Monday, April 17, 1995|
Jim Lovell smelled a rat, but he wasn't sure what kind.
As the morning went on, it had become increasingly clear to him that he was not in the studio of a documentary film company. He'd spent more than a little time in that kind of setting, and what he was seeing here was a fairly convincing replica, but there was something every so slightly off about it. It was like... like a movie set of a documentary studio, and the people manning it were like actors. And not, in a couple of cases, particularly good ones.
But if they weren't making a documentary about Project Gemini, what were they up to? And why had people he trusted, people he'd known for a long time, called him up specifically to say they thought he should come?
Sitting in the faux studio lounge, Lovell especially remembered the cryptic phone call he'd received a week or so before from his old Gemini 7 and Apollo 8 commander, Frank Borman. As usual, Borman had come straight to the point.
"Hey, Jim," he said. "I hear you turned down Apogee Films."
"Yeah," Lovell replied. "What with the movie coming out soon and everything, I'm just too busy. Besides, I want to take some time off from the talking head thing. You can only tell the war stories to a camera so many times, you know?"
"Mm. Well, for what it's worth, I think you should reconsider."
Lovell turned Borman's words over in his mind now, looking for nuances. He'd tried to get more out of him, but Borman had said his piece and that was all he was going to say. The years hadn't made him any less stubborn, that was for sure.
So, puzzled, he'd called back the slightly-harassed-sounding production assistant - they had that part down, anyway - and said he'd changed his mind and he'd be delighted to appear in their film. At least it would make a change from talking about Apollo all the time.
And now here he was, in these well-appointed but somehow phony-seeming offices, with an ever-increasing sense that something wasn't right but no idea what it might be.
He called out a couple of times, but nobody answered. Lovell looked around, wondering what there was to be done about the situation. The room had two doors, the one he'd come in through, and another through which the PA who showed him in had left, after apologetically asking him to wait a few minutes, and would he like a cup of coffee or anything? The first was locked. The second was not. Shrugging to himself, Lovell opened it and stepped through.
His immediate impression was a reinforcement of the feeling that the lounge he'd just been in was like a movie set, because what lay beyond the door wasn't a matching hallway. It was like part of some other set altogether, possibly one for a submarine movie - a narrow metal corridor with a rounded hatch opposite the ordinary door he'd just come through. More puzzled than ever, Lovell walked up to the hatch, looking for some kind of control, and it opened automatically as he approached it, revealing another corridor beyond. He realized that what he was leaving wasn't a hallway at all, but the end of a large room in which the fake studio had been set up.
What the hell... ? he wondered. He looked around, saw no one, and followed this new corridor, which extended maybe 30 feet and ended at another oval hatch. He was surprised to see English lettering on this one, in a military-style stencil typeface:FLIGHT DECK
This hatch opened automatically as well, and beyond it lay... well, all right, it did look like a flight deck, the kind you might expect to find at the front of a large cargo aircraft, with five seats and a row of forward-looking windows. Four of the seats were vacant; three men were standing in the small amount of open deck space behind them, apparently conferring. When the hatch opened, they all broke off their discussion and turned, regarding Lovell with expressions equally as surprised as the one he was giving them.
The tallest of the three twentysomething men facing him, a towering, heavyset man with long dark hair and an imposing brow, turned to the shorter, stocky, lighter-haired man next to him and said in an urgent half-whisper, "(How'd he get up here?!)"
The man he'd addressed shrugged and replied, "(I guess the door wasn't locked.)"
The third man, about the second one's height but dark and wearing a tweed poorboy cap, said to the first, "(I thought you were keeping an eye on him!)"
Realizing that Lovell was staring at the three of them like a man witnessing, but not quite understanding, a Three Stooges routine, the stocky man with the lighter-colored hair coughed and, with an embarrassed smile, said, "Uh - hi! I'm, uh... I imagine you have questions."
Lovell blinked. "You might say that," he replied, a trifle indignantly. "'What the hell is going on here?' comes to mind."
"Ahem. Well. Yes. Introductions are in order, I guess. My name is Commander Benjamin Hutchins." He indicated the man with the hat. "This is Commander Rob Mandeville."
Mandeville doffed his cap in an elaborate bow. "Pleasure," he said.
"And this is Captain MegaZone," Hutchins plowed on, indicating the very tall one.
"It's an honor," said MegaZone. "Call me Zoner. He's Gryphon and that's ReRob."
Lovell blinked again. "None of which answers my question," he pointed out.
"Ah. Right." Hutchins - "Gryphon", apparently - looked faintly awkward. "Well, uh... I just want to assure you, you are not being abducted by aliens. For one thing, this isn't an abduction, and for another, we're not aliens."
"Well, except for Lieutenant Arconian," Zoner put in. "She's an alien."
The blonde woman up in the left seat - the pilot, if this thing were set up anything like the aircraft Lovell was familiar with - waved over her shoulder without getting up.
"Right," Gryphon said, nodding. "But the rest of us are from Earth."
"We're with an organization called the Wedge Defense Force," Zoner explained. "You, uh, might have heard of us."
"I've heard rumors," Lovell admitted. "I didn't think they were true."
"Hopefully some of them weren't," ReRob interjected.
"Anyway, we apologize for the ruse that brought you here, but we figured if we just walked up and told you who we were, you'd think we were crazy," Gryphon said.
