw the most beautiful women ever, standing on the balcony, out looking the royal blue of the Caribbean. Framed by palm trees, she turned and walked towards the bed. Her soft face lit up in an early morning smile. Robbie felt her cool lips touch his, and could taste her perfume. Then she turned and picked up a stack of twenties, even cooler than her lips, from the bedside table. There was a tugging of guilt in his stomach and an empty sadness in his heart as he realized what he had just paid for. He closed his eyes.

He opened his eyes, and he was back in Plutus I. Robbie’s eyes felt swollen and stinging, he couldn’t feel the tears on his face. Floating in front of his face, Robbie saw small clear droplets. Crying without gravity Robbie thought as he poked at the tears. He sent a quick confirmation of his arrival back to earth, and that he would be leaving for Mars soon. Poking all the tears in the air and looking around at everything else either tied or Velcro-ed down, Robbie initiated the light speed again, trying to dismiss what he had just seen, preparing to the hop past earth, and toward the Red Planet.

The light speed again played with Robbie’s perception, but this time Robbie wanted to watch. He kept his eyes wide open, even as his brain tried to convince him to close them. The cockpit dematerialized around him and his elementary school playground appeared around him. The sun was setting behind him, and Robbie could hear the football team training, yelling their war-cries. Robbie remembered this day. He was sitting on the playground, his eye was swollen and blood was dripping from his nose, when his dad pulled up in his car and walked toward his dejected son.

“Robbie, I heard about the fight from your teacher,” his dad sat next to him in the rain, dispute his clean, pressed suit, “but I want to hear your side.”

“Yeah, Mrs. Johnson said she was going to call. The stupid fat pig was wrong to question me. Just because everyone is older than me, I’m so much smarter than all of them.” Robbie shook his head (he had shot through school in a quarter of the time of his peers. He was 13, and graduating in the spring) “He came from behind, and hit me. I didn’t even see it.” There were no tears on his face, but his eyes were tight, and he could feel the energy coursing through his body, especially in his balled up fists. “So I hit back. Harder. I’ve never seen anyone bleed so much. But that pi-”

In mid conversation his mind stopped. He opened his eyes and was back in Plutus I, looking out at a vast expanse of red. He was at Mars. What are these visions? Robbie thought to himself. He remembered that fight he was talking about with his dad. The other kid had to go to the hospital, and Robbie’s graduation was almost postponed. He remembered saying to himself he was never going to let anyone beat him. And if they did, he’d beat them ten times worse. Orbiting Mars, he saw earth way in the distance, the size of a small moon, and he realized the anger from that day had helped him succeed in life.

He didn’t even remember pushing the buttons to engage the next light speed leap, but there was that familiar feeling in his head, and this time he embraced it. He closed his eyes, hoping for an enjoyable vision this time.

He felt a dull pressure on the side of his head and heard the pitter-patter of rain drops. He opened his eyes, and saw he was resting his head on a window, rain streaking down the window, making everything beyond that barrier a blur, occasionally lit up by a fleeting lightning storm. He looked up and noticed he was on a train. His father was there again, sitting across from him, except he looked different. His skin was leathery, and wrinkled, his hair gray and his eyes lifeless behind the wire rimmed glasses.

A small child burst into Robbie’s vision, and bumped into his father. The kid giggled and ran away as Robbie’s dad shook and cursed at the boy.

“You know Robbie, you were a good kid, and smart too,” His dad muttered, looking into his son’s eyes. “Smartest thing you did was not have any little Robbie’s.”

“Yeah, well you know me.” Robbie said not really understanding what he knew about himself, it was as if something heavy had been dropped on his chest. His voice felt strained and old, like his father’s. He took a sip from the glass in his hand, and felt the warmth of whiskey from his mouth to his core.

“You were smart to never marry, too. A life alone is fine. You never were ‘father’ material anyways. I wa-”

This isn’t happening Robbie thought to himself. Why would my father tell me I’m not ‘father’ material? And of course I’m not married, but why was he so old looking? He closed his eyes and tried to focus on nothing but the rain and thunder, but that slowly faded to the back of his mind, and he heard his father’s voice again. But it was younger and kept asking if he was okay.

