remembered it wrong. He remembered it as if it were a painting, and he
were observing it, instead of a living breathing memory that he had a
The image was so vivid, in fact, that he had
had it painted with the first of what would become obscene profits from
his business, and placed the painting in his office—each version of his
office, the latter ones growing so big that he had to find a special
way to display the painting, a way to help it remain the center of his
The false memory—and the painting—went like this:
He stands in his backyard. To his left, there is the swing set; to his right, clotheslines running forward like railroad tracks.
is eight, small for his age, very blond, his features unformed. His
face is turned toward the night sky, the Moon larger than it ever is.
It illuminates his face like a halo from a medieval religious painting;
its whiteness so vivid that it seems more alive than he does.
however, is not looking at the Moon. He is looking beyond it where a
small cone-shaped ship heads toward the darkness. The ship is almost
invisible, except for one edge that catches the Moon’s reflected light.
A shimmer comes off the ship, just enough to make it seem as if the
ship is expending its last bit of energy in a desperate attempt to save
itself, an attempt even he—at eight—knows will fail.
Someone once asked him why he had a painting about loss as the focus of his office.
He was stunned.
He did not think of the painting, or the memory for that matter, as something that represented loss.
Instead, it represented hope. That last, desperate attempt would not have happened without the hope that it might work.
That’s what he used to say.
he thought was that the hope resided in the boy, in his memory, and in
his desire to change one of the most significant moments of his past.
The real memory was prosaic:
kitchen was painted bright yellow and small, although it didn’t seem
small then. Behind his chair were the counters, cupboards and a deep
sink with a small window above it, a window that overlooked the
sidewalk to the garage. To his left, two more windows overlooked the
large yard and the rest of the block. The stove was directly across
from him. He always pictured his mother standing at it, even though she
had a chair at the table as well. His father’s chair was to his left,
beneath the windows.
The radio sat on top of the
refrigerator, which wasn’t too far from the stove. But the center of
the room, to his right and almost behind him, was the television, which
remained on constantly.
His father could read at the
table, but Richard could not. His mother tried to converse with him,
but by his late childhood, the gaps in their IQs had started to show.
was a smart woman, but he was off the charts. His father, who could at
least comprehend some of what his son was saying, remained silent in
the face of his son’s genius. Silent and proud. They shared a name:
Richard J. Johansenn, the J. standing for Jacob, after the same man,
the family patriarch, his father’s father—the man who had come to this
country with his parents at the age of eight, hoping for—and
discovering—a better world.
That night, December 24,
1968, the house was decorated for Christmas. Pine boughs on the dining
room table, Christmas cards in a sleigh on top of the living room’s
television set. Candles at the kitchen table, which his father
complained about every time he opened his newspaper. The scent of pine,
of candle wax, of cookies.
His mother baked her way to
the holiday and beyond; it was a wonder, with all those sweets
surrounding him, that he never became fat. That night, however, they
would have a regular dinner, since Christmas Eve was not their holiday;
their celebration happened Christmas Day.
Yet he was
excited. He loved the season—the food, the music, the lights against
the dark night sky. Even the snow, something he usually abhorred,
seemed beautiful. He would stand on its icy crust and look up,
searching for constellations or just staring at the Moon herself,
wondering how something like that could be so distant and so cold.
night, his mother called him in for dinner. He had been staring at the
Moon through the telescope that his father had given him for his eighth
birthday in July. He’d hoped to see Apollo 8 on its way to the lunar
On its way to history.
he came inside and sat down to a roast beef (or meatloaf or corned beef
and cabbage) dinner, turning his chair slightly so that he could see
the television. Walter Cronkite—the epitome, Richard thought, of the
reliable adult male—reported from Mission Control, looking serious and
boyish at the same time.
Cronkite loved the adventure
of space almost as much as Richard did. And Cronkite got to be as close
to it as a man could get and still not be part of it.
Richard didn’t like were the simulated pictures. It was impossible to
film Apollo 8 on its voyage, so some poor SOB drew images.
the time, Richard, like the rest of the country, had focused on the LOS
zone—the Loss Of Signal zone on the dark side of the Moon. If the
astronauts reached that, they were part of the lunar orbit, sixty-nine
miles from the lunar surface. But the great American unwashed wouldn’t
know the astronauts had succeeded until they came out of the LOS zone.
The LOS zone scared everyone. Even Richard’s father, who rarely admitted being scared.
father, the high school math and science teacher, who sat down with his
son on Saturday, December 21—the day Apollo 8 lifted off—and explained,
as best he could, orbital mechanics. He showed Richard the equations,
and tried to explain the risk the astronauts were taking.
error in the math, one slight miscalculation—even if it were
accidental—a wobble in the spacecraft’s burn as it left Earth orbit, a
miss of a few seconds—could send the astronauts on a wider orbit around
the Moon, or a wider Earth orbit. Or, God forbid, a straight trajectory
away from Earth, away from the Moon, and into the great unknown, never
Richard’s mother thought her husband was
helping his son with homework. When she discovered his true purpose,
she dragged him into their bedroom for one of their whisper fights.
What do you think you’re doing? she asked. He’s eight.
He needs to understand, his father said.
No, he doesn’t, she said. He’ll be frightened for days.
And if they miss? his father said. I’ll have to explain it then.
Her voice had a tightness as she said, They won’t miss.
But they did.
Control had a hunch during the LOS, but they didn’t confirm the hunch
with the astronauts, not right away. They asked for a few things,
another controlled burn, hoping that the ship might move back on track,
a few more reports than usual just to get the men’s voices on tape
while they were still calm (apparently), but nothing they did changed
the tragic fact that the astronauts would not return to Earth.
They would float forever in the darkness of space.
for a while, they didn’t know. The ship itself had limited control and
almost no telemetry. The astronauts had to rely on Mission Control for
all of their orbital information—in fact, for most of their critical
Later, it came out that the astronauts deduced the problem almost immediately, and tried to come up with solutions on their own.
Of course, there were none.
was why Cronkite looked so tense that Christmas Eve, sitting in the
area cleared for broadcasters in Mission Control. Cronkite had known
that the three astronauts were still alive, would remain alive for days
as their little capsule headed into the vast beyond. They stayed in
radio contact for longer than anyone felt comfortable with, and because
they were heroes, they never complained.
They spoke of
the plainness of the Moon, and the beauty of the Earth viewed from
beyond. Apparently, on a closed circuit, they spoke to their wives and
children one final time. They belonged to the Earth, as long as the
radio signal held. As long as their oxygen held. As long as their hope
That was what Richard remembered: he remembered the hope.
one played the tape any longer of Lovell, Borman, and Anders, talking
about the future. The future had come and gone. What reporters and
documentarians and historians played nowadays were the goodbyes, or, if
they were more charitable, the descriptions of Earth—how beautiful it
looked; how small; how united.
It’s hard to believe, Lovell said in what would become his most famous quote, that such a beautiful place can house so many angry people. From a distance, it looks like the entire planet is at peace.
Of course it wasn’t.
But that didn’t concern Richard then.
What worried him—what frightened him—was that this failure of the space program would end the program.
It worried the astronauts as well. They made a joint appeal with what would be damn close to their last breath.
This is not a failure. We’re
proud to be the first humans to venture beyond the Moon. Please
continue the space program. Get us to the Moon. Get a base on the Moon.
Send another group to explore the solar system—one who can report back
to you. Do it in our name, and with our blessing.
Merry Christmas to all.
And to all, a good night.
broadcast brought Richard’s mother to tears. Richard’s father put a
strong hand on Richard’s shoulder. And Walter Cronkite, that stalwart
adult, removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes for a moment, and gathered
himself, much as he had done five years earlier when a president died
Cronkite did not say much more. He did
not play the radio reports from the bitter end. He let Lovell, Borman
and Anders’ desired last statement be their last statement.
He did not speculate on the means of their deaths, nor did he focus on the failure.
He focused on the future.
He focused on the hope.
And so did Richard—
At least, he tried.
while he worked toward the conquest of space, while he studied his
physics and astronomy, remained in great physical condition so that he
could become an astronaut at a moment’s notice, he would look through
his telescope into the darkness beyond the Moon—and wonder:
What had they seen in those last hours?
What had they felt?
And where were they now?
Nearly forty years later, they were coming home.
Or as close to home as they could get with a dead ship and a dead crew, and no one heading out to greet them.
8 had ended up in an elliptical orbit around the sun, much as the
experts predicted might happen. The orbit took just over sixteen months
to complete, but kept the small craft far above the plane of the
Earth’s orbit most of the time. The first time Apollo 8 had come home,
or at least close to home, it had been just over eighteen years.
first time they were discovered almost by accident. Sunlight, glinting
off the capsule, drew the attention of amateur astronomers all over the
world. Something small, something insignificant, reflecting light in an
People speculated about what it was, what
it might be. Giant telescopes from the Lowell Observatory to the new
orbiting telescope began tracking it, and pictures came in, pictures
showing a familiar conical shape.
It couldn’t be, the experts said.
But it was.
Everyone hoped it was.
spent those heady days begging his friends at the University of
Wisconsin’s observatory to turn their telescope toward it—ruining
research, he was sure, and he didn’t care. He wasn’t even an astronomy
student any longer. He had done his post-grad studies in aeronautics
and engineering and had just started the company that would make him
the country’s first billionaire.
But in those days, he was still a student, with little power and even less control.
the end, he had to go to the outskirts of town, away from the light,
and try to see the capsule for himself. He stood in the deep cold, the
ankle-deep snow, and stared for hours.
convinced himself that he saw a wink of light, that it wasn’t space
dust or the space station the U.S. was building in Earth orbit, or even
some of the satellites that had been launched in the last few years.
No, he convinced himself he saw the ship, and that fueled his obsession even more.
Perhaps that, more than the incorrect memory of the original loss, caused the wink of light on the capsule in his painting.
Perhaps that was the catalyst for it all.
maybe it was, as his mother claimed, his overactive imagination, held
in place by his first experience of—his first real understanding
Only this didn’t seem like death to Richard.
It never had. In his mind, there was always a chance that the three men
had lived. Maybe they had gone on, as their ship had gone on, exploring
the solar system, seeing things that no man had ever seen up close. Or
maybe they had encountered aliens, and those aliens, benign like the
ones in the Star Trek shows of Richard’s childhood, had saved them.
knew such things were improbable. He had been inside an Apollo capsule
in the museum in Huntsville, Alabama, and he had been shocked at how
small those capsules were. Human beings were not meant to live in such
He also knew how fragile the capsules
were. The fact that the capsule had survived for so many years was a
miracle. He knew that. He also knew that his thoughts of the men’s
survival were a remnant of his childhood self, the one who didn’t want
to believe that heroes died.
All his plans, all his
hopes, for the next eighteen years after that first sighting, were
based on the theory (the certainty) that the astronauts were dead. And
that Apollo 8 would survive again and return.
ships he had built, the missions he had planned during those years,
were based on the idea that he was going after a death ship, a bit of
history. He was going to recover Apollo 8, the way an archeologist
would resurrect a tomb from the sand or a deep-sea explorer would
record the remains of famous ships like the Titanic.
Richard had spent much of his fortune and most of his life finding ways to greet Apollo 8 on its next near-Earth return.
now that the ship had been spotted on its odd elliptical orbit—on
schedule, just like the scientists said it would be—he was ready.
And he was terrified.
Some nights he’d wake up in a cold sweat, wondering if a man should ever achieve the dreams of his childhood.
Then he’d remember that he hadn’t yet achieved the dream. He’d only created the opportunity.
And sometimes he’d wonder why that wasn’t enough.
The ship, which he had had primed and ready since the beginning of the year, was named the Carpathia after the ship that had rescued most of the survivors of the Titanic.
He liked the metaphor, even though he knew deep down that there would
be no survivors of Apollo 8. The command module itself was the
survivor; a manned ship that had gone farther and longer than any other
man-made vehicle and had returned.
Mankind had sent
craft almost everywhere in the system, from rovers on Mars to probes to
Venus, and had greater knowledge of the solar system than ever. NASA
planned to send more craft even farther out, hoping to go beyond the
bounds of the solar system and see the rest of the galaxy.
funding was there—it had always been there—for space travel. The latter
part of the twentieth century and the first part of the twenty-first
were called the Epoch of Space Travel.
to believe humankind would look back on it all, and call it the
Beginning of Space Travel. He hated to think that satellites and a
large, fully equipped space station in orbit, a small base on the Moon,
and some commercial traffic would be all that there was to space travel.
wanted to see human beings on Mars; humans—not unmanned craft—exploring
the far reaches of the solar system; humans boldly going, as his
favorite childhood show used to say, where no one had gone before.
that was why he started Johansenn Interplanetary, all those years ago.
With a broader version of that speech, with a great marketing strategy,
and with the best minds in the country helping him create the space
vehicles, the prototype bases on Mars and beyond, and finally, just
last year, the artificial gravity technology that would take mankind to
Much of this technology, primitive as it
was, had military applications, so Richard got his money. His was the
first private firm that specialized in space travel, even though he
didn’t achieve space travel for another few decades after his funding.
Instead, he created subcorporations to handle the other scientific
developments. Artificial gravity was just one component. He also
corralled computer scientists to help him make computers small, so that
the space craft wouldn’t need bulky on-board computers. And one of his
computer visionaries, a man named Gates, had proposed selling those
smaller computers to the business market.
That idea alone had made Richard a billionaire.
Others, from the freeze-dried food to the lighter-than-air space suits, simply added to his fortune.
Everyone thought he was the visionary, when really, all he wanted to do was the very thing he’d been too young to do in 1968.
Rescue Apollo 8.
So that was how he found himself wearing one of his own spacesuits, standing on the docking platform outside the Carpathia,
looking up at its streamlined design. Up close, he couldn’t see the
scaled-back wings, which allowed the ship to glide when necessary. Nor
could he see most of the portals installed for the passengers, since
this thing had been designed as both research vehicle and luxury liner.
could see the outline of the bomb bays underneath, added so that this
ship design, like so many others, could be sold to the U.S. military
for applications he wasn’t sure he wanted to think about.
That the Carpathia
had the bomb bays, he attributed to the paranoia of his chief designer,
a man named Bremmer, who, when he learned what Richard really wanted to
use this ship for, said, “You don’t know what you’ll encounter. Let’s
make sure this is a fully functional military vehicle as well.”
meant that they had to have a military unit on board, astronauts who
knew how to use the guns and the bombs and the defensive technology
that Richard only understood in theory. There was the military unit and
the research team—real archeologists, excited that they got to practice
at least part of their craft in space; a handful of space historians
and some medical personnel, in case something horrible came into the Carpathia
through Apollo 8. Then there were the investors, the “tourists” as the
real astronauts called them. Richard liked to call them “observers,”
partly because he was one, no matter how much he liked to pretend he
The non-astronauts had trained to the best of
their abilities. They were in the best physical shape of their lives;
they could all handle zero-g like pros; and they’d even survived
multiple simulated space walks without screwing up.
could do all those things and more. He’d had astronaut training in the
1980s, but had never gone into space because his business had taken
off. Besides, he had hated NASA’s regulations, many of them designed
after the Apollo 1 and 8 tragedies. He had a hunch the
regulations would become even more restrictive after more tragedies,
and he left before they could.
Even so, his hunch had
been prescient. After Apollo 20’s spectacular crash into the Moon’s
surface, the regulations for astronauts had become so restrictive, it
was a wonder anyone signed up for the program. Particularly as the
private sector began to make its own advances.
his retreat from the NASA program, Richard kept up his training. He was
always a bit too thin. He trained on various exercise equipment for
more than two hours daily—six on weekends. He became a marathoner. And,
as the technology became available, he began to sleep in an oxygen
deprivation tent, so that his lungs learned to be efficient with
He wasn’t the most in-shape person on
this mission—after all, he was nearly fifty—but he was the most
in-shape observer. He could outrun two of the astronauts, and he could
certainly out-perform all of the researchers.
he felt nervous on the docking platform of the ship he’d helped design.
He’d been in and out of these ships hundreds of times over the years.
He’d even been in low Earth orbit for several trips, so standing on the
platform in a space suit wasn’t new.
What was new was
this sense of awe, this moment of surrealism: he had envisioned going
into space on a rescue mission for almost forty years, and now here he
He was crossing into new territory.
When Richard had mentioned this to Bremmer, Bremmer had laughed. You’ve been in new territory all your life, boss, Bremmer had said.
But it was imagined territory, not just by him, but also by his specialists.
This, this was new—to all of them.
no matter how much he justified it, no matter how similar he claimed it
was to recovering wrecks of historic ships or finding the tombs of the
pharaohs, he knew it wasn’t.
When he entered the Carpathia,
he was becoming one of the first humans to recover a space vessel. He
was someone who both captured and created history at the same time.
of being a billionaire or an inventor or a crazed eccentric—all of
those media portrayals that haunted him even now—he’d become what he
always dreamed of.
He’d be an adventurer.
For the first time, he felt as if he were stepping into his own life.
was roomy. She was designed for longer trips with comfort in mind.
While her cabins were small, the fact that she had them at all
separated her from other ships. Her public areas were large and
comfortable: a lounge; two research rooms, which could double as
equipment rooms or extra sleeping berths; and a cargo bay, which had
its own separate environmental system, designed—ostensibly—to bring
back things found on the Moon. Richard had watched over the specs
himself. He made sure that the cargo bay was also large enough to carry
one 1960s Apollo capsule, with plenty of margin for error.
though the ship’s captain tried to give him the largest space, Richard
insisted on the smallest berth. He also insisted on privacy—even though
he had delegated as much as possible, he still had to conduct some
business. And he had always been a loner. The idea of being in close
quarters with a dozen people he barely knew made him shaky. He needed
some privacy, a place where he could close the door and not see anyone
else. This mission was of indeterminate length; he had to have a place
that would keep him sane.
Before he left, Richard
tried not to watch the press coverage, but he absorbed it anyway:
Richard Johansenn’s vanity project, which would probably get him
killed; Richard Johansenn’s pipe dream; Richard Johansenn’s dream.
accused him of grave robbing or worse. The scientifically illiterate
among them felt that he was taking money from the mouths of children
for his little space adventure, not realizing that even if he didn’t
recover the capsule, he—and the country—would learn what happened to
vessels that spent almost forty years in space just from the
photographs he got of the ship.
He tried not to have expectations of his own. He tried not to imagine—any more than he already had—what he would find.
he downloaded old memoirs from the Apollo and Gemini missions as well
as contemporaneous newspaper accounts and books written about those
missions. He also scanned interviews with those crews, watching them,
seeing what they had to say.
He barely paid attention
to the ride into orbit; he’d done that so many times that it felt like
old hat. Two of the archeologists had clung to their couches, looking
terrified. The rest of the newbies had watched with great fascination
as the Carpathia passed through the atmosphere and settled into
an elliptical orbit that in three times around would swing them away
from the Earth and on a path to match course and speed with Apollo 8.
Earth was, as she always seemed, placid and calm—a deep blue planet
with a bit of green, lots of cloud cover, the most beautiful thing in
this solar system—maybe even in the universe.
home; oddly, it felt like home even as he rode above its surface. It
felt like home the way going back to Wisconsin felt like home, the way
snow on a clear moonlit night felt like home, the way pulling into his
driveway felt like home.
Sometimes, when he was
feeling spiritual and not scientific at all, he wondered if this
sensation of home was inbred even when looking at the planet from
space. Did the feeling come from knowledge that he had sprung from this
place? Or did it come from something more innate, something bred into
every creature born on that blue-green surface? Had the astronauts of
Apollo 8 felt it as they pulled away from Earth? Or as they soared away
from the Moon? Had they looked back, somehow, and reflected on their
own folly? Or had they felt like explorers, finally getting a chance to
Richard mostly stayed in his cabin for the
twenty hours it would take them to reach Apollo 8. He was nervous. He
was worried. He tried to sleep, couldn’t.
answers, and he wanted them now. Yet at the same time, he was afraid of
the answers, afraid of what he would find. Finally, he had dozed,
coming awake instantly with a call from Susan Kirmatsu.
Most of the flying was automatic; still, he had hired Susan, one of the best pilots ever, for this mission.
quickly made his way to the cockpit, standing behind Susan to watch.
She wore her black hair in a buzz cut that accented her shapely skull.
The console dwarfed her small form, yet she controlled the ship as
surely as he controlled himself. She watched the read-outs on the
screen, ignoring the double-sheets of clear pane plastic windows that
he had built into the nose of the ship.
was the one watching the darkness ahead. Earth now had shrunk to the
size of a large grapefruit. He had never been out so far before.
co-pilot, Robbie Hamilton, sat at another console and also watched the
instrumentation. Two more pilots in seats behind him followed the flow
of information on their handheld screens as well, ready to jump in at a
“We have her,” Susan said. “She’s coming in on the proper trajectory.”
Their plan sounded simple: They’d match Apollo 8’s path, grab the ship, and pull her into the cargo bay.
done this type of thing before; such maneuvers were familiar to the
astronauts on board now. Two of them had helped build the space
station. Another had gathered dying satellites as part of his work for
one of Richard’s companies. And Susan had flown half a dozen practice
missions, bringing in everything from satellite pieces to bits of rock,
just to make sure that Hawk-class designs like the Carpathia could handle this bit of trickery.
“Can I see her?” Richard asked.
here.” Robbie ran his fingers along his smooth console, and then, on
the screen in front of him, a new picture appeared. Something small and
cone-shaped appeared in the upper left.
Richard squinted. “Can we magnify?”
slid his fingers across the console again, and this time the ship
appeared close. And it was tumbling slightly. That had been another
worry of his. If it had been tumbling hard and fast, they would have
had to try to slow that down first.
Apollo 8 looked
worn. Its exterior had dark streaks and lighter streaks, which Richard
did not remember from any of the photographs. The nose cone itself
seemed dented, but that might have been a trick of the light.
“How bad is she damaged?” he asked.
“Dunno,” Robbie said. “We’ll find out soon enough.”
enough would be hours from now. It would take that long to match the
speed and path of Apollo 8. Richard wasn’t sure he could stand waiting
in the cockpit.
He went back to the lounge.
scientists were peering out the windows. The observers had dialed up
the exterior view on one of the large screens and watched the changes
the way someone would watch television.
couldn’t stand that either, so he went back to his cabin. The bed took
up most of the floor space. He had strapped his clothing bag into its
little compartment, but he hadn’t needed to. Unless something happened
with the artificial gravity, everything would stay where he placed it.
was too restless to lie down, so he closed the door again and reentered
the hall. For a man who planned everything down to the smallest detail,
he was stunned that he hadn’t thought through these last few hours,
that he hadn’t planned some sort of activity to keep his mind awake,
active, and off the rendezvous.
He returned to the
lounge with a vague idea of reviewing the plans, but instead just sat
silently in the corner, thinking about what he was about to do.
Or not do, as the case might be.
the large screen showed a looming Apollo 8, Richard went back to the
cockpit. He listened as Susan gave terse instructions, and watched
through the windows he had designed as his ship—his ship—lined up with a ship he had only seen in his dreams.
Apollo 8 looked larger than he expected and appeared formidable in a rockets-and-rivets kind of way.
capsule wasn’t streaked, as he had thought at first; it was damaged
with tiny holes blasted along its sides. The cone’s nose was
dented—something had hit it hard—but hadn’t burst open. The small round
portals had clouded over and appeared to be scratched.
reported damage near the engines that had malfunctioned—flaring too
early and too hard, was the speculation, but no one knew exactly what
had gone wrong. Once his team had the capsule, they might be able to
figure that out and solve that old puzzle.
shaking. He threaded his fingers together as the ship lined up next to
the slowly tumbling capsule. The first thing they would do would be to
stop the tumbling.
He came to himself long enough to
make certain the live feed back to Earth had actually started. It had.
One of the other astronauts and one of the observers were giving a
play-by-play as they watched through a different portal.
Kensington, the modern day Walter Cronkite, had asked Richard to do the
play-by-play, but he had known he would be too nervous. Yes, he was the
celebrity, but he hadn’t wanted to be at this moment.
At this moment, he needed privacy.
as they worked to carefully slow the tumble, he made his way to the
back, to the entrance of the hatch, watching on small screens as he
passed. The tumbling stopped, and, next, the grappler’s metal fingers
found purchase near Apollo 8’s hatch.
He stood still
as that happened, terrified. One of his greatest worries, one of the
scientists’ great worries as well, was that the old ship would
disintegrate when touched. It had been through a lot, the theory went,
and it might have been held together by next to nothing. A push from
the grappler, a touch of the hooks, the grate of metal against metal,
might cause the capsule to come apart.
And then his great adventure would be over.
But the capsule didn’t come apart. It held. In fact, it looked sturdier than the grappler.
turned toward the live feed, watching from one of the outside cameras,
struck at the fact that the older ship looked so much stronger than the
Carpathia. The Carpathia was built of lightweight materials, designed for maximum efficiency, both in space and in the atmosphere.
8 had a thick sturdiness he associated with his childhood, the sense
he’d learned from every adult back then from his teachers to his
parents, that if something was overbuilt, it was better, it could
survive more, it would be the best it possibly could be.
He smiled for the first time that day.
They had been right.
stood outside the bay doors with Patricia Mattos, the chief
archeologist. Her team waited behind them, shifting from foot to foot,
obviously as nervous as he felt. They all wore their space suits, just
in case there was a problem with the environmental systems when they
went into the cargo bay, but at the moment, everyone held their bubble
helmets. A few tucked their helmets under their arms, the way that the
first astronauts used to as they walked to the rockets that would blast
them into space.
No one spoke.
They watched the nearby screen, and listened to the scraping sounds within.
scrapes did not go onto the live feed. Neither did the conversation of
the astronauts out there working the grappler— the grunts, the
single-sentence acknowledgments, the occasional curse. Live feeds with
live astronauts were NASA’s purview. No matter what Alicia Kensington
wanted, Richard was determined to keep some privacy here, some mystery.
entire world could watch if it wanted to as Apollo 8 got loaded into
the cargo bay. They just couldn’t hear the discussions as the
astronauts got it into position.
Susan had activated
the cameras inside the bay as well, and started a second feed. The
first came from outside the ship, showing Apollo 8 as it looked to the Carpathia.
The second came from inside, showing, at the moment, the bay, and the
backs of the astronauts, looking small against the vastness.
cargo bay was spacious and empty. Even though it had its own
environmental system, it had few other controls—just an extra door and
an airlock for smaller items, and a series of overrides near the back
of the room, in case something malfunctioned with the bay doors.
the moment, the doors were open. The two astronauts, guiding Apollo 8
inside, wore their space suits and gravity boots. They looked like
slimmed down versions of the men who had first walked on the Moon.
Their bubble helmets were smaller and more efficient, their suits
form-fitting for ease of movement, the gloves less bulky. Even the
oxygen units were different, threaded into the suit itself instead of
hanging off the back like a pack a child would wear to school.
could still happen with the suits—the astronauts had to stay clear of
the capsule and the grappler’s metal fingers as much as possible—but
they were less likely. Most people who died in space now did so because
of their own carelessness, not because their suits ripped or
Still, Richard watched this part
nervously. This was the most dangerous part of the mission. One small
bump, a mishandling of the grappler, a momentary klutziness on the part
of an astronaut, could result in disaster.
never admit to the others that for him, a disaster would be the loss of
the capsule somehow, not the loss of life. He’d be willing to lose his
own life to bring this thing in; he hoped the astronauts would too.
darkness filled the doorway, and then the astronauts moved away. The
view on the outside camera made it seem as if Apollo 8 had pointed
herself into the Carpathia and gotten stuck. The view on the
inside was a sort of darkness that could, when he squinted, resolve
itself into the cone of the capsule.
moving near the doors, gave it all a bit of perspective, but everything
seemed large and a little out of control.
Richard held his breath.
to him, Patricia Mattos was biting her lower lip. Her second for this
part of the mission, Heidi Vogt, watched with wide eyes. Her forehead
was dotted with perspiration much as Richard’s had been earlier.
Anticipation made them all nervous.
turned away from them and watched the screen. The scrapings from inside
grew even louder—that unbearable squeal of metal against metal.
hope nothing’s getting ruined,” Heidi muttered, and one of the other
scientists, someone whose name Richard couldn’t conjure, nodded.
the capsule disappeared from the view of the outside cameras. Two of
the inside cameras only showed the capsule herself. The other two
cameras had partial views of the bay doors, which were easing shut.
heart started to pound. He still had fifteen minutes before he could
enter the bay—fifteen minutes for the environmental systems to
reestablish the artificial gravity. The temperature would remain low,
and the atmosphere would remain a special mix to preserve everything.
Richard’s biggest fear was that they’d thaw out the craft and the
bodies it held too fast.
He didn’t want three
famous—legendary—astronauts to explosively decompress on a live feed
heading back to Earth. He was already in trouble in some circles for
messing with a grave; he didn’t want to be responsible for one of the
most disgusting mistakes ever made.
He had promised America and, by extension, the rest of the world, that he would treat these men with respect.
He planned to honor that.
But first, he planned to free them from their decades-old prison.
He planned to be the first to greet Commanders Borman, Lovell, and Anders on the last part of their journey home.
* * *
gave them five minutes’ warning before she opened the cargo bay
entrance. Richard and his team of scientists put on their bubble
helmets, turned on the oxygen in their suits, and started the small
heaters to keep their own bodies warm.
If he hadn’t
done this before, he would have protested the use of the heaters. He
was hot enough at the moment; nervousness had made him sweat again. But
he knew once inside the bay, he had only a few hours before the deep
cold would permeate his space suit. He wanted as much time with the
capsule as he could get.
He helped Heidi strap on her
helmet, then checked Patricia’s. He gave the other three scientists a
cursory glance, but they seemed more competent with the equipment than
the archeologists, which made sense. Archeologists usually didn’t have
to wear space suits to look at remains. They simply dug into the ground.
they’d be opening a cold ship, preserving the scene, and beginning an
intellectual voyage of discovery, one that could, hopefully, retrace
everything that Apollo 8 had seen.
He could hear the
rasp of his own breathing, and that reminded him to turn on the audio
chips outside the helmet. The audio chips were an addition for this
mission. Most of the time, astronauts didn’t need the external sound
But he’d had them added to all of the
helmets. Even though the team would use their internal communications
equipment to keep track of each other, he figured they all wanted to
hear this process as well as see it.
He wanted as many of his senses engaged as possible.
Once everyone was suited up, and Susan gave the all clear, he opened the single door leading into the back of the cargo bay.
bay looked different, smaller, with the capsule inside. It was also
darker since the capsule blocked much of the light from the center of
the room. The two astronauts stood near the side of the capsule. They
weren’t going to be active in this part of the mission, but he knew
they wanted to be here, to see everything.
one of them a video camera. Even though there were cameras inside the
bay, and at least two of the scientists were filming the entry, Richard
figured he couldn’t have enough film of this historic moment.
He straightened his shoulders and smiled at the team, even though they couldn’t see his face. “Let’s go,” he said.
was, all in all, a belated command. The archeologists were already
filming, taking samples from the exterior, finding ways to preserve as
much of the stuff surrounding the ship as possible.
As excited as he was, Richard knew this was important, just as he knew that proceeding methodically was important.
He had little to do in this early stage, so he walked around the capsule slowly, taking it in.
dent in the cone was uneven, almost as if something larger had hit it
with a glancing blow. The area around the dent was worn, and the metal
looked fragile. If he had to guess—and that was all he could do at this
point—he would have thought that the damage there was quite old.
he had originally thought were streaks were tiny holes all along one
side. The holes were very close together, almost as if the capsule had
been pelted with gravel. Only Richard knew that gravel would have done
much more damage; more likely, it had gone through some sort of rock
belt as fine as sand.
His stomach lurched—excitement
now, not nervousness. The capsule had quite a story to tell. All these
little details, the burn marks near the engine, the long score against
the metal on one side as if someone had run a car key against it, the
little holes and dents and divots, were records of everything that
happened to this capsule.
In some of those dents and
digs might be dust from civilizations long gone. Evidence of life from
some other planet, or a bit of ore that no one had believed existed
this far out. There might be as yet undiscovered chemicals, minerals,
biological matter, things that boggled the human imagination.
could all be on this capsule, smaller than anything he could see
through the reflective plastic of his helmet, more important than
anything he could imagine.
Finally, he rounded the
capsule and stopped by the small hatch. He and his team on Earth had
discussed the hatch several times. They had studied the specs from the
various capsules and had even visited the two that were in museums.
the fire on Apollo 1 that killed three astronauts, the capsule hatch
opened outward. But it was designed so that in space it was sealed shut.
and his team knew that they’d have to cut the hatch open, and they
needed to do so in a way that would cause the least amount of damage.
But, they agreed, he would try to open it by hand first.
scientists had photographed and then cleared an area around the hatch.
Richard’s stomach lurched again—he was so glad he hadn’t eaten
anything—and he tried not to look at the light from one of the cameras
that someone was pointing at his face. He knew they could only see him
in profile, and even then they couldn’t get a clear reading through the
plastic in his helmet.
No one would know how close to tears he was.
He had waited a lifetime for this.
wished the internal mikes were off. He wanted to whisper, “Welcome
home, gentlemen,” but he was afraid that not only would his team hear
him, but so would everyone who watched on Earth.
Instead, he gripped the handle, and yanked.
To his surprise, the hatch moved. Just a little, but it moved all the same.
Some dust and particles fell off the capsule’s frame.
He caught himself before he cursed.
looked at the others and thought he saw surprise through their helmets.
They pushed closer to him. The light from the camera was on his
superfine white glove.
He braced his other hand on the capsule’s side and then pulled again.
The whole capsule shook, but the hatch moved enough that he could see its outline on the frame.
“My heavens,” one of the women said. “We aren’t going to have to cut it.”
Her voice held a mixture of shock, awe, and relief, precisely the same emotions that Richard was feeling.
He pulled with all his strength.
time, the hatch fell open, banging against the capsule with a loud
clang. Richard stumbled backward, freeing his hand at the last minute,
narrowly avoiding being part of that bang of metal against metal.
He hoped he hadn’t destroyed anything near the hatch.
The interior was shrouded in darkness.
team, bless them, didn’t move forward, but instead waited for him to
get his feet beneath him. He stood upright, still feeling slightly off
balance from loosening the hatch, and then headed for the capsule.
He had to remind himself to breathe.
might find anything in there, from skeletons (depending on how long the
environmental systems survived) to carcasses exploded in their
environmental suits to body parts strewn throughout the interior
because the capsule had somehow gone through explosive decompression.
had ordered that no one film the interior until he gave the signal. He
now hoped that the astronaut he’d given the camera to remembered that
Richard took a small flashlight one of the archeologists handed to him, then leaned through the hatch.
interior was dark and, for a moment, his breath stopped in his throat.
He couldn’t see the astronauts. He braced himself, figuring he’d find
parts of them all over the equipment and the metal interior.
tried to keep his breathing regular, so that anyone listening wouldn’t
think something was wrong. He shined the light, saw frost on the panel
displays, wondered how it got there, then remembered there had to be a
lot of biological material in here, and that material had had some
time—he wasn’t sure how much—to grow.
He hoped some of what he was looking at wasn’t the astronauts themselves.
he shone the light past the couches to the so-called computer display
to the flight equipment. He saw bags against the side, the pee-tube
curled up against one side, and a crumpled food container near one of
the storage units.
He stared at all that for a moment,
knowing something was wrong, feeling that something was wrong. His
subconscious saw it, but his conscious brain hadn’t caught up.
shone the light one more time, registering how small the space was; he
wondered how grown men could have survived in this small environment
for even a few days, let alone the rest of their lives.
Something had been braced under one of the couches, wrapped in some kind of metallic heat blanket.
Something had been placed there.
his consciousness caught up. He saw no evidence of explosive
decompression. He saw no evidence of any kind of traumatic sudden end
to Apollo 8’s mission.
But he saw no evidence of a
slow death either, aside from the food container and whatever it was
stored under that couch. His hands were shaking, making the light shake.
He examined the interior one last time.
No men, no space suits, no evidence—except those bags and that food wrapper—that anyone had ever been inside this capsule.
do you see?” Susan asked from her vantage in the cockpit. The
scientists, apparently, could wait him out, but the pilot couldn’t.
“Nothing,” he blurted.
“Nothing?” she asked. “What do you mean ‘nothing’?”
“I mean,” he said, “they’re gone.”
theories came in from all over. The scientific illiterates, the ones he
called Flat Earthers, were convinced that friendly aliens had arrived
and taken the crew somewhere special. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were
now enjoying a new life on some unnamed planet or back on Earth in
secret (and unknown) identities at Area 51. Or, Susan had stated
sarcastically, they were in that zoo in the Twilight Zone.
believed that Richard was too hasty—that they had died in the capsule
and he just hadn’t seen it. Some wag suggested (and it got credence on
the 24-hour news channels for a while) that the astronauts had moved to
another dimension, just like in some Star Trek episode.
In fact, much of the chatter that filtered to the Carpathia focused on old science fiction scripts, either from shows like the Outer Limits or Time Tunnel or Land of the Giants.
Apparently some of the most renowned scientists of the day were
spouting off on the cable channels, and so were some of the better
known science-fiction writers.
Richard ignored the
chatter. Susan followed it as if it could give her the truth of her
experience in space by filtering it through the talking heads on Earth.
scientists spent days checking the interior for evidence of explosive
decompression and found none of it. They did find the mission’s
carefully protected garbage, which included the feces that they hadn’t
discarded into space—clean to the last (“from that,” Patricia said, “we
can determine how long they lived.”)
found evidence of vomit (“Someone had gotten space sick,” Heidi said.
“Probably Anders,” Richard said. “It was his first experience with zero
But they didn’t find much else; certainly not brain matter or blood or bits of bone.
also didn’t find evidence of alien arrival—“If it came,” someone said,
“it came in a form we don’t recognize as living matter.”
they did find, carefully wrapped in a blanket and as much heat
shielding material as possible, was the Hasselblad camera the
astronauts had taken with them, plus rolls and rolls of film.
would have the film carefully developed and preserved if possible, but
he knew, even without the scientists saying much of anything, that the
chances of photographs surviving intact for so very long in the
radiation and the extreme conditions were next to none.
astronauts themselves had probably known that and had done what they
could to protect it. Along with it were some letters to the families
written on the few sheets of fireproof paper the astronauts had brought
along. The flight plan was also wrapped with the camera, and on the
back of that paper was careful handwriting.
Richard recognized the quote. It was from Genesis:
the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth; and the earth was
without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and
the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good.
And God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night.
And the evening and the morning were the first day . . .
went on, quoting the entire passage. Whoever had copied it had done so
in a clean hand. Although, looking at it, Richard wasn’t sure it was
copied. He wondered if someone had written it from memory.
He stared at it a lot as the scientists worked, his gaze always falling on the last few lines:
. . . And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas.
And God saw that it was good.
And then a hasty scrawl:
God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.
was the one who finally told the scientists what happened. He figured
it out using four pieces of evidence: the scrawls on the back of the
flight plan—“A goodbye note,” he said—the missing space suits, the
missing bodies, and the unlatched hatch.
the entire team into the cargo bay and stood as close to the capsule as
he could get. By now, days later, the temperature had returned to
normal. The capsule had been scraped and examined and reviewed; most
everything that had to be stored had been.
still wore breathing masks—they had to, in case something in the
particles caused allergic reactions or other kinds of reactions (and,
the scientists insisted) to keep the particulate matter on a flat
surface, so that it could be removed.
Richard held the
flight plan, wrapped as it was in protective plastic, and stared at it
before he even spoke to the team. When he did, he explained his
“They wrapped up everything they considered important.”
maybe, he thought to himself, the last person alive had done that.
Probably Borman as captain of the mission; old nautical traditions died
hard. Richard had seen Borman’s handwriting and had a hunch it had been
Borman who had written the passage from Genesis on the back of the
“Then,” Richard continued, “they put on their space suits, unlatched the hatch, and evacked.”
“What?” Heidi said. They weren’t being filmed now. The live feed to Earth had ended days ago. “Why would anyone do that?”
Richard glanced at the capsule. “They knew they were going to die.”
“You think it was a blaze of glory?” Susan said.
shook his head. “I don’t think they were being dramatic. They were
astronauts, for heavens’ sake. They had a choice between dying in a tin
can and dying in the freedom of the great unknown.”
“They climbed out and pushed off into space?” Patricia asked. “Is that sane?”
“Does it matter?” Richard asked. “They had only two choices of how to die. They took the one they considered to be the best.”
“But that took out all possibility of a rescue,” one of the younger scientists said.
Everyone looked at him as if he were crazy.
“They knew they couldn’t be rescued,” Richard said. “Not with 1968 technology.”
thought of all the movies made in the 1970s, movies about astronauts
being rescued from the Moon, astronauts being rescued from deep space,
astronauts being rescued from orbit. The entire country—the entire
world—had been haunted by their loss, never realizing that the men had
taken the choice away from the rescuers’ and their imaginations long
“So they drifted into nothingness,” Heidi said.
Susan smiled at her. “It’s not nothing,” she said quietly. “It’s the greatest adventure of all.”
Great adventure or not, Richard now knew that the Carpathia’s
mission was over. One of the archeologists asked him if the ship would
go after the bodies, and he had stared at her, trying to remember her
specialty was ancient societies, not modern ones.
the capsule was a miracle,” he said. “All three of them will be in
different orbits, if they still exist. Finding a body in the vastness
of space is like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Maybe a needle in a galaxy’s worth of haystacks.
Still, his own answer echoed in his head. And while his scientists grew excited about new discoveries made every day on the Carpathia, bits and pieces of the Apollo 8 puzzle, he had already gone beyond that.
He needed to figure out how to find three needles.
How did a man search a galaxy’s worth of haystacks?
And more to the point, how did he succeed?
“We have something,” the researcher said.
pulled up a chair, letting the movement hide his irritation. Of course
they had something. If they hadn’t had something, he wouldn’t have
flown halfway across the continent to get here.
didn’t say anything. The researchers in this wing of the Asteroid
Collision Project knew that Richard wasn’t really looking for asteroids
on a collision path with Earth. He was looking for three bodies,
jettisoned into space beyond the Moon sometime between December 27 and
December 31, 1968.
This wing of the project—the secret
wing—had its own equipment. The rumor in the ACP was that this wing,
called ACP-Special (ACP-S), had military and spy satellite connections.
The regular ACP employees figured that the ACP-S were searching for
bombs or weapons or materiel that other countries had launched into
ACP did have a military arm; it needed one, in
case one of the asteroids on a collision course with Earth was large
enough to threaten human life or was small but on a trajectory that
might harm the transports to the Moon Base.
been a long time since he had been in this room. He hadn’t been to the
ACP since it had been built nine years before. This room, and the
equipment inside, had layers of security protocols just to reach the
As he arrived that morning, he had felt as if he were going into one of those Dr. Strangelove bunkers that he used to see on television as a child; it made him wonder just how paranoid he really was.
young researcher sitting next to him was, according to his nametag,
David Tolemy. Richard found his gaze going to that nametag over and
over again. He’d heard the researcher’s name mentioned several times in
the last twenty-four hours, but somehow he’d always expected the
spelling to mimic the Pharaoh’s—Ptolemy.
researcher looked nothing like a pharaoh. He looked like a barely
thirty-something man who spent most of his time behind dozens of sets
of locked doors, staring through layers of equipment that led him to
space. Tolemy had a special cart next to his equipment. It contained
both a small refrigerator and a tiny gourmet coffee maker (although
Richard’s generation was the only one that called that stuff “gourmet”
anymore; most people simply called the variety of drinks with cocoa
beans in them “coffee”).
As Tolemy’s fingers fluttered
over his flat-screen control panel, one hand would slip to the cart,
grab a large soda/iced coffee container, and sip from the straw. It was
an obsessive, unconscious maneuver, that Richard had seen a lot from
his indoor techs.
He both hated it and felt powerless
to do anything constructive about it. He hired the best minds of all
generations, and if he’d learned anything in his decades of running the
most creative corporations in the country, it was that the best minds
came with more baggage than he’d ever thought possible.
When he’d mentioned it to his closest advisor after a visit to the Gates wing in Seattle, she’d laughed. You have baggage, she said. Isn’t that why you never married?
never married because he didn’t have time for small talk, and he didn’t
feel right vetting women just to see if they were interested in his
money. He had no desire to have children. His legacy, he knew, was
these corporations and all the discoveries he’d made on his way to
fulfilling his childhood dream.
He pulled the chair closer to Tolemy’s wide screen, careful to stay away from the cart.
“I was warned not to waste your time,” Tolemy was saying, “but I want to lay the foundation. Stop me if you know this.”
launched into a verbal dissertation about evac points and speed, about
trajectories and distances in space. Richard knew this; he was the one
who’d designed the program after all, but he listened just the same. He
wanted to hear how Tolemy had come to his current conclusions.
twenty-five minutes of illustrated monologue, what Richard learned was
this: Tolemy guessed that the astronauts took the last possible evac
point. Their ship’s oxygen was gone; they only had their suits left.
Maybe they had put on the suits, and then realized they wouldn’t even
be able to see each other’s faces as they waited for sleep to overtake
That last was Richard’s fanciful addition. He’d
been in the old suits; Tolemy hadn’t. He knew how isolating they felt.
Isolating and cramped.
“Add to that being inside a tiny capsule,” Tolemy said, “with the windows already clouding, and who can blame them for leaving?”
could, besides Richard? And he knew that his blame was simply
self-interest—the unwillingness of an obsessed man to lose his original
vision, long after it had truly disappeared.
the other researchers, Tolemy hadn’t tried to prove who evacked first.
Borman to show it could be done? Or Anders because he was the junior
member of the team? Had Lovell gone first because he was more of a
cowboy than the rest?
The original researchers had
contended that it mattered, that mass, height, and the strength with
which the astronaut pushed off determined where the others ended up.
claimed that none of that mattered; that they were all weak and dying
and that they would have pushed away with little or no strength.
“I figured that the first one would be the easiest to find, and that’s what I concentrated on,” he said.
had planned to take the last possible evac point and work backward,
after exploring each area from top to bottom. He computed maximum speed
and drift; he computed all the possible directions. He developed a
region of space where he believed the first evacuee would be, and he
searched, painstakingly, for two years.
“I found a lot of possibles,” Tolemy said, “but they didn’t pan out.”
spoke of months as if they were moments. Richard leaned closer to the
screen, feeling a respect for the young researcher that he hadn’t felt
before. Tolemy shared some of his obsession, whether he admitted it or
not, or Tolemy wouldn’t have sunk so much time into this, no matter how
much he was being paid.
“Then I saw this one.” Tolemy used a pointer to touch a small mark on the side of the screen.
amplified the image, but, even at full magnification, Richard couldn’t
see what Tolemy had. It looked no different than all the other small
space debris Richard had looked at over the years, some of it in the
early months of this very project.
“Why is this one special?” Richard asked.
“The reflection,” Tolemy said as if it were obvious. “Let me show you some time lapse.”
clicked on the image, then clicked on it again. It changed from a light
mark against the blackness of space to a slightly brighter mark, but
Richard really didn’t see the difference.
“I guess I’m not trained well enough,” Richard said.
“Okay,” Tolemy said, lost in his own excitement. “Let me show you a few other things.”
opened up several more windows, all of them with astronauts building
the space station that was completed in orbit at the end of the 1970s.
He would click on one astronaut and then shrink the image. When he was
done, the astronaut’s image looked like the one in the upper corner of
What Richard wasn’t sure of was whether if
you took an image of a meteor and did the same thing would the meteor
look like the tiny image in the corner too.
something to that effect—mumbled it, really, because he was
concentrating and not paying attention to stroking the researcher’s ego.
no,” Tolemy said. “They’re all different. There are components in those
early space suits—particularly the plastic in the helmets—that aren’t
used any more, and they don’t occur naturally that we know of. When
light reflects off those, it’s distinct.”
Richard’s expression must have showed his skepticism, because Tolemy grinned.
“My bosses asked the same thing before they called you and so I showed them this.”
was a light spectrum chart, showing how various materials reflected the
sun’s rays outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. According to the chart,
the plastic in the helmet, particularly on the visor, did have its own
signature. And, somehow, young Tolemy had gotten a reading from the
bits of light given off by the image in the upper corner of his screen.
“You have to understand,” he said as he explained all of this to Richard, “I worked this out over weeks of study.”
have to understand,” Richard said. “If I take action based on your
light spectrum analysis and your speculative equations, I’m going to
spend millions of dollars, risk several lives, and take many months of
time. You have to be sure of this.”
Tolemy took his left hand off the console and pushed the cart away with his right. He turned slightly in his chair.
“I think you were the one who called this searching for a needle in a galaxy full of haystacks,” he said.
“Well, I found something small and thin and made of metal. You gonna check it out?”
Richard smiled. “When you put it that way,” he said, “I think I will.”
trip toward the object that Richard now called the Needle took both
more preparation than the trip to the capsule and less. More because,
deep down, Richard had never expected to find the astronauts, so he
hadn’t done some of the basic imaginings he’d done for the capsule
trip, and less because modern ships were so much more efficient than
they had been eleven years ago.
For one thing, cargo
runs from Earth to the Moon base had become common. Trips out of the
atmosphere were even more common, with wealthy and upper middle-class
tourists opting to stay in orbiting hotels.
never even approached Earth orbit. He floated out there for fifty
years, following a predetermined path of his own. At his closest point
to Earth in exactly eight months and one day, he would still be a
hundred times the distance from the Earth to the Moon.
had ships that could easily go beyond the Earth/Moon run. One of his
companies was on the forefront of Mars development. NASA had bought
several of his deep space ships (not an accurate name, Richard knew,
but NASA liked the sound of it) for their first manned Mars missions,
and several other companies had bought more of those ships to scout
Mars locations for another base.
Richard had stayed
out of most of that planning. He didn’t really care about Mars. His
interest was still in the needles and the haystacks and space itself,
not in colonizing the solar system. He figured someone else could take
care of that, and until his meeting with Tolemy at ACP-S, he had let
After that meeting, he’d seen his mistake. The
ships his companies had designed were for transport—humans, cargo,
materiel—not for maneuvering or quick travel. To get to the Needle and
match its orbit, he’d either have to design his own kind of ship or buy
one from one of his far-sighted competitors.
And he only had eight months.
he bought several of his competitors’ ships—something that took more
middlemen than he had thought it would. His competitors thought he was
trying to steal proprietary information or at least copy proprietary
technology, and while that might be a side benefit of this trip, it
certainly wasn’t Richard’s intention.
Instead, he tried to make the ships as Richard-friendly as possible.
Space Darts, as these ships were called, were designed for long travel
at great speeds. All engines and fuel, little interior room. The ships’
accommodations were cut down too much for his tastes. Richard examined
half a dozen from various international companies, and worried about
how travel would feel—cramped and narrow and uncomfortable, not
something he wanted to experience, even though he was an in-shape
fifty-eight. He needed some kind of cargo area with a separate
environmental system, and a good cabin.
In the end, he
bought one of his competitors’ largest darts and gave his own team two
months to retrofit it. He made certain the ship was supplied with the
right equipment—a state-of-the art grappler (complete with multiple
hand sizes), automatic lifeboat technology, and an up-to-date medical
unit. The dart had the cargo bay he needed, but not a large captain’s
cabin. Nor did it have a relaxation area for the crew.
wasn’t bringing a large team this time—just himself and a few
astronauts to help him wrestle the Needle from space. He also brought a
biologist and a forensic anthropologist with an interest in space. If
he got the body, most of the tests would be conducted on Earth in one
of his labs—no need to do the work in cramped conditions—but he’d be
able to report a few breakthroughs while still in space.
live feed this time. There was too big a chance for error. He didn’t
want to pull up beside the Needle only to discover that it was a bit of
mislabeled space debris.
That’s what he worried about
most: discovering nothing. Some early ACP-S missions led him directly
to space debris and, fortunately, he hadn’t recorded those either. He
hadn’t been on a trip for an ACP-S identified project in eight years,
and he worried about this one. He had other scientists double-check
Tolemy’s information, but they kept coming up with the same result:
They couldn’t verify that it was a Needle. They couldn’t guarantee anything.
In the end, he had to trust his own response. Tolemy’s information was the first in almost a decade to convince him.
He wanted to give this one a chance.
the ride out, he spent most of his time doing simulations with the
grappler. He wouldn’t run the grappler to bring the body in, if indeed
what they’d found was a body. But he was going to help the team this
time. He couldn’t stay away.
His closest advisors had
insisted that a single, multimedia reporter with impeccable credentials
be included on the flight. If the dart didn’t find a Needle, the
reporter would write everything up as an experimental trip. She
wouldn’t know the real mission until it was achieved—if it was achieved.
came along only with the agreement that she could talk with Richard on
the way back. He would give her unlimited, exclusive access.
good reporter would jump at that, and one did. Helen Dail, a woman who
had three Pulitzers for journalism, spent most of her time interviewing
the crew. She also explored the dart—what little of it she had access
to—and lived up to her part of the agreement by not interviewing the
astronauts, science team, or Richard.
He could see her
storing up questions, though. She was old enough—maybe forty—to make
sure she had a paper back-up, but she was also heavily wired. She had
digital cameras and PDAs and more notebooks than he’d thought possible.
She had met her weight limit for the dart not with clothes or personal
items, but with equipment.
She made him nervous. She
was good enough to figure out what he was after, even if he never found
it, even if no one ever told her what the mission was.
He stayed out of her way as much as he could.
days past the Moon, the dart had reached its target destination. The
little ship wasn’t equipped with many cameras or long-distance scanning
equipment (not that any of it was yet at the level Richard wanted it to
be). They were close enough to confirm that something was in the
position that Tolemy had predicted, but not close enough to confirm
that something was (or had been) human.
close,” Richard said to the pilot. He was in the cockpit along with the
pilot and co-pilot. The science team was in the cargo bay, and the
astronauts were suiting up. He would wait to suit up until the last
He didn’t want Helen Dail to know he cared enough about whatever this was to suit up.
the next long half hour, the pilot took the dart into camera range. The
item appeared on the screen, large and whitish gray. It tumbled—a slow
spin that seemed like something it had done for a long, long time.
was long and slender, and could very well have been a human astronaut.
But Richard couldn’t see a helmet, nothing obvious that told him what
Richard manipulated the external cameras himself, trying to catch all sides of the object.
Finally he saw what he needed—a glint of sunlight off a thick plastic visor.
His breath caught.
“Well?” the pilot asked. “Should we scrub?”
“No,” Richard said. “We have a go.”
hurried out of the cockpit, careful to close the door behind himself,
wanting to keep Dail out. Then he hurried to the cargo bay where the
astronauts waited. They were watching the same image playing over and
“Shouldn’t be hard,” Mac McFerson said as he watched. “One of our simpler maneuvers, actually.”
Richard slid into his space suit, his hands shaking.
“So long as we don’t grab the thing too tight,” said Greg Yovel. “Don’t want to damage it.”
we should tether, do a walk, and guide it in,” McFerson said. He was a
bit of a cowboy, which was why Richard wanted him along.
Richard turned, helmet in hand, and looked at the slowly spinning Needle. Who are you? he wondered. Anders? Borman? Lovell?
His heart was pounding. “Let’s just bring it in as we planned and hope for the best.”
McFerson made a small disapproving noise in the back of his throat.
follow the procedures Richard had established with the capsule—keeping
the bay cold once the body was inside, making sure that nothing in the
process damaged the body outside of what had already occurred in space.
“Greg,” Richard said, “you run the grappler.”
“You and I will handle the door,” he said to McFerson. “Magnetize.”
pressed a button near the wrists of their suits to magnetize their
boots. He felt a sharp tug on the bottom of his feet, tried to lift
one, and felt the magnetic pull.
“It’s a go,” he said to the pilot.
The dart vented atmosphere from the cargo bay—away from the Needle, so as not to push him off course.
slipped his hands into the net that ran the grappler, his body tense.
Richard stood behind him, watching the imagery on the screen.
Greg had to stop the Needle from spinning. Then he had to wrap the
grappler’s long fingers around the center of the Needle and slowly
bring it toward the bay doors.
Once the Needle was close, the doors would open and Richard, along with McFerson, would grab the Needle and bring it inside.
first part went according to plan. Greg managed to slow the spin—not
stop it entirely, but bank it enough so that the Needle wouldn’t turn
hard and damage itself against the grappler’s fingers.
Then he grabbed the Needle around what should have been its waist.
feels like this thing is going to slip,” he muttered, the words coming
through everyone’s helmets. Rachel Saunders, the forensic
anthropologist, walked toward the screen, but the other scientist
pulled her back.
Richard wanted to go there too—he
wanted to slide his hands into the gloves that operated the grappler
from a distance—but he knew he couldn’t compensate for any errors.
Needle—if indeed that’s what it was—did look slippery and unstable. The
slipperiness came from its absolute rigidity; the unstable part from
its tiny size. Richard had never seen anything so small in the grappler
Greg leaned into the gloves, his body as rigid as the Needle’s. Richard could feel the fear coming off him in waves.
“Positions,” McFerson said.
jumped. He had forgotten to give that order. Rachel and the other
scientist moved to the edge of the bay, grabbing onto the handles just
in case. Richard took his spot near the door, holding a handle as well.
It felt cold through his thick glove, but he knew that was just his
imagination; he couldn’t really feel anything except the sweat on his
“Open the door,” Greg said, his voice taut.
hit the controls before Richard could reach them. Or maybe the pilot
had done so from inside the cockpit. He wasn’t sure.
bay doors slid open, and there it was—the grappler—long bits of metal
curving out toward the edges of the solar system, unfiltered sunlight
reflecting off them, so bright that he wanted to look away.
he didn’t. Because in the center was something whitish gray. Whitish
gray and long, like a man’s body would be, only the knees were slightly
bent and so were the arms.
Richard let out a small
breath and it sounded like a sigh of relief. Or maybe he’d heard the
sigh through his communications equipment, coming from someone else.
grappler’s arms came closer to the door than he would have liked.
Richard swung out, as he’d been trained to do, keeping his magnetized
boots on the floor and one hand on the handle. McFerson did the same
from the other side.
The suit had pockmarks and one
large hole that went through the middle of one leg, but it was mostly
intact. It faced away from them. Richard recognized the oxygen
equipment, so bulky it made the original astronauts look as if they
were about to topple over backward.
“Wow,” McFerson said.
didn’t say anything. He had to be cautious as well. He was less worried
about himself—he knew that if he lost his grip and his magnetization he
would tumble into space, but someone would get him—than he was about
breaking the Needle.
Someone, at the beginning of this
mission, had called the Needle a corpsicle, and, while Richard
vehemently objected to the characterization, it had some truth. This
body was breakable the way ice was breakable. Grab it wrong, and a part
would snap off.
Richard reached inside the grappler
and slid a hand underneath the arm closest to him. Then he gently
pulled backward. McFerson did the same.
moved with them—Greg was letting them control the speed. It had reached
the mouth of the doorway when McFerson said, “Lift up.”
wasn’t really an up—only an imagined up—but Richard didn’t question.
He’d done simulations and he knew, in this case, up meant toward the
top part of the door.
He lifted just in time to get the Needle’s bent feet past the lip of the dart.
“God,” Richard breathed. “That was close.”
said nothing. He used both hands to hold the Needle. Richard did the
same, keeping one hand on the Needle’s chest, bracing it, and the other
under the Needle’s arm.
“Got him,” McFerson said, even though Richard hadn’t given him a go-ahead.
The grappler fingers loosened, and Richard held fast, using only his boots for balance.
The grappler slid out of the bay.
“Close doors,” McFerson said, and he didn’t sound as calm as he had before.
The doors eased shut, and they were inside the bay, holding a man frozen in position fifty years ago.
Rachel hurried over, awkward in her magnetized boots.
joined them, bracing the body, and helping them move it toward the
center of the bay. Richard could hear her breathe. She was
frightened—or maybe awed—he couldn’t tell.
tell how he felt either, except that somewhere in the middle of this
mess, the object he had called the Needle had become a body.
He was holding one of the astronauts from Apollo 8. His theory had been right.
They had evacked.
And he still had two more to find.
But this one entranced him.
had a name, sewn onto the exterior of the space suit. Lovell. That made
sense to Richard. Everyone else expected the first one out of the
capsule to be the lowest ranking astronaut on the mission, but Richard
Borman wouldn’t have gone first. He would
have stayed with his vessel as long as possible. Lovell, the daredevil
former test pilot, who saw himself at equal rank with Borman, would go
first to show it could be done.
To show all three that fear could be conquered.
It wouldn’t have been right to send the rookie out first.
bubble-shaped helmet was intact. That was the first thing Richard
looked for as he, Rachel, and McFerson eased the body away from the bay
doors. The helmet was intact and the body inside had mummified.
looked like the mummies that came from Egyptian tombs—after the poor
things had been unwrapped. The face was hard and leathery, the eyes
gone, the mouth open in some kind of rictus.
But worse than that, this one was burned.
had been told to expect radiation burns, but he wasn’t sure how they’d
show up. They showed up in patches, holes in the skin.
“Good thing we got him,” Rachel said. “I don’t know how many more decades these suits would hold up.”
didn’t respond. The suits would hold up as long as they remained
intact. Obviously, the hole in the leg of this one came so late that
there was no more oxygen, no more environment inside it.
they reached the far wall and had the body face down over the
examination table that would hold it, he said, “Now we can have
gravity. Bring it up slowly.”
“Roger,” the pilot said.
Richard felt a buoyancy he hadn’t even realized he had vanish. He was
heavier, and his ankles ached from the boots. The body in his hands
slowly settled onto the table, face down, the large backpack upward.
“Let’s get him recorded,” Richard said.
Recorded. Saved for posterity.
It was time to call in Dail.
Richard told the pilot to have Dail watch from the screens outside the cargo bay.
recording and cataloguing was mostly a job for the scientists, and once
Richard stepped back from the body, he would let them go at it. But he
made some notes of his own.
The way the boots shone in
the bay’s lights. The still-bent limbs. The face, unrecognizable. And
the suit, as familiar as the one he wore, because he used to stare at
the ones in the Smithsonian.
Puffy and bulky,
unbelievably difficult to maneuver, this suit had somehow protected Jim
Lovell’s body for half a century. The gloves made his hands look almost
The helmet with its thick plastic built to
resemble glass. The old American flag on the arm, with only fifty
stars—no Puerto Rico yet—making this seem like a suit lost to time.
And yet so real.
Richard could feel the suit’s solidness through his own gloves, knew that some of that came from the frozen corpse inside.
thought of the outcries on the original mission, the fact that they
were desecrating a grave. No one felt that way any more. He doubted
anyone much thought of the Apollo 8 astronauts any more.
Yet here was one, big as life. They would think about them once again, at least for a while.
hadn’t carried Jim Lovell, still alive, from the capsule. Nor had he
brought the man into the dart with a fireman’s carry, hoping to
retrieve a long lost soul.
