Apollo

He thinks back to that day, the 27th of October, when the Russians were still the enemy. The sudden feeling of hot metal through his body, the sudden chill of the upper atmosphere and the coldness of everything. His body hungering for oxygen. The fragments of his bird coming apart around him. The missile tearing him and his plane into so much confetti to fall from the upper atmosphere.

He laughs to himself. The Outer Space Treaty was signed on October 10 of that year, the U.S.S.R. included. Two and a half weeks later, the Russians blew him up. Five years after that, he took his first steps on the Moon. If they hadn’t shot me down, I wonder… would any of this have happened? Would that be better, or worse?

He looks over the desolation. This can’t even be called a landscape. It’s just gray dust interspersed with deep shadow, dappled light and dark frustrating the eye with suggestions of meaning in the patterns. Overhead, the Earth hangs large in his vision. He rubs his eyes, working a bit of the lunar dust out of them, blinks ferociously.

He knows he isn’t the only man to have visited the moon. Others have come here, and others will again. He remembers the Ukrainian madman with his trained gorillas who was here once. He remembers the few abortive attempts to put mundanes here, in their clunky spacesuits and breathing apparatus. But Apollo is the only man who really lives here.

He shrugs, and turns around. Night is coming soon, and nostalgia is getting him nowhere. He walks down the steps to his shack, cycles the airlock, and turns on the lights. There’s e-mail waiting for him. Magazine articles, fan mail, scientific publications. His Facebook account hasn’t been updated in awhile. His private journal, never uploaded to Earth, gets half an hour of his time. Then there’s the public one, for the consumption of NASA. And then there’s the really public one, read by people all over the globe.

Someone made a gift to him: the biggest collection of Bing Crosby’s songs ever assembled, in MP3 format. And he has to laugh at that. 1948 feels like so long ago, but the music’s still as good as he remembers it.

“When the dream’s at the top of the sky, well, you’ll just have to jump pretty high, but don’t give up too soon, if you stub your toe on the moon.” It’s like Bing’s singing just to him this time.

There’s another e-mail he can’t ignore, one from his shrink. She wasn’t even born when he had his little accident, but she’s got a degree in superhuman psychology. And she studied at Clemson, probably all part of the NASA boys’ attempts to make him feel comfortable with her. But she’s not all bad.

He reads it over, writes something suitably polite and entirely misleading. No, I like it here, he lies. But Mars is still out there, and Jupiter and beyond. He’ll live long enough to see the whole solar system, if those damn bureaucrats would just move their asses. To be sure, there’s been interest from private firms, but he trusts them even less.

He feels that trapped sensation again, the one at the bottom of his gut. Tomorrow, he promises himself. Tomorrow he’ll come up with a plan to make them start exploring again, to make them realize how important all this out here really is. He’ll find a way.

The song repeats. He finds himself singing along this time. “Though it may be a blow to your pride, you’re a hero because, well, you tried, so don’t give up too soon, if you stub your toe on the moon, if you stub your toe on the moon.”