The drones over Yemen sound like lawnmowers in the sky. They are impossible to ignore, and algorithms determine strike targets based on unknown criteria and so the people beneath must wake every day and ask themselves if their behavior is suspiciously terroristic in the eyes of the power overhead. Would entering my cousin’s house be suspicious? Does that alley in the market reveal me to be a sinner?
Rockets aimed at Seoul could level the city worse than an atomic blast; and there are rockets on blueprints the billionaires plan to escape our boiling oceans onboard.
Rockets from US drones are known to strike wedding parties. Then the unmanned aircraft loiter in the sector, waiting for whatever rescue comes to aid the victims. Pull the trigger again, and this strike is common enough to be nicknamed a “double tap.” A “triple tap” is when a drone returns later to hit one of the funerals of the two previous strikes.
There are rockets designed to land on platforms bobbing in the ocean, and the people who make these rockets say that once their rocket is fool proof, it will shock History and rival the invention of the automobile. No one is sure how the planet would metabolize another carbon event like the automobile, but in WWII, Germany shelled its enemy cities with V2 rockets built using concentration camp labor.
The V2 was imprecise; once launched, the shell reaches arc apex and gravity pulls the warhead down through atmospheric wind to a point guided ultimately by Nature.
Dynamite built tunnels through the American mountains, often killing many laborers forced to use volatile explosive stock. Stereotypes of workers who handle dynamite suggest they were unwell, or crazed, but the dynamiters held power—they could turn the tool on the tracks, and the rail bridges, and blow up capital which clogged the arteries of the railroad barons.
After flying from New York to Paris for the first time in human history, American Nazi Charles Lindbergh said, “I was astonished at the effect my successful landing in France had on the nations of the world. It was like a match lighting a bonfire.”
At the turn of the century, the shrinking of the handgun made it possible to get close to policemen, politicians, and archdukes for political assassination.
A bullet is a rocket in miniature, and an airplane is a rocket designed to glide on and off the tarmac. Dynamite is a static rocket to be used to cut hell-bound lines through stone.
Power can be mapped like a property transfer in a chemical reaction: On paper, combustion is a value transferred across an “=” sign; launch on one side and impact on the other. Some countries seem only to launch rockets. Other countries seem doomed to receive them. Since we know about the law of conservation of energy, we know that this is an illusion. Will acting upon another Will invites further action. There is no morality in math; it is a law of oppression.
A 2002 a war game called “The Millennium Challenge” simulated what military intervention in Iran would yield for the US military. The programs showed the first week of a full conflict would trigger a discharge of Iranian surface-to-surface rockets that would blot out the sky for hours and sink a large section of the American Navy in the Persian Gulf. In military jargon, the computers said American Empire would absorb a defeat it may never recover from, but no one wants to admit that a 2500-year-old Persian Empire may be unconquerable, and so the computer programs were re-written to show some more optimistic result.
A “moonshot” is a term in Silicon Valley describing an investment with a near-zero chance of profit. In the lead up to the 1969 moon landing, the chances of putting human on the moon—and then bringing them home—were near-zero. The operation would have to thread a needle in three dimensions, cutting a perfect line to the white orb in the sky, cutting a perfect line back. President Kennedy had a speech prepared in the event the rocket blew up on launch; a second which described success there and back which he ultimately gave; a third in the case the rocket failed on the moon, and the astronauts were stranded forever in the sky.
The blast zone of one single underground nuclear warhead in Mississippi could irradiate several US states from Louisiana to Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. These silos famously depend on fifty-year-old Cold War technology, with funny pictures on the internet that show technicians running systems checks on floppy disks.
In Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, a crew of terraforming astronauts must pass an aptitude test because they are the people entrusted with humanity’s most critical project: Making Mars livable. Robinson’s characters lie their way through the test. They pretend to be subservient, and fit a criteria, just so they can get to the new frontier where we can start from scratch, sufficiently far from Earth—a fallen planet; an ecological dystopia.
It seems to always come down to what deity you prefer, because it isn’t possible to refrain from worship. No mind exists which does not pray to gods, everyone lights incense before an altar. To worship a rocket is to worship the escape from one world to another as an explosive detachment from constraint; a launch into the unknown.
Devin Thomas O’Shea’s writing is in Boulevard, Paterson Literary Review, Midwestern Gothic, The St. Louis Anthology, and elsewhere. Chapter one of his manuscript, Veiled Prophet, is published in Embark Literary Journal. He graduated from Northwestern’s MFA program in August 2018. You can find him on Twitter (@devintoshea) and Instagram (@_toshea).