“Mommy, tell me the story again,” Jacob begged his mother who was beginning to tuck him into bed.
“Again?” Maggie, Jacob’s mother, looked at her five year old son and he flashed his ‘I-know-you-can’t-say-no-when-I-give-you-this-look’ look. “Oh alright, but it’s bed time after this, no arguments,” she said, sitting back down on the bed. Jacob snuggled up next to her and she began:
“Once upon a time, not so long ago, there existed a great nation of men who accomplished astonishing feats and served as an example to the world of what man was truly capable of. This nation was a wonderful place to live and all the people felt content knowing that they were part of something truly special, a nation of innovators and engineers. One day, the leader of this great nation decided he wanted to do something truly amazing. He wanted to send a man into space. People said he was crazy, people even laughed a little at the idea of a man being sent into that vast unknown. The leader would not change his mind though, and soon there were plans set in place to do the impossible- shoot a man off of the earth and into the starry heavens and return him safely to earth. And you know what? They figured out how to do it!
It wasn’t very long after that before this nation of great and brave men were sending men into outer space dozens and dozens of times! Can you imagine it, Jacob? Wearing a big, heavy space suit but still feeling light as a feather because…oh, I forget. Why is it things feel lighter in space?” Maggie feigned puzzlement for a few seconds before Jacob took the bait.
“Because there’s no gravity in space!” Jacob squealed excitedly.
“Oh yeah! Of course, how silly of me. Now where was I… oh, right. So there you are floating around, surrounded by darkness, the Earth just a small blue pin-prick in the distance. Can you imagine it? It must have been amazing for those few who were lucky enough to experience it. Space cowboys, some liked to call them but they were known in their time as astronauts. The brightest and bravest of that great nation, they were selected to navigate the infinite skies, flying bulky and sometimes dangerous crafts out of our little world and into another. They were inspiring and humble, many of their names were lost from memory over the years. But not those last four, they will never be forgotten. They became… the Infamous Four.
Sadly, by the time the Infamous Four were preparing for their journey to space, the once great nation had been crippled and was being slowly destroyed by weak-minded men who valued only themselves and the money they could horde away. Caring nothing for their fellow citizens, they joined with other men like them and soon formed impenetrable monsters who walked the land and clubbed anyone who spoke out against them. And what are the monsters called?” Maggie raised her eyebrows in a questioning expression.
“Corporations!” Jacob answered, proudly.
“You got it, corporations. These monsters were nasty, slimy creatures, and they were always hungry. They needed money to survive and they needed a lot of it. Sometimes, if money was hard to fine, these monsters would feed on the souls, which were just as good. After years and years of feeding, soon the monsters had control of all the great nation’s leaders; one by one they lost their souls to the enticing false promises of the monsters. As the monsters ate and ate and ate, the country started to die. Beautiful things that had once been monuments to change and advancement were canceled or stripped bare, but the monsters still needed more to eat. Soon it was decided that the nation no longer needed to focus on sending men off of the earth, there were more important things on the ground that needed attention. So, just like that, the door to space, NASA’s shuttle program was shutting down after three last launches.
The Infamous Four were outraged when they heard the news. They couldn’t believe it. How had this happened? What had become of the great nation from their childhood? After hours of bemoaning this great injustice, the Infamous Four decided that they had to do something. They could not just let such an important part of the nation’s history and identity fade away without so much as a protest.
So on the day of their launch they boarded their shuttle with a plan. They would not return home, not set foot back on earth until their beloved space program had been reinstated. They would conduct a sit-in on a galactic level. Whatever happened, they vowed to each other to stay in space until their corrupted leaders saw their mistakes and began to take steps to correct them- starting with NASA.
Blasting off into the sky, the Infamous Four clenched their teeth and tried to keep their eyes open- aware that this could be the last time they see their beloved planet. Two weeks passed- the mission was a success, supplies and equipment had been safely hauled and transported to the International Space Station and it was time for them to come home- so thought the boys back on earth. Mission Control received the surprise of their life when the order to return home was met with a firm and resolved ‘no’. The Infamous Four laid out their demands and promised to return with their ship, the Atlantis, once they could be assured that the mission to continue sending man into space was back in operation. They would not come home a minute sooner.
Weeks went by without a resolution. The monsters dug their claws into the leaders and filled their ears with poison. With each passing day, the leaders of that dying nation slowly began to bow to the overwhelming strength of the monsters until one day, in the recesses of their darkened chambers a most solemn decision was whispered. They would leave the Infamous Four in space and cover up the entire thing, claiming a horrendous and inexplicable mechanical failure had taken the lives of those poor souls. They would fashion them into national heroes, plan parades, interview celebrities, build monuments, the works. The public would mourn for a day or two but the monsters would soon distract them with something shiny, like a reality TV star being arrested or the ‘unexpected’ early birth of celebrity twins. They had done it before, it would be reasonably easy.”
“But it didn’t work!” Jacob shouted indignantly. “Did it, mom?” he asked with slightly less conviction.
“Nope, the monsters failed. Worried that the monsters might try such a tactic, the Infamous Four had convinced a very eager young computer programmer to send out a recorded message should the story of their ‘death’ be announced. The Infamous Four didn’t care about dying, they were in space! Where better to end their days as cavalier space cowboys then in the great equalizer that was the great unknown?
Soon the news stations began to run the headline fed to them by their monsters- the last astronauts had been killed in a freak accident as they were returning home. It was a tragic story that gripped the citizens of a broken nation. How could such a thing happen? Then, as the announcement of the planned memorial played, the feed was suddenly interrupted. A fuzzy, amateur video began to play and the faces of the Infamous Four soon appeared. As their final words faded and the feed went dark, the citizens stood mesmerized by the truth they had just heard. This time, the sacrifice was clear, and it was four of them, fellow citizens left to die in the darkness by monsters bloated by greed and leaders blinded by politