Plus Three To The Moon!
“Commence countdown!” the stalwart, strong-jawed captain said, flashing a smile
“Good Golly,” the eager-yet-green pilot said.
“Cut the chatter, you!” The captain snapped, his matinee-idol good looks clouding over.
“Atomic piles to power!” the engineer said, his voice coming into the control cockpit over the PA, “Counting down! Ten seconds to blast off!” he continued.
“The Blockhouse has given us final permission for the mission!” The pretty young communications officer said, blushing for no good reason other than she was expected to blush a lot, public relations being what they were.
“Nine Seconds” the engineer droned.
“Starting air intakes” the pilot said, still green but a bit less eager, or at least less likely to show it.
“How is our hyper-atomic generator power doing?” the captain asked. He had a few seconds to kill, and was feeling left out.
“Showing full power, skipper” the electrician said. He was a negro. That was important these days.
“Cookie,” the captain said into the intercom microphone by his command couch.
“Well brand my biscuits, boss, what the sam hill are you calling me for at a time like this?” Cookie replied. The Captain laughed condescendingly.
“Hold on to your pots and pans, because this is gonna’ be a big deal!” the captain said.
“Uhm…ok” the cook said, bewildered as to why the captain was bugging him, rather than doing more important space-captainly things.
“Jet Turbines to full power,” the pilot said.
“Get ready…” the captain said in a voice that was supposed to be intense and focused, but which really just said ‘I’ve had acting classes to appear more stalwart than I really am, and thus improve my career.’
“…zero!” The engineer concluded.
“LAUNCH! LAUNCH! LAUNCH! LAUNCH!” the captain shouted. The pilot pushed the button, and two hundred feet below them, the super-hyper-atomic rocket engine flared to life, its blazing flame so hot and bright that it was visible through the solid steel hull of their space ship.
“We’re off into the wild black yonders of outer darkness!” The captain said, with fake amazement in his voice. He was very conscious that his every word and facial expression would be on the evening news, and eventually in the history books. If he played his cards right, he could be president some day.
“Golly!” said the inexperienced young pilot, forgetting himself and letting his eagerness show again.
“Quiet, you!” said the captain.
The rocket was a beautiful thing of minimalist art, a cone, rounded on one end, and tapering to a point two hundred feet below. Four sleek tail fins circled the lone rocket exhaust vent at the tip of the tail, each one ending in a pod that housed the landing gear. Half way between them and the nose were two stubby wings. It was all shiny chrome, impossibly smooth, with no seams or rivets showing, and flawlessly polished to an almost-mirror-like sheen. The double-domed egghead scientists thought this would reflect the mysterious outer space rays, and thus protect them, but the real reason was that it looked cool. It was like a really classy hood ornament.
It lifted off slowly on a tongue of flame that incinerated and irradiated everything around, hovered for a moment, and then accelerated away at sixty-four feet per second. When they hit the edge of space twelve seconds later, they were traveling nearly three thousand miles an hour. The ship lurched slightly.
“Engines are sucking vacuum, skipper” the engineer warned, “We’re getting no thrust.”
“Gosh, I’m sorry captain,” the pilot apologized. He flipped a switch that closed the air intakes and shut down the jet turbines. The genius of the Super-Hyper-Atomic engine was that it was an air breathing open-cycled engine in the atmosphere, but in space it switched over to a closed-cycle engine which used fuel from the onboard tanks. This saved them nearly one percent of their fuel, which brought down their operating expenses. In just a hundred missions, it would pay for itself! Granted, it vastly increased the already-dangerous amount of hard radiation thrown out by the engine, but no matter. As the engineer frequently reminded them, it was a big world, and an even bigger atmosphere. It would take decades of daily flights to increase the fallout to dangerous levels, and by then, he was sure, they’d come up with some way to fix it.
“We’re running on internal fuel now,” the pilot said, “I’m really sorry.”
“No harm done, Private,” the captain said with entirely-fake amiability, “We’re all new to this.” The pretty young communications officer let out a few fake laughs. It was part of her job description.
