Jamie Cross

by Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org



Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and are used here without their creators; knowledge or
permission. All other characters property of the author. Originally written as a "Diary of a Gargoyle From the Future" contest entry
for the Gargoyles Internet Reunion, 2000.


The word came down tonight.
I'm going.
I can't believe it.
Neither can anyone else.
Sure, you know the scientists could cite statistics and feasibility studies until they all fell over dead. Sure, everyone from the
janitors on up to the very top could agree that it was the option that made the most sense ... but no one ever really, in-their-hearts
believed that it would happen this way.
That it would be me.
Runt of the rookery ... and if I'd known when I was a hatchling that my lack of stature would lead to this, I wouldn't have
given a rip how my siblings teased me. You can bet there would have been a lot fewer fistfights out in the old churchyard back home!
I can't wait to call the clan and tell them, but for right now we're all under a shut-up order. They want to make sure, I guess, that
they've got everything in order before they make the big press release. So they're ready for the inevitable backlash. Everybody's got
to have their say, object or criticize or make gloomy predictions.
Let 'em.
Who cares? I'm going!
That's really what it all boils down to. The decision's been made, and it's not likely to change.
All that matters to me is getting ready, and doing the best damn job I can. Not just for myself, not just for my clan, but for gargoyles
all over the world. This is big, the biggest thing since we all came out of hiding back in '98.
Dawson was so casual about it ... that really breaks me up now that I'm through being numb. Just ambled on in like always, made a
couple of reminders about the new leave policy and the drug-testing protocol, then acts like he only just remembered (sneaky bastard,
I know he planned it exactly that way), and dropped the biggest bomb of my entire life like it was no big deal.
I'll never forget it.
He says: "Oh, and Cross? Pack your toothbrush, kid ... you're on."
You could have heard mold grow in that silence, and then everyone was shouting at once. Congratulating me, whapping me on the
back (Lorna Barrett even kissed me hard enough to about make my horns uncurl; first time I'd ever been kissed by a human that wasn't
on a dare), but there was some outrage too.
Yeah, plenty of jealousy, plenty of indignation. Most of them have been in the astronaut corps a lot longer than yours truly, and don't
like being skipped over for a gargie-come-lately.
Potter: "They just picked him 'cause he's expendable. Lab animal."
Forget him ... all I care about is I'm going to Mars and he'll be parked on his can planetside like he's been for his whole career.
*
*
Promoted. Just like that. Major Cross. Major Jamie Cross, commander of the Mars Wyvern.
Does that sound good or does that sound good?
I still don't know who's going up with me. Moscow hasn't made their choice, or if they have, they're still sitting on the news. But the
ship is coming along smartly. Three cheers for cooperative ventures!
I'm glad they did go with the name Wyvern. It's only right. If not for that clan, having the nerve -- or the bad luck and exposure -- to
prove once and for all that gargoyles existed, I wouldn't be where I am now.
Tomorrow night I start my intensive training. Dawson's promised to work me harder than I've ever been worked before, and I believe
him. The rest of the corps, those who've actually been to space, have been filling my ears with horror stories about the misery I'm in for. But
they know it doesn't have as much of an effect on me as it would a human.
And am I glad of that! I've seen how the rest of them look after one of Dawson's marathon training sessions. Even for humans in tip-top
shape, they come out of it sore stem to stern. Me, a day's stone sleep clears all those aches and pains away.
Plus, it doesn't hurt having a greater resistance to G-forces, vertigo, pressure changes, and temperatures. I can tolerate stressors at a
higher level than any of them, and wake up fresh as a daisy.
Some of them hate me for that. They say it's unfair; that qualified humans lost their chances because of my "gargoyle abilities."
Balls.
It's the whole 2020's debate all over again, back when they introduced the 'enhanced' categories for the Olympics and professional
sports, since humans couldn't compete against gargoyles and mutates.
But what are they going to do, start a whole new astronaut corps for gargoyles? This isn't pro sports. This isn't entertainment. It makes
sense for a gargoyle to go to space.
The studies all back that up. Once we're acclimated to our 12-and-12 sleep schedule, that's 12 out of 24 that we're not using up any
of the consumables. During the down time, we won't be eating, drinking, breathing ... our only needs can be met by the solar reflector.
