November 9

Carl Sagan (b. 1934)


“Do you like this form?” your great-great grandfather asks.  “Does it bring you comfort?”

You’re not really sure how close an approximation it is to your ancestor’s voice.  You’ve never met him, after all.  A few sepia-toned photographs, only, and no extant audio.

And this house, and the car, and the land and sky surrounding:  a familiar place that’ve you’ve never visited.  The world is grainy.  The colors are all wrong:  like a retouched black-and-white photograph, fed through a random, computer-colorization process.

“I’m not sure,” you say.  “I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable again.”

“Be that as it may.”  Your great-great grandfather stops, not realizing he’s misused the idiomatic phrase.

“Explain how you found me.”

Great-great grandfather reaches into the automobile — what would have been called a roadster in its day, no windows or roof, but in its time it would have had a more attractive color than the oddly shimmering gray gelatin coating its chassis — and he retrieves a battered metal box.   “From this,” he says, opening it.  He pulls out flat pieces of broken circuit boards, a few data-filled silicon chips hanging on like spiders.

The time capsule!  A simple contest you’ve participated in with your mother several years ago:  a modern equivalent to scrapbooking, but with recent exponential advantages in data compression and storage.  Gone were the days when Carl Sagan and his Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence initiative helped design a single bronze plaque with limited information:  a map of the solar system, a diagram of a human body, and a recording of a single piece of classical music.  Today’s technology could fit the same information onto the head of a virtual pin…leaving plenty of room to spare, to the point where a syndicated daytime talk show could invite viewers the chance to digitize their family memories into exhaustive archives that, for a hundred lucky winners, could be shot into space aboard the latest long-range exploratory satellite.

You reach behind your ear, feel the bump of the locator chip embedded beneath your skin.  That identifier would have linked your physical body to the family scrapbook — electronic photos and documents dating back several generation, sound and video files representing more recent memories in detail.

“We want you to be comfortble,” the being masquerading as your great-great grandfather says.  “A familar face and place.”  He indicates the old-fashioned home behind him, its bricks a sickly greenish-yellow.  Instead of blue, the sky above shimmers like the surface of a polluted lake; the grass and ground below offer the pink and red pallate of open flesh-wounds.

Your stomach lurches, as if you’re in an elevator that descends too quickly, dropping past the basement and continuing to fall.  “Couldn’t you have found better images to recreate?”

“Be that as it may,” your great-great grandfather says.  “We didn’t have the right programs to open the files.  Much of the data was corrupted.  You were the only one we could rescue.”


The gray gelatin car, the green- and yellow-bricked house, the swamp-polluted sky and the pustule ground and the sepia ancestor, all flash away for a moment.  You’re in a white room, everything white, except for a window or projection screen along one wall depicting an empty portion of space that should reveal the pale blue dot of your planet. Sepia great-great grandfather raises an arm to attempt a gesture of comfort, but it’s not an arm, and the colors aren’t sepia, and the texture where a face might be seems to bubble and flutter and ooze all at the same time.

You close your eyes.  “Bring it back,” you say through tears.  “Make things the way they were.”