Robbie came to his senses and he saw the large red eye of Jupiter staring at Plutus I. He heard his father talking from earth, and he radioed back that he had made it to Jupiter and was okay. Then, remembering what he had heard, he asked his father something that had been eating away at him.

“Dad, do you think I’ll be a good father someday?” This was the first real deep question Robbie had ever asked his dad and Robbie didn’t know how he would react.
There was a long silence and his father said in as loving a tone as possible, "You've always been the greatest son any father could ask for. Now get on with this mission, get back to earth, and we'll see if we can make a daddy out of you." His dad stopped, but then as if the thought had just popped into his head, "Why do you ask? Thinking about a special lady up there?" His dad chuckled and Robbie shrugged it aside and signed off the radio.

Robbie had a long time to orbit Jupiter, seeing as how it was the largest planet, and he began thinking about what he had been going through. These must be some sort of trick with my mind that only happens at light speed. The visions are more than that, though. I can feel things, I can smell them, and I can sense my conscious is there. Like a dream, but more real. No, they're images my brain is conjuring up to deal with the relative speed inside this ship. As he sat pondering, and talking to himself (which he had a habit of doing often), Robbie opened up a tasteless freeze dried meal, and tried to enjoy the vitamins and nutrients as he began the button and switch sequence to begin light speed.

He hadn't eaten anything since leaving Earth, but wasn't hungry. He could see on a screen that his body was dehydrated and vitamin deficient read sensors wired to, but he couldn't feel it. He wiped his mouth of crumbs, which floated off of his face and into the clean cockpit air, but froze as his hands touched his face. Bending over, Robbie ripped the hand mirror off the wall form where it was Velcro-ed. Looking at his face, then at the astro-clock and back to his face. There was five o'clock shadow growing on his face, but he remembered shaving at 6 o'clock that morning. Rechecking the astro-clock again, it read 13:37. Robbie looked through the flight plans at his feet and confirmed that the time was what it should be. He never had five o'clock shadow even at five o'clock, and it was only the equivalent to one o'clock earth time. He continued pushing buttons with his right hand, while still rubbing his face with his left. He knew he had a big step of the journey coming up, but he wasn't thinking of that as his brow furrowed and his hand stroked his chin.

The next planet was Saturn, and that would pass the half way mark on his journey. He was still excited, but much more nervous due to his physical condition, and frightening visions. Robbie pushed all of that aside, and thought of how beautiful the rings of Saturn would soon look as his body was shaken into light speed.

When Robbie's mind again begin shrinking and growing, this time, he relaxed and let his senses go. Robbie had had enough fighting these images, so he embraced them this time, and kept his eyes closed even longer. The smell of the Midwest filled his nostrils, and Robbie stretched out and felt the cool natural grass on his back, and the setting sun on his body. Opening his eyes slowly this time, Robbie saw the fiery evening sky over a golden field of wheat. He was lying on a grassy slope, and he recognized his grandparents farm house in the distance. He felt invincible, as if he could leap across the entire field in a single bound, and nothing could ever bring him down.

Robbie knew this feeling well. It was youth, and he remembered lying on this hill every summer. Alone, young and carefree, Robbie loved the feeling of having all the time in the world to relax, or to make something of, but he knew that on this day, he had all the time to live. This was where he learned to love solidarity, and he remembered this day particularly, because he could see the dim shining lights in the sky. He could see planets, and it was the first time he had told himself he would see them all someday. He spotted the tiny yellow-brown speck of light that was Saturn, and suddenly he was there.

It was as if he had transported up into the spacecraft, and as he gazed out at the rings of Saturn, it all made sense to him. Calling back to his dad on the radio, he was ecstatic, feeling the same way he did overlooking the wheat field.

"It's memories! I'm traveling through my mind!" Robbie shouted through to his father back on earth.

"What? Robbie, what are you talking about? You alright?" His dad sounded genuinely worried, and Robbie realized he sounded insane.

