As he rose into the vacuum, Gagarin fell silent in his capsule. Mission Control asked him, “Comrade Gagarin, what is your status?”
He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “There is singing . . .” In the background could be heard bodiless voices whose tones made the hair stand up on the arms of the men in Mission Control.
Unfortunately, as good Soviets, the men were atheists and had no idea what this meant. “Gagarin, can you confirm your status?”
“I am surrounded by angels,” he said. “Beautiful. Strange. They have six wings, the faces of animals, and they burn with fire.”
At this point the navigational instruments first noted that Gagarin had left his assigned orbital path. The men of Mission Control looked at each other with alarm. “Comrade Gagarin,” they asked, “what is happening to your capsule?”
“The angels are carrying me away,” Gagarin said. “I see . . .” He fell silent again.
This is not what Mission Control wanted to hear. Angelic intervention would ruin their reentry trajectories and make it difficult to recover the capsule. Failure to recover the capsule with Comrade Gagarin alive would reflect badly on them, and probably ruin their careers.
On the radio, Gagarin gasped. He said, “I see a wheel within a wheel. It is covered with eyes.”
“Are you going to collide with it?” asked Mission Control. This was a useless question, since the Vostok capsule had no steering capabilities.
“The throne of God!” Gagarin said. And his voice was swallowed up by a swell of song.
This was the last that Mission Control heard from Yuri Gagarin.J. S. Bangs lives in Romania with his family, where he works as a freelance software developer and writer. Everyone in his family is bilingual, but he writes only in English. This story was inspired in a roundabout way by a song called “Mercury” by the Prayer Chain, an early Christian alternative rock band, together with a misremembered anecdote about Yuri Gagarin’s first spaceflight.
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