But he’d done the best he could.
Maybe the only thing he could.
buoyancy Richard had felt just before the gravity had turned back on
never really vanished. He felt buoyant still, as if something lifted
him ever upward.
When they brought the dart back, and he’d finished all the interviews (How
had you known where the astronaut was, Mr. Johansenn? Is it worth the
expense, bringing a long dead man to Earth? Why didn’t you consult the
families?), he went back to ACP-S to consult with Tolemy.
“How hard do you think it’ll be to find the other two?” Richard asked.
shrugged. He looked a bit more haggard than he had before the mission.
He’d had a lot at stake on the mission’s success, but it didn’t look as
if the success had helped him. If anything it seemed to have depressed
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Tolemy said. “I’m pretty sure it’ll be harder.”
Richard hadn’t expected that answer. He’d thought Tolemy would tell him
it would be easier now that they knew what to look for. “In addition to
the orbit we mapped for the capsule, you have two more points—the place
where we found Lovell and the place where we found the capsule. You can
make some kind of grid. We’ll know in general what region of space the
other two will be in.”
“I’ve already done that,” Tolemy said.
ran his fingers along his console, brought up a new screen with the
Moon and Mars and the rest of the solar system. An entire area between
Venus and Mars was colored in red.
“That’s the probable zone,” he said. “But here’s the problem.”
He overlaid a green bubble, even larger, on top of the red.
made some assumptions to find Lovell. We assumed that we were getting
the first astronaut at the last possible evac point. We assumed that
they waited until the very end to evac. But what if Lovell waited until
the end? What if the other two went days ahead of him? What if he
planned to stay in the capsule and changed his mind at the last minute?”
Richard shook his head. “He wouldn’t do that.”
don’t know that,” Tolemy said. “Any more than I know which direction
the astronauts went when they stepped out of the capsule. More than
likely, it was tumbling slightly. They could have gone in any
direction, with any kind of speed. If anything, the search area is now
bigger. We’ll defeat ourselves if we only look in the red part.”
“It can’t be bigger,” Richard said. “We know some of the path now. That narrows it.”
shook his head. “I watched the vids you made of the rescue. You were
worried about losing Lovell, about sending him off the small path you’d
charted for him just by venting atmosphere from your cargo bay. Imagine
if some other ship had done that. Or if a small rock had hit with
enough force to push him in a completely different direction without
making a hole in his suit. Or if he had vented oxygen on purpose,
propelling himself in a particular direction to give himself a sense of
control? We don’t know. I don’t think we’ll ever know.”
leaned over and shut off the map on Tolemy’s screen. This was not the
man he’d seen before the mission. That man had been certain of his
numbers, worried that he’d made the wrong assumptions, but sure enough
of himself to insist that his bosses bring in Richard.
changed?” Richard asked gently. He tried to control his impatience. He
didn’t like interpersonal relations—he’d never been that good at them.
He usually let his staff handle that.
at him, about to say “nothing.” In fact, the word had formed in his
lips when something in Richard’s face must have stopped him.
“It was just luck,” Tolemy said. “Finding Lovell. It was luck.”
the press had been saying. Like Tolemy’s boss had said when the mission
came back, mostly because he couldn’t take credit for a mission he
hadn’t approved of.
“You said it,” Tolemy said. “We found a needle in a galaxy full of haystacks.”
“Because we looked,” Richard said. “Most people would hear the odds and give up. But we looked.”
gave him a frightened glance. “It took ten years of round-the-clock
work by some of the best minds, and it was me that found him. The new
“The new kid who worked harder than everyone else,” Richard said. “The kid who believed in himself.”
shook his head. “That’s the thing. After the mission left, I didn’t
believe any more. I was so convinced that all you would find was space
debris that I nearly fell apart. If someone had died up there —”
“It would have been on my head,” Richard said. “Not yours.”
Tolemy nodded, but Richard could tell the young man didn’t believe him. Tolemy wasn’t willing to accept his success.
Richard stood, his patience nearly gone. He started to turn away, and then he stopped as an idea hit him.
“This has been part of your imagination for a long time, hasn’t it?” he asked.
looked up at him. Richard hadn’t noticed before, but Tolemy was balding
right at his crown. He didn’t look quite so young any more.
“What has?” Tolemy asked.
“Finding one of the astronauts. You’d imagined it, you dreamed of it, you just didn’t expect to do it.”
Tolemy bit his lower lip, then shrugged one shoulder. “I guess I didn’t.”
Richard patted that shoulder. “Neither did I. And yet we did it, didn’t we?”
frowned, as if the idea were new to him. Richard walked away, hoping
that little talk would be enough. Tolemy had a gift, whether he
realized it or not. That imagination, that way of looking at the solar
system, at the small details, was unique.
Richard doubted he could find that combination again.
he didn’t, at least not in the next two years. Tolemy tried to find
Anders and Borman, but flamed out quickly. Six months after the success
of the Lovell mission, as the press called it, Tolemy took an extended
leave. Then he quit, citing personal reasons.
staff asked Richard if he would talk to the young man. Tolemy had quite
a talent, they said. It would be a shame to let him go.
But Richard knew better than to keep him.
Some men couldn’t handle achieving their dreams. Tolemy was one of them.
men like Richard, who could handle it, had a difficult time. No one had
ever told him that success—real personal success—carried its own
He’d always thought he’d understood that.
After all, he’d bootstrapped himself into one of the richest men in the
world. But those successes meant nothing to him. They were side issues
on the way to his real goal—finding Apollo 8.
That success had been bittersweet. He’d found the capsule and not the men, and yet he had done what he had set out to do.
Just as he had done with Lovell.
Two successes. Two important successes.
maybe he was insulated against those successes as he had been insulated
against the earlier ones. Maybe he wouldn’t have the same problem
Tolemy had until he discovered Borman and Anders.
If he could even find Borman and Anders.
remaining researchers at ACP-S worked the grids that Tolemy had left
and found nothing. A few worked outside those grids and found nothing.
They hadn’t even found anything that was possible.
was thinking of firing the entire team and installing a new one when he
got a personal phone call from the Chinese ambassador to the United
“Mr. Johansenn,” the man said in perfectly accented English, “we have some information we would like to trade.”
advisors told him to set up the meeting through the United States
government, that going around them to the country that former President
Rockefeller had once called the most dangerous nation on Earth might
get Richard into legal trouble. If he ended up making an unapproved
trade with them for secret technology, he might even be charged with
Richard didn’t see China as the most
dangerous nation on Earth. They were merely a larger and politically
more repressive nation. He also knew that when the Soviet Union
collapsed in 1979, the United States had substituted China for the
U.S.S.R. in its foreign policy. The big evil superpower now was China,
and nothing Richard or the Chinese did would change that.
told only his chief of staff that he was going to the embassy in
Washington D.C. He decided to meet the ambassador there to prove to his
own government (should they inquire) that he had nothing to hide. He
could always say, with utter truth, that they had called him; he was
just curious enough to go.
The Chinese Embassy looked
no different than the other embassies on Embassy Row. They were all
stately buildings, with armed guards and formidable security. The only
differences were the flags and the uniforms. The Chinese Embassy had
its large red flag, that would have seemed festive if Richard hadn’t
seen so many movies in which the flag had featured menacingly. The
guards wore austere greenish uniforms that made him think of robots in
early forties movies. They also wore small caps that hid the shape of
their skulls, and carried AK-47s over their shoulders in a display of
Richard had to go through three levels of
security just to get into the building. Even then, he seemed to have
acquired three guards all to himself.
He wasn’t even
carrying a briefcase. There was nowhere to hide weaponry on his person,
and besides, they’d searched him enough to find even the smallest bomb.
interior made him feel as if he’d entered another land. The furniture
was ornate and mostly wood, all of it antiques from various dynasties.
Expensive vases were filled with cherry blossoms. Tapestries hung on
the wall behind the vases.
Richard had been raised
with the impoverished—and austere—Soviets as the Evil Empire. He wasn’t
used to the Chinese mixture of ancient beauty and hidden power within
the embassy itself.
He was taken to a third floor
reception room, and offered tea and little cakes. He accepted them with
a small bow, feeling out of his element. He knew that diplomacy
required a detailed understanding of a particular country. He didn’t
even know if the Chinese had a tea ritual that he might be violating,
the way the Japanese did.
He’d been to most countries in the world, but somehow he had missed China.
a few moments alone with the guards, a door nearly hidden in flowery
wallpaper opened. A short man wearing a military-cut jacket over dark
blue trousers entered. He nodded at Richard, who stood.
They shook hands. The man introduced himself as the ambassador, and Richard introduced himself as well, just to be polite.
“Forgive my pre-emptive invitation,” the ambassador said. “It is just that I know your interest in the Apollo 8 astronauts.”
Richard smiled. “The whole world knows of my interest, Ambassador.”
The man bowed slightly. He folded his hands together. “It is my
understanding that your interest supercedes your government’s.”
wouldn’t say that,” Richard said. “We lost a lot of good men and women
going into space. We couldn’t afford to rescue them all.”
“But these were the first lost in actual space travel, is that not correct? At least in America.”
remember that time,” the ambassador said. “I was but a boy. My country
rejoiced in the failure of yours, but I asked my father why we
celebrated when brave men died. He had no answer.”
Richard set his tea cup down. The ambassador hadn’t touched his tea or the cakes.
“But you understand now,” Richard said.
acknowledge the impulse to find joy in another’s defeat. I still do not
understand why the loss of brave men is a cause for celebration.”
ambassador’s language was formal, his face unsmiling, but Richard had a
sense that the man was sincere. Richard had to remind himself that a
diplomat’s job was to seem sincere, even when lying for his government.
But Richard wasn’t sure what the ambassador had to lie about.
have been instructed to inform your government of our discovery. I am
to ask for several things in trade in regards to the whereabouts,
things I know your government will not grant. It is a propaganda ploy
on the part of my government. They can go to the media in both of our
countries, claim criminal disinterest on the part of the United States,
and say that your country is unwilling to bargain with the Chinese even
when something valuable is at stake.”
his hands together, mimicking the ambassador’s position. “The location,
while a curiosity, isn’t of value to my government.”
“You and I both know this, and so does my government, but our people do not. The propaganda ploy would work in our favor.”
Richard nodded. He could see that.
“I have come to you, ex parte,
to see if you can make a real and valuable trade to my government for
this information. A bit of technology, perhaps, or permission to study
the blueprints of one of your larger ships. We would give you the
coordinates of the lost astronaut and, should our governments agree, we
would send one of our own people with you, to learn with you.”
Richard felt unusually warm. His staff had been right and he had been wrong.
“Ambassador,” Richard said, “I must clear any such trade through my government.”
“They will deny you permission.”
“Yes, I know. I’m not even supposed to discuss business with your people. We have no formal trade agreement.”
The ambassador nodded. “We can keep this between us.”
“We can’t,” Richard said. “Particularly if one of your people joins us on the mission.”
“Perhaps we can drop that point,” the ambassador said. “And work through mutual friends.”
friends. Richard had heard of that kind of approach before. Working
with a neutral country that would negotiate the deal on both sides.
“Why weren’t you willing to take this to my government?” Richard said. “They could have contacted me.”
the ambassador said. “But I did. I went to the government first and
asked them to contact you, claiming time was of the essence. At first
they refused. Then they promised they would take care of things. When I
did not hear from you within the week, I called you directly.”
A drop of sweat ran down the side of Richard’s face. “Whom did you contact?”
The ambassador named names.
“I’ll see if they contacted me and somehow I did not get the message.”
ambassador smiled. “There is no need to save face for your government.
We do not trust each other. I doubt they contacted you.”
“Still,” Richard said. “I’d like to check. I’d also like to work through official channels wherever possible.”
what you must,” the ambassador said. “But we know where your man is
now. We cannot guarantee knowledge of where he’ll be six months from
now. We have no real interest in tracking him.”
“I understand,” Richard said.
Time was of the essence. The ambassador had not lied.
course no one had called any of Richard’s companies or had contacted
his own personal staff. But then, Richard had only the ambassador’s
word that the man had even contacted the U.S. government. And while
Richard had believed the ambassador about his memories, he was not
willing to believe him in business.
Richard had an
assistant track down the person whom the embassy had contacted within
the U.S. Government. She was able to confirm that the contact had
occurred and been ignored. She asked him if he wanted to make an
appointment with the State Department Undersecretary who had handled
(or at least received) the contact.
“No,” Richard said. “Make me an appointment with the President.”
President wouldn’t see him. She had pressing business elsewhere,
probably aware of the fact that he hadn’t contributed as much to her
campaign as he had to her predecessor’s.
Still, he was the richest man in the country. He couldn’t be ignored.
the next day, he sat in the office of the Secretary of State. The
National Security Advisor sat to his left. The head of NASA to his
Richard told all three about his meeting with
the Chinese ambassador, and after hearing the expected rigmarole about
protocol, they got to the heart of the matter.
“I am going to retrieve this astronaut,” Richard said. “The question is whether or not I’ll do it with your approval.”
They had already jousted over the Espionage Act and the Favored Nations Agreements. Richard hadn’t budged from his position.
Secretary of State, a slender woman of Japanese-American descent,
pretended sympathy. The National Security Advisor, a tough older woman
with a touch of Margaret Thatcher in her bearing, had already decided
Richard was an enemy of the state. And the head of NASA, a thin former
astronaut who helped build the Moon Base, was, surprisingly, on
“What can you give them that’s not proprietary?” he asked.
Richard shrugged. “They haven’t really made a specific request. I figured they would on my next visit.”
can’t give them any space-related technologies,” the National Security
Advisor said. “And you most certainly can’t have one of their people on
board your ship.”
“Even if they have the specs for that ship?” Richard asked. “What else could they learn?”
“Have you given them the specs for the ship?” she snapped.
Richard turned his chair slightly so that he wouldn’t have to look at her. Instead, he focused on the Secretary of State.
“I’m not a diplomat,” he said, “but the ambassador seemed sincere when he approached me. He—”
“They always do, Mr. Johansenn. That’s their job,” the National Security Advisor had a way of sounding extremely condescending.
ignored her. “The ambassador said he had a memory of the day those
astronauts were lost. He seemed intrigued by what I was doing. Maybe
they have some astronauts of their own to retrieve?”
do,” the NASA head said. “They lost several astronauts in the early
1980s, after they acquired the Soviet Union’s technology and scientists
at bargain rates. But they didn’t have the trained astronauts and they
lost a lot.”
“How come we haven’t heard of this?” the Secretary of State said.
did,” the NASA head said. “It was in reports at the time, but it never
hit the media. You know how secretive the Chinese can be.”
Suddenly the National Security Advisor was interested. She moved her chair forward. “How many did they lose?”
NASA head shrugged. “I can get the exact figures for you later. But I’d
wager they lost two or three dozen astronauts in those early years.”
they wouldn’t ask for help.” The Secretary of State tapped one long
painted fingernail against her lips. “Do you think they’re trying
something new now?”
“The space race is, for all
intents and purposes, over,” Richard said. “They can buy their way onto
our ships. They lost the Moon to us, and have to cooperate with us to
get to Mars. They have their own program, but it’s not as advanced as
Europe’s. Theoretically, China’s is only designed for asteroid mining.”
“I thought it was for defense,” the National Security Advisor said.
“I said theoretically,” Richard said. “That’s what they claim. But yes, it’s for defense.”
throughout the scientific community say they’re planning their own Moon
Base. They doubt we can stop them. We’re not geared for a war on the
Moon,” the NASA head said.
Richard nearly sighed, but
managed to control himself at the last minute. “What if what they want
is as simple as it sounds? What if they want to see how we’re
recovering our own people?”
“If they’ve lost so many,” the Secretary of State asked, “how do they know this is one of ours?”
“The suits are different,” the NASA chief said. “They’d reflect differently.”
“Or,” Richard said, “they’ve already got a recovery program, and they’ve seen him up close.”
“I wonder,” the Secretary of State said slowly, a twinkle in her eye, “if they can bring him to us.”
argued against it. He wanted to be on the ship that recovered the next
astronaut. But he had set the events into motion by being above-board.
he left the White House, the Secretary of State had already called for
a closed-door meeting with the congressional leadership to see if they
could have a space-trade agreement with the Chinese, a short-term
exchange of information that would allow space scientists to share as
much knowledge as possible.
The National Security
Advisor loathed the idea; she said the Chinese would get a lot more out
of it than the Americans would. But the head of NASA wasn’t so sure.
His program had stagnated with the rise of private enterprise in space.
NASA needed new ideas. Besides, he wanted to know if all the rumors
about the various Chinese programs were true.
didn’t care about any of that. He had an astronaut to rescue, and he
wasn’t going to do it from a distance. He left the White House, and
went to the Chinese Embassy alone.
The ambassador met
him immediately. This time, they went to a more formal room, with red
silk wallpaper and delicate carved chairs. No guards stood inside the
room, and no one brought tea.
“I had heard you were on Capitol Hill,” the ambassador said.
“I saw the Secretary of State,” Richard said. “They don’t want me talking to you.”
“And yet you are here,” the ambassador said.
“I realized something while talking to them,” Richard said. “I never asked how you knew where our astronaut was.”
The ambassador smiled slowly. “They put you up to this.”
me, they did not,” Richard said. “If all goes according to their plans,
someone will work with you on recovering that body. Only I won’t be
able to go along.”
“And you feel you must go along,” the ambassador said.
“So we are back where we began.”
“Yes,” Richard said. “What would you like in trade for the information about where our astronaut is?”
The ambassador smiled slowly. “This information is very important to you.”
That was obvious. Richard had lost any negotiating point on that by returning so quickly.
“Yes, it’s important,” he said, “and time is of the essence.”
* * *
wasn’t one of his better negotiations. Usually Richard was a shrewd
businessman and a champion negotiator, but he was in new waters here.
Not in dealing with the Chinese—he’d dealt with representatives of
cultures he didn’t entirely understand before—but because he really and
truly wanted something.
In the past, he’d always had the ability to walk away.
This time, he could not.
sold the Chinese government two of his own dart-like ships, the kind he
designed after the Lovell mission, along with the specs. He didn’t care
if the U.S. government came after him for doing so. He had already
informed his lawyers that he had chosen not to take the Secretary of
State’s advice. If the U.S. government wanted to try him under the
Espionage Act or fine him for violating various Fair Trade Agreements,
fine. He just wanted the time to get to the astronaut and back.
The lawyers had to tie the government up in court.
Richard put his P.R. people on the deal. They talked to the media, and
suddenly he was the next world-class diplomat, a man who could
negotiate with the difficult Chinese and walk away with what he wanted.
He broke the story through Helen Dail, promising her another exclusive
on his trip to find the second astronaut.
all, he finally understood how Tolemy felt. He hadn’t even asked for
proof. The great negotiator had missed one of the essential rules of
negotiation: he should have made certain the item he desired was what
If the Chinese were lying—if this wasn’t
the second astronaut—they were playing him for a fool. They probably
thought he was one already. He had given them proprietary technology.
If the astronaut—the whatever they had found—wasn’t from Apollo 8, they
would have won.
From the moment he accepted the
agreement, he had a knot in his stomach. He wasn’t even looking forward
to the trip, and the past two times he had.
On those trips he felt that even failure would be a success: at least he tried.
He didn’t feel that way this time. Just scared and a little sick.
His mood colored the entire trip.
took the same team that he had two years before. The Chinese gave him
the coordinates when he was in orbit, knowing that he would inform the
U.S. government when he had them. The Chinese were in a sector of space
they shouldn’t have been in if their technology was designed for
asteroid mining or defense.
Something else was going on, something the astronauts on his ship speculated about.
Richard didn’t. He’d felt a little relieved, able to give the U.S.
government something in exchange for this mission. He should have been
even more relieved. His lawyers informed him that the Chinese had
vehicles similar to the dart on their drawing board, meaning they had
either gotten his or his competitors’ proprietary information through
some illegal back channel, but that didn’t make him feel better.
hadn’t realized until this mission how truly single-minded he’d been.
How great his focus was on these astronauts. It wasn’t healthy.
He was no longer even sure it was right.
were dead. Really and truly dead. There was no rescuing them, and what
little he’d learned from Lovell and the capsule hadn’t really made up
for the effort he’d expended over decades to find them.
wondered what they would have thought of him, these men who had
launched themselves into space on a rocket, protected only by a tin
can. Would they have thought he was foolish? Or would they have
applauded his audacity?
He used to think they’d understand, but not even he understood any more.
Fifty years was a long time to focus on one thing. Maybe it was time to focus on something else.
discovered the object not far from the coordinates the Chinese had
given him. That was a surprise, given the amount of time it had taken
to get here. Clearly, the object was moving very slowly.
reflection was right; the build was right; the position was familiar.
It took Richard one look through the viewscreen and he knew that the
Chinese had played fair with him.
He had another Apollo 8 astronaut.
team cheered, and he cheered with them. He slid into the rescue as if
he’d done it a thousand times before instead of just once.
time, he braced himself properly as he guided the body into the bay. He
smiled for Dail’s camera—he’d allowed her to suit up and come inside as
well—and he carefully moved the frozen astronaut to the back of the bay
to a berth designed for him.
complained about not operating the grappler. He’d laughed, as if he
were having the time of his life. None of them were scared this time.
Even if they damaged this corpse, they succeeded. They already had
brought one intact astronaut to Earth.
This one was just a bonus.
hated how his thoughts ran. Even as he held the man’s arm in his gloved
hands, he wasn’t thinking of this astronaut as a person, as someone to
be rescued, but as an item, as a commodity.
that what he’d been? Something to be haggled over, an item for trade?
Something that might cause a great loss or a great win?
Certainly not a human being, not any longer.
tried to keep these feelings to himself—and managed to lose them only
briefly, when he learned this one’s identity. The name etched along the
suit was almost gone, but he could still see its shape, and the first
three letters. B. o. r.
Borman. The commander.
speculated about the order of evac, just as Richard had the last time,
but Richard wasn’t playing that game any longer. Borman was in a part
of space that wasn’t on Tolemy’s map—not in the red section or the
It was as Tolemy had said—impossible to predict where these men would be.
was here, in a place that had no logic at all that Richard could see.
And he doubted that anything on Borman’s suit would give them real
clues about how he got here.
Someone would try to map the trajectory. Someone would make semi-educated guesses, but it wouldn’t be Richard.
He was, for all intents and purposes, done.
didn’t say that, of course. In public, he sounded the mantra: they
still had one astronaut to find—the junior man on the mission, Bill
The Anders family got involved. They asked to
help in the search. Publicity stunts—the Anders family looking through
telescopes, viewing star charts—abounded. Newspapers carried headlines Family Still Hopes Missing Astronaut Will Come Home,
and the twenty-four-hour news channels did specials. Websites appeared
as amateur astronomers tried to figure out, based on all the points
that Richard had discovered, where Anders would be.
supported all of this and more. He kept ACP-S running, and he made sure
that anyone with information about the last astronaut should feel free
to come to him. He kept the best minds in the business searching, and
he even tried to get Tolemy out of retirement.
Tolemy’s heart wasn’t in it, and neither was Richard’s. Something had
changed for him at the last. Maybe he was afraid of success too—or
afraid to complete the project. Maybe all that self-examination was
just a way to prevent himself from finishing the job.
if he found Bill Anders, what else would drive him? The entire crew of
Apollo 8 would be home. The capsule was already here and on display in
the Smithsonian, with his private company credited for the donation.
Children climbed in and out of the couches where, essentially, three
men had died.
After a few years, he stopped monitoring
the program. He actually got what most people called a real life. He
married, for the first time, to a woman half his age, a woman who could
keep up with him in conversation. They had three children—a daughter
and twin boys—and while he found fatherhood interesting, it was not
all-consuming the way most people claimed it would be.
wife said that was because he was not most people. Others he mentioned
this to told him it was because he had nannies and assistants who took
some of the burden off the childrearing.
wasn’t what he meant. He had expected raising children to be as focused
an activity as searching for Apollo 8 had been. He expected to think
about them each waking minute, get lost in their smallest deeds, praise
their greatest accomplishments.
And while he paid
attention, he did not think about them every waking minute. He barely
thought of them at all. Once he learned who they were—how their
personalities were forming—he treated them as he treated most people,
with a casual coolness that he couldn’t quite help.
wife claimed she expected it, but he could see disappointment in her
eyes. His children always sought his approval for everything they did,
and yet when he praised them, it wasn’t enough.
“They don’t want your approval,” his wife finally told him. “They want your love.”
He thought about that. He wondered if he had ever loved anything. Really loved it.
eventually he came to the realization that he loved the dream of space.
The dream that he had absorbed as a child—the one painted in the
picture in his office—of possibilities and fears and greatness unknown.
had been what he’d been pursuing with Apollo 8. Not a rescue, so much
as a hope. A hope that the universe out there would be different than
the world in here.
The realization calmed him, and he
went back to work, much to his family’s dismay. Once again, he checked
on ACP-S, not because he had any hopes of finding Anders—he didn’t, not
really—but because that was part of what he did in the same way that he
checked on all of his various projects the world over.
grew older and he watched as the dreams of his youth—the dream of space
flight and far-ranging exploration, of colonizing the solar system, and
humankind moving beyond the confines of Earth—slowly came true.
