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‘Pyjamas are optional. Will you come?’
‘I don’t know. All that stuff you were saying sounded –’
‘Cracked?’ Bran smiled sadly. ‘But I have proof.’
For answer, Bran turned and pointed to Venus.
Mike and Jane strode back up the flank of the Seat, towards the summit. They found a place to sit on the agglomerate, looking north over the city.
Mike, agitated, disturbed, said, ‘You know, that guy was in control from the moment he walked up to us. Even before. He used everything I said to make his case stronger.’
She shrugged. ‘That’s what it takes to be a cult leader, I suppose.’
‘He ought to be a politician.’
‘Oh, I think he has his eye on higher goals than that … You said you wanted to see me.’
‘Yeah. I have something for you.’
He glanced around to ensure they were alone. A couple of walkers, a hundred yards away; the steady susurrus of noise from the city.
Pleasurably anticipating her reaction, he dug into his pocket, and pulled out his phial. It was just a small plastic test-tube, stoppered with a rubber bung.
He held it up in the morning light so she could see. There was a little puddle of dust in its base, a handful of grains. It was coal black, and when Mike shook the vial the dust clung to the sides.
‘It sparkles,’ Jane said.
‘That’s the glass in it. Shards of it, from volcanic activity and meteorite impact –’
‘Mike, what is this?’
He grinned. ‘Can’t you guess? Look, no one will ever know. Whenever you take a power-saw sample from a rock there’s always a little wastage. A few grammes. There has to be – the rock just crumbles. They expect it, when they reconcile the weights later. I was just careful to capture every loose grain. And here it is. I even pumped the vial full of ultra-dry nitrogen to keep it pure.’
‘Are you telling me this is Moon dust?’
She looked – not pleased, not awed, as he’d expected – but horrified.
‘Well, yes. That’s the point.’ He frowned, puzzled. ‘Don’t you want it?’
‘You’re giving it to me? Mike, what the hell am I supposed to do with it?’
‘I don’t know.’ He shrugged. ‘Give it to Jack. Put it in a locket. Sell it, to someone who will appreciate it.’
‘Mike, you’ve brought me a lot of stuff in the past – stuff I could never have gotten hold of otherwise – but this is different.’
‘Because it’s against the law.’ She looked into his eyes, the way she used to when he was a kid. ‘You must have let someone down, to take this.’
‘Someone who trusted you. Someone who gave you responsibility.’
Shit, he thought. ‘… I suppose so.’
She pushed the vial back into his hand. ‘You’ll have to take it back.’
‘I can’t. What do I do, glue it back to the rock?’
‘You can’t keep it, Mike.’
‘It’s Moon dust.’
‘You know I’m right,’ she said.
‘Oh, Christ. I hate it when you’re right.’
‘That’s what big sisters are for.’
He took hold of the rubber stopper. ‘You may as well look. You’ll never be so near a piece of the Moon again.’
She crowded close.
He pulled out the bung; it came loose with a soft pop.
She sniffed the vial. ‘I can smell wood smoke.’
‘That’s the Moon dust. It’s never been exposed to free oxygen before. It’s oxidizing. Burning. Here.’
He tipped up the vial, and tapped its base; the Moon dust poured into Jane’s palm. It was just a few grains; there really was hardly any of it.
Jane pushed at it with the tip of her little finger. ‘It’s sharp. Like little needles.’ She lifted her fingertip and inspected it. ‘It’s stuck to my skin. Oh, well …’
She tipped her hand, and let the grains scatter. They sparkled briefly before dispersing.
Talking, arguing, they made their way down the flank of Arthur’s Seat, towards the Dry Dam. Above them, the sky brightened.
… They were just grains of basalt, falling through the air.
A little piece of the Moon, come to Scotland. But, though different from any terrestrial samples, the grains themselves were unremarkable.
They fell now to a massive plug of agglomerate. They would not be found again, by the most determined petrological inspection.
… Except that where they fell, the bare rock glowed, softly silver, in spots a fraction of an inch wide.
The debriefing session for Geena’s mission was held in the Teague Auditorium in JSC Building 2, the Public Affairs Office. Geena had to sit behind a desk on a stage with the four others from her crew, bathed in the glare of TV lights. As clumsy young sound technicians tried to fix microphones to their lapels and ties, the astronauts chatted awkwardly, like newsreaders under the credits.
Geena had to shield her eyes to see the audience. She could see the platform on which the NASA TV cameras were mounted, and before it a thin scattering of journalists – mostly science correspondents, mostly men, mostly bearded, many of them familiar to her. This briefing wasn’t a formal press conference but had become a post-flight tradition; the idea was for the crew to come share their experience with colleagues and families. So there were engineers and controllers and mission managers from Mission Control and the science backrooms, here at Houston, and some pad technicians and managers from the Cape; but there were also grandmothers and little kids, relatives or friends of the crew.
There was nobody to see Geena.
That was her choice. Such events made her cringe, without her mother wanting to muscle in too.
It was a sparse crowd, and it looked as if today the audience was filled out with a tram-load or two of spectators from the Space Center, the flashy visitors’ centre on the edge of the JSC complex. The gaggle of tourist types sat together in their slacks and T-shirts, cameras dangling from their necks.
At last the proceedings began.
First there was a long ceremony of team awards, presented corporate-style by the director of JSC. Every astronaut who flew got a ‘Spaceflight Medal’ specific to the mission, pinned on her chest. When it was her turn, Geena got up to a ripple of polite applause, her palms sweating, suddenly as nervous as a grade school kid on show-and-tell day.
The Center director was a man called Harry Maddicott, somewhere in his sixties, hair slicked back, waistcoat stretched over an ample gut, fat and sleek and self-satisfied as a seal. He grinned at her as he pinned her medal to her suit jacket lapel, taking obvious care not to let his hands stray anywhere near her breast.
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