“I liked your plan,” Mr. Galloway told me.
“Yes.” He smiled kindly. “It gave me a good laugh.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Mr. Galloway,” I said pathetically. “It wasn’t actually meant to be a joke.”
He gave his big, booming, Santa-esque chuckle and clapped me on the back so hard my knees buckled. “Not a joke? You mean you seriously were suggesting we send a bunch of regular, untrained citizens out into space?”
He seemed to find some sort of hilarity in the idea that I had not intended. The result was quite unnerving. “Well, yes,” I stammered. “I mean…why not?”
“Mr. Donovan,” he said, adopting the kind of sympathetic seriousness one might use when addressing the mentally ill, “This is a scientific mission.”
“Really?” I raised an eyebrow quizzically. “With all due respect, I was under the impression that we were going to be trying to get water out of rocks. Again.”
“Water is the basis of all life, Mr. Donovan,” he replied severely. “Testing for water is of the utmost--“
“I think we’ve established that there isn’t any water on the moon,” I told him. “I think we’ve established that there isn’t any life on the moon. And that there’s never been life on the moon, and that there never will be life on the moon, unless we put the life there ourselves.
“Space tourism is expected to be happening by the end of this century, and furthermore, is expected to be a very lucrative industry. And logically, the first step of starting such a thing would be to send regular people into space. Of course, some trained scientists would be accompanying them, but...here. I’ve taken the liberty of finding some possible candidates.”
He took the packet from me, skimmed through it, and looked back up, frowning.
“These people…what were you thinking?”
“No, they’re not. Look here. This one has a criminal record.”
“Karina Belicuse. She’s the most respected graffiti artist in the country.”
“Grudgingly, but yes. Look, here’s what she got arrested for. Vandalizing the roof of a church.”
“She did what? And you want her associated with some of the top minds in the country?”
“Oh, just look.”
He looked at the image thoughtfully. “Interesting. Sort of like Michelangelo--”
“Except for the pants, it’s exactly like Michelangelo. She got nailed for vandalism and plagiarism.”
“--But that isn’t the point. The last science class she took was in high school, and she flunked. She has absolutely no experience...none whatsoever! And then there’re all these others. The computer specialist, and the anestheticist, and the engineer and the…the construction worker, for goodness’ sakes! With all the training an astronaut has to put in, you send me applications from a graffiti artist and a construction worker?”
“But sir,” I protested. “They’re not going to be flying the ship. They’re just going to be on the ship.”
“Still! Space travel comes with serious physical tolls, how are we supposed to know that their bodies--?”
“They’re all in prime physical condition, and I included a section on the surveys pertaining to nausea resistance.”
“Oh really? Good, but what did they cite?”
I skimmed through the applications. “Eh…roller coasters, rom-coms, and haggis eating contests.”
“Oh.” He looked considerably less impressed.
“Have you ever eaten a haggis?”
“Because I have. And I’d say these people are pretty darn qualified.”
I had just left Mr. Galloway’s office when a cold hand grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me around. I crashed into the wall of a cubicle to see Karina Belicuse staring intently at me.
“Hi, Donovan. What did Galloway say?” Karina had a voice that was oddly deep and guttural for a woman. Combined with her fondness for calling people by their surnames, the effect was quite unnerving.
“He’ll consider it.”
“Good,” she said, businesslike. “Are we all go?”
“Looks like it.”
“Although for the life of me, I can’t tell what you want with a school bus driver.”
She held up a finger. “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies. Be nice, and you’ll find everything out in due time.”
“And if I don’t cooperate? I think I have some right to know—“
She grinned dangerously and sauntered away.
“—what you’re planning,” I finished, considering keeping her off he flight on grounds of possible insanity.
Two days before blast off, the engineer, the construction worker, and the computer specialist all announced they couldn’t go. Galloway was livid, and directed his anger at me. He ranted for about ten minutes about the lack of accountability in my applicants, and probably would have gone on longer if Karina hadn’t burst in.
“I heard about the cancelations,” she said.
Galloway scowled. “What are you doing here? You quitting too?”
“Great. Glad to hear it.”
“ You’d prefer I stayed home?”
He grunted. “Unfortunately, you quitting on top of all these others would be bad. The current vacancies have already caused such a change in weight…I’m not sure how that will affect the craft. We might have to cancel the flight.”
“Not necessary,” Karina told him. “Apparently, somebody else doubted the volunteers’ commitment. They made these, told me to give ‘em to you. That’s why I’m here.”
“Really? What are these?”
“Weights. Each one is for one average-sized person in a space suit. These two are for men, and this one’s for a woman.”
“Why are they so big? Can’t you make weights smaller?
“Yeah, but these are made like people. That way, you can just strap ‘em into the empty seats.”
Galloway nodded approvingly. “Handy. So I might replace you after all.”
Karina grinned. “Sorry, nope. They only have three.”
“I know it.” There was a certain smug quality to her voice that made him suspicious, but he dismissed it.
“Okay, then. Leave ‘em here and go.”
