The Search for Life in Distant Galaxies

He wrote on the chalkboard: “Give telescope to DB.”

He finally had the courage to assemble the cardboard boxes that were stacked in the entranceway to the apartment.

For weeks now Ed Marker had been paralyzed by the idea of sorting through his apartment archives—frozen by the idea of organizing a lifetime of work in a set of indistinguishable boxes. But now DB had at least temporarily solved his storage problem and he knew that he had to force himself to deal with the reality of the present.

He began by packing the various versions of the Atlas of the Universe, carefully labeling each box with a date and index of its contents. He filled box after box with his drift maps, field notes, research files, outlines, lists, scrapbooks, sketchbooks, finished and unfinished drawings, folders of news articles and images that he had clipped from magazines. He packed his books, the contents of his file cabinets and the piles of folders that had yet to be categorized.

And that’s when it happened.

It hit him like a bolt of lightning. His data was flawed. He realized his entire system was flawed. He knew from his reading in quantum mechanics how the observed was influenced by the observer; yet it had never occurred to him until this moment, while sorting though the contents of his life, that he might have been polluting his own research by his failure to observe and record his own motivations, his intentions, his feelings, as part of the data. How could he have made such a titanic theoretical error? How could he have not been aware of this blind spot?

Suddenly everything he knew about the universe had flipped inside out—as if the magnetic field of the planet had suddenly reversed itself there inside the boxes at his feet.

He would have to start over. Everything must be reconsidered, rethought.

Somehow the 1968 box that he had been working on while sorting through his life had taken on a new significance. The box that he hadn’t taken that seriously, that he was thinking of as more or less a nostalgic, possibly self-indulgent meditation on his early days in San Francisco, had new meaning.

Only now as he was preparing for deep space, as he was preparing for Jupiter and Beyond, was he able to see himself for the first time reflected in this newly forming galaxy as both past and future.

He saw his beginning, when things were still in their gaseous state, before gravity, before the stars, before the solar systems settled into orbits—before things could be identified and named.

Maybe this was the key to it all, the great obelisk from his great space odyssey, the Rosetta stone; the foundational moment of the old archive, and a new archive—the order of things to come.

He made an index of his boxes and drew a floor plan of how he would store them in the basement so that DB would be able to distinguish the archives from his own boxes of wigs and costumes.

And like the flash of a passing comet through the night sky, everything was gone; packed away in DB’s basement, or given to community thrift, or thrown into a dumpster—and at that moment he passed into the future.

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