That means what cargo room would normally be taken up by consumables can be used for fuel and equipment instead. We're only
awake half the time, so the mission will seem a lot shorter to us; they won't have to worry as much about us going stir crazy in that flying
tin can.
This is dumb; I'm getting mad over nothing.
Potter and the other whiners can go on all they like and it won't change squat. WASA's saving a lot of money using a gargoyle crew,
and when you strip away all the chrome and geegaws, money's what it's all about. Money and public opinion, and so far it looks like
people are pretty supportive. Though whether that means they are thinking "if they can send one gargoyle to space, why not send 'em all?" ...
*
*
They spilled it to the press today. I woke up to a faceful of microphones and flashbulbs the minute I set talon outside.
"How does it feel, Major Cross?"
How do they think it feels? It feels fantastic!
They wanted to know everything about me, as if they didn't already know almost every little detail. I was on the covers of both Time
and Newsweek when I was accepted into the astronaut corps in the first place and all the pertinent info's still there.
But I obliged, rehashed all the old times.
It brought back all the memories. Even made me homesick for Trinity Bay; who would have expected that?
I was able to slip away a couple hours into the press conference and call the clan. Thanks to the time zone difference, I caught them just
waking up, so they heard it first from me instead of the evening news.
Usually, my contact with them has been dutiful or gloating or both. I intended this time to be heavy on the gloating, but everyone sounded
honestly proud of me. Pleased and proud. As if I'd finally made something worthwhile of myself.
And all it took was being the first gargoyle in space.
*
*
I just got the dossier on my confirmed mission partner.
Svetlana of Volgasclan. Svetlana means 'luminescent;' I looked it up. And if you think that sounds exotic, wait until you see the picture
that came with it!
According to the bio sheet, her clan lives in the Volga River Valley, and has since the 1930's or so, when they left St. Petersburg after
the fall of Czar Nicholas. She's six years older than me, expert pilot, some medical training.
The picture shows a yellow-gold complexion like candlelight shining on brass, a brow ridge that rays out in a starburst, high sharp
cheekbones, and a respectable mass of ink-black hair all up in a bun. Beautiful, but her expression makes her look like she's strict, cold,
and ready to take a chomp out of the tail of anyone who contradicts her.
Ha ... and she's a full inch shorter than me ... that's a first! My luck, she'll only be interested in males that top six and a half feet, but
we can hope.
Though I do have to admit, all the publicity has gotten me some very interesting letters from females in clans all across America.
Letters and quite a few snapshots, including one of a scarlet-skinned piece of lusciousness inviting me to come explore the mountains
and valleys of her red planet sometime ... not bad for a male that couldn't get a second look from any female in Northern California!
But I digress.
I'm not due to meet my new partner for a few more weeks, and then we're both in for a stint at Gateway, the largest of the orbital research
bases. If either of us are going to crack up, it'll be then and there.
That's really going to be something. Aside from the period of disorientation and adjustment that will come with getting on a new stone-sleep
schedule, we're both also going to be the first gargoyles in orbit.
It hit me the other night ... Mars! The red planet ... another planet. I will be standing on the surface of another planet before any human
ever does. They've been to the Moon twenty times in the last dozen years, a first step and a good one, but Mars!
We'll finally be getting the answers, finally getting the data and information that WASA's been craving for decades. They'll save face (the
repeated failure of every unmanned mission since around the 1990's is a touchy subject; newcomers here learn real quick not to mention it),
and Svetlana and I will make that giant leap for gargoyle-kind.
*
*
Six weeks since my last entry. How the time goes by!
I've finally convincingly proven to the WASA psychiatrists that I'm not going to go berserk and start chewing through the hull of the
Wyvern when they let me at the controls.
It was touch-and-go there for a while, I have to admit. Sleep deprivation is no picnic. I'm told I was damn near intolerable. Didn't hit
anyone (at least, not hard enough to hurt and no one important enough to matter), which puts me one ahead of Sveta. Though since the one
she did hit was yours truly, maybe that puts her one ahead of me.
I'm currently looking through layers of clear plastisteel at a white-orange orb. The plastisteel is what they call a 'window' here at GOC
(Gateway Orbital Complex; WASA does love their acronyms).
