Apollo 19: Part IV: Stardance

Apollo 19: Stardance. Dec 15, 1973. Earth Orbit. The climb from the Cape proceeded without incident, much to Robin’s relief…the command module was her baby, and she was about to shine. Jack was still grumpy, but entering orbit seemed to have ameliorated his angry mood a bit…Zaryov was smiling, a notch above any inner peace he’d ever felt. “The Apollo spacecraft…well, it’s better than we’d expected.” He smiled somewhat apologetically.

Jack looked at him, obviously miffed. “We? Russian intel?”

Robin sighed. “If this dang command module was bigger I’d send Jack to a corner.” She was taking command, slowly…there was a premonition in her heart that this wasn’t going to end well unless she did.

Zaryov was still smiling. “Yes, Russian intel. I may not agree with them, but they’re my path to space. I make no apologies for relying on their opinions before I came to Houston.”

Jack nodded. “Well, at least you’re an all right guy. For a commie.” He grinned wolfishly.

Robin sighed. “Gosh darnit Jack! Do you have to ruin everything?”

“Yes. I do.” Jack unbuckled his seatbelt, slowly going about the process of removing and stowing his spacesuit.

Shaking her head sadly, Robin did the same. Zaryov followed well…suit…was he on drugs? He couldn’t stop being happy. Jack couldn’t figure the guy out…Robin could, though. He was feeling the Spirit and in space at the same time, and it gave him exultant strength. Zaryov was gonna love the Moon, she figured…he was lucky.

Once the crew had got their suits off, a checkout orbit began…just routine making sure Constitution was still capable of functioning in the Black. It was more important after the extreme pogo they’d felt…Robin noted with some dismay that the pogo mirrored what the crew was going through. She was the psychological balance point…if anyone could hold these two extremes of Nobility and Self-Absorbed Anger together, it was her. That made her proud.

At any rate, there were no checkout routines for crew psychological health…that was normally understood to have been taken care of ahead of time. In this case, the only flight-rated NASA astronaut with an intel background had been assigned to command an otherwise quite psychologically compatible crew, just in case Zaryov turned out to be a Russian spy or tried to commandeer the CM during reentry and return it to Kazakhstan or…heaven knew what. NASA planners tried to work out all the bugs, but Zaryov was really beyond them. And, Robin mused, checking over the fuel cell voltage readouts, they hadn’t known he was an Orthodox mystic. No…they should be worried about Jack.

Jack was busy checking the computer, and Zaryov the service module propulsion pressure. Within a few hours, they had all turned out all right…as Robin hoped they would by splashdown…and were getting seated again. Jack, in a rare moment of class, motioned to the seat on the left, taking center. “Have a seat, ma’am…you’re driving while we hit translunar injection and extract Stalingrad.”

Robin smiled. “Is Zaryov’s mellow rubbing off on you? Or is it just space?”

Jack cocked his head to one side, thinking about that. “I think it’s just space.” He laughed.

“Well that’s good enough for now.” Robin smiled, strapping in. “Houston, Constitution here…we are ready for TLI.”

Brennan Puida, running CAPCOM on this leg of the flight in preparation for his assignment to a Skylab crew come January or so, replied in a youthful voice. “I copy, Constitution. Engage the S-IVB when ready…you guys are gonna prove anything is possible.”

Jack smiled. “We’ll try.” He was remarkably placid.

Zaryov shook his head. “I believe Jack is mistaken, Comrade Puida. We will succeed.”

Robin laughed. “That’s my Alex.”

Jack looked at her. “Do you have a crush on the guy? Just kick in the booster and let’s get on with our day.”

Robin grinned. “Oh, I’m so sorry, commander…it just so happens that he’s got that Silver Fox thing happening and you’re kind of um…raw.” She laughed, musically.

Jack rolled his eyes. “Screw that. I was born raw and I will die raw. Drive.”

“I’m happy to. You don’t even have to ask nicely.” Robin was angelic as she engaged translunar injection…flying out of Earth orbit like Flash Gordon, she was dogged by the sudden thought that Jack had spoken a prophecy just now.

“Wahoooo!” Zaryov was pressed back in his seat, arms raised over his head in a relative up direction, towards a Heaven he knew was right here around him. “This is incredible! If only Gagarin could have lived to see this.”

Jack held his tongue for once. He replaced what he truly wanted to say with something kinder. “Gagarin was a good pilot. Not many people get to do something as monumental as he did.” He knew Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, was one of many heavenly travelers to crash and burn at the controls of an earthbound jet plane…it seemed to be a constant habit of test pilots.

Robin nodded, punching Zaryov in the arm behind Jack’s back. “Your people did real good to begin with.”

Jack sighed. “Can we cut the congratulations, commiserations, ribbing, and whatever else and just get Stalingrad and go? It’s what you’re here for right now, Conley. Freakin’ focus, kid.”

Zaryov looked at Jack with concern. “You should be easier on your comrade, Jack. She is in love with life and requires free exercise of her passions. Also, there is no rush…we are on the way to the Moon and will arrive there no matter what we do in between.”

Jack sighed. “You’re right. I’m just…I don’t know. Sorry.”

It was the first time he’d apologized. Robin saw this as a miracle from Heavenly Father that just might save the mission. “It’s okay, Jack. I know why you’re upset and frankly I think Alex would agree that you need to get the heck over it.”

Zaryov nodded. “I am not against you, Jack. We have left Earth’s orbit. Out here, there are no borders.”

Jack shook his head. “I’ll get over it.”

He keyed his headset push-to-talk. “Houston, Constitution here…Conley is ready to extract Stalingrad.”

Puida nodded, sipping a cold Coke at his desk. “Roger that. Enjoy the dance.”

Robin cracked her knuckles, firing the explosive bolts that released Constitution and her service module from the third stage…guiding their spacecraft forth with a light touch to the translation control handle, firing the thrusters to send it drifting out, like a ballerina. “This is like 2001.” Her face was aglow.

“It is.” Zaryov smiled. “Although I suspect our conversations have more of Solaris about them.”

“Solaris?” Jack asked quizzically, watching Robin’s practiced hands and slender fingers slowly rotate Constitution to face the docking port on top of Stalingrad.

“A Soviet film by Andrei Tarkovsky. A beautiful work of art…I recommend you see it on your return to Earth.”

Jack nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

The probe-and-drogue docking system engaged with a sudden series of thonks and then a loud THUD. “Houston, this is Conley. We have capture. Going for extraction now.” Her voice was gleeful.

“Gotcha.” Bren Puida grinned. Robin was in love with her job.

Jack smiled, overcome by the girl’s exuberance…Constitution and Stalingrad, now mated as one unit, backed slowly out of the S-IVB.

Zaryov could not help but cheer. “Good job, Comrade Conley!”

“Thanks.” Robin blushed, somewhat bashful.

“I knew she could do it. What’s with the Comrade crap?”

Robin sighed. “We’re his comrades. Look it up. I brought a dictionary, just in case.”

Jack laughed. “You got some spunk in ya, kid. I’ll give you that. Now we fly…you can entertain us for the next three days, huh?”

Zaryov and Robin laughed. The Stardance’s first stage was complete…the next movement was just beginning. Towards the Moon they flew…with hope in their eyes, issuing silent prayers to their God that their commander would learn to fly along with them….

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