Galloway was right to be suspicious. The weights were not weights. However, they worked well enough as such, and it wasn’t until we arrived at the lunar landing site that I learned of their true purpose.
We were all in the space ship. I was supposed to go down in the landing pod, but Katrina pulled me aside and told me that this was not part of The Plan.
“What?” I asked, when confronted with this information. “But I’ve been—”
She shrugged. “It’s up to you of course. Are you planning on being nice? Or not?”
“There’s a reason I wanted Patterson included on this little adventure.”
When he wasn’t mooching around NASA, preparing to get dragged along on this little moon landing of ours, Brian Patterson worked as an anestheticist.
“Aw man. You’re not planning on having him…”
“It’s all part of the plan, man. You know the drivers of this crate? They’re—“
“They’re not called ‘drivers’,” I interrupted. “They’re—“
“Whatever, they’re called, they’re sleeping behind the wheel.”
“There isn’t a wheel, and—WHAT?”
“I told you—“
“It’s all part of the plan.”
“What plan? You haven’t told me what you’re planning on doing!” She grinned blandly in response. “Are you planning on, what, vandalizing the moon? Painting Da Vinci on the Sea of Tranquility or something? I expected to have been told by now!”
She only smiled. “Are you going to be nice?”
“Are you going to be nice?” she repeated, dangerously.
I agreed to be nice.
“So,” Karina started. She had assembled us all into a meeting, minus the sleeping astronauts. “The plan has so far gone flawlessly.”
“Except for the three people who bailed out,” I added helpfully.
Karina gave me a look like, Ew, who invited the stupid? “No, Donovan. That was part of the plan too.”
“Well excuse me, but I wasn’t informed.”
“Obviously. Those three were going to stay home from the beginning. We only needed them in the preparation stages anyway. Bradfurd can hack like nobody’s business…”
“Hold on, he can what?” How come I was the only one surprised by this information? Karina snorted.
“Well of course him can, he works in computer security. Know thine enemy and all that. Heck, sometimes he is his enemy.”
“He’s a hacker.”
“So the engineer’s in the Mafia, then? And the construction worker’s the Wizard of Oz? Part time?”
“No, stupid, they’re legit. Using Bradfurd’s info, the other two made these.” She pointed to the weights. “And then, they stayed off the flight, allowing us to bring these along.”
“And these are?”
“Relax, Donovan. You don’t have to worry about that. This part’s all about me and Tutko.”
“The school bus driver?”
She winked. “Part time. He’s also a pretty dang awesome carjacker.”
“And I thought you were the only criminal here.”
She wrinkled her nose. “No, I’m just the only one who’s gotten caught. And now, Mr. Donovan, I’d like to you be a good boy and put on your helmet and float down into the next room and not come out.”
“Why, what’re you—“
“Be nice, Donovan.”
I floated down into the next area and played nice.
Patterson smiled from me across the ship. There was something odd about that smile. Sympathetic? I didn’t have much time to wonder about it, because suddenly the oxygen coming into the breathing chamber of my helmet wasn’t oxygen. It was whitish and cloudy.
“Hey, what—” I started to ask, only to hear my voice echo back at me.
“Be nice, Donovan,” Karina said again as the room started to fade. “Sleep tight.”
I dreamed I was underwater. A fish swam up to me and said wake up, Mr. Donovan. Were talking fish normal? It didn’t seem too strange to me.
Wake up, Mr. Donovan.
Brian Patterson’s ugly face was staring down at me from the surface of the water.
“He’s not dead or anything, is he?” asked a gravelly voice. I blinked and realized I wasn’t actually underwater after all.
“No, he’s not, Ms. Belicuse. I make a habit not to kill my patients,” Patterson said.
“Well, that’s good news. Swing on down, Mr. Sleepy. The people down on earth will be curious as to why you suddenly went nappy-time.”
“Oh really,” I said. “And what am I supposed to tell them? That you knocked me out so you could go ahead with your ‘mission’?”
Karina shrugged. “Whatever.”
“You’re not going to tell me anything, are you?”
“What should I be telling you?”
“First of all. The weights."
“What about them?”
“What are they?”
“You’re still on me about that?”
“I think I deserve an answer.”
“Meh, you could probably work it out yourself. But whatever. The smaller one was basically a giant spray paint can. They made it to hook onto the lunar rover.”
“And the big one?”
“Refills. Enough stupid questions. The guys out front are waking up. We’re heading back.”
And so I never did get told exactly what the whole secret mission was about. It wasn’t too hard to figure out, though.
A month after the mission took place, I was outside with my daughter looking through her toy telescope at the moon.
“Wow, daddy,” she said.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Very, daddy. Look, there’s the man on the moon!”
I looked up, mostly to humor her. And then I saw it, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed before.
There was a man on the moon. He appeared to have been drawn there in black ink, although I knew the truth was just a tad more complicated.
“Well, will you look at that,” I said.
“He’s very handsome,” my daughter said.
“Muscular,” I agreed. Actually, he looked an awful lot like a picture of Michelangelo’s David, except that he was wearing pants.