Memorial at Copernicus
Machek stopped the skimmer a few meters from his holy place. Its lights shone on the low wall around the Apollo-18 landing site.
Machek knew the layout intimately. The lower half of the Lunar Module, the antique Lunar Rover, the nearby experiment packages–and the holy of holies, more important than the old Luna-2 site or Neil Armstrong’s footprint: Deke Slayton’s grave.
It was August 10, 2024, the fiftieth anniversary of Slayton’s death. Fifty years since the Spartan astronaut with the funny name rescued Valeriy Edemskoi, Machek’s grandfather, from bleeding and starving on the lunar surface.
Tomas’s voice crackled in Machek’s speakers, and stirred him from his contemplation. “How long do we have to stay here?” his son asked.
“Quit whining,” Machek said. “No one made you come.”
Tomas’s voice had the distinct tone of being forced from a sneering mouth. “No, Papa, but you couldn’t come by yourself.”
“I would if I had to.”
“How, Papa? Mr. Roycroft won’t sign out a skimmer for one person.”
* * *
It was true. Bryan Roycroft had been quite adamant. “Mack, I can’t let you go out that far by yourself.”
It was only 100 kilometers. A skimmer could get there and back by itself. “What is the worry?” Machek had asked.
“My job is to worry. No deal,” Roycroft said.
“What if I take Tomas?”
“He passed his EVA certs? Sure, that’d be okay.”
“I’m not sure he will want to go.”
Roycroft had the final word. “Anybody could go with you, it doesn’t matter who. You’re just not going solo, that’s all.”
* * *
So Machek had brought Tomas. Machek sighed, and said, “I wouldve found a way to come. But I am grateful you are here with me.”
Tomas said, “I just don’t understand why you couldn’t wait for the ceremony.”
“It is not the same,” said Machek.
His joints creaked as he stepped off the skimmer. Outside the skimmer’s beams, under only the light of the earth, Machek could barely see his feet in the thin, grey dust. He shivered involuntarily, though his ultra-light skinsuit kept him warm.
At Copernicus crater, the sun would not rise for three more terrestrial days. The inexorable regularity of celestial mechanics would not allow a daylight ceremony on the actual anniversary, and no one else minded the wait. The sunrise would be brilliant, lighting the rim of Copernicus and reflecting off the Apollo memorial, when Mayor Paul Fabian of Slayton Crater held the ceremony with the NASA administrator. Many of the 3200 residents would ride out from the Slayton Crater base–once known to astronomers as “Gay-Lussac A”–and virtually everyone on the moon would watch on video. But that wasn’t right for Machek.
“I’m going to look at the LVRS,” Tomas said.
Machek looked northward. The Lunar Vibration Recording System that Slayton and Lunar Module pilot Gerald Carr had set up was about half a kilometer away, over a slight rise. “Very well,” Machek said. “But stay where you can see the skimmer lights.”
Machek walked into the light from the skimmer. He stood next to the low wall to hold his vigil alone. He wished Tomas understood; he owed his life to Slayton as much as Machek did. But, accustomed to life here, with friends from every terrestrial continent, Tomas had lost all awe and wonder at where he was and the life he lived.
Machek glanced up at the partial earth. His stomach tightened and his eyes watered. Let the politicians have their pomp and circumstance; let his son forget. He would have his private remembrance.