Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Last Will and Testament of Tillinghast Nebula (Part 1).


It would be one of those years where nobody could imagine what was going to happen next. There was a certain eeriness infusing everything, owing to the conjunction of two events, on the surface unrelated to one-another: the death of the Mars astronaut Gabriel Summers, and the sudden return from obscurity and subsequent death of the glam rock icon Tillinghast Nebula. These events we imagined to be unrelated on any kind of literal level; in a subterranean logic of symbol and coincidence, however, the conjunction was bizarre, and pregnant with troubling resonances. Tillinghast Nebula's first big hit Mission Command (Radio Silence from the American Capsule) was a moon-landing novelty record about a doomed astronaut. In fact, when the Martian mission fell apart, and it first became apparent that Gabriel Summers would be stranded alone on the Red Planet, many people evoked the memory of Mission Command and its powerful depiction of a sympathetic, almost umbilical connection between humanity and the astronaut which they are powerless to save.

The connections went deeper, however, as Tillinghast had always presented himself to some degree as an alien marooned on our planet, as isolated in his own way as Summers' was in the arid desolation and radio silence of Mars. Tillinghast, though he had referenced many cosmic locations, real and imaginary, during his sci-fi glam rock phase, would always be associated primarily with the Red Planet. Then there was the timing of the events. Elor Summers, the venture capitalist and space entrepreneur announced in August that the Mars colonisation project had suffered a series of tragic set-backs, which resulted in the death of fourteen of the colonialists, leaving only his own son Gabriel alive. It was surely around this time that rumours first began to circulate on Noosfeed that Tillinghast Nebula was emerging from nearly a decade of seclusion, putting the finishing touches to a new record that would be released early in the coming year.

All through September and October, the world watched Gabriel Summers, the loneliest man in the solar system, via the video feed from TOTO, the robot rover that followed his every move, beaming back his daily struggles to millions of tablets and phones across the earth. The signal was one way; owing to the disastrous malfunction of Elor Summers' experimental technologies, we could not communicate with Gabriel. We could not tell him how much love we had for him, how ardently we hoped that he would persevere, and find some measure of happiness and reward in his isolated existence on the Red Planet. We could only watch the TOTO feed, hoping perhaps, by the same implicit belief in sympathetic magic which prompts people to cheer at athletes on a television screen, that the global force of our emotional investment and concentration, the perfect synchronisation of our hopes and desires, might somehow travel the vast distance between earth and Mars, another signal bouncing invisibly across the blackness.

How was it that our emotional lives had became so entwined with the fortunes of the lonely astronaut? For years, it seems to me, all our minds had been blurring together, ever since Noosfeed superseded all the previous search engines and social networks, and gradually we spent more and more of our days scrolling through this vast, fragmentary hive mind. Though few of us cared to acknowledge it, we no longer consumed books, magazines, or news in any conventional sense of the term; rather we contributed our share to an endless stream of transitory points of emotional engagement that were always moving downstream, a ceaseless flow of ironic hieroglyphics, Pavlovian arguments, and conspiratorial rumours that moulded our minds, and melded them together until all experience seemed vacuous unless it could be shared on Noosfeed, and our private consciousness felt either valueless, or something precious which we could no longer regain. In this fashion, our minds had ebbed together in a communal retreat from a world which seemed beyond our ability to understand or exert any control over; a world which we all felt intuitively was falling apart and coming undone while we shared our piecemeal, opiated Noosfeed dreams.

It was a natural, then, that our emotional lives, already concretized as a single, amalgamated entity by Noosfeed, could become affixed to that of the lonely astronaut. Feeling subconsciously that society and culture had reached a dead-end spiral on planet earth, we could look to Gabriel Summers as an embodiment of our collective hope that mankind might perhaps succeed elsewhere in the universe. That we could start afresh; that we would not renew the same mistakes, the same interminable tragedies, which had marred our earthly cradle, and sapped our great promise. This was the scale of the burden we placed on the astronaut's shoulders; we had made him an every-man figure whose great ill-fortune and sufferings would be a test by which the whole worth of the species might be judged. Just as our own lives had become increasingly artificial and untethered from tangible reality, Gabriel Summers existed in world of hyper-reality: in the brooding, blasted landscape of the dead planet, and the daily struggle to survive and remain sane, there was no distraction of any kind from the sheer facts of his existence.

