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Memorial at Copernicus

Machek parked the skimmer and sweated up the hill with what tools the vehicle carried. Tomas was lying on his back, his left leg twisted and lodged under a boulder that probably massed a thousand kilograms. Machek worked for twenty minutes to find the right purchase to prize away the rock.

He moved the boulder a few centimeters, but while Tomas tried to pull out his foot a cascade of smaller rocks turned the big one and trapped him again. Machek thought about trying to prop up the boulder and dig around the boy, but refused to accept the risk of tearing Tomas’s suit or further damaging his leg. Instead, he dug out some smaller stones on the side away from Tomas and tried to pry the boulder up again. This time the angle was wrong: it moved, but not enough.

Slayton Central Control repeated the flare warning.

Machek dug and pried until sweat filmed his eyes and he thought his muscles would snap. Finally: two, three, five centimeters of movement, and Tomas stoically dragged his foot out.

No time to rest–no time to gather the tools–Machek led the way down the hill.

Tomas ground his teeth during their slow descent, but otherwise his radio broadcast only his breathing. He leaned on Machek and hopped, one-legged, down to the skimmer. The boy cried out only when he twisted himself into the seat. Machek’s heart, near bursting with exertion, swelled even more with pride.

Machek noted the time. They would miss Central’s deadline now, but he couldn’t shelter in place. Tomas needed medical attention.

They started on a slow ride back. Beside him, his son breathed raggedly. Machek imagined his grandfather Valeriy’s labored breathing as Deke Slayton drove him back to Apollo-18.

* * *

Gerald Carr contacted the rover as soon as he saw it. “About damn time, Deke. Houston’s mad as Hell. Get on in here and let’s go home.”

Slayton’s reply was drowned in static, but Carr heard, “one survivor.” He used the zoom lens on their Hasselblad camera to verify that another space-suited figure was riding next to Slayton. He loosed a series of epithets NASA would never have approved.

“Start prepping the LM for launch,” Slayton said.

“What do we do with the Commie? Fold him up and stow him with the rocks?”

“No, this guy’s hurt. There’s blood all over the inside of his faceplate. He’ll ride in my seat.”

Carr opened his checklist. “Deke, that’s suicide,” he said. The rover got closer and closer as he went through the first steps, and Carr was about to transmit again when Slayton replied.

“No, it’s not. There’s a difference between suicide and sacrifice, but I don’t plan on either one. I’ll recharge my suit, rig a connection to the oh-two, and eat until I’m stuffed. If I ration my water, I should last long enough . . . if they can get -19 off the ground fast enough.” Slayton paused. “Or if the Russkies can get Luna-26 on its way.”

“You know they can’t do that, Deke.”

“Tell them to try,” Slayton said. “They have to try.”

* * *

Machek walked beside the gurney. Tomas showed the effects of the sedative. His face had relaxed. Now and then his head rolled from side to side.

Machek brooded. His wife would blame him for Tomas’s injured leg. Central would censure him for their late arrival; those two hours could cost him his license. All because of my foolish devotion to the calendar–

Machek felt a hand on his. Tomas moved his lips, but no sound came out. Machek bent close. He smiled when he heard his son’s whisper. The boy understood at last.

“Thanks,” Tomas said. “Thanks, Deke.”

The End

Gray Rinehart retired from the US Air Force after a rather odd career. He kept rocket pro- pulsion research operations safe, fought fires as head of a Disaster Response Force, trained AFROTC cadets, refurbished space launch facilities, “flew” Milstar satellites, drove trucks, processed nuclear command and control orders, commanded the Air Force’s largest satellite tracking station, and wrote speeches for top Air Force leaders. Gray’s fiction has appeared in Tales of the Talisman and Zahir, and he has written a variety of nonfiction works. He is a Contributing Editor for Baen Books and a writer/extension specialist for the Industrial Extension Service at N.C. State University. His web site is The GrayMan Writes.

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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 […]