His eyes watched the fiery clouds lift vertically from the planet’s surface. Wispy pillars of prismatic hues. Pastel yellows and garish pinks blended, stretching out from the tumbling folds below. They strained into the sky as fingers grasping oblivion.
He watched the floating spheres that dotted the distance, drifting so lazily above the cloud covers. Their glass hemispherical domes, their sheen metal cups. He studied their casual disposition. He watched them slowly bob and sway towards an unknown destination all the while flickering with the sun’s engrossing rays.
He looked up. The class was staring at him. His name had been called.
“Yes?” The word came out softly.
“I assume you did the assignment, Manuel?” asked the instructor.
“What did you think of the twenty-first century lifestyles? The people especially. Tell us your thoughts.”
Manuel’s shoulders sank. He swallowed through an unexpectedly dry throat. His eyes darted and he slowly began to sit up.
“They were scared,” he began.
“They lived solitary lives compared to us. They were angry too I think. Angry and primitive. They didn’t see the things we do. It was… strange.”
The instructor’s head bobbed reassuringly. Their face shifted to a warm smile.
“‘Strange…’ Interesting word but good observation nonetheless. Some historians who predate our current era by two-hundred years could not have grasped what it fully means to exist in our present. The philosophical conundrums rested only on the most prescient of minds and even they were obfuscated by lack of experience… -” The instructor continued, citing some historian Manuel dared not to remember, some ancient philosophers and the like.
He stared out of the classroom and into the vindictive sulfurous skies. There, on the edge of the atmosphere came a massive form.
Manuel had become a gigantic gorilla.
Through the exploding pillars of clouds he came barrelling into the sky and crash-landed onto the floating sphere. Manuel bellowed and reared his gaping, fanged maw. His classmates looked up in abject fear. He punched into the glass with little effort. His muscled fingers found their way into the floor plating and began severing vital components.
Suddenly the sphere careened down through the stratosphere dropping as a cannonball into the ocean. In a matter of moments they would collide with the brutal surface below, left entirely to the will of the harsh Venus atmosphere.
Manuel looked up.
The sphere hadn’t crashed.
There was no ape.
The instructor hadn’t noticed, or they simply didn’t care. He watched them skirt the room, talking of this thing and that. He had heard it before. He would hear it again, every second polluted by “the grace of antiquity”. Or so his father would say.
He had said, “We’re not one without you, Manuel. There are many families who aren’t selected and we were one of the special few. By mere chance you were born.” Manuel looked out of the classroom again to see a new horizon.
His face turned red and his stomach knotted. He knew the instructor had noticed his tirade. His simian simian premonitions. They had seen his devolution into the titillating grasp of phantasy.
Their sphere had moved.
Now the inky blackness of an unlimited space haunted his view. The white starry blanket of cosmological infinity began to slowly populate the sky. Manuel looked towards their anchor to see lonesome Charon. Somewhere in the pock-marked oblivion of its lunar surface sat countless probes. Their deceased metal parts peered up into the sky, unaware of the visitors. Manuel’s sphere was now the solitary classroom in the far reaches of the solar system.
“-And by twenty-fifty-seven we had seen a sharp decline in the natural order and its understanding. At least… up to that point. In the same way twenty-first century intellectuals cannot grasp our present, wouldn’t you say that we cannot fully grasp their suffering?” The instructor panned the room.
Manuel cocked his head into the palm of his hand. His mind began drifting across the astral plane. He peered into the darkness and saw a gigantic fist. Its knuckles were wrapped in golden braces. Its wrist and forearm were bound with indigo coverings, ribbed and alien.
The fist came tearing through the vacuum of space. It vaporized passing comets. It tore through fields of debris. Its indestructibility was godlike and it was on the warpath. Manuel watched it pierce the solar system’s farthest reaches. It was headed straight for him.
Their class swung around Charon, with pendulous weight. Listless and without worry. And as the fist appeared most brilliantly on the cosmic horizon-
His head snapped forward, eyes wide, to see the instructor leaning over his desk.
“I need to speak to you after this session.”
The students shuffled past and disappeared out of the doorway. The instructor waited until a pin drop could pierce the air before they finally spoke.
“I’m wondering about these outbursts, Manuel. It’s not unlike you to dream big, to imagine the unimaginable. In all these cases I suspect an aversion to the sublime? Are you bored by these lessons?”
Manuel’s eyes followed the floor. A guilty itch began to take hold at the base of his skull.
“Yes,” he said meekly.
“And you would rather see comical destruction and chaos than to probe the memories of the long dead.”
“You know there is much more to this than meets the eye, and you’ve only got twelve more years to go.”
Manuel scratched his neck.
The instructor turned to face the outside. The hauntingly dim lights of Earth just barely reached their eyes. Darkness enshrouded every jutting corner of the dried carcass as they passed through the night. As if the universe itself had blinked, they moved so purposefully across the midnight waves. Before a fly could flap its wings, their orb shot from Charon to Earth finding its place in the orbit of their ancestor’s home planet.
“You know, you’re not entirely unlike the other children.” They watched the glimmering, starlike suggestion of the planet’s surface.
“You’re not entirely unlike myself when I was your age, not that it makes much difference. I used to drive my instructors mad, whipping up paradoxical conundrums, creating unimaginable creatures. One time I wondered what it would be like to create a black hole.”
A smirk shot across Manuel’s lips as he rushed to cover his face.
“They don’t understand that not everyone here is the same. That we’re not robotic. Sometimes these journeys from the mainframe is the only solace the kids receive, and maybe it’s because the rules are so relaxed.”
The instructor meandered towards an attentive Manuel and sat down across from him.
“But rules really aren’t rules until they’re bent and broken. Sometimes we can’t help ourselves, right?”
Manuel nodded his head in tandem with the instructor.
“I have a very special assignment for you.” The instructor spoke, monitoring Manuel’s pensive gaze.
“I want you to go back to the twenty-first century, find your favorite decade, and I want you to find out what our ancestor’s dreams are like. Find out what they dreamed. Can you do that for me?”
The instructor smiled and stood up. They patted Manuel on his shoulder before passing through the exit and leaving the sphere behind.
Manuel sat staring, his eyes fixed upon the dark mass below. He saw the haunting yellow glow, the flickering light below, threatening at any moment to disappear.
“Okay.” he said.
Samuel Collet is a freelance writer from Oregon with an eclectic taste in media. Among comedy, speculative fiction, and painting, Sam is always expanding his horizons. If you’d like to follow him or share your favorite music (please do), you may find him on several social media outlets.