The captain stabbed the shipwide address button on the PA by his couch. “We’re officially in space now,” he said. “Everyone check your magnetic boots and make sure they’re working. I’ll have no unnecessary floating aboard my ship! Anyone who doesn’t have a set task at the moment is free to go get some coffee. The smoking lamp is on. Chaplain, if you‘ve got words, now is the time to say ‘em.” He signed off. As the official crew priest began the traditional liturgy in Esperanto, he turned to look at the pilot’s station.
“Helm, throttle back to one gee acceleration,” he said dramatically.
“Helm answering one gee, aye!” The eager young pilot said, unsure how he managed to avoid getting yelled at, but happy about it just the same.
“Astrogation, how are we doing?” the captain asked.
“All A-ok,” the astrogator replied, then expounded, “We’re on course. At our present rate of acceleration, we’ll be at turnaround point in four hours, then we’ll decelerate at the same rate for four hours, and then we can either land or orbit the moon, whichever you see fit.”
“Very good,” the captain said. With the dangerous part of the voyage over, silence claimed the control cockpit, the only noise being the sound of their breathing, and the tap-tap-tap of the pretty young communications officer banging out her mission reports on her manual Smith Corona typewriter. He stole a look at her legs. The men’s uniform consisted of magnetic boots, grey pants, and grey long-sleeve shirts, with little colored disks on the shoulders to denoted rank, and a little shooting star emblem on the left breast. As was the custom of the time, however, the female uniform consisted of tight, very short silk shorts, and a conical red brassier with the comet emblem on the left one. She had perfect skin, and was exposing a lot of it - reasonable, as it was much of space had really high temperatures, so it was for her own safety, really - but for modesty’s sake, she had been provided with thigh-high high heeled magnetic boots. They were black. The captain liked black.
She caught him looking at her, and blushed, then smiled at him coyly. He felt awkward, and got out of his couch.
“I’m going to get a smoke,” he said.
The captain found Cookie in the galley, walking awkwardly, and raising his legs very high, as though he were stepping through deep mud. The chaplain and the doctor was there. Both of them were wearing identical uniforms, exactly like the communications officer. The chaplain’s uniform was black. It looked good on her. Not all priestesses had the body to pull it off, but she did.
“Tench-hut!” the doctor shouted. Everyone snapped to attention, ramrod spine, shoulders back.
“Parade rest” the captain said. Both girls relaxed and slid their feet shoulder length apart, their arms crossed behind their backs. There was no particular reason for him not to put them at ease, but he though parade rest looked quite fetching, and rank doth have its privileges.
“Cookie, what the ding dong heck are you doing?” he asked.
“Well, churn my chowder, skipper, these consarn-it magnetic boots sure enough make it hard to walk!”
“Oh, cookie,” he condescended, “you seven-toothed hick, you don’t need them turned on now!”
“Well slice my sausage, skipper, I don’t know nothing’ ‘bout this space stuff!”
“Explain it to him, will you, Chaplain?”
“Certainly, sir,” she said, “You see, Cookie, we’re accelerating at one gee, which means each second we’re traveling thirty-two feet faster than we were the second before. Thirty-two feet a second, then sixty four, then ninety six, and so on. Since we’re accelerating at the same rate as you’d fall if I pushed you off a building, we don’t go weightless, until we turn off the engines. Then, halfway to the moon, we’ll turn the engines on and decelerate at the same rate - a hundred twenty eight feet one second, ninety six the next, sixty-four the next, and eventually we’ll come to a stop on the lunar surface. How’d I do, sir?” she asked the captain.
“Very good,” he said. His mouth had gone dry, looking at her. “Can I get a glass of water or something, Cookie?” he asked.
The Superlative was mankind’s first space rocket, on mankind’s first mission in to space, culminating - hopefully - in humanity’s first landing on the moon. He’d get out, recite a poignant little poem he’d claim he made up on the spot, though he’d actually paid a big-time movie scriptwriter a lot to compose it for him, plant the flag, and claim the moon for his country while the chaplain observed and officiated the ceremony. (He was looking forward to that. Her space suit was skin-tight and transparent.) Then he’d be famous for all time, like that guy who discovered the big continent at the south pole, or that other guy who discovered that island continent in the southern hemisphere. He couldn’t remember either of their names at the moment, but he was sure someone did, and those same someones would certainly take note of him. It was a good day.
Despite his good looks, strong voice, perfect teeth, and rakishly tussled hair, he hadn’t had the most successful life. He’d failed out of college, his acting career hadn’t panned out, his athletic career was a wash, and his military career was definitely on a slow burn. In fact, he’d only gotten in to the Space Corps because no one took it seriously. Not until the Eastern Collectivists had started making noise about going in to space, and had started experimenting with highly advanced two-stage bumper rockets.
Fortunately, the always-controversial Professor Zweistein had developed the Super-Hyper-Atomic Rocket Motor Engine, which had allowed them to leapfrog the bad guys. He had already been the senior officer in charge of his division, and by that point, they were playing catch-up with the enemy in this strange battle-less cold war, and there wasn’t time to replace him. Thus, he got to be first. First! First on the moon! His mother wouldn’t call him a failure any more!
They’d picked the most logical spot for a first landing - on the equator, exactly half way from the edge of the full moon to the east and to the west. The exact center of what was visible from earth, bullseye. As they grew closer, the ship’s geologist assured him everything looked great through the telescope. Since there wasn’t any particular purpose in looking for an alternate site, there1 wasn’t any particular purpose in orbiting either, so they just went straight on down.
The ship landed just like it had taken off, vertically, on a tongue of radioactive flame. The gangway came out, and the captain came out, looking resplendent in his best dress uniform space suit, the flagpole jauntily propped up on his shoulder. He caught a momentary gleam of something yellow in the distance, but it was gone so fast that he’d almost forgotten it an instant later. He went to the bottom of the ramp, took a deep breath to find his inner actor, summoned up his most portentous voice and his most aw-shucks body language, and then stepped off, and started to recite “His” poem:
“I came to the moon
In the month when the loons
Return from the northern sky
“Golly! Look at that! I can see a ship!” the eager-and-slightly-less-inexperience pilot shouted.
…the soul of an average man
Take in God’s Own Hand
Can not be construed as -- I’m sorry, what?!?”
The captain seethed. This was his moment, one for the ages, and that little twerp was ruining it!
“I can see a ship,” he repeated, then, just to annoy the captain, he added, “Golly!” He was up at the top of the ramp, and had a better vantage point than the captain did. He could see further.
“What? No! Wait…what?” the captain spluttered. Finding his composure, he bounded back up the ramp quickly, hoping to prove the idiot wrong quickly, so he could try another take of his historic first words.
“What are you blathering about, you stupid…”
“Right there,” the pilot said, pointing. The captain followed the invisible line from the private’s arm and saw…the little flash of gold he’d barely noticed before.
“What? What? What?” he chirped impotently. Before he could collect his thoughts, the ship’s astronomer called him on the suit radio.
“Skipper,” he said, “I’m pretty sure I’m seeing a ship through our telescope.”
There was an awkward pause where no one spoke for a full minute.
“Fine, I’ll go check it out,” he sighed. “Have the security chief bring out some guns, just in case.”
‘And this started out as such a good day,’ he thought.
He trudged along to the unidentified ship. Given the low gravity, trudging was actually harder work than simply bounding along, but such was his mood; so he trudged. Was it aliens? Enemy collectivists? Renegade scientists from the losing side in the last big planet-wide war, who’d managed to escape here in the last, fitful days of their regime? Really, any of those options were disastrous, but he was hoping it was aliens. At least that way he’d manage to be the first man on the moon.
A couple miles later, they stopped. It was a boxy, squarish thing all wrapped up in gold foil, and with four spidery legs ending in flat disked landing pads. ‘This lacks all style,’ he thought, ‘it must be the collectivists!’ The thing - whatever it was - seemed slightly charred on top, and the dust was rather thin underneath it, blown away by the backblast from a rocket engine, presumably. There were footprints everywhere, but it was easy to tell the difference between them and his own crew: the soles had a different pattern.