And the orb is, believe it or not friends and clanmates, the living sun.
Strange how fast you get used to seeing something that hid from you all your life.
But there it is. Good old Sol. With no curtain of atmosphere in the way. The sky behind it is velvet-black and full of stars, the frosty blue
ball of the Earth turning away beneath me.
Being up here gives you a strange sense of perspective. It also, at least for me, was proof of how you just can't please everybody; that
some people are determined to have a wasp up their nostrils no matter what.
When I was barely more than a hatchling, everyone was so concerned about the effects of industry on the environment that they started
the big push to get it all into space. Now Gateway is one of over a thousand orbital complexes, most of which are vast cybot-operated
factories and farms. Recyclable seawater fuels run nearly everything on Earth with minimal expense and pollution. It's hard to believe there
ever was a problem with the rain forest, or the ozone layer.
But some people just won't be happy. The children of the same ones making such a stink about the environment are now in a snit because
they're worried the OC's will eventually cover the sky, blotting out their view of the stars.
I can tell I'm still having a few lingering effects from the adjustment. My thoughts are more scattered than I'd like. I started off trying to
describe my meeting with Svetlana, and our trip from Earth to Gateway. Will try again tomorrow, when my head's more clear.
*
*
My partner is just as exotic and beautiful as she looked in her picture. And she does put on one doozy of a cast-iron bee-with-an-itch act.
But I'm beginning to think that an act is all it is; that for a female gargoyle kosmonaut, there are certain expectations that she feels she has to
live up to. Under that, I'm guessing there's some hot blood flowing.
Then again, since we've spent the past month half out of our minds with sleep-disorder psychosis (SDP), who's to say?
Sveta (her preferred nickname) is every inch the pilot that her dossier boasted. She took one of the XE-23s out for a spin last week, and
my first thought was that they'd have to find me a new partner because she was going to end up a frozen scatter of atoms in space, which
would delay the launch time and generally cause problems. But then, seeing how she handled that baby, I couldn't help being impressed.
No overtures in the romance department (barring the incident that got me hit, which doesn't count because as I've said, SDP). She hasn't
said much about her clan back home in the Volga River Valley, but I'm fairly sure there's no mate in the picture.
The newsies are making a big deal out of it, though, and we do look good in the broadcasts. Healthy, fit, and photogenic as hell. Our basic
black flight suits go well with her yellow-gold and my forest-green.
We were the guests of honor at a state dinner the night before our shuttle left. The President was there, and dignitaries from sixteen countries.
And gargoyles. A dozen clans sent representatives, but the one meeting that meant the most to me was clasping forearms with one of the oldest
surviving members of the Wyvern Clan.
I'd never realized it before -- he always looked taller on television -- but we stood perfectly at eye-level. Fifty years ago, he might have
had my job, except that the design teams would have had a hell of a time allowing for his wing structure. Even now, he looked tough as leather
and would probably do better than half of the astronauts I knew. He wanted to come with us, I could hear it in his every word.
The night after that, we had our private shuttle to Gateway.
Maybe it's really not such a big deal; commercial shuttles and shuttle-liners have been taking people to the Moon and some of the
recreational OC's for five years or more. But like I said, we were the first gargoyles.
It was only a short hop, a smooth ride, nothing like the old days of rocketships like riding a chained volcano.
None of this flat-back in contoured chairs, looking up at the vast clear sky as the countdown clicked toward liftoff, feeling the expectant
rumble of the engines, waiting for the sudden giant roar and a crush of force that feels like soft weights pressed on the chest.
The shuttle just seemed to crouch like a cat, quivering with barely-contained tension, and then shot down the floating runway. My ears
popped once. That was it.
It's one thing to be told that Earth's atmosphere is a shell only ten-fifteen miles thick. It's something else entirely to be through it and out
in practically less time than it takes to recite the WASA Main Directives. Though because we were sticking to the nightside of the planet, we
could only tell by the way the stars suddenly sharpened and steadied.
Then we were weightless, and because there weren't any other passengers, we felt free to unbuckle and float around. The simulators are
good, but there's something indefinably different about real weightlessness.
