Ad Astra and the Ecclesiastes Gate
He tucked his chin down into his collar, nuzzling the scarf up around his neck, and walked briskly. The sunlight was in his eyes to the left; he closed his eyes just enough to reduce the glare, turned his head a little to the right, walked on. There was a cigarette butt two point four metres ahead, a torn sheet of newspaper point seven five ahead of that. The breeze picked up and carried the tang of heat with it; woodsmoke. Three oak leaves blew alongside him, keeping pace in the random breeze and then veering scattershot away; they tumbled each other and he watched them closely until he was sure the breeze would not bring them back to his path.
He hunched a shoulder and moved fractionally to the right, favouring that leg; sure enough, the cyclist he had just heard approaching from behind passed him by on the left, and the whirring whistle of his passing sounded in his ear on that side. Close. He heard a voice in his head admonishing him. He balanced and walked on. The paving slabs were uneven, so he adjusted his gaze, looked down at them. No detritus. No rubbish, twigs, leaves. No rain or spilled liquid to slip his foot on. Just uneven stones that he watched as he passed.
The gate ahead. He looked up. The wooden doors were opened on this side. The archway was illuminated by scant sunlight. The gates held open.
He checked his left and right, listened close. Sniffed the air and smelt the woodsmoke again. Someone maybe cooking bread over the wall? Fresh bread. Maybe. There was slight birdsong and the drone of a motor far away. The breeze picked up, behind him now.
The gate was open and he walked through. His eyes registered the change in the quality of the daylight, adjusted quickly. The path was clear. The gate was always clear, but you had to check. You never knew. Walking through the gate, he aligned himself with the posts on the other side of the gateway, and the two trees on the edge of the park just beyond. Straight line, just keep walking.
The slight breeze; the scent of woodsmoke and bread; the song of an unseen bird and an unknown engine. Parameters. The path through the gate and the posts, the trees and the freedom of the park beyond. All would be well.
They had arrived.
“Ad Astra, coming in hot. Climbdown on all primary systems, stagger release and on my mark – mark.”
“Systems check and engineering, all green.”
“Ecclesiastes alignment and function, all green.”
“Orbital calculated and ready. Plotting verification, green. Check engine system – yellow and pending – and shutdown, run coolers.”
“Priority – synesthesia pilot disengage. Medical update, assessment pending.”
“Medical – update?”
“Engine system, update yellow and pending.”
“Engine system, green. No pending. Shutdown and coolers as ordered. All green.”
“Medical – synesthesia pilot update.”
“Synesthesia pilot orange and pending.”
“In-system chatter recording and filtering achievement one. Codes sent and received, verified. Incoming from Orbital One.”
“Ad Astra, welcome back. Is all green?”
“All green. Synesthesia pilot orange and pending. Unknown.”
“Ad Astra, swing about and follow in, automatic, by the by. Synesthesia pending, keep advised.”
“Bridge – medical. Synesthesia pilot, yellow and pending.”
“Logged, medical. Roll updates. Acknowledged, Orbital One. Automatic engaged and logged. ETA twenty four. Synesthesia pilot, yellow and pending.”
“Automatic by the by. Logged and rolling.”
“Acknowledged. Roll, ETA twenty four. Medical – synesthesia pilot update?”
“Bridge, this is medical. Update yellow, possible green. Pending.”
“Acknowledged, medical. Keep advised.”
“Incoming from Ecclesiastes Gate.”
“Ad Astra, this is Ecclesiastes Control One Two. You are registered on automatic and in-system. Acknowledge.”
“Acknowledged, Ecclesiastes. Logged and rolling, in-bound and ETA twenty three by my mark.”
“Permission to power down and log system.”
“Permission granted, Ecclesiastes. This is Ad Astra, in-system and automatic, clear of the gatefield. By the by and green.”
“Ad Astra – Ecclesiastes. Synesthesia pilot experiment all green?”
“Pending, Ecclesiastes. Apology. Synesthesia pilot update yellow, possible green. Pending.”
“Acknowledged, Ad Astra. Not necessary. Upda-”
““Bridge, this is medical. Synesthesia pilot update green. Repeat – synesthesia is green.”
“Acknowledged, medical. Good work. Fully green, by the by?”
“Update green. Confirm. Cancel pending. Synesthesia climbdown pending, looking clear. Disengage, clear. Visual, verbal acclimation, clear. Synesthesia green. System one complete. Logging.”
“Acknowledged, medical. By the by. Report when ready.”
“Acknowledged, bridge. Medical out.”
“Ecclesiastes Control One Two, this is Ad Astra. Synesthesia pilot update green. Confirmed – synesthesia is green. Climbdown in progress, looking clear.”
“Acknowledged, Ad Astra. Appreciate update. Ecclesiastes Control is green and clear. Closing gates and locking down.”
“Ad Astra to all cells. Ad Astra registered on automatic and in-system, rolling in-bound and ETA twenty one by my mark – mark. Ecclesiastes Control is green and clear. Synesthesia pilot update green. Repeat, synesthesia pilot experiment is updated green and clear. A1 and by the by, Ad Astra.”
He had fallen asleep in the park, under the shade of the rightmost tree. The sunlight had filtered through and dappled his skin, and the voices of the dwindling dreams had scattered. His eyelids flickered as he breathed a good amount of the recycled air and smelt the oil and cloves smell of the synesthesia tank. He could feel the sunlight fade from his skin as the kinetic gel was sluiced away. Pinprick prickles on his skin as not the breeze but nanofilaments tickled his skin, pulling as they were removed.
He had walked through the town whose name he could not remember, paying the closest attention to every step, every obstacle, every breeze and strange smell and play of light upon the ground.
And then he had fallen asleep in the park, but now…
Now he opened his eyes.
Everything was green.