Nanowrimo is a compelling challenge to write 50,000 words during November: that’s an average of 1667 words per day. My plan is to write a set of 30 short stories each 1667 words long instead. Each story comes from a prompt, a lot from fellow bloggers.
Steps into the future
This is based on a picture I took at a family party in October 2015
On the 30th October 1968 during the inaugural manned Apollo flight in Apollo 7 a picture was taken of the moon. It was low resolution and no one thought it to be of any special significance.
In 1998, at an exhibition of pictures taken during that flight in Dallas, a young photography student Garson Trefield, over on an exchange from the UK, stared at the picture. It had been included by accident and was soon removed but not before Garson had absorbed the detail.
Garson became obsessed by the moon programme and the photographs taken. During the following two years he began to have dreams, vivid images of the inside of Apollo 7. It was as if he had been there. One scene in particular stayed with him. In it he held a camera. Any moment he knew the moon would fill the window. At one side Commander Wally Schirra said, ‘Don’t miss it, Gary. This is important.’
Garson did not understand why he had these dreams. It was as if he had been chosen, but why him. On the 31st December 1999, while with friends on Brighton Beach, he became captivated by the moon and had wat he later thought of as an epiphany. He would find that picture and determine its importance.
Garson’s direction changed; he pioneered the use of computers to enhance the images. He took a job with European French Space Agency and in 2004 he was seconded to a Franco-Dutch research project based at a remote facility on the outskirts of Amsterdam updating the analytics of the images taken from the Apollo 12 mission.
One Sunday, Garson parked his bike at the Institute and, not paying attention, bumped into Dirk Schlumbert, making his way from his car to the admin building.
Both men lost control of their papers and, in the next moment two files, in identical manila folders were muddled.
On reaching his desk Garson began work. He had a raft of images from the Ocean of Storms which had proved to be of major interest following an enhancement technique pioneered by Garson and the team he was working with. It was only at 6.42 pm that he realised the folder he had was not the twenty-seventh selection of on-board images but a 1998 paper written by someone called Marius Greening. As it happened, not that Garson knew it that was the same day he had visited the Dallas exhibition of Apollo 7 pictures.
Garson realised immediately what had happened and tried Dirk’s extension but Dirk had left for a barbecue. It was made clear to all employees that all files and folders should be treated as confidential so Garson kept the folder, intending to return it to Dirk on the Monday.
There was no reason for Garson to read the paper but something caught his eye as he went to shut the folder. Perhaps it was the name of the Apollo 7 commander, Wally Schirra. Perhaps it was just a generalised curiosity. Whatever the cause, Garson made himself a coffee and read the paper. He then went on line to find out who Marius Greening was.
By the point Garson first heard his name, in early 2005, Marius was in his 70s. As a young electronics engineer he worked on the Apollo 7 mission being involved with the television film recordings. Marius left NASA a year after Apollo 7 and drifted from job to job, eventually ending up in Sacramento in 1993. There he worked helping fix computers and came into contact with a young computer scientist called Hayden Partmill. Hayden was strong on conspiracies and listened to Marius as he expounded his theory that the manned space flights to the Moon stopped not because of cost or a loss of political will but for some larger, hidden reason. Hayden was becoming wealthy and set Marius up to try and uncover evidence of such a cover up.
In the paper, written and delivered to a small group in Seattle in 1998, Marius Greening said he had evidence that the manned missions had a different purpose to those officially given. He said that the purpose to put a man on the moon simply to meet Jack Kennedy’s promise changed as a result of the Apollo 7 mission. Garson re-read the final part of Marius’ lecture many times that evening. ‘They took a picture – I was manning the monitors when this happened and saw the feed – of the moon and I saw their faces – they’d seen something so extraordinary in that moment that it changed the history of space flight, of human development for ever.’ What Marius did not say was what they had seen.