We watched him as he worked on the terraformed pavilion which would provide food when his supply of protein pills ran out. We shared his appalling loneliness, the deep troughs of his despair, the moments when he contemplated suicide. Our moods followed precisely after his in their every ebb and flow; you could feel it in the air when Gabriel smiled at TOTO, and faced the chores of his day with courage and equanimity. Market fluctuations, crime and suicide rates, the fashions and sexual currents of big cities, everything on earth became entwined with the distant activities of the lonely astronaut, with subtle nuances in the language of his space-suited body, with rocks and patterns glimpsed in the ochre dust of the dead planet. When Gabriel began to speak of a presence encountered out there in the brooding Martian valleys and desert expanses, even the world's most ardent atheists thrilled privately with the notion of experiencing the emergence of a new religious gnosis, specific to the Martian environment. The night that he told TOTO that Mars was thronged with ghosts, we wondered if his sanity was slipping away again.

In those same days when Gabriel Summers spoke in halting whispers of a host of Martian ghosts, the world was also stirring with the rumoured return of Tillinghast Nebula, the decadent glam rock icon from the Golden Age of Pop. Tillinghast had all but vanished for a decade; no records, no tours, even his sporadic acting career had dried up. Nevertheless, the mystique of the ageing pop star grew if anything more palpable in the years of his absence. The myths of his youth were renewed, and we almost began to believe again that he might really be an alien. Born in the same year as the flying saucer, and finding his first flush of fame in the shadow of the Apollo moon-landing, Nebula would always be identified with the complex web of anxieties and desires surrounding the figure of the extraterrestrial. Early on in his career, he found some happy serendipity in the double-meaning of the word star: the distant luminescences of the night sky, and the new type of humanity created by the mass media. The star in the sky was a vast thing rendered tiny by great gulfs of interstellar space; the star in the media landscape was a relatively insignificant thing (a person like any other) magnified to giant proportions by some alchemy of technology and fantasy.

Just as the journey to the stars had been regarded as an apotheosis in outer space, Tillinghast reasoned that the ascension to the status of an icon in the media age could be an apotheosis of inner space. The surrealists dreamed of collapsing the distinction between the unconscious and the world of everyday reality; the star achieved this by reifying his private fantasies, and making them the communal fantasy of his audience. Tillinghast was particularly obsessed with the archetypal story of a being who descends, either voluntarily or by misadventure, from a higher realm to a lower one. In the lower realm, he is a messianic figure, a teacher, and a subversive disruptor of social mores and conventions. Like all mystically-minded rockers, Tillinghast was particularly enamoured of the figure of Dionysus, the exotic outsider-god who foments an ecstatic, underground gnosis in woodland groves and hidden places, a new mystery cult whose sacraments are irresistible to women, hysterics, and other figures marginalized by the dominant society. In the twentieth century, this fallen god had to be an extraterrestrial; Superman had proved that. So Tillinghast created an image which was androgynous like Dionysus, but also bizarre and otherworldly, like a fashion-spread from some other dimension, normally only accessible via magic mushrooms or psychotic episode. The image was repellent and absurd to the middle-aged gate-keepers of dystopian orthodoxy, but held a instant, talismanic power over the still protean adolescents. 

For Tillinghast, the story of the rock star as alien messiah could only end in one of two ways. In some versions, the alien is destroyed by his own fans, dismembered and consumed as a transubstantiated body, a host or plasmate of some indecipherable future sexuality. In the other version, he is destroyed by his own ego, having become tainted by the lures and deceptions of the lower world. Lost in a stupor of satiation and boredom, he gazes forlornly at the stars he has lost, never to be regained. Working around variations of this basic mythic template, Nebula created a dizzying variety of science fictional personae during the height of his fame: Technical Tilly the Erotic Scientist from the Crab Nebula, Apollo Elsewhere and the Venusian Teddy Boys, the Diamond Android Geisha, and so on. After the glam boom faded, an increasingly cocaine-frazzled Tillinghast went through his “Germanic phase”, a period marked by his obsession with Wilhelm Reich, the “Odic Force” theorized by Baron Carl von Reichenback, Nazi occultism, and the so-called “Berlin school” of experimental electronic music. In a notoriously erratic Melody Maker interview, Nebula declared that the Apollo 11 Lunar Module was “clearly an Orgone Accumulator, part of some Masonic rite.”