"Oh, sorry Dad, I'm just reading something and forgot the radio was. But we've arrived at Saturn, the rings are beautiful, and I'll send word when I get to Uranus. Over and out." Robbie sat in his little metal box, and watched the gaseous ball that is Saturn glide past his porthole. He was thinking about what he had been visions witnessing. Those weren't visions, Robbie thought, I wouldn't be able to smell or taste or feel if they had been only visions. Robbie figured that he had been reliving his memories, but then thought back to those visions he hadn't recognized. Robbie picked up a pad of paper, and wrote down all his visions he had had so far, and listed them under two columns; memories and non-memories. Studying the two columns, and rubbing a now almost full beard, it clicked again. Scribbling out the two column headings, he re-wrote; past and future. He figured he was traveling faster than his brain could recognize time, so he was traveling through time, not his memories as he had told his father. Robbie began to initiate light speed toward Uranus, and a confident, understanding smirk crossed his face.

The smile split Robbie's dry lips, and Robbie realized his mouth was bone dry. Looking at his hydration marker on the digital screen, Robbie noticed he was lacking vitamins once again. He quickly slurped up water from the CamelBak connected to his seat, having to squeeze the bag to create pressure in the zero-gravity cockpit. He ate until his stomach was about to burst, in preparation for the much longer trip to Uranus (approximately 77 minutes in lightspeed). He pushed the final buttons, took one last swig of water and watched as everything he saw through the porthole disappeared.

The next thing Robbie knew, he was being pushed, running with a crowd of people, everyone scrambling to get past each other. He didn't know where he was running, just that he was running and he had to keep running. The sky was dark and starry, yet he was surrounded by skyscrapers. No light but the stars. The crowd rushed into a small building in a park and run into the basement. There was a TV on and Robbie stopped to watch. The date read twenty years in the future, and Robbie saw he was holding a cane. There was a loud bang and the TV shook. On the screen he saw building exploding, and missiles falling from the stars. The headline read North Korea Bombs from Mars. Robbie had a sick feeling in his stomach, as if he knew how this had happened, but couldn't tell anyone. He was suddenly back in Plutus I.

There was nothing but silence. It was now cold in his cockpit. The planet cast an eerie bluish tinge to everything, and Robbie felt as if he was going to be sick. At first Robbie though it was just the vision, but when he looked down at his hand he saw his skin was dry and he felt his heart rate beating faster and faster. An alarm sounded from his hydration and vitamin sensor, and he saw he was on the verge of death. Reaching for the emergency IV with everything left in his body, he jammed the needle into his arm. An instant feeling of life flooded Robbie's mind, and he brushed sweat off of his face and into the air around him. His hand encountered a scraggly beard that a lumberjack could be proud of, and Robbie grunted in confusion. There must be something going on with this time travel and my body, Robbie thought looking at the IV in his dehydrated arm and felt the hair on his face, but I never feel hungry.

Plutus I was orbiting the seventh planet, and Robbie was eating the caloric equivalent of his fifth meal since that morning, as he thought about his last vision. He came to the conclusion that there was only one way Mars could sustain the North Koreans. It was his light speed technology. Light speed had only been the tip of the iceberg for Robbie. He knew this cheap new energy could easily allow for creation of oxygenated biospheres on Mars. I found something too powerful. I should have known people would ruin it. Use it against one another. How could I let that happen? Robbie questioned himself the entire orbit, and radioed to his father right before he shot off to the second last stop. Robbie was informed he would have a warm welcome. Robbie didn't care. He didn't want to see anyone after what he had just seen. He set Plutus I on pace for Neptune, and settled back preparing himself for another sight.

Again the salty smell of the sea bit at Robbie's nose, but this time it was mixed with a faint fecal smell of horses. He remembered this. His father had taken him to Spain to watch the famous beach horse races of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. He had taken a walk on the beach where the race had been held, his father's three building villa towering over him. There was a party inside, but Robbie preferred the sea over the drunken orgy going on inside. His whole life, Robbie knew his father's occupation was odd, but this was the first time he had truly seen how dirty his father's money was. Robbie had mentally kept track of the names and knew he could have compiled a list of suspected and convicted criminals. He didn't want that life. As a warm drizzle came down, he felt he wasn't alone.

"Ven conmigo," A gorgeous whisper in his ear. He turned and followed the beautiful Spaniard, disrobing as they entered the ocean. He had rarely ever talked to anyone, let alone been with a women, especially one this beautiful. There was a burning sensation in his lower abdomen, and he cringed as he entered the warm Mediterranean. But the ocean was much colder than he had remembered, and soon he was enveloped in the darkness of that night and the water. The world diluted back to the cockpit of Plutus I.

