Alternate histories: The Last Transmission of Apollo 11
“What is that?”
As the world looked on, those were the last words spoken by the crew of Apollo 11.
Or so I thought.
Commander Grace, our greatest astronaut, was renowned for her ability to remain freakishly calm under any type of situation imaginable. Stone Cold Grace: she was the epitome of stoic, a natural leader who inspired a nation to build towards the stars.
So when she spoke those words, unmistakably afraid, the world was scared. I remember sitting in front of the television when it happened. My father was a retired NASA administrator, and I will never forget the look of fear etched into his face as the signal from the moon went dark. The phone rang twenty seconds after. I watched as his face swam with a torrent of emotions; fear, anger, denial, resignation. Then he simply said “I understand” and hung up. After hugging my mother and I, he walked out the door and for the next twenty years hardly ever left his office at NASA.
Not surprising, then, when I did everything I could to make sure I followed in his footsteps. I studied, trained, neglected myself socially, all to ensure I got up there.
To the darkness.
There were thousands of us. The last transmission from Commander Grace influenced an entire generation of astronauts. We all wanted to know what made Stone Cold Grace afraid. I saw so many burn out of the program. The nation's best and brightest reduced to a quibbling pile of frayed nerves and broken bodies. I lost friends, lovers. But the call of the darkness was too enticing.
When I got the call, the one I had been waiting for ever since the Last Transmission darkened the world, I considered myself lucky. Fortunate. I had been chosen to represent the entire human race in our quest to bring those brave souls back home.
I learned all too quickly that bringing the crew of Apollo 11 back was the company line, fed to the masses to instill a sense of national pride. To get investors to sign the cheques.
I had seen my Father a handful of times since the Last Transmission. My memories of him during those years are fleeting: glimpses of his harried face through the crack of my bedroom door when he thought I was asleep, his cracked hands running through his thinning hair as he and my mother argued in the kitchen. He was a ghost. I had an idea of who he was, but the reality of him slipped through my fingers like sand.
When they brought me into NASA, I was called straight into his office. We stood there looking at each other in silence for what felt like a lifetime, the years of pain and neglect hanging in the air between us. I wanted to rage, to scream, to beat upon his chest while begging for answers. Where had he been? What was said to him on that phone call that threw him into the back hole?
I could tell he was conflicted. Torn between the man loyal to NASA, to the nation, and the man who cradled my screaming body in his hands when I was born. My father.
He was the first to speak.
“Please son, sit down”.
*Son*. Despite my resentment, it was all I could do to run into his arms.
As I sat down in front of his desk, he hesitated for a moment. I saw then in his eyes the toll his burdens had taken on him. The strong, virile man I remembered had been reduced to a withered, strung out shell. There had been whispers of NASA’s failures after Apollo 11, but like Commander Grace, the ill-fated space program had been on radio silence, buried in a shroud of secrecy as the world continued to wonder what had happened on the moon that day. Were those failures because of my Father? What had he and NASA been doing all this time?
He shook his head and it broke the trance between us. He gathered his breath and began the conversation that would forever change my life.
“You have been selected as the Commander for Apollo 19.” Gone was any hint of fatherly tenderness. Here before me was the man of NASA, the man who had walked out of the house and out of my life. I struggled not to break down under the knowledge that there had been seven secret Apollo missions.
“What the world knows as ‘The Last Transmission’ from Commander Grace was incomplete. For reasons that will soon become apparent, NASA cut off the public broadcast two minutes before Commander Grace's final moments.” Here he stops, and takes a deep breath. I am trying to quell the millions of questions burning through my brain.
“I have sat in this chair seven times telling every Commander that came before what I am telling you, and seven times I have been wrong. We are under the strictest possible orders not to show you those last two minutes. No human being other than myself and the group of people working on Apollo 11 has ever seen it. I would be dragged in front of a wall and shot if they knew what I was about to do. But you are not like the other Commanders. They failed because they didn't *know*. Their bodies litter the surface of our moon because they didn't *see*. You are my son, and you will not die like the others.”
Before I could say anything, he reached down and pressed a button on one of the many remotes littering his desk. A projector slid down from the ceiling. He handed me a pair of headphones. As I placed them over my ears a overwhelming sense of dread poured down my back and sent a shiver throughout my body. I knew whatever I was about to see would change me forever. I looked to my Father. He nodded and placed a hand on my shoulder.
It was a small comfort.
The screaming. That is what I remember most as I sit here, strapped in beside the world's greatest soldiers. Whatever sickness I felt when we heard the fear in Stone Cold Grace's voice was nothing compared to the sickly wet sound of her screams. What we face now, on that lunar surface, is something the world is not ready for. As I look out into the darkness, I wonder upon the horrors and weep. Wish me well, dear Father, and pray if I don't come back, nothing else does.