“I’ll say it one more time. Johnson and Carmike are not coming back!” the Director said. “They left the space agency. It’s over. Why are we even having this conversation about them? I can’t believe I will spend my Saturday making a case for us to try luring back two malcontents that have no desire to be part of our mission. What conceivable use do we have for them?”
The Assistant Director said, “They have flight experience and are qualified. They’ve both been to the Moon and done all the things we asked of them.”
“The decision is out of our hands. They left.”
“We need to get them back.”
“I don’t see how,” said the Director.
“Yeah, I know it’s impossible.”
“How does that impact us?”
“To get the crews ready after Mission 7, we must slow down our pace.”
“How slow?” The Director asked.
“We must extend our schedule for Mission 7 by a year.”
“That’s not possible. We must keep flying.”
“I have a solution.”
“What?” asked the Director.
“Change Mission 7 to the Tycho crater, with Jellison and Conner.”
“What about the next mission at the Lunar south pole?”
“We have Annie and Cy MacInturner fly it,” said the Assistant Director.
“You’re suggesting that we put a husband-and-wife team as crew for a Lunar mission?”
“Yeah. They’re the only ones with the experience needed to handle that tough mission.”
“The Assistant Secretary will kill us,” the Director said.
“Then we need Johnson and Carmike back.”
“They’re not coming back.”
I headed along the beach. It had been at least ten hours since we had run aground. We had agreed that going into the interior of the island was unlikely to be useful. The jungle would hide things too well for us to find. The beach, however, would eventually reveal signs of civilization somewhere on the island. We could easily see a dock, a boat, or even a settlement on the beach. Or if the island was uninhabited, we’d meet each other on the side of the island.
Mac and I flipped a coin. He’d go north, and I would go south. I started off, after waving to the eight other castaways. A storm had hammered us during our Caribbean vacation. The ship had stopped at a small island near Bermuda. We were on a day trek to another island not too far distant when the hurricane hit us. The little ship seemed very seaworthy, but it lacked the power to outrun the storm. Eventually, we crashed into the side of this island. We lost the radio because of the storm. Something had happened to the antenna. According to our few working phones, the GPS showed that we were about fifty-three miles from Bermuda.
We were obviously out of cell coverage, so our maps were crude from the cabin of the boat. But the numbers said it should be Bermuda nearby. The captain of the boat got hit on the head, and other people were helping him. They sent Mac and me for help. I kept walking along the tidal line, trying to keep wet sand under my feet. I had a better time walking on it.
After about four hours, I checked my cell. According to the GPS distance, I’d traveled less than one tenth of a mile.
That’s odd, I thought. I should have made at least ten miles in that kind of time.
I turned back, looking north. I could see that the boat and the survivors were extremely distant. In fact, I could only make out the wreckage of the boat from this distance. I was very far away, easily far more than a few miles. I flipped over to the pedometer app. It had said I had walked about eight miles. I looked back at the GPS app and reread the position. Carefully, I altered the mode to read my location regarding the Earth’s center and the North Pole. I knew I was near the equator, so if I took about 50 steps south, I would have moved enough for the receiver to detect that I had moved by changing the last digit on the Z axis.
I turned and took the steps, counting them out as I walked. I then looked at the number. It still read the same. The last 3 digits were 874. No change. I did it again. It read 874 again. How in the world is that possible? I watched it now as I walked. It did not change from 874. I checked to see what the other numbers read. It similarly showed them being locked in their previous values.
What the Hell? This makes no sense.
There was one more test I could take. I turned to the directions function. I checked the distance to Bermuda. It said fifty-three. My phone showed that I either walked in a perfect circle for 8 miles or stayed in the same place. Neither made any sense. Also, this had to be a vast island. I’d walked for hours, and I was still on the western shore. Again, it would make the island at least eight miles long in one direction, but I could see that the shore ahead of me stretching out as far as I could see.
Our simple plan had failed. I looked again at the numbers. 874 showed clearly. Panicked, I turned north, hoping that I could get back to the boat and the others. The 874 continued to taunt me.
“Milt,” said Mary, tired of the conversation. “You didn’t really want to be an astronaut?”
“No, it was a means to an end. Nothing more.”
“I wish you wouldn’t antagonize our brother. He scares me.”
“Morris is a fool,” Milt said.
“A dangerous one.
“True, we cannot underestimate him.”
“Then why all this messing around with the fake identity and the trip to the Moon?” Mary asked.
“I took something that he didn’t deserve to have.”
“Yes,” Milton said, nodding slightly. “They disappeared from his vault a little over two years ago.”
“Brother, I realize you want to punish Morris for what he did to dad.”
“Oh, he has yet to pay for that.”
“Don’t worry, Mary. Morris will not find the artifacts. He might figure out where they are, but for now, they are beyond his reach.”
“Yes, I took them with me.”
“Did Annie MacInturner know?” asked Mary.
“No. She never suspected that she unloaded them herself.”
“Now, I see if Carmike is the kind of man, I think he is,” said Milton.
“Desperate, you mean,” Mary said, narrowing her eyes.
“How do you do that?”
“We’ll need some money,” said Milt.
“Hundreds of millions.”
“Okay, I got most of that myself,” Mary said.
“We’ll need to make it look like typical investors. Nothing too much from anyone, so we can keep it anonymous. Big investors attract the wrong attention.”
“What about Mark?”
“To hell with him,” Milton said.
“I thought you two…”
“Nothing of the sort. He’s an egomaniac like his father. I have no use for him.”
“He’ll figure this out and want in,” Mary said.
“Of course he will. We need to make sure he’s always on the outside, looking in. I want his interest solely fixed on Nils.”