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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



Crash Kiss


Imagine a kiss. First there's the animal awareness of another person's heat and breath near your face. Then the collision of lips. What do they feel like? Are they rough? Soft? Chapped from the sun? Noses brush against each and cheeks collide. Tongues move into alien mouths, wanting to explore this new terrain of desire. Hands are useful, too. They can stroke or grab a lover's hair during the kiss. Hands can caress hips, ass or crotch. Teeth bite at a lover's lips while tongues glide and hands explore the geography of other bodies.

Imagine the Challenger accident. Seven astronauts. Seven tongues in seven mouths. Seven sets of lips. Two hundred and twenty four teeth. Seventy fingers formed from one hundred and ninety six phalanges. Imagine the explosion from the aft of the spacecraft, at the booster's fuel tanks. The force of the explosion propels the astronauts' bodies up toward the sky as the force of gravity pulls them down toward the Atlantic. For an instant, the explosion wins this tug-of-war. Think of those teeth and tongues — caressed by how many lovers? — dislodged and in free-fall, exploded from their jaws. Imagine the skin of their hands, which had left their traces on lovers' skin and slid seductively between how many lips, flensed by the heat and shockwave as liquid oxygen ignites beneath them.

There's no last kiss or touching goodbye. Seven lovers' mouths blasted into fragments as in the Hindenburg or at Hiroshima. The astronauts' bodies are artifacts now, vestiges of superheated vapor, chemical traces scattered in the jet stream and carried into the lungs of old loves and new loves they'll never know (in this lifetime). A final molecular fuck. The Tibetan Buddhists call scattering human remains to the birds a Sky Burial. We don't have a name for it in America.

Crash kiss.



Author's Note

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. The ship was lost and its crew were killed. Every newspaper and talking head on TV got in line to call the crew "heroes."

I don't particularly like the word "hero." It separates a hero's life from the rest of humanity and makes their death less awful. The death of a hero isn't tragic. It's part of the hero's bargain.

I never wanted to think of the Challenger crew as a bunch of square-jawed Star Trek stand-ins. I wanted to think of them as men and women, special in their dedication, but still men and women like the rest of us. On that first day, I thought about their lives, their families and all the small, stupid dramas of life that we take for granted, but that they'd never experience again.

With that in mind, I wrote the following piece. Then I put it away. It was never published. I didn't write it with any market in mind: I was just working through my own reaction to the Challenger crew's loss. Now, 17 years later, with the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, I've decided to publish this piece.

The Columbia's loss too familiar.


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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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