“I think this might be some kind of portable launch pad,” the engineer said.
“Huh?” the captain asked as he loped over and picked up what was obviously a flag laying flat on the ground. It had been bleached white by the sun. No telling who’s country it came from.
“This section would land, with a smaller spacecraft on top of it. When they’re ready to go home, the little spacecraft takes off. The force of the engine probably is what knocked that flat,” the engineer indicated the flag.
“So how long has it been here?” the captain asked.
“No way of telling, really. No air or water here, things can last a long time without showing their age. This could have happened yesterday, or thousands of years ago.”
“And this white flag? Must have taken a while for that to happen?”
“Not really. Any volitiles in the dies and fabric would have boiled out pretty quickly, and after that…Maybe as little as a month.”
“Huh,” the captain said, not really sure what to do next.
“Well stir my stew,” Cookie exclaimed, “I think this is English.” He came over to the captain holding a brass plaque.
“Chaplain, could you take a look at this?” He called her over. She looked delicious, bounding over to him, so graceful, so intelligent, so freakin’ hot.
“It’s definitely English,” she said.
“Can you read it?”
“I’ve had some training in classical languages, but that’s a tough one. It’s not at all related to what we speak,” she hedged.
“Well, just try it.”
“Uhm…” she furrowed her brow in though, and her beautiful mouth pouted a bit, “’We came in peace for all mankind,’ I think it says.”
“How old is this? Is there a date?” he asked.
“I don’t think s…yes! Here! I…uhm…I’m sorry, I’m not good with the ancient calendars. There’s some month-name that I don’t understand, and then it says ‘1969 A.D.’”
“What?” The enormity of it suddenly overwhelmed him, “But that’s over three thousand years ago!”
“Yes, before the ancient fell apart, and before the conflagrations and dark times,” she agreed.
“Have…have you ever heard…legends of this?” he asked.
“No,” she said, “Not even the slightest rumor. We knew the ancients were fairly advanced, but we had no idea….”
He looked at the plaque again. “What’s this bit here?” he asked. She squinted at it.
“Some guy named ‘Nixon’ and mention of a country called ‘The United States of America,’” she said. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“Me neither,” he agreed.
They stared dumbstruck at each other for a bit.
“So where the hell are they?” he suddenly shouted. The priestess grimaced at the profanity. “Seriously, if the ancients came here, why aren’t they still here? I mean, they went all over the tactical, economic, and resource advantages of colonizing the moon. If the ancients got here, then they - some of ‘em, anyway - should have been able to escape the fall of their civilizations. This place should be lousy with ‘em! Where the hell are they?”
“I don’t know,” the priestess said, “Maybe…maybe they just didn’t see much point to it and went home.”
“what kind of idiots wouldn’t see the advantage of this place?”
The eager young pilot started giggling. The captain groaned,
“What? What’s so damn funny?” he asked, and shuffled over.
“See this little ladder here?”
“Yes?” the captain said.
“Well, it’s the only one, so this must be where the first person set foot on the moon, right?’
“Yeah? So?” the captain said.
“Well look at how this part of the footprint is deeper than the other, and those are obviously handprints there…”
“Yeah? So?” the captain restated, pretty much at the limit of how much weirdness he could take in one day.
“Well, it looks like he tripped! Fell flat on his face!”
Copyright 2010,2011 Republibot 3.0
PLEASE NOTE: This story, and several others by the same author, have been compiled in an anthology called "Ice Cream and Venom." It is available on Amazon for only 99 cents. If you enjoyed the story, why not support a starving author and give some of the others a chance? You can purchase a copy here http://www.amazon.com/Ice-Cream-Venom-ebook/dp/B004XNLU8Q/ref=sr_1_1?ie=... It's less than a cup of coffee! I assume. I don't drink the stuff myself. Don't care for the taste. I'm more a bottle-of-coke kind of guy, really...but the book is cheaper than one of those, too, so why not give it a shot?