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Memorial at Copernicus

He turned on his hand lantern. The gold foil on the base of the LM was brilliant against the backdrop of night. About twenty meters to the left, the long-distance rover sat idle. Midway between the two, the mound and simple marker that the Apollo-20 crew had erected looked as pristine as if Slayton had just been buried yesterday.

Machek resisted the urge to step over the low wall, to step into history.

* * *

Deke Slayton drove off in the lunar rover on the 7th of August, 1974. Gerald Carr waited in the tiny Lunar Module cabin.

Carr fretted about Deke’s heart: only recently reinstated to flight status, Slayton had used his NASA clout to bump Fred Haise off the mission roster. Their flight was supposed to have been Apollo-Soyuz in 1975; but the Soviets backed out early, intent on their own Luna launches after Apollo waned. The U.S. quickly re-commissioned the once-cancelled Apollo missions, -18 through -20. The space race tightened. Then, disaster.

* * *

Machek imagined Slayton’s long drive in the rover, north to the edge of Mare Imbrium, to the doomed Luna-25 expedition. He heard whispered voices, echoes of a half century ago, more static than signal–no, they were real voices. He turned the volume up on his suit radio.

“…must return to origins. Units that cannot return by 1745 local must shelter in place. Repeat, this is Slayton Central Control. A class M solar flare is in progress. All surface units must return….” The broadcast cycled through the instructions once more.

Machek looked at his chronometer: plenty of time. Central is very protective; we are in no great danger on the night side. Although the magnetosphere may funnel some particles our way.

“Tomas, are you on your way back? We must return.”

Machek walked back to the skimmer. He called again, and still Tomas didn’t answer. It made no sense: he must be receiving. As long as his suit had power, the radio should work; it had no “off” switch.

Machek called a third time.

No response.

* * *

Deke Slayton switched off the transmitter. Command Module Pilot Vance Brand had pinpointed the Luna-25 landing site. Houston reported all contact lost with the cosmonauts. “They’re in trouble,” Slayton said.

Gerald Carr nodded. “Precious little we can do about it.”

“Yeah, there is. I’m going to find them.”

They argued for a few minutes, but Slayton held firm against all objections. He acknowledged that the Soviets were probably dead already. He acknowledged the danger. He admitted he’d be taking the rover far beyond even its extended range, and his suit wasn’t meant to sustain him that long.

“You remember Gene Cernan’s script from -17?” he said. “‘We leave as we came and God willing as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.’ What does ‘peace and hope’ mean if it doesn’t mean trying to rescue a shipwrecked crew, no matter what flag they fly? If I was out there, I’d want someone looking for me.”

* * *

Machek drove the skimmer to the LVRS site. The seismic detector looked brand new, even though it had quit detecting four decades ago.

Machek turned the skimmer in a slow circle, casting long, low shadows behind the rocks. There: a spot of high-visibility orange, 200 meters to the west, halfway up a small ridge. He called again on the radio.

“Papa?” Even in line-of-sight, the boy’s voice was barely audible.

Machek sped toward the spot. “Tomas, what’s wrong?”

“Rocks turned under me. Broke my high-gain antenna, I think.” In the next few seconds, Machek reached the bottom of the ridge. “Broke my leg, too.”

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1 Memories of an Apollo project that never happened at Redstone Science Fiction « colbyjack.net { 08.03.10 at 7:09 pm }

[…] down memory lane as a former cosmonaut honors the man that saved his life in “Memorial at Copernicus” by Gray […]

2 Merc { 08.03.10 at 11:43 pm }

Nicely done.

3 Redstone Science Fiction #3, August 2010 | Redstone Science Fiction { 08.13.10 at 7:24 pm }

[…] Memorial at Copernicus by Gray Rinehart […]