"I'm leaning toward that explanation anyway," Lovell said dryly. "Now that I'm here, you mind telling me where 'here' is?" He took a couple of steps forward, bent to get a better view out of the cockpit windows, but saw nothing; the glass, if that's what it was, was blacked out.
"Better if we just show you," said Zoner. "Asrial, what's our ETA?"
The pilot consulted one of her instruments, then replied, "Skids down in five minutes."
Gryphon grinned, seeming entirely at ease for the first time. "Perfect!" he said. "If you'll just come this way, Captain Lovell, all your questions shall be answered."
The young man led his "guest" back down the corridor, through another door bearing an indecipherable alphanumeric code, down a ladder, then another, and through still another door. This deposited them in a roughly circular room that had walls lined with what looked like lockers. Gryphon opened one, demonstrating that that's exactly what they were, and indicated what lay within.
"We'll need to dress for the occasion," he said. "Let me give you a hand. It'll only take a couple of minutes."
With an increasing sense of unreality, Lovell found himself climbing into an unfamiliar hard-shelled garment that was, despite its alien (perhaps literally?) design, obviously a pressure suit. As he held out his arms and let the younger man heft the suit's clamshell torso piece onto his back, he remarked wryly,
"It's been a long time since I last wore a spacesuit."
"We've made a few improvements," Gryphon said as he clipped the suit's chestplate together and pointed out the buttons on the wrist unit that activated the pressure systems.
"I'll say," Lovell agreed. He pressed the buttons in sequence, feeling the suit stiffen slightly and the collar seal push gently against his neck. He moved an arm and was deeply impressed with the ease and range of motion. There was even a hint of what felt like power assist there; it was like the EVA suit equivalent of power steering.
Gryphon got himself suited up next, making Lovell slightly jealous of the practiced ease with which he fitted the armored pieces together; then he reached to the shelf at the top of the locker, took out a helmet with a wide-angle viewport on the front, and showed his guest how to lock it in place. As he was fitting his own in place, Gryphon felt a faint vibration under his feet. A moment later, Asrial's voice addressed the two men inside their helmets.
"Touchdown," she reported. "Right on target. You're clear anytime you like, Commander."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Gryphon replied. Then, turning to Lovell, he said, "Shall we?"
Without waiting for an answer, he punched a keycode into a number pad mounted on the wall next to the door they'd entered through. There was a momentary falling sensation, like being on an elevator. Then the lights in the room turned red and there came a loud, prolonged hiss that tailed away into utter silence. When Gryphon next spoke, his voice came to Lovell via intersuit radio.
"Captain Lovell, on behalf of the entire Wedge Defense Force, it gives me very great pleasure to say... "
He pressed another key, and there was another curious sensation; at first Lovell took it for more movement, but then realized that it was the strange feeling of gravity decreasing. A moment later, the wall in front of them silently retracted, revealing a panoramic view of a fantastically crisp, eerily monochrome landscape, and Gryphon went on.
"... welcome to the Moon."
Lovell turned to Gryphon with a look of complete astonishment on his face. Within his own helmet, the younger man's face looked to be almost all grin.
"Well? What do you say? Let's go out and make some footprints." He reached back into the locker where he'd gotten his spacesuit and removed a couple of thin metal poles with gleaming red-and-silver foil items wrapped around the tops. "I even brought flags."
Jim Lovell arrived home the next morning, still in faint shock. As he let himself into the house, his wife Marilyn came out from the living room to greet him.
"How was your interview?" she asked.
Lovell gave her a strange look for a moment - how could he even begin to explain what his "interview" had turned out to be? - then smiled, kissed her, and said, "Went great. Nice bunch of kids."
"Kids?" Marilyn asked.
"Yeah," Lovell said, walking toward his study. "Barely out of college. This was one of their first projects. To be honest, I don't know if they're going to release anything, but it was nice to talk with them, anyway."
"Oh. Well, I'm glad you had a nice time, anyway." Marilyn gave him a puzzled look as he took a small object from his pocket and put it on a shelf in the study. "What's that?"
Lovell grinned. "Just a rock."
Marilyn gave him a skeptical look, then said, "Mm," and went back to the living room. She knew Jim's moods well enough - she ought to, by now! - and she knew it was no good getting after him when he was feeling impish. Let him have his little joke, whatever it was.
Lovell watched her go, chuckled, and turned to regard the rock once more. It seemed an incongruous thing to have pride of place on the shelves of his study, amid the memorabilia of a career stretching from naval aviation to the most exciting explorations in human history to date, but only if you didn't know where it came from...
... or that the spot where it had been was now flanked by the flags of the United States and the Wedge Defense Force, and occupied by a small metal plaque reading,Here Captain James Lovell, USN (ret.)
finally set foot upon the Moon
April 17, 1995
courtesy of the Wedge Defense Force
He'd tell her eventually, he knew. Probably someday quite soon. When his young friends were done with their little project and the coast was clear again.
In the meantime, he had a couple of phone calls to make. One of them would have to be to Borman, of course, but first there was someone his new friends had asked him if he might get in touch with on their behalf. Sitting down at his desk, he dug out his address book, looked up a number, picked up the phone, and dialed.
"Fred-o? Jim Lovell. How's things? Hey, listen, I want to talk to you for a minute about some friends of mine who are making a documentary..."
"Operation Unfinished Business" - a Golden Age mini-story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Special to the Eyrie Productions Discussion Forum
© 2008 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited