WILMINGTON, DELAWARE, JUNE 2-4, 2017
FRED HAWLEY, JACK CHANDLER
He'd been reared a strict Baptist. It was a way of life he'd been happy to escape, but he envied now the quiet faith of his boyhood, the conviction that he would see again everyone he cared about.
Jeanie. Luminous eyes. Mischievous smile. He missed that most of all.
It occurred to him that he had known all along what his decision would be. He had, after all, left the photo on the shelf.
He went into the bathroom, opened the cabinet, and took down a container of tranquilizers. He shook a half dozen out into a trembling palm and looked at them a long time before he filled a glass and drank them down.
He'd sent messages of farewell to his children. They'd been phrased against the backdrop of events, couched in ambiguous terms suggesting he might be unable to escape.
Evelyn would, he knew, conceal the truth.
He laid his head back against the cushions, closed his eyes, and waited for the tranquilizers to take hold. Moonbase Spaceport. 9:57 P.M.
Morley was talking into a microcam when they reentered the station. "… here they are now," he was saying. Following his directions, Evelyn climbed first out of the tram. And then Charlie. "Mr. Vice President," he said, maneuvering Charlie into the eye of the microcam, which he'd attached to a wall, "I wonder if I can get you to say a few words. What's your feeling at this moment?"
Dumb. But Charlie gave it his best: "They tell me that Tony Casaway and Alisa Rolnikaya"-he pronounced her name deliberately, taking great care to get it right-"are two of the best pilots we have. I'm confident this'll have a happy ending."
Bigfoot appeared. "The Micro's running on time," he said in the overdramatic, wooden manner of a poor amateur actor. Charlie decided he'd been cued. "We'll be leaving from Bay Four."
He waited a minute or so for a brief exchange between Morley and the vice president. Yes, admitted Charlie, this was an unnerving situation and he'd feel better when he was on his way. Then he turned the interview around, asking Morley for his thoughts. The reporter was amenable and laughed, and they recorded a conversation that Charlie knew was going well.
"This won't be the end of manned space flight," Charlie told the television audience, by way of rounding off the interview. "One way or another, we'll be back."
He didn't really think so, though it seemed like the right thing to say. But if "back" meant out in space again, it wasn't going to happen. The economics wouldn't support it. Maybe manned space flight would happen again one day, but it would be far down the line somewhere, so far down that he suspected the human race might have time to forget it had ever traveled to its Moon. He'd always been a supporter of Moonbase International and the Lunar Transport Authority and NASA, but he knew which way the wind would blow after this. The next campaign would be about fiscal sanity. Next time, they'd let another generation impoverish itself.
Briefly, they'd touched the sky. And it had been to no purpose.
A vast emptiness opened inside him. The White House seemed far away, as remote and unattainable as Mars. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he was not sure for whom they came-himself, or something far greater.
Bigfoot was gritting his teeth and looking at his watch. Charlie signaled that was enough. Morley thanked him on camera, signed off, shut down, and thanked him again.
Bigfoot led them into the passenger waiting area. "I'll be talking to you over the PA," Bigfoot said. "When I ask you to, go down that tunnel over there." He pointed. "The door'll be closed at the far end. It'll open when the Micro's down. There'll be a tube. Go through the tube and into the passenger cabin. As quick as you can. Okay? I don't need to emphasize that there'll be no time to waste."
"What about you?" asked Evelyn.
"Don't worry about me. I'll be going in through a different door." He started out of the room, but turned back. "Good luck," he said.
He left them and Evelyn looked at her watch. "Getting late. What do you think's keeping Jack?" Moonbase, McNair Country. 10:01 P.M.
The medication obviously wasn't working. He opened the bottom drawer in a side table and extracted a bottle of Scotch. He filled a tumbler, straight, and drank it down. Its warmth spread through him and the tension began to dissipate.
His cell phone chimed. "Jack?" Evelyn's voice. "For God's sake, where are you? It's late."
"I've decided not to go, Evelyn."
"Jack, you can't do this."
"I don't want to go back."
"I think we should talk about this later. Where are you now?"
"My God, Jack-"
"That's right. I couldn't get over there in time if I wanted to."
"Jack-" He heard her struggle to control her voice. It felt good to know she really cared about him. Other than professionally.
"Good luck, Evelyn. You'll make it. And thanks for everything."
He disconnected. When the cell phone chimed again he took out the batteries and laid it on a table. Then he pulled the jack on the table phone.
He walked over and looked at his certificate from the Wilmington bridge tournament. That had been a good weekend. One of his best.
He poured a second glass of Scotch. Moonbase Spaceport. 10:02 P.M.
"I'm going after him."
Charlie had overheard Evelyn's side of the conversation. "There isn't time," he said. "You don't even know where he is."
"He's in his quarters. Where else would he be?"
"He's in his quarters now. It doesn't matter. He's made his choice, Evelyn. You have to respect it." He drew her to him and held her. Her cheeks were wet and she was trembling.
"I should have known," she said.
"How could you have possibly known?"
She started to answer, but broke it off and simply held him. And Charlie remembered the silent message he'd seen passed to her from Chandler.
"I love you."
"Damn him," she said quietly.