In the late 70s, Nebula hired a crack team of Philadelphia soul session musicians to record The Unmoved Mover on the Dance Floor, a concept album that boldly mixed earthy disco grooves with Scholastic metaphysics. On that record, his persona was a mysterious Gatsby-like figure who haunts various discotheques, elegant but aloof, dancing without passion and seemingly enslaved by an elusive memory. Occasionally, he brings revellers back to an LA mansion where sombre cheetahs lounge by the swimming pool, and a sinister valet, stationed in the rest room, spooks revellers by declaiming in a neutral voice: “Welcome to the Villa of Ormen.” When the guests enquire as the whereabouts of the host, he replies: “You've swallowed it.” 

In the 80s, tapping into the new Zeitgeist of conspicuous consumption, Nebula reinvented himself once again as the Thin White Speculator (or the Tycoon Who Sold the World to Off-World Interests). A sinister, bespectacled figure clad in Armani, the Speculator amassed his vast fortune through a series of technologically advanced patents which transformed the world: a 3D Projector Hi-Fi System that rendered the Pop Star obsolete; Aseity, the lucid dreaming aid/anti-depressant drug that replaced film, television, video games, and even politics to a large extent; Impolex R, the new synthetic fabric whose colour changes in tandem with the mood of the wearer, leading to a post-privacy era in which monogamy is obsolete due to the immediate blatancy of sexual arousal. In this anaesthetized new culture inaugurated by the Speculator, everybody wears skin-tight Impolex R onesies, transforming the streets into an impressionistic riot of fluctuating mood-tones; people engage in open sexual encounters in office cubicles and sub-way trains, before retiring to the seclusion of their conapts, where they drift away on ultra-vivid Aseity trips, complex Choose Your Adventure psychodramas aided by New Age music and 3D Hi Fi visualizations.

The Speculator himself continues to wear Armani (on the few occasions where he had worn an Impolex R onesie, it remained stationary in an unearthly shade of deep purple, suggesting the presence of an emotion unknown and utterly indecipherable to other human beings.) He plays the market without passion, and sits at restaurant terraces, watching the sand fall through an hourglass which he carries at all times in his briefcase. Like all Nebula's latter personae, there is an air of abstraction and aloofness, a suggestion of an alien who has completed a fact-finding mission, and now longs to be repatriated back to his homeland. Earth time, however, is much slower, and the memory of his homeland is diminishing, day by day, becoming fragmentary, dreamlike, the subject for a work of art or a tremulous religious faith. At the end of the album, Tillinghast has come full-circle; the Speculator has resolved to become a cosmic glam rock star, in order to shake humanity out of the glazed stupor his off-world technologies have inaugurated, and to provide for himself a mythic record of his homeland which will survive his own forgetfulness.

Of all the personae Nebula adopted, perhaps the most bizarre and uncharacteristic was David Jones, the timid, unfulfilled working class youth he played in his film debut Looking Glass (1975). Written by Nebula in collaboration with its director, the ill-fated Kenneth Anger associate Chris Arlington, Looking Glass was a mediation on the nature of fame and the perennial theme of the doppelgänger. David Jones is the polar opposite of Tillinghast Nebula: a shy and repressed young Londoner who works as a night porter in a slightly seedy East End hotel called the Sheldrake Inn. David was raised by his over-bearing mother Janis (Diana Dors), his father having died in WW2. He has an older brother who has been hospitalized for some unspecified illness, probably schizophrenia, a tragedy which hovers unspoken over David's relationship with Janis.

At the start of the movie, David is twenty-six years old. He has just separated from his wife and young child, for reasons never clearly specified, although Janis harangues him for “not being a bloody man.” Becoming alienated from his boisterous, going nowhere friends, and crippled by shyness towards the opposite sex, David begins to slide into a depression. Suffering from insomnia, he works by night in the hotel, and by day walks the streets aimlessly, brooding over the apparently unending litany of humiliations that his life has become. One day, he wanders on a whim into an antique and curio store. Inside the shop, he pauses to look at his reflection in an art-Deco mirror. The image that greets him, though clearly that of his own face, is a completely different person in every other regard: a glamorous, otherworldly and androgynous figure, with long hair, elaborate make-up, and an expression of self-confidence bordering on mockery.

