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"O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon ... lest that thy love prove likewise variable" Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


"Houston, we've got a problem."

His voice was flat, emotionless. This wasn't meant to happen: though somehow at the back of his mind he'd always known it would; as a gut feeling perhaps, and now he felt like his guts had been twisted inside-out as he gave way to an involuntary bowel movement into the super-absorbent nappy liner of his spacesuit.

The Mission Controller's voice sounded panicky, restrained but panicky: "Should be a logical reason for this ... give us a few minutes and we'll come back to you."

"Goodbye Houston," Alice's voice had finality to it: they looked at each other; Alice smiled grimly then tried to joke in a whisper meant only for him but audible to the entire World: "Shit yourself, don't panic!" Not that she knew he had.

Mission Control came back: " Don't worry guys we'll get you out."

You've got to remember that I'm retelling this without the time-lag caused to radio communication by the finite, speed of light, velocity of radio waves as they criss-crossed the four hundred thousand miles or so between the Moon and the Earth: seconds felt like hours and he was drenched in sweat; the cold clammy sweat of fear.

Alice stated what they all really knew: "Forget it Houston, before the rocket motor cut out our fuel level dropped below that required to make Moon orbit."

And that was that; communication with Houston went dead. They weren't just stranded, they were completely cut-off. Not that it really mattered; their fate was sealed. Like a couple of sardines in a can: it's the astronauts that Houston rejects, that make Houston's the best. They all had that graveyard humour, they all felt at home with it. They lived life on a leading edge, like a surfer on a wave. But if you fell off that wave you didn't just get wet, you died. And they'd just fallen off. They were dead but alive. It was just that like with talking to Mission Control, there was a time-lag.

But it just didn't seem fair; this was something he wasn't mentally prepared for. He'd thought it would be different. He'd mentally rehearsed his goodbyes: even knew what he was going to say to President Nixon on this: her unplanned for second experiment; the astronaut corps having cynically dubbed the President's live celebratory radio conversation with the astronauts during their time on the Moon's surface as her 'experiment' since, in their opinion, the time could have been better used for scientific purposes rather than to boost flagging opinion poll ratings.

But now they were all alone in the void of Space where no one could hear you die. He didn't believe in fairies, good or bad, and knew instinctively what had happened: Alice's kid-brother had been killed in Vietnam a couple of months previous: it wasn't what he'd say but what they thought Alice might say.

Alice just sat there: he found the stillness overpowering but felt that he'd be intruding if he spoke so stayed silent. Perhaps Alice was thinking the same; hell, he didn't know. It was like you'd jumped out of a plane and your parachute hadn't opened. Except that it wasn't the ground rushing up to meet them but their oxygen levels steadily decreasing.

He couldn't help but see the funny side of it; they were going to be heroes: now they were going to be corpses. All that pussy going to waste, what they weren't going to do on their intended World tour - well himself that is. And now they were going to sit here until one day somebody opened up their sardine can and probably took them back to Earth in body bags, and gave them a proper funeral. That made him feel angry, he didn't want to be a media spectacle for some politician.

"Come on Alice, we're getting out of here."

Alice replied a few seconds later: "What you talking about JJ? There's no where to go."

"I can't just sit here waiting to die."

"Sue will be over soon." They'd been supposed to take-off from the Moon's surface in the Lunar Module then dock in Moon orbit with the Command Module, piloted by Sue, in order to return to Earth; the Lunar Module then to be sent spiralling downwards to crash onto the Moon's surface as its orbit decayed - from a scientific point of view this was designed to mimic a meteorite impact and would be monitored by the scientific experiments which the Apollo 11 astronauts had set up on the Moon's surface.

"What the hell will she be able to do ... Drop us a rope or something?"

"It's no good taking it out on me."

He felt bad, disappointed with himself, but Alice was the commander and up until now had always carried them through: he really believed that he'd have died for that guy.

Alice amazed him: "Take a walk then."

"You mean it?"

"I can't leave here, captain always goes down with her ship."

"Yeah but this ship ain't sinking, it's run aground." Alice's voice had sounded confident so he cautiously inquired, hoping against hope: "You think that there may be a way out?"

"No, but if I didn't believe in miracles I wouldn't be an astronaut."

His voice sounded mechanical: "Not enough fuel to make orbit, a few hours oxygen left."

Alice's voice sounded unusually callous and condescending: "Go take your walk then."

He guessed then what was going on in Alice's mind. She was pinning her hopes on getting through, back to Earth, via Sue. With him out of the way Alice could go out in a blaze of glory that would be all hers.

I guess you're thinking that they were pretty paranoid but they didn't get to be the first people on the Moon by being na´ve. So he took his walk. That had always been his worst fault but, paradoxically, one of his greatest strengths: his irrationality.

These Space guys were presented to the public as being the most rational of people but there had to be something wrong with you, a wish to self-destruct, and sometimes he pandered to it: as he did now. Or was it that story about that guy with Captain Scott, walking out into the Antarctic wilderness to give the other guys a better chance of pulling through? Was Alice his Captain Scott, or perhaps he just wanted to die in his own way: Alice to stay with her ship, he to put as much distance between it and his grave; who knows, hell I don't.

He kept glancing back at the sardine can but it didn't go away; he was curiously afraid that Alice would take-off without him. He tried calling Alice on his radio, but now that had gone dead too. He kept walking: this just didn't seem right, didn't add-up: first they seemed to be taking-off then everything went dead but only after it would be too late to try again. Then the communications go down, and now he couldn't even talk to Alice. He bent down and picked up a rock, and in the Moon's gravity of one-sixth Earth's, threw it further than he'd have needed to to win an Olympic gold medal.

He started to run, only slowing down when his vizor started to mist up. He dropped to his knees, and lay down on the ground. On the atmosphere-less Moon the cloud of dust he'd disturbed had instantly erupted then just as swiftly collapsed leaving the beating of his heart as the only life cognisant to him in this the poetically named Sea of Tranquillity; soon to be deathly tranquil once more ...

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