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
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
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."
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
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.