Alarmed by the apparition in the mirror, which seems to manifest his own latent potentialities and submerged desires, David runs out into the street, and finds himself in a London somehow different from the one he is familiar with. Hair and clothing styles have changed; news-paper headlines adopt a peculiar tone, and the billboards advertise unrecognisable products that appeal to desires more commonly suppressed. Many people stop and stare at David, and soon he realizes why: there are posters everywhere for the androgynous double he saw the mirror, who seems to be some kind of pop-star called Tillinghast Nebula. The attention from the pedestrians becomes more intense, and he hears their whispering voices amplified like the drone of an angry beehive:
“Is that him?”
“It can't be him, he looks normal.”
“It must be him, look at his eyes.”
“The hair is completely different.”
“He must be in disguise.”
“They do that sometimes, to see if they get noticed.”
“ that you?”
“He was a bloody poof on Top of the Tops.”
“It is him.”
“Tilly, over here!”
“Over here, Tilly!

Panicked, David starts running, and a sequence of rapid, jagged cuts suggest a nervous breakdown of some kind. He comes to back in the antique shop, looking at the mirror again, but now his reflection has returned to normal. The proprietor, a tall, elderly gentleman with a kindly, if distracted, expression, addresses him from the counter: “I check the looking glass myself, Sir, from time to time, just to make sure I haven't gone anywhere since the last time I looked! But there I be, always looking back at myself. You'd have to be quick on the draw, Sir, to beat the man in the mirror! It's a queer life for him, though, no? First thing in the morning and last thing at night, grooming and washing and shaving and squeezing spots and scrubbing and looking, Sir, looking very intently, as though either of you knew any better who the other really was. How does he occupy himself in-between times, that's what I wonder. Does he simply sleep all day, in a quiet, empty mirror world? Or does he have his freedom, Sir, while you're not at the mirror, his freedom to wander around in a empty world, all the while perhaps wondering why you get to live in the real world, and he only in the looking glass one? It occurs to me, Sir, that the man in the mirror must resent us bitterly, we who he must imitate in all our private moments, in our vanities and insecurities. It seems to me that sometimes people change, abruptly, without any apparent cause. Well, Sir, might it not be that their reflection found a way to take a hold of them, and swap places? What would a reflection do, I wonder, given autonomy over a real body? I think about these kinds of things, Sir, when the shop is quiet.”

A few years pass. David starts working as a clerk for a legal firm, and marries again, this time to art teacher Sara (Jane Asher). Bored and frustrated by his work, however, he continues to brood over a sense of missed opportunities and life passing him by. “I was meant to do something,” he tries to explain to Sara, “something else, and I was meant to be somebody else, but I missed the boat, somehow.” Sara, meanwhile, growing resentful of his passive, reclusive nature, begins an affair with older PE teacher Reggie (Stanley Baker). 

One day, while David is waiting to cross the street, an immaculate limousine pulls up alongside. The window rolls down, and once again he is presented with his double. The androgyne, looking frailer than before, is clad in a tuxedo, and rests his chin on a cane, cradled in brittle, twitching hands. He is accompanied by two women: an African with sharp cheekbones and large, limpid eyes, and a voluptuous red-head in witchy bohemian rags. The women point at David and laugh, but the androgyne regards him with a peculiar, quizzical expression. The window rolls back up, and the limo drifts out of view.

Over the course of the following weeks, he begins to see the androgyne more frequently. Passing by an art gallery with an all-glass facade, he sees his double holding court, surrounded by Japanese conceptual artists and beautiful, vacuum-eyed pleasure seekers. On another occasion, he chances on the androgyne scurrying with a group of revellers from a taxi to the foyer of a once elegant hotel. This time, he is disguised as a mime, and his entourage a boisterous group of medieval mummers; they sprint into the hotel like nocturnal creatures startled by the daylight. Each time their eyes met, the double regards him with the same puzzling expression: a look not quite of recognition, but more of one grappling with the elusive meaning of some anomalous presentiment like a deja vu. Bizarrely, the locations in which these encounters take place – the art gallery, the hotel, an apartment block – can never be found again, suggesting some kind of fleeting intersection between the real London and a phantasmal reflection of the city, a double like his own, alike and yet subject to an alternate destiny.

David returns to the antique shop where the first apparition of the double took place. “Yes, I remember you, Sir, indeed I do. You were quite taken with a looking glass, Sir, and stared into it for such a long while, as though you were are at the pictures! Where is the mirror now, Sir? Well, it was actually sold not long after the very day you yourself were admiring it, if you can believe that. One of my most esteemed customers, a visitor, Sir, a foreigner with very refined and unusual tastes.”

