They turned him down. Too old for the moon, they said. Too old at sixty-two.
Bullcrap. No tub, no tits, full head of close-cropped hair. He trained twice as hard, twice as long. Never wasted energy dipping his wick where he shouldn’t, or on fast cars or on drinking and all that crap. A professional. Except now, according to them, he was finished.
They said they were sorry, that they needed a younger team leader. More garbage. It wasn’t like the moon had changed since his last trip. The whole team combined had less experience than he did.
He resigned of course. What else could he do? They said his expertise was invaluable at Mission Command. Not good enough. He told them he looked forward to seeing how well they would handle the moon without him. Too old indeed.
But, his house was quieter than he’d remembered. The walls full of photos, plaques, certificates, awards, and memories that begged to be shared.
Maddy said it was her or the moon. He hadn’t really thought much about it, figured she was just having one of her moods, so she left. He struggled to recall where the kids had ended up. It annoyed him how his daughter always interrupted him to talk about the twins. “It’s the moon, Belinda,” he’d say, then tut at her and crack another beer. He kept a careful eye that those boys never played soccer too close to the car. It cost a lot of money.
But, she hadn’t visited for a while. The twins would probably be starting college soon.
He’d never learned to play golf, or learned how to enjoy quiet walks in the countryside with his dog. He’d never had a dog.
He’d been on the moon when his father died.
Nobody called him after he quit. He sat in the same chair, the future spread out. It frightened him that it seemed to go on so long with nothing to plug into the sudden giant gaps that had opened.
He laughed his ass off on the third day when he realized that the mission probably would have had to have been his last anyway.
They welcomed him back to Mission Control. And he loved the feel of their handshakes, the tone of the banter, and the familiar constricting pull of his uniform.
He told them that he wanted another mission, and he knew there was only one that he wanted to be a part of now that the moon was forever closed to him.
“You understand what it would mean?”
“Absolutely, Sir. More than you could ever believe.”
“You won’t be returning.”
“Yes, Sir.” He felt thirty years younger already. He had a way out, a way to face the future with pride.
“The ship will wake you up only one day every month for maintenance and the filing of reports. You’ll probably be alive for another two hundred years or so. Long enough for the mission but after that there’ll be no more life support.”
He could barely hide his excitement.
He didn’t bother trying to contact anyone. Someone else would do that. And, anyway, maybe it would be on TV.
He would die in space, far past the moon. And, he’d never even have to learn to play golf.
As well as writing, David Rees-Thomas does podcast narration for TTA Press, publisher of Interzone, and helps out at Ideomancer magazine.