Moon Take Thy Flight
by Jeff Baker
(A Demeter’s Bar Story)
“I’ve been to the Moon, you know,” the old man sitting at the bar said sipping a whiskey.
Even for Demeter’s Bar that was an off-the-wall statement. Zack, the cute bartender with the long red hair glanced to the side and saw the television, hung next to the month’s poster of a hunky guy in skimpy swim trunks, showing a documentary about the Moon landing. He tried to remember all the astronauts he’d seen pictures of and figure if this white-haired old man was one of them. He didn’t recognize him, though.
“Hey, Mister R,” came a voice from the back booth. “Tell us how you made it up there again.”
The man at the bar waved for a refill and started in.
I was a young Air Force flier in 1959 (the man said.) when I received a communique to report to an office in the Pentagon. I was stationed at a base near D.C., and was told to just drive my car up there as if I was delivering something. When I got to the Pentagon I was quickly whisked to a basement office. In the large room I saw two generals and a figure in a blue suit who I recognized; the Vice President!
After some formal greetings, I was told that they had been keeping up on “my progress” and that I had been selected for a special and very secret mission. I would be piloting an experimental spacecraft in just a few days to the Moon!
I did not know what to say or believe. This was the tail end of the Fifties, remember, and President Kennedy and his pledge to land a man on the Moon were still two years away. Moon flights were the stuff of comic books and movies. And in those days, if they asked you didn’t tell. But I was told that I would not even be the first man on the Moon. The craft I would be flying, the Verne I they called it, was small and sleek like a fighter jet with a bay beneath. It was a sophisticated craft and it would take off like a jet, fly at an angle until it reached the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere. Then it would switch to automatic but still needed a pilot there or it would not be able to either take off or land.
I asked how long we had possessed such technology and how long we intended keeping it a secret, since this was beyond anything the Russians were supposed to have and anything we had. That question was not answered. Instead, I was informed that I would be taking a passenger.
“A co-Pilot,’ I said.
No, this was a passenger, I was told. In fact I would be dropping the passenger off on the Moon!
I had a million questions and was told to ask none of them. I was led from the room and driven to an airfield far out of the Capitol. I was told that the craft would not show up on any known radar and that I would be flying at night. And that my passenger would be traveling in the cargo bay beneath me. The Verne I (as they called it) would pass for a fighter jet at first glance or from a distance. I went into the cockpit to familiarize myself with the controls and got a shock; There was a standard set of aircraft controls to one side and a panel with lights and a small screen on the other side. There was a row of symbols above the lights that looked like no language I had ever seen. I was told that my test flight would be the flight to the Moon and that my passenger would be traveling in the cargo bay!
Two days later, just after one in the morning I entered the cockpit, attired in the usual flight suit instead of some pressure suit, which I was told would not be necessary. A few minutes later, the Verne I made a noise like air escaping from a hot air balloon and rose from the ground, aiming for the Moon and suddenly taking off at an incredible speed! To my astonishment I felt no G-forces, none of the familiar sensations associated with jet travel. Even more astounding was that as soon as we cleared the Earth’s atmosphere the speed increased so in less than a half-hour we were in orbit around the Moon. I saw the grey-blue-white of the day side speed past me and then we were over the dark side of the Moon. I could make out craters and mountains in the near-darkness as the craft slowed down and came in for a landing near the dark bulk of a Lunar mountain range.
I sat there and listened. For the duration of the flight, I had been unaware of my passenger, but now I heard a clunking and clanging beneath me as if someone was walking in metal boots. The craft shuddered and I heard the hiss of escaping air in the bay beneath me and in another moment I felt another vibration as (I assumed) the bay doors closed again. I heard the very definite hiss of tanks filling the bay up with air. I had looked around; there was seemingly no way to get into the bay from the cockpit. Through the cockpit window I could see the Lunar surface lit by the stars.
I stared. In the dim starlight I saw a lithe figure wearing some sort of spacesuit walking away from me. I could make out that the suit was the same gray as the Moon, and the helmet had an opaque panel at front, preventing me from seeing my passenger’s face. The figure stopped and turned and waved with an arm over it’s head. Then it turned and resumed walking towards the mountain. In another moment the lights on the panel flashed a pattern and the ship rose into the air and turned heading towards the Moon’s horizon. For an instant I could see the scene from above and caught a glimpse of a tower in the middle of the mountain range, a tower that looked man-made. I was convinced that the craft was not of Terrestrial origin, something that I felt confirmed when the Verne I landed at the airfield in the dead of night and I was greeted by a small group of military brass, including the Vice-President. (“The President wanted to be here, but he was detained,” he explained.) I was detailing what happened to the brass and the Vice-President had said something about the beginning of interstellar relations when I heard what sounded like a loud yawn and looked behind me as the Verne I shuddered, folded in on itself and crumbled to powder which blew away.
I was sworn to secrecy, so my commendation was unofficial. And I never told anyone, not during two tours of Vietnam and all the years that followed. I never heard another word about the extraterrestrial craft of, what I assumed to be, the alien base on the Moon. But I did notice that none of the subsequent official Moon landings went anywhere near the mountain with it’s tower and unfathomable secrets.
Mr. R finished his story, took a final sip of his whiskey and stepped off the bar stool.
“Which is probably good because after all these years, I don’t think we are ready for those secrets yet,” he said sticking a few dollars in the tip jar.
“Hey,” came the voice from the booth. “If you really went to the moon, did you get a Moon rock or something?”
“Not anything,” he said. “Just the knowledge that I had done something which may benefit our country, or rather, our planet someday. You see, I doubt that whatever base was up there is still there. But they may be back and if they come back they know us. And I hope they saw us at our best.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I had to visit Demeter’s Bar to celebrate my fifth anniversary of doing these Flash stories. I’d published a couple of Demeter’s Bar stories in anthologies before I started writing some of them here. —-jsb