Edge of the World

Preparations are on full swing at NASA headquarters. The biggest event humankind has ever witnessed was precisely six months away. With the Americans coming second in the satellite race with the Soviets, the US government was leaving no stone unturned to beat the Russians this time. The entire crew was working overtime to adhere to the tight schedule. But Mission Chief, Astronaut Mike Hesson had his own share of problems.

Right from his childhood, he had found a strange connection with the skies. By the time he finished school, he had made up his mind to be an astronaut. The day he was selected for the first manned mission to Moon, he couldn’t have been more excited. This facet of him, everyone was aware of. But the nightmares that had haunted Mike since his childhood was a closely guarded secret within the family, lest his ambitions be jeopardized. Off late, the nightmares had become frequent and intense. It was always the same. A ship in the middle of an ocean under a moonless stormy sky bobbing up and down with the mighty waves. It always ended with the frightening sight of the ship sinking with its entire crew, seen only with the aid of the flashes of lightning. Mike’s friend, Theresa who was a psychiatrist had suggested him to come for a few sessions but Mike had always flatly refused fearing what those sessions might reveal. But he couldn’t ignore it any longer. With the mission at such a crucial juncture, he couldn’t risk his life and the crew’s. So he decided to give it a try. It had to be done discreetly and taking out time in between the flight simulations was not going to be easy.

He called up Theresa to his own residence to prevent any rumor breaking out. By the time Mike reached his home, Theresa was already waiting for him.

Are you sure, you want to do this?

Yeah, I think so, Mike replied trying to hide his anxiety.

Your life may not be the same after this, for better or worse.

Let’s find it out then. I have dodged enough.

Mike relaxed on the recliner as Theresa administered a sedative to loosen up his mind.

You sure that won’t show up in the blood reports?

No, you don’t need to worry about that. It leaves behind no trace six hours after it has been administered, she assured him with a smile.

The next moment he was in a semi-conscious state, his mind ready to unravel all the mysteries it held all these years.

Mike! Mike, she whispered slowly in his ears. What do you see?

His lips fumbled, initially slurping the words but then it was clear.

***

A dimly lit room, an elderly bearded man in an ancient robe making notes by the candle light. Wait, there is somebody else too, a boy, probably the bearded man’s son.

Father, how big is the Earth?

It is quite big, son. Too big to be described, the bearded man replied while filling his ledger by the candle light.

But, father, it must end somewhere.

Yes, it does. It ends where the skies meet.

Has anybody ever been to that place where the skies meet the Earth? What does one find there?

The man knew his coming off age son could be relentless. He looked at the boy’s face sternly to scare him but he couldn’t resist himself when he saw those curious, innocent eyes. His lips twitched to reveal a smile and the boy’s eyes glittered with glee. Clearing his desk, he said to the boy, “Pull that chair and sit down, mister. Let’s see what’s brewing in that mind of yours.”

The boy did as asked. So has anyone ever been to the edge?

The man stroked his beard, which had already started greying and replied after a brief pause, “None that I know of. “  The wrinkle around his eyes were back as he ended the statement with a smile.

But father, hasn’t somebody even tried?

Yes, they have. They have galloped in their horses as far as they could but sooner or later they would find the endless seas and ocean staring at them. Too big to be crossed by the boats we have.

The boy was disappointed as he didn’t find the answers that he was seeking.

Okay, son. It’s late and you should be in your bed by now.

But father, I still have so many questions to ask you.

Alright, one final question. And no more questions after that. Will that be fine with you?

Left with no other choice, the boy nodded hesitatingly and pulled out another question from his mind which was brimming with such questions all the time.

The teacher at the school says that Earth is a flat surface with the hemispherical sky above which I too am aware of. But then the Earth must be resting on something, isn’t it? It can’t just keep floating just like that.

The man looked at his creased palms for a moment and then replied, “There’s a story behind it. Truth or untruth, I am not aware of.  Let’s get to the bed where you can sleep while listening to the story.”

At the mention of the word story, the boy’s disappointment fizzled as he ran to his bed followed by his father.

Both being tucked inside the blanket, the man began the story. “Long ago, in a land very far in the east called India, the people had the same question as you are having now. So, they kept looking for the answer. Their King ordered his finest brave men to ride the finest horses to go looking for the edge because he believed the answer lied beyond that edge. As per the King’s orders, ten men set off towards west, the place where the Sun disappears at the end of day. They kept riding for days but no matter how far they rode, the edge didn’t appear to be nearer. It remained just the same. Seeing their efforts to be futile, some of them suggested to return before it was too late. But few of them insisted to keep on going and so they did, enduring harsh weather and difficult terrain. In the end they too found what others before them had found as well, the vast stretch of ocean with the edge still far away in the horizon, but believable enough to be reached.  This was at a time, when men had not set sail in the ocean.  They decided to return back. After almost a year, with half of the men lost to mysterious diseases and fatigue, they reached their land. They appeared before the King and narrated their findings. The King, just like you was disappointed. Therefore he summoned the learned men from his kingdom to give him an answer.  The learned men asked the King for a month to research and come up with their answers. A month passed and the learned men appeared before the King. Unlike the explorers, they didn’t need to prove anything and had to come up with some believable theory. According to them, the Earth rested on the back of three huge elephants. The Elephants then rested on a gigantic turtle. The turtle was swimming in a tremendous ocean. And since then, it has been accepted till the time somebody proves otherwise.”

With this, the father asked the boy to sleep. The boy pretended to sleep but with his closed eyes, he tried imagining what his father had just said. He had heard similar stories about how the Sun was a golden flaming chariot pulled by magic horses that could fly through the air. In the morning, the sun-god would get into the chariot in the east.  Then he and his horses would climb through the air, flooding the Earth with powerful rays and giving it light, warmth and life. After reaching the top of the sky at noon, they would race downwards, reaching the western ground in the evening. He would then descend into the sacred waters of the ocean where he was awaited by a golden boat which returned him to the wonderful palace in the east. The sun-god rested there at night to rise to his former glory on the following day. With these thoughts, soon he was asleep.

Sun God

With time the boy grew older and the stories could no longer quench his brain’s never ending thirst for knowledge. The questions always outnumbered the answers. He frequented the beach often and on one such occasion he noticed how the ships’ wooden hull disappeared first leaving behind only the sails to be visible. Then the top of the sails and then the whole ship disappeared, as if the ship had drowned. But like always the ship with its men were back after few days. This made him doubt the stories he had heard in his childhood.

When he was not staring at the seas, he was staring at the night sky. Sleeping on his back at the seashore, he would spend hours looking at the Moon and the countless twinkling stars and everything seemed surreal to him in the silvery blue moonlight. The stars looked to him like tiny little holes made by a sharp needle in a dark dome against a fiery blue sky. He noticed how the stars travelled in patterns, precisely in circles around a particular star. Intelligent beyond his age, he thought the flat Earth was surrounded by a hollow sphere of sky containing the Sun and the Moon which rotated around it. This way he could explain the setting of the Sun. But he was still not convinced about the Earth being flat and resting on elephants. He observed that the Sun and the Moon looked like spheres. He thought to himself, could it be that, the Earth is a sphere too? Buoyed by this idea, he continued studying. Around that time, the theory of the Earth being a sphere got traction as people considered the Earth to be too large and themselves to be too small to be able to see only a tiny part of it as they looked around.  But Earth being a sphere, meant people were hanging upside down in the South and sideways in East and West! It was too hard to imagine. The only way to prove all these new findings was to travel. If any brave man could start his journey from some place and go westwards and return to the same place, it would prove the Earth was indeed a sphere.

***

The day had finally arrived. The man at the helm had the same curious eyes as the boy. He had turned out to be an extremely skilled mariner. He was about to embark upon something that had been unheard of, something fascinating yet dangerous. With the permission of the Spanish Emperor, he set sail with a fleet of five ships to go westwards beyond the newly discovered land of Americas in search of an alternate trade route to the Spice Islands. Convincing the emperor wasn’t easy but he managed it. The crew of about 270 consisted of men from several European nations.

Ship

Captain’s Logs:

20th Sep, 1519

The voyage begins.

6th Dec, 1519

Sighted the land of South America.

2nd Feb, 1520

Sailing south along South America’s east coast looking for a way to go westwards.

30th Mar, 1520

Halt in the journey. Settling at Puerto San Julian to wait for the winter to pass.

1st Apr, 1520

Mutiny in the ranks.

1st May, 1520

The journey resumes.

10th Aug, 1520

Disappointing news. Lost the ship, Santiago sent on a scouting expedition.

No casualties reported. Shall wait for a few weeks before resuming the journey.

21st Oct, 1520

Great day! Found the passage finally.

Waters brine and deep inland.

1st Nov, 1520

The arduous journey begins across the Estrecho de Todos los Santos.

Have sent Concepcion and San Antonio to explore the trait.

20th Nov, 1520

Lost yet another ship, San Antonio. Not to a wreck but a deserter.

28th Nov, 1520

Entered the waters of Mar Pacifico (The Pacific Ocean) with the three remaining ships. The water is so still.

5th Mar, 1521

99 days without the sight of land. Desperate times as we are running out of food and water.

6th Mar, 1521

Relief. Reached the islands of Marianas and Guam.

16th Mar, 1521

Reached the island of Philippines with a crew strength of 150.

***

About a month later, the expedition suffered a great setback. The ships came under the attack of the pirates. In the ensuing battle, the captain lost his life trying to protect his crew. The expedition was now left with only two ships when they reached the Spice Islands. On their return, they were left with only one ship, Victoria. Sailing via the Indian Ocean route, the odyssey finally ended almost exactly three years after the fleet of five ships had departed when they reached Europe. Only 18 men out of the original crew survived the trip around the world. Somewhere in the depths of the Pacific Ocean lay a wish unfulfilled.

***

It was an hour since Mike uttered any words. Theresa was sitting by his side waiting anxiously for him to wake up. The sedatives should be losing their effect anytime soon, she thought.

After a few nervous moments, Mike was finally up, the sense of realization on his face. He finally had the answers to the haunting nightmares.

So I was this sailor aiming to go around the globe in my past life?

Seems like it. I know it is too much to take all at once.

He never believed in stuffs like reincarnation. But all of this was making sense now.

Seeing that Mike was lost in his thoughts, staring vaguely at the wall, she asked him holding his hands, “Are you alright?”

Yes, I am. Thank you for doing this for me. He said with a suggestive smile.

You will be fine, she said, her firm grip assuring him.

***

Six months later..

The Eagle had landed. As Mike descended the ladder of the Lunar Module to become the first human to step onto the surface of the Moon, he could never describe the feeling he felt when he looked at the blue marble floating against the vast emptiness of darkness. It was the Earth. Humankind finally had the evidence of what they knew for quite some time now. The Earth was indeed round. Sailors of the bygone era, astronomers of this era; explorers together going against all the odds, into the unknown in search of answers humankind has always sought. A wish, centuries old had finally been fulfilled. Because for some dreams one lifetime is enough..

Disclaimer: The sea voyage of circumnavigating the Earth is a true event that has been fictionally recreated in the above post. To know more about the real event and the man who accomplished it, please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_Magellan

 

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