Garson went home, got drunk and stayed in his room for a week, trying to track down Marius and Hayden Partmill. Partmill, it seemed had found God in 1999 and used his money to set up a colony on an island off the Oregon coast. It seemed he died there the night of Garson epiphany on Brighton beach. Of Marius he drew a blank.
Garson did a lot of thinking that week. Whoever took that picture could not have seen any detail of the moon’s surface; it was nonsense. The equipment was not good enough. But his own dreams, once more increasingly vivid, told him the opposite. What he still didn’t know was what they had seen.
There were other questions worrying Garson. He still had Dirk’s folder. Why did Dirk, who so far as Garson knew worked in HR have a folder with an article by a seemingly deranged ex-employee of Nasa? Why did Dirk not answer his calls? Why was there no record of Marius? And where was this photograph?
A colleague called on Garson the following Saturday, checking he was ok. Apropos of nothing he said, ‘You hear about Dirk Schlumbert?’ To Garson’s certain knowledge neither of them had ever spoken of Dirk. ‘Sacked on Monday for taking classified files, dead on Wednesday – suicide. Rumour has it he was selling stuff to some foreign power though given he was HR you wonder what he had to sell.’
Garson knew it had something to do with the file that sat on the corner of his desk. He told his colleague he had been recommended a break and was going to his parents in Brighton.
Garson did not go to Brighton. Instead he headed for Schiphol and a connecting flight to Reno in Nevada. Why Reno? Garson did not know save he expected to find Marius there.
During a change at Atlanta Garson became suspicious of two tall sombre looking women who seemed to be watching him. They had minimal luggage for such a long flight. Passing through Homeland Security, Garson expected to be arrested and, at best, deported, at worst lost in some penitentiary somewhere. On emerging from the airport, Garson hailed a cab and laughed at himself. He was becoming paranoid.
The women didn’t laugh. They followed.
Finding Marius proved relatively easy. He was a patient in a care facility for severe dementia patients. The people on reception seemed distracted and a misunderstanding had Garson ushered into a day lounge where the taut and intense stare of Marius Greening met Garson’s flicking gaze. The two rheumy eyes took in Garson’s permanently smooth skin and bushy brows and a crooked smile broke on Marius’ face. ‘You came then. What did you see? The same as me?’
Before Garson could move, before he could react two nursing orderlies entered the room and eased him away.
Garson returned to Amsterdam and the Institute. No one seemed remotely interested in his absence. For his part Garson continued working on the increasingly sophisticated cameras that were his speciality. In 2010 a secondment to Nasa came up. Initially Garson found excuses but by 2013 they had run out. He was booked on a flight at the end of July
In May that year, Garson’s younger brother, Wilson who was working on a water purification project in Botswana received a visitor. The woman was tall and pale. She had little by way of luggage and stayed for a few minutes. But she left a package for Garson and extracted a promise that it would be given to Garson that month at a family gathering in Brighton. The woman did not ask that the package remain unopened; she did not explain its contents; and later, looking back, Wilson could never understand why he had simply taken something from a stranger, put it in his bag and transported it to the UK.
When Garson received the package he took it to his room. In it he found six photographs and the negatives. He didn’t have to ask what they were and he didn’t ask, not then, where they were from. He made it through the rest of the afternoon, and having said his apologies hurried to his car and the ferry.
While that weekend the Security Services in most Western Nations went on high alert as a result of Edward Snowdon’s release of reams of secret information followed by his departure for Hong Kong, one man, in a grey hoodie and jeans unlocked the PEF (Picture Enhancement Facility) at the Institute and placed the first grainy mage of the Moon’s surface into the machine. It took an hour to run the programme and see the results. Garson stared at the images. It was as he knew they would, as he had known since that day in Dallas with one addition. He didn’t question their authenticity, not then nor later and by 2022 the world would also accept the veracity of the images.
As Garson lifted the pictures to the light he knew he would see the footprints; what he was not expecting was the foot.
No one could explain their presence, pressed into the moon dust a year before Armstrong landed on the moon. No one except a man whose mind had long gone and two tall sombre women. And they weren’t talking.