And something really strange about having no air currents lifting us ... Sveta found that she could move about with some ease by
swim-flapping her wings; I preferred to push off from the walls and pull myself along, using my fingers and toes and wing talons and the
small tri-clawed grasper at the end of my tail to secure holds.
We weren't awake for our arrival at Gateway. As the shuttle came around toward the day side of Earth, they informed us and we strapped
back into our seats for the view of our first sunrise from space.
It was even more incredible than seen on film. The great rolling darkness beneath you, speckled here and there with the lights of cities, is
suddenly crowned with an arc of white-blue. Yellow rays begin to fan out from the midpoint. Then a single bead, a droplet of molten gold,
wells on the horizon and grows into a bright, fierce, but cold rose.
Although we'd only awakened a few hours before, both Sveta and I gave in to the helpless call of instinct and conditioning. That first stone
sleep lasted for almost thirty hours.
I lost track of a lot of the time between then and now, but eventually, what the scientists said would happen did. We evened out, and
thanks to their careful monitoring, we're now on almost exactly the same waking schedule.
*
*
Wyvern launch is set for 54 hours and counting.
The way it is supposed to work is like so:
Every 'day' before going to sleep, we'll retire to our sealed sleep-tents. These are essentially roomy, thick plastic bubbles, the better to
keep shards of our skin and stone dust from getting all over the interior of the ship and into the sensitive equipment. They also come with their
own six-hour air supply, just in case.
We'll paste sensors to the key points on our skin, where the galvanic response begins (essentially, the first parts of us to react to the
change to and from stone). Those will send information to the ship's computer, which will turn life support systems to minimal and activate
the solar reflectors. Twelve hours later, the sensors will pick up the pre-waking signals and bring life support back to full.
The only part of this whole thing that gives me the shivers is the knowledge that while we're out, we'll be totally in the hands of the remote
crew here on Gateway. But really, any mission is going to be facing something similar. We're all at the mercy of the machines when we're
out there.
And if something does go wrong while we're sleeping, we'll never know ...
No, that's not true, is it? It's possible the ship could be destroyed but our sleep-tents and stone bodies could survive, and we could wake
to find ourselves floating in space. With six hours' worth of air and no way to do anything but wait.
Talk about a happy thought!
*
*
We flipped for it, and Sveta won the honor of taking the Wyvern out of Gateway Dock. Which means I get the honor of bringing us in for a
landing when we reach our destination. If I can do it even half as smoothly as she did, it'll be like touching down on a bed of silk.
The ship is a beauty. Everything was designed with us in mind, so there is ample wing and tail room, and the controls are all made to fit talons.
Earth is behind us now. We're officially further into space than any human has gone.
We spend our waking time working with the instruments. All of those findings are dutifully reported in the mission log.
According to the scientists back on Gateway, the samples of asteroidal material we've collected have already confirmed several theories
about the stuff of which the solar system was originally formed.
I've tried and tried to express what this is like. The most incredible, momentous thing I have ever experienced and will ever experience.
They've got tapes of every step-by-step command and exchange between us and Gateway's ground crew -- they still insist on calling it
that -- was recorded and broadcast around the globe, so everyone's heard my fumbling attempts to describe what it was like to see our home
planet dwindle to a large blue marble hanging in the star-studded blackness. And in all the time since then I've had to think it over, I still
can't come up with the right words.
Some things just can't be told. Some things have to be seen, felt for yourself. Someday, they'll be sending ships out here as routinely as
they do to the OC's, and others will have the chance to understand what I mean.
But for now it's just me and Sveta. She hasn't had any better luck than I have at putting her feelings into words, even in her native language.
The vastness, the distance, the emptiness, the coldness ... they stir such a wonder and awed dread! We've always lived on our one fragile
world so convinced of its permanence and dominance ... but it's one tiny speck in an endless, dispassionate void. Looking at Earth, it feels
almost as if you could reach out and take it between thumb and foreclaw, and pinch it out of existence.
And yet ... at the same time, we can't help but feel like the heirs to all creation. We have taken the controls of our destiny into our own
hands, and all of us, humanity and gargoylekind alike, will be uplifted.
*
**
The End



copyright 2000 by Christine Morgan