Robbie looked at the deep blue of Neptune, and was reminded of only one thing. The rage he had felt when his dad had told him that the girl had lost a bet with him during the horse race, and had paid it off on Robbie. Robbie tried to scream, but nothing came out. He tried to move, but felt dead. He looked over at the IV bag, and saw it was empty. Struggling around he finally reached into a crate full of IV fluids and freeze dried meals. Hooking himself up to another IV, he lashed together a system with four IV bags feeding into his one arm. He figured that would easily be enough to get to Pluto, and there were still two spare bags in the crate. Finishing off another few meals, Robbie could now see his beard hanging halfway down his chest. It was streaked with gray hair, and as looking down at this beard, and the IV bags, he felt less human. He didn't want to radio his father and tell him he was okay. Instead he wanted to forget everything he had just seen, so he flicked the switches and shot off to his final destination.

Robbie tried to open his eyes, but he couldn't. They were heavy and he felt tired deep down in his soul. Using all his strength, he opened his eyes. He was lying in a large bed. He could see he was surrounded by famous pictures, framed medals, and shiny jewelry. Robbie looked around at everything in his room alone. The last thing his eyes settled on was a mirror. The face looking back was barely recognizable. His gray, thin hair was long, and unwashed. His eyes were empty and his face looked as if it was dripping off. Robbie felt done. Not complete, but done. He had had enough, and as he was about to lie back down, a coin on the table caught his eye. Forcing his arm up and over towards the table, Robbie grabbed the dull, faded gold coin, and collapsed back onto his pillow.

Robbie's teeth were chattering as he came back to the cockpit of Plutus I. He assumed it was cold this far away from the sun, but he forgot that the cockpit atmosphere was held at a constant 70 degrees. He was right, the IV had lasted this far, but it had taken until the last drop. He didn't bother connecting the last two. His beard was white, and he noticed it before looking out at his culmination, the small icy rock of Pluto. A flicker of light caught his eye, and Robbie turned to see the hand mirror floating around the cockpit, along with countless crumbs, water droplets, and other items that had come loose through the journey. He could see himself through the mirror, and saw a body that wasn’t living, supported only by tubes and wires. He radioed his father one last time.

"How did it happen?" Robbie questioned as if he were talking to himself.

"I don't know you're secret formulas, Robbie, no one does." his dad chuckled, "but I think you can say it was a lot of hard work, a few wild ideas, and a little help from me."

"Huh" Robbie sighed. "I mean, how did I become so sad and alone? But I think the answer is still the same. Don't let those engineers tell anyone anything, people aren't ready for light speed, and they never will be. I'm done though dad. Done with people, and done with myself. Goodbye." Robbie clicked off his communications, looked down at a folder holding the key to space and time travel, flicked the switches, and closed his eyes.

Roman Guide to the Planets

-Mercury - the God of storytelling, games of chance and thievery. Son of Jupiter and Maia

-Venus - the Goddess of love, beauty, and the impulses that bind all men. Born from the foam of the sea, daughter of Jupiter.

-Mars - the God of war, driven by rage and violence, enjoyed bloody conflicts. Son of Jupiter, father of Romulus and Remus (founders of Rome)

-Earth - was not named after a Roman or Greek God, but Gaia is Goddess of the Earth and land, all creatures were born from here, and she represents a motherly figure. Mother of Saturn.

-Jupiter - the God of heavens and earth, ruler of all other gods. Weapon was thunder and lightning. Father of many gods. Son of Saturn, brother of Neptune and Pluto.

-Saturn - the God of time, and the harvest. "Old Father Time", holds wheat grain and a scythe. Son of Uranus and Gaia

-Uranus - the God of the sky, and starry night. Had a violent fight with the God of earth (Gaia). Original King of the Gods. Father of Saturn

-Neptune - the God of water, rain and fertility. King of the Sea, God of horses and horse-racing. Carried trident. Son of Saturn, brother of Jupiter and Pluto

-Pluto - the God of dead. Gloomy, stern and dull god. Connected with Plutus (God of Wealth) God of the underworld. Son of Saturn, brother of Jupiter and Neptune.

The author's comments:
The Roman Gods that represent each of our planets can teach us all something about life and something about ourselves. This is a story of a man who literally gets to witness all the planets and everything they represent in his life which is enveloped in his work, and himself.

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