Apollo 19: Chapter II

Apollo 19. December 14, 1973. Fitful dreams led to the morning of the world…and to a NASA crew getting ready to travel to the Moon with their Soviet LMP. The prelaunch breakfast was a tense atmosphere, the Americans sitting at one end of the table, ignoring their ostensible crewmate, as if a Berlin Wall had been set up between them. That wasn’t how it was meant to be…but even Robin Conley couldn’t help it. Zaryov sat alone, munching steak and eggs, honestly trying to fit in as best he could…the slings and arrows of a hateful Jack had not deterred him, they would not. They could not.

At the other end of the table, Robin leaned across toward Jack and spoke quietly. “Why are you so mean to that poor guy? Invite him over here to sit with you!”

Jack, fully aware of the psychological conditions he was about to go through for the next fourteen days or so, shook his head. He swallowed steak and eggs, and then replied, hushed, obviously tense. “I don’t want to get too close to the guy. It’ll just tick me off.”

Robin, a civilian scientist-astronaut who was the focus of NASA’s experimental efforts aboard Apollo 19, shook her head sadly. “You fighter jocks…well, think of it this way. While I’m manning the SIM bay from orbit, you will be on the Moon for three days, with a Russian you hate. You will be subjecting yourself to this…you and your big ego. All out of patriotic duty.”

Jack nodded. “What am I supposed to do? Tell them I’ve come for the steak and eggs, but Haise is suiting up instead?” Fred Haise was the backup commander, a far more experienced astronaut who could not figure out for the life of him why a 1966 group guy with no class and no flight experience was commanding such a sensitive mission.

“No.” Robin shook her head. “But go talk to Zaryov. Get your crap together. Or I’ll fly home alone and leave you two to get it sorted on the lunar surface for as long as it takes. Capiche?”

Jack grinned. Robin sure was full of fire, that was for sure. But she was nice about it. That was a luxury he didn’t have. “Yes sir, Space Ranger Conley!”

Robin smiled, adding more Valentina to her steak and eggs as Jack scooted down the table with his half-eaten plate.

Zaryov looked up. “Hello, Jack. Is breakfast to your liking?”

Jack smirked, then softened it to a smile. What a cheap bunch of small talk this was. Oh well…it’s all they had. “Yeah…pretty good. You’re pretty mellow over here…excited to be flying where no Soviet has gone before?”

Zaryov smiled. “If my Captain were less like Kirk, I would be less like Spock.”

“Hm.” Jack was confused by this statement. Cryptic iced-over vodka-soaked proverbs did not do him well. “You know…the centrifuge doesn’t cut it, I’ve heard. The Saturn V is nothing like the Soyuz booster.”

Zaryov raised an eyebrow. Was Jack trying to intimidate him? “You would be surprised, Jack. I’ve been in higher-rated G tests than the Soyuz.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes.” Alexei Zaryov knew why he was here…the Americans did not. Yes, the N1 had been a failure…this was a matter of public knowledge, since he had been assigned to the Apollo program. But he was one of the few cosmonauts who had trained for it…and the only Apollo astronaut who had trained on a simulation of the one-man LK lunar lander, during the height of the Soviet moon effort. “Let us simply say, Jack, that between you and me…it is my dream to walk on the Moon.”

Jack nodded, sipping orange juice. “I get ya. Did that get very far, then?”

Robin looked over indignantly. “Jack! No spying, you jerk! It’s against the rules.”

Jack sighed. As if Robin knew Zaryov’s REAL aspirations any better than he did. Why the heck did she think NASA had assigned an intel man as Zaryov’s commander and lunar partner?

At this high point in the breakfast Cold War, a pad technician entered the room. “Hey. Breakfast is over, you guys…” He put on a German accent that, given the background of a lot of the Saturn rocket guys, may not have been entirely fake. “The Fuhrer vill see you now.”

Jack smiled. “The Fuhrer” was Pad Leader or “Pad Fuhrer” Gunther Wendt…one of Von Braun’s cohorts, and assigned the task of managing the launch, seeing the astronauts off with each Apollo shot.

“Got it. Go time.” Jack swallowed another bite of steak, stood up, and motioned to Conley and Zaryov. “Let’s move. The Moon awaits.”

“I am going to just LOVE sitting still for an hour while I get suited up.” Robin grimaced, almost bouncing on one leg.

Zaryov smiled at the girl’s youthful enthusiasm as they filed toward their destiny. His relations with Fuller were tough…but Robin had helped him to understand why, and been a friend to him. If he was any judge of character for either astronaut, she just might be Apollo 19′s saving grace…


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