Promised the Moon

Promised the Moon

A gray-skinned creature studied Wendell with unblinking eyes. It extended its hand, the knobby fingers stopping just inches from his chest.

He recoiled, putting more space between the waxy-skinned fingers and his own torso. The hand didn’t waver. Dark, gray eyes fixed on Wendell’s own in a level gaze. The respirator over the lower half of the alien’s face ticked as it combined oxygen with whatever noxious gas the creature breathed.

“You want a tip, don’t you? Probably won’t leave until you get one. But, just one credit,” Wendell said. He fished out the plastic card the cruise line had given him. The creature took it and swiped it through the machine hanging off the belt of its crisp white uniform. The machine turned green and dinged. Wendell took back the card, avoiding brushing that strange skin.

The creature chirped at him and turned to leave. Wendell followed it to the door to make sure the alien didn’t help itself to the luggage it’d just carted in.

The alien trotted down the narrow hallway. Wendell pressed his lips into a firm line and watched the creature go. Ever since those things had been discovered on one of Jupiter’s moons, they’d been stealing work from good, hard-working people from Earth.

“Dang Martians.” Wendell muttered.

A gasp startled him. Wendell turned to see a woman and young child outside a room a few doors down. She scowled at him, clutching the boy closer, and gave a disapproving wag of her head.

“What? At my age, I can be as politically incorrect as I want.” He knew what she saw when she looked at him. A hunched-over gray-haired man. Wendell forced his stiff back straight. His vertebrae cracked. Pain radiated from his lower back, but he stood tall.
Unimpressed, she snorted and steered the child into the room.

Unimpressed, she snorted and steered the child into the room.

Wendell scowled at the now empty hallway. He turned back into the room. It looked bigger in the ads. In two steps he was past the bed bolted to the floor and at the window. By pressing his cheek to the window, he could see the moon. It loomed larger than anytime he’d seen it before.

“I promised you the moon, Helen.” He patted the pocket over his heart. The little box pressed into his chest. She’d always been the one to plan these adventures. After she died, Wendell made it his mission to travel around the world to scatter her ashes in all the places they’d trekked together. One place she’d never stopped talking about was the moon. He never understood her fascination with the rock orbiting Earth. Even after she got sick, he kept telling her they’d see the moon together. Now, thanks to Gravitational Tours, he would spread the last of her ashes in the one place they’d never gotten to see together. In two more days he’d keep his promise to take her to the moon.

He took one last look around the tiny room before heading out. There’d been mention of a buffet and he wanted to see what kind of food was on it before the other tourists took all the good stuff.

He took one last look around the tiny room before heading out. There’d been mention of a buffet and he wanted to see what kind of food was on it before the other tourists took all the good stuff.

#

The first full day in orbit, Wendell searched for a quiet place to relax. But every room was filled to capacity with vacationing families. The artificial gravity had his joints aching. Wendell stumbled and rubbed his knee as a child pushed past him to race off. Another child ran by in pursuit with a loud squeal. The close quarters echoed with conversation. Wendell winced and turned off his hearing aid.

Squeals and giggles of the children, although now muffled, still teased the edges of his awareness. Helen longed for a pack of rugrats of her own. She’d never made a big deal about it, but deep down Wendell knew how upset she got every month. As they grew older, and it became obvious that children were an impossibility, he took her on their first cruise around the Baltic Sea. He might not be able to give her children, but he could give her the world. She’d thrown herself into traveling with all the enthusiasm she would have given to a child.

Wendell looked away. He didn’t want to think about that right now. Along the walls, aliens waited in pristine uniforms for tourists to signal for them. Their heads moved around the room, their large eyes watching the gathered tourists.
The next day was the big day. He pulled on the space suit the cruise line had given him when he’d signed up for the earth rising excursion. Helen’s little box went into the pocket. With a final pat to make sure it was secure, he shuffled out of his cabin to find the assigned shuttle port.

A group had already gathered. Wendell stayed close to the back and slid into a hard seat. His knee ached, and he rubbed it through the thick padding.

A dark haired man with Tour Guide embroidered over his chest stepped in front of the group. Wendell was glad he wasn’t one of those alien creatures. Unlike the tourists, his belt held various equipment— a flashlight, a bulging pack with a Red Cross on it and other assorted items.

“Hello, everyone. My name is Larry and I’m your guide for today. Now, in a few minutes, we’ll head out to watch the Earth rise over the moon’s horizon. Just a reminder, the moon is a protected park, so nobody takes anything— no matter how bad you want a moon rock. Stay on the marked paths, don’t leave anything behind -we want to keep the moon clean for future generations. No trash allowed, folks. Anyone breaks these rules and I’ll use these cuffs on you and Gravitational Tours will take legal action.” Larry’s face relaxed into a grin, “but don’t worry, folks. It’s never happened before. No food, no drinks…”

Wendell tuned him out. Nothing was going to change his mind this close to success.

The alien staff handed out helmets. Wendell took it with a shudder. After a final check the airlock closed with a clang. The shuttle vibrated under his feet and Wendell clutched the hand rests. After a brief flight, the ship rocked as it landed.

People fidgeted as the door opened and the Moon’s bleak landscape appeared. Craters and dirt as far as the eyes could see. Wendell shook his head. He never understood Helen’s obsession with seeing this giant, desolate rock.

“All right, people. Follow me!” The tour guide’s cheery voice buzzed through the small speaker near Wendell’s ear.

Wendell lingered in the back of the shuttle, letting eager tourists push past him. The group moved through the blinking lights that lined the path. Each step bounced tourists higher in the limited gravity. Wendell did his best not to bob along with the others. Lack of gravity was no reason to move in an undignified manner.

The group hopped to an awkward stop at an area next to a big crater. Several rows of benches were set up in an area marked off by blinking lights. Wendell ignored the benches to scan the area for the best spot to put Helen. It had to be perfect. He had only one shot at this. He shuffled over to the side, feigning an interest in the landscape. He tried not to bounce and draw attention to himself.

Something bright in the corner of his eye made him glance over the rows of helmets. The brilliant sapphire of the earth’s oceans were becoming visible over the horizon. Misty white clouds broke up the blue. Under the swirling clouds, Wendell could make out the continents.

“Oh, Helen. I wish you were here to see this. You were right.” His eyes burned with tears as he looked over the view. He could see Alaska. Memories of their cruise together flashed through his mind. He glanced around the area he thought was Canada, wondering where Banff and the Rockies were. Wendell caressed his pocket.

He shook his head. Now was not the time to get distracted. Not while everyone focused on the sight in front of them. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the box.

“Excuse me, sir?” the tour guide’s voice crackled in his ear, “What are you doing?”

He glanced up as Larry propelled toward him. Wendell’s fingers fumbled with the latch. The gloves weren’t making it easy to open the box. Tossing dignity aside, Wendell hopped out of the tour guide’s reach. He landed outside of the marked area.

As soon as his foot hit the ground over the boundary, an alarm sounded in his ear. Wendell ignored the incessant beeping and hopped again. Larry followed, gaining on Wendell with every jump. The younger man’s mouth moved, but Wendell couldn’t separate the words from the noise in his helmet.

The box lid snapped open. Wendell threw himself sideways as Larry grabbed at his suit. The slow motion of the lunge let him admire the sight of Helen’s ashes drifting to the surface. He hit the ground and a puff of dirt flew from his body.
Larry fell on him, pinning Wendell’s arms behind his back and cuffing him. Then he attached Wendell’s wrists to the back of his space suit. Larry dragged him to his feet. Wendell let himself be manipulated like a doll.

“I’m sorry, folks. Everyone needs to return to the shuttle.” Larry’s voice lost the carefree vibe as he marched Wendell toward the ship.

“Can’t believe some old guy ruined it for all of us.” A tourist’s voice buzzed through Wendell’s helmet before Larry shut off the open communication.

Wendell couldn’t care less. He strained to look behind him one last time to see the Earth. Even though the moon looked barren, Helen would’ve been happy to see such a sight.

“I promised you the moon, Helen.” Tears ran down his cheeks, “I promised you the moon.”

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