At this point, David's life is at its lowest ebb. His first wife is happily re-married, and his son, now six, barely recognises him. His own marriage is disintegrating into a nightmare of silence and recrimination. To add to his increasingly tenuous grip on his identity, Janis has started to confuse him with his mentally-ill older brother; “You should be more like your brother David,” she keeps telling him. While his own life falls apart, he becomes increasingly fixated on his double, and the idea that it is the mysterious androgyne who has stolen all the opportunities which should by right have been his. His double gets to live out all his dreams – his fantasies of sexual indulgence and wealth, fame, beauty and brilliance – while he is forced to endure only the grey daylight, the drudgery and disappointment by which such flights of appetite and imagination acquire their full lustre and intensity. He becomes obsessed by the notion that he must kill his double, and destroy the thief, the imposter, who had stolen his destiny.

One morning, David is seated at a bench in Hyde Park, and Tillinghast Nebula joins him, the pair sitting in silence for a moment before Tillinghast speaks:
“I first saw you many years ago, when my career was just taking off. I was on acid and made the terrible mistake of just wandering off down the street without anybody to mind me. People were staring at me, of course, and recognising me, and that felt good at first. But after awhile I started to hear their thoughts, buzzing in my head, and it was driving me crazy. Some of them wanted to fuck me and some of them wanted to be me and some of them wanted to kill me and some of them just wanted the frisson of interacting with a famous person. I had this utterly depressing realization that I was nobody, and the reason they reacted to me in that way had more to do with their own lives – with how some awful Machinery had narrowed the horizons of most people's lives down to such an extent that the celebrity – any celebrity - became a focal point for all their emotions, their fetishes, the commodity dreams that the Machinery had been beaming into their brains since they were children.”

“I had a panic attack, and I think I started running. When I came back to my senses, I'd taken refuge in an antique shop. I wandered over to this mirror, and when I looked in, I saw you, not myself, and yet I knew you were myself. I knew it was real, too, not the acid. So a few days later, I bought the mirror, because I knew it wasn't any ordinary mirror. Among dealers of antiques and rare books, you see, there are sometimes magicians, who hide magical objects among everyday things – cursed books, music boxes that induce somnambulism, puzzle boxes that summon demons, things like that – knowing that certain sensitive people will be drawn to them. That mirror, I eventually learned, was a gateway between worlds. You needed to position it in different places, and eventually you would notice one detail in the reflection that was different, one tiny detail that told you that you were looking into a different world. In time, you developed the capacity to pass through the looking glass, into the other world, taking parts of your world with you. But we had seen each other – that's why our different worlds became intertwined.”

“When you pass through the looking glass, you learn that there are a multitude of different worlds, each of which is essentially the same, but each of which actualizes different possibilities. In each of those worlds, there is a different you, experiencing an alternate destiny. All your dreams, nightmares, strange fugitive memories, sensations of deja vu, are all fragments of the other lives you are living concurrently in different dimensions. Another you endures your worst fears; another enjoys your keenest fantasies. There is a kind of economy, a balance, of destinies and desires, gratuities of fortune and grief, ranging across an infinity of forking paths and permutations. You and I make one-another, you see; I am a creature of your longings and fantasies, and you are a creature of my fears an insecurities. The star and his public. I know you feel that I have taken something from you, but in reality, we only give to one another. We weren't brought together to kill the other, but to take one-another's place.

It transpires that Nebula had been dreaming for years of a perfect escape from the chaotic and insular world he'd created around himself. Having become one of the most recognisable faces on his world, he grew obsessed with the now exotic and unattainable quality of anonymity. To walk down a street without exciting the drama and burden of people's expectations, projections and fantasies was a distant memory, an act of impossible magic like some conjuring trick he once knew but could never re-learn. Everything he'd achieved, in the end, had imprisoned him: consigned him for life to a cloistered world of sycophants and acolytes, mind-numbing and life-threatening indulgences, fame and drugs making his mind into an all-enveloping fishbowl, a mansion with sprawling, maddening corridors, mirrored walls, and no exit.

David returns to his wife, and tells her that he needs to go away for a short while to clear his head. He promises that things will be better when he returns. He visits Janis, joining her on the balcony of her flat. “I'm going away for a little while,” he says. “You'll not go anywhere”, she laughs, “too fragile you are, afraid of everything. You'll not go five metres from the door without needing somebody to hold your hand. You should be more like your brother David, you should.” He had Tillinghast then adjourn to a decrepit, shadowy Kensington town house, and we watch in a long, ingeniously edited sequence as they swap identities, David becoming the glam rock icon, and Tillignhast the shy, melancholy clerk and cuckold.

It's dawn when they've finished, and Tillinghast begins experimenting with the mirror, positioning it in different parts of the room. Finally placing it at a slant on front of the fireplace, his eyes dart rapidly from the reflection back to the room itself. “There we are,” he says finally, “look.” In the mirror, he shows David a narrow tracery of cracks on the reflected ceiling that aren't present on the ceiling above. “Focus on that detail,” he instructs, “look at it very carefully, and then look at your own reflection. If you do it properly you'll start to feel like you're actually in the mirror, not out here. Once that happens, it will be time to go through.” After performing this meditative exercise for some time, David begins to experience the vertiginous sensation of his point of view shifting from outside to inside the mirror; one moment he is looking at the reflection, and the next at Tillinghast and himself as though through a window from the outside. Eventually, he feels as though he has morphed fully into a reflection, a pristine creature of light that only attends upon a physical body. Tillinghast has his arms on his shoulders now, nudging him gently through the looking glass. “It's a little disorientating at first”, he whispers, “but there's only one way to learn how to swim.”

Through the looking glass, David Jones (now Tillinghast Nebula) experienced all his fantasies in a giddy rush, and died shortly thereafter, a glorious rock n' roll suicide. The real Tillinghast Nebula retired into the seclusion and anonymity of David Jones' life, eventually raising a family with Sara and living to old age. As he got older, the memory of his hedonistic adventures as the glam rock icon began to fade, remaining only as fragments of an otherworldly carnival, a free festival which he'd attended only his dreams, his youthful dreams of a golden age when high technology made stars and rockets, and new gospels that were written in radio signals and received by television antennas.

Late in November, the tragedy struck, throwing a pall over the world. Millions were watching the TOTO feed as Gabriel drove the Mars Buggy at a brisk clip along the edge of a very steep, rocky slope, faithful TOTO hurtling after him. Many people subsequently claimed that they felt a palpable tension, even before Gabriel parked the Mars Buggy, but I suspect that this was only with the benefit of hindsight. Why did the lonely astronaut stop the Buggy, and start clambering up the slope? We will never know. The most common theory is that he saw a metallic object glinting up there, and went to explore. Others have argued that the flickering light source on the slope is merely a camera artefact. Whatever the explanation, his behaviour becomes peculiarly rash. TOTO cranes his head upward, and we watch Gabriel clambering almost frantically up the cliff-face. He pauses from time to time to look back, and we can only read our own interpretations into the expression of the tiny, pixillated face in the space helmet. 

Then everything falls apart. A foothold crumbles beneath his feet, and Gabriel is tumbling back down in a hail of dust and stones, his arms failing and clutching the air. The millions watch, frozen, hapless. They are telling themselves that Gabriel will be okay, that he will pick himself off the ground and make some self-deprecating joke. When he is about half way down, however, we hear a sickening crack; his space helmet has struck a boulder. We hear those fast, heavy breaths; those dying breaths that filled the world, and haunt it ever after. Now he is on the ground, crawling towards the Buggy, a desperate bid to get to the spare breathing apparatus. He gets so close to salvation, so close it is almost a miracle. TOTO observes the struggle with a detachment that seems preternatural. Gabriel reaches the Buggy, but by then it is all over. He slumps against the vehicle, positioning himself so that his body, arms outstretched like a saviour, faces TOTO, and the eyes of the world. TOTO, following his programme to keep Gabriel in his sights at all times, has not moved since. Nobody wants to look, but nobody can turn their eyes away. We tuned in on a nightly basis, charting the rapid decay of our idol, the symbol of our hope. The scene was one of utter stillness, interrupted only now and then by older Martian rovers that sauntered eerily by, carrying out the functions of obsolete reconnaissance missions, programmes they would follow until their circuitry finally burns itself out. In that vast, lonely backdrop, we watched Gabriel's beautiful face become shrunken and discoloured.

One day, we tuned in, and the transformation was complete: only the skull remained inside the space helmet. The image was complete now, like a painting or a religious icon, which conjoined in the one crumpled figure the dream of the stars and end of all dreaming flesh. 

Continued shortly.