He marveled at the way things went, and he was proud of his part in them.
Which was how he came to be on the starliner Martian Princess
on its maiden voyage from the Moon to the newly opened Mars colony. The
colony had existed on Mars for nearly thirty years, but it had expanded
and now had a small resort for adventurous travelers who wanted to
inspect the area before they bought homes in Mars’s second colony,
which was under construction.
Richard had a stake in both colonies. He owned the resort. And he owned the Martian Princess.
The starliners made him proud—not because they were passenger ships
like the old luxury liners that used to cross the ocean—but because
they were really fast. And that ever-increasing speed was pulling in
the outer system with each increase, making things seem closer, more
People still had to commit upward of three
months of their life to the journey, depending on where Mars was in
relationship to Earth, but that was nothing like the years for a
there-and-back journey in the 2030s.
He had the V.I.P.
cabin near the front of the ship, but he made a point of visiting all
the decks, being seen in the restaurants and the shops and even in the
educational wing, where he conspicuously took lessons in Mandarin.
moved slowly now. Even with all the advancements in medical science,
his life had taken its toll on his health. He was 108 and frail. He had
to be careful of his old bones. His daughter Delia, who was also on the
trip, insisted on bringing a retinue of doctors in case Richard fell
ill or tripped and hit his head.
If he had known that
the girl was going to be this protective, he never would have made her
head of most of his companies. He would have stuck with assistants.
Although no assistant had half the intelligence and drive that his
daughter had. At forty-two she reminded him of himself at the same
age—focused, edgy, and successful in spite of herself.
resorts were more her dreams than his. She could see past the solar
system. She wanted to get to a time when human beings traveled the
galaxy the way that they now traveled around the Earth.
was a bit far for him. Even Mars seemed far for him. This would be his
first trip to the red planet, even though he’d had property there for
decades. He’d never wanted to commit to the trip.
He wasn’t sure what had made him commit this time, either.
suspected it had a lot to do with the conversation he’d had with his
sons, when he told them they needed to be adventurers. They didn’t
understand him, and he realized that they hadn’t seen him in his
adventurous years—going through astronaut training, all that risky
travel into orbit and beyond, his rescues of Apollo 8 and the two crew
His boys knew of that, of course—this was all
part of their father’s lore—but they hadn’t seen it. And they were
their mother’s children. While bright, they didn’t understand what they
They weren’t dreamers the way his
daughter was. They did strive, though, and they handled themselves
well, unlike many children of the rich. They started charities with his
excessive fortune, and were working to change the Earth, something he
had never even thought of.
He had a hunch they did it
as a rebuke to him, but he was proud of them for it. They had seen a
gap and filled it, and while they weren’t quite what he’d expected,
they were good men with good hearts—a tribute to the woman who had
Certainly not a tribute to him. When he
realized how limited they were, he focused on his daughter. She was his
child 100 percent, and that fascinated him. She reflected his good and
bad qualities—his single-mindedness, his coldness, and his casual way
of coming up with a viable idea that somehow made millions.
she was dedicated to him, more dedicated than he had been to his own
parents in their declining years. He wasn’t sure if that was
socialization, a difference in the culture, or if she had a slightly
softer side than he had.
He wasn’t going to figure that out, either. He was going to enjoy it, as he enjoyed her company when she gave it.
she spent the trip in her two cabins—the other V.I.P. suite, and the
secondary suite she’d commandeered to keep the corporations running.
She ran from place to place, as he used to do, frustrated by the
slowness of interplanetary communications, and worried that she was
going to miss something by being so far away.
to tell her that sometimes being far away was exactly what an
entrepreneur needed, but she’d looked at him as if he’d insulted her
intelligence, and he vowed at that moment to stop giving advice.
Instead, he retired to his own cabin, which he loved.
He’d always insisted on luxury. The luxury suites on the Martian Princess
were spectacular, but the V.I.P. suites took that luxury one step
farther. He had his own living room, a dining room, and two bedrooms on
the second story—not that he needed both—one of which he turned into an
office. The bathroom had every luxury, and the functioning kitchen
could cook some foods itself.
But what he loved the
most was what the brochures called the backyard—the deck outside the
cabin with a floor-to-ceiling view into space. The material that the
windows were made out of was so clear that it looked to Richard the way
space had looked through the open door of the cargo bay on the dart.
Someone had furnished the yard like a formal living room. When he examined the suite the week before the Martian Princess
left, he had the formal furniture replaced with chaise lounges and
wooden tables—the lawn furniture of his youth. The lights, scattered
around the yard, looked like tiki torches. All that he needed was some
green grass and some fireflies, and he would be at home.
spent most of his time on the deck, reading or listening to music. He
didn’t watch any programming or have holo performances on the yard
because he didn’t want to get lost in them. He never invited anyone
into his cabin. If he saw people, he saw them on the decks or in the
The view was enough.
it was the view that caught him, two days out from Mars. He was
standing in the middle of the lawn, transfixed by the way the darkness
of space wasn’t really dark. There were hints of light in it. Sunlight
went everywhere. The all-powerful star that was the center of this
solar system had a greater reach than any human being ever could.
tilted his head up, and saw a reflection in the distance, a flash of
light off something white ahead of the ship. He blinked, certain he’d
imagined that. But it came again, larger now, as if the object were
spinning ever so slowly.
He went to the cabin, used the on-deck telescope for his particular suite, and turned the exterior lens on the object.
The very powerful telescope had an automatic computer tracking function and he set it on the object.
His breath caught when he looked.
An astronaut in an old-fashioned suit.
His heart started to pound.
Anders. Could it be?
wiped his hands on his pants, thought for a moment, and knew how
everyone would react. They didn’t treat him like a doddering old
man—that kind of treatment disappeared as aging became a way of life
for so many people—but a person who had passed one hundred still had
achieved a milestone that made the younger generations dismiss him.
wasn’t in his prime any more, physically—that was obvious—and so many
people thought that meant he wasn’t in his prime mentally, either.
The ship would be past the object in less than a minute. He had to act, and act quickly.
His hand shook as he pressed the comm link. “Delia,” he said to his daughter, “come here, please. Now. Quickly!”
Then he called the bridge. “I need your best pilot, with a few changes of clothes, to meet me in ten minutes.”
“May I ask why, sir?’ the Captain asked.
shut down the comm link, then grabbed some of his own clothes, stuffed
them inside a bag, and put the bag over his shoulder.
door to his room glided open and his daughter entered, looking worried.
She was trim and athletic with her mother’s dark hair and eyes.
“I want you to see something,” he said before she could speak.
He indicated the telescope. “Look quickly. It’s more than likely almost out of sight.”
She started to object and he held up his hand. “Quickly.”
sighed and walked over. She wrapped one hand around the viewer, and
peered through the lens, then gasped. “This has to be some kind of
“Possibly,” he said. “But I’m still going after it, joke or not.”
knew that the liner couldn’t just turn like a ship in the ocean. This
ship was turning around only after it reached Mars orbit. And by the
time they got there, Anders would be again lost.
The last astronaut. The last part of Richard’s dream.
He had just passed it.
But he had no intention of losing it.
“Dad, what are you thinking?” Delia asked as she walked with him from his suite and headed down the hall.
“I’m going to go get him.”
looked at him as if he had suddenly lost his mind. “Daddy, there isn’t
any way to pick him up. We’re already far, far past him.”
“Not that far,” he said. “I’ll take one of the lifeboats. It’s designed with more than enough range.”
insisted on the old-fashioned term when he’d approved the design of the
starliner. He worried that such a large, grand ship would suffer the
fate of the Titanic—that some sort of disaster would hit it,
and hundreds of people would die because he hadn’t prepared. He’d
insisted on smaller ships, most of them two-man crew sized, a few a bit
larger, all of them with enough power and supplies to last a year with
a dozen people on board.
“They don’t have grapplers,” she said.
Richard gave her a surprised look.
“I studied your space rescues, Dad,” she said. “They were miracles of efficiency.”
They hadn’t seemed like it at the time.
“I don’t need a grappler,” he said. “I need a lifeboat, a spacesuit, and a pilot.”
“Daddy,” Delia said, “this is crazy.”
He ran a hand along her face, then smiled at her with the most affection he’d ever felt.
“Yes,” he said, “it is.”
pilot was a small woman named Star. He thought the name a good omen.
Before she was hired as a tertiary co-pilot for this mission, she’d
been with the U.S. military, flying orbital defense missions around the
Moon colony. He looked up her record, saw the reprimands in the file
for a bit too much cockiness, for a tad too much recklessness, and
decided she was exactly what he’d needed.
have flown the ship himself—the controls were so simple that a child
could fly it (he’d insisted on that, too)—but he chose not to. He
needed the help.
The lifeboat didn’t have a cargo bay
like the ones he was used to—no separate environmental system, no real
storage area—but it did have two doors, one inside, and one with an
airlock out the side. That was all he needed. And it had six small
cabins. He could put Anders in one and shut off the environmental
systems to that cabin to keep him frozen.
with you,” Delia said as they reached the lifeboat entrance. Star had
already gone on board and had the ship coming to life.
he said. “You have to pull every string you can pull to get back here
and pick me up, with a ship equipped to handle what I’m going to go
get, and then get us all back to Earth.”
He then kissed her on the forehead and stepped aboard, closing the hatch behind him.
got the lifeboat slowed to a stop within six hours, and had them back
to the area of Anders’ position in another eight hours. The entire time
Richard sat in the copilot’s chair and stared ahead into the emptiness
of space. And every hour he had to calm Delia, tell her he was fine. He
had no idea his daughter worried so much. That made him feel wanted,
and he liked that feeling.
The old ships that Richard
had used on the first three missions never had this kind of speed or
maneuverability. In fact, at the speed the liner was moving when they’d
left it, the old ships wouldn’t have even had the power to slow and
stop, let alone go back.
It took surprisingly little searching to find Anders. The newer equipment on the ships also made that easier.
Star matched Anders’ course and pulled in close beside him. The body was barely turning. It seemed to just float there.
“You take the controls,” Star said, “and I’ll get him.”
“No,” Richard said. “I will.”
She gave him a sideways look.
“I’ll be all right,” he said.
took him a little longer to climb into the new space suits. They looked
more like a white tuxedo than an actual space suit, and the helmets
were close-fitting and light. Everyone on the liner had been trained to
put them on, but they still didn’t feel right, as if he weren’t wearing
enough to protect him from the cold he was about to step into.
He climbed into the airlock and magnetized his boots. Then he vented the atmosphere.
He felt stronger than he had in years.
tricky part, he knew, would be reaching for Anders. Star had gotten the
lifeboat to a point where it nearly touched the man, but Richard had
little to support him. He used the tether inside the airlock, and
wrapped it around his waist, securing it tightly.
Then he opened the outer door.
Unfiltered light hit him, reflecting off the lifeboat’s silver sides. He blinked in the glare.
Then his eyes adjusted.
Anders floated near him, just an arm’s reach away.
Looking free. Almost as if he didn’t want to be rescued.
the first time, Richard understood the impulse that had led to the
Apollo 8 astronauts evacuating their small ship. Why stay inside a tin
can when the entire universe waited? What would Anders have said if he
knew that his body would be found so very close to Mars? How would he
have felt to know that he had spent a hundred years gazing blindly on
the entire solar system?
Richard reached forward and grabbed Anders’ cold, stiff arm.
It would be so easy to lock elbows and step into the darkness.
would be so easy to chose this death. Eventually, he would just go to
sleep. He would be unencumbered by anything, gazing at the vastness of
space and of the future.
Yet he had no reason to step out. He still had years yet. Years of adventures.
was going to Mars where he already had businesses. He had been
traveling on a starliner, for heaven’s sake, something that the
original Apollo astronauts could only dream of.
Their sacrifices had brought him here.
Their courage, their loss, their dreams.
had an obligation to keep living the future they’d always wanted, to
continue to make their dreams of the stars even more possible for
Part of that was bringing
Anders in, letting scientists see what happened one hundred years out.
To learn, as they had from Borman and Lovell, about the adventures
these men had had, even after death.
“You okay?” Star asked.
“Fine,” Richard said.
took only a gentle tug to bring Anders to the door. Richard wrapped his
arms around the hundred-year-old adventurer and pulled him gently so
that his booted feet didn’t hit the door’s lip. Then Richard eased the
As he reached for the mechanism to close
the outer door, he saw the vastness of the stars, as mysterious as the
Moon used to be when Richard was a boy.
All his life, people accused him of pursuing death.
But he hadn’t been. He’d been exploring possibilities, reaching toward a future he could only see in his imagination.
He’d gone after these men because they’d inspired him. But he’d never rescued them.
They were the ones who had been the heroes.
They were the ones who had always—always—rescued him.