Rachel Above The Clouds

by: Joseph Carrabis

“The terrible thing about sunlight is it shows the dirt.”1  A short story where a heartache that shirked in the shadows comes to light…

“SolarMax Ten to Houston, come in please.”

“This is Houston. Go ahead, SolarMax.”

“Ted, you feeling okay today? You sound awfully froggy.”

“Guess again, Rachel.”

“Benny? Is that you?”

“It is indeed. Hi Rachel, long time no hear.”

“What are you doing riding bridesmaid, Benny? I heard that you’d gone civ.”

“I have, I have. Mission Control said the last few days had been rough on you and thought you’d like to hear a familiar voice on your last morning up.”

“Well, thank them for me.”

“Will do.”

“Anybody else down there waiting for me?”

“Of course, Rachel. You’ll be pleased I am sure. Many familiar faces.”

“I can’t wait.”

“We downloaded some crazy readouts from your flight harness overnight. Is everything working okay?”

“All systems functional and operational. I’ve got another MSD’s worth of data for you guys. Ready for transmit?”



“Hey Rachel, what are you in the mood for in terms of music today?”

“Dealer’s choice. Something light.”

“Something light? Funny. You’re so close to the sun you could take a bath in its radiation and you want to hear something light?”

“Yeah, funny. Play whatever you like though. Any ground stations still seeing me?”

“Mauna Kea, Haystack and Waterloo U this side in the north. Do Sul and Cazul this side south. Jodrell, Moscow, and Teinden nightside north. Pinnaroo, Mt. Magnet, Jaora, and Bloemfontein nightside south. You’re only on enhanced imaging though. You’re too insignificant to be seen otherwise.”

“Well that really makes a girl feel good, being too insignificant to be seen otherwise.”

“Not to worry, we know where you are.”


“Of course we do. We don’t have to see you to know where you are, you know that.”

“Where am I then?”

“What? Where are you? You’re ten thousand kilometers above the sun’s heliosphere, just above the clouds. What’s your readout on internal radiation pressure?”

“Ten to the fourth clicks outside of the sun, so yeah, you nailed it. I’ll tell you what, one can really get used to the peace and quiet up here. And the sun, this close, is something else. IRP is hovering at earth normal.”

“Go on, Rachel.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“What’s it like up there, above the clouds, flying? What’s it like being the first woman to solo a SolarMax? Telemetry is going in and out Rachel, but we’re not detecting any flares where you are. Boost your signal, please.”

“Do you know Mission Control said ‘There’ll be parades for you when you’re done’?'”

“That’s right. Endorsements, too, I’ll bet.”

“More like ‘Ground Control to Major Tom’.’”

“My god, Rachel, you do pull up the oldies. I haven’t heard that since I finished college.”

“Yes. College!”

“Keep talking, SolarMax.”

“Let’s see…talk about being the first woman up here. The sun shield doesn’t quite do the job. It’s not blinding in here, but everything is in harsh light. The shadows have edges.”

“Like Mercury, huh? SolarMax, you’re orbit’s going low. Compensate.”

“Like Mercury the messenger or like the mercury that the alchemists called quicksilver? Or do you mean the Mercury, which circles the sun?”

“Geez, Rachel. I forgot you’d studied all that stuff. That was back at Michigan State, wasn’t it? You’re full of surprises. You decide.”

“Just keep me talking, huh? Okay. You want to know what it’s like up here?”

“Go ahead, SolarMax.”

“It’s funny. I didn’t think of it until I heard your voice. It’s like Michigan State.”

“I don’t follow, SolarMax.”

“Even the shadows have edges. Everything is clear and clean because of the light. Even the darkness. You know its boundaries. Hard to get used to at first, but then it’s comforting. It becomes welcome, once you understand it, so long as you understand it.”

“SolarMax, you’re breaking up. Swing your dish earthward and insulate. Adjust your antennae.”

“You do remember Michigan State, don’t you, Benny?”

“Of course I do, Rachel. We’ve known each other a good, long time, that’s why Mission Control wanted me in here to talk to you.”

“Did Mission Control call you in because they were concerned about me?”

“Mission Control’s concerned about lots of things. How’s Michigan State like piloting a SolarMax?”

“Do you remember Michigan State, Benny?”

“SolarMax, we’re losing the ground control telemetry link. Copy?”

“The sun is beautiful. It’s warm. It’s arms constantly reach out for you. You have to be careful not to get caught inside. I guess I got caught inside.”


“Just like Michigan State, when you came into my room that night just wearing your bathrobe, fresh out of the shower. You were like the sun back then. And you rubbed my back, your lips and hands exploring the curvature of my frame.”

“Ground telemetry has collapsed, SolarMax. Repeat, ground telemetry has collapsed.”

“You entered me like a flare streaming from the sun. God, I thought you’d never stop. I wanted you so much back then.”

“Rachel, do you copy?”

“I copy. You didn’t tell me you were married. Not until after our last night in my dorm, in my room. That’s when the sharp edges came back, even in the darkness. You walked out of my room and all the sharp edges returned.”

“SolarMax, we’ve lost telemetry. Can you pilot? You’re dipping in towards the sun.”

“Ground control to Major Tom. You’re getting very dim…”

“SolarMax, Mission Control is losing vital-sign readouts. Are you still in your harness? You’re flying too low. Get back in your harness. Rise up, SolarMax. Level above the clouds.”

“Above the clouds I follow the path you set and fly at the edge of the sun. It’s like being back in my room after you left. Having you and wanting you. Do you remember, that last day, how we slept all night on that single twin bed, so close and still you never touched me? Even after you told me I stayed in the bed with you. Then, before you got up in the morning I rubbed myself against you and whispered, ‘Sex?’ and you barked back at me, ‘No sex. I’m married, goddamn you’ But at least then I knew. It didn’t take long. Now there were clean edges. You were in the bathroom, in the shower, the water so hot it steamed up the windows in the room and made it difficult to breathe. I didn’t understand how you could take it like that, but you left the door open and had those harsh heat lights on. I saw you in there scrubbing yourself like it was an obsession, using the heat and the light to wash the scent of me off. I got up and left.”

“SolarMax, you’re dipping back in again. You’re talking nonsense. You’re experiencing solar madness. You’ve got sun-sickness.”

“And here, flying here, there’s a risk and it’s of my own choosing, in the fierce heat and light of the sun, with its firebred arms straining to embrace me, it is quite different. Quite different. Here, things are clear.”

“SolarMax? Get above the clouds, goddamn you! SolarMax!”


Joseph Carrabis is boring and dull. He also holds patents spanning neuroscience, linguistics, mathematics, anthropology, and a plethora of other fields. Obviously, he doesn’t get out much. You can read more of his fiction here, and at his website

  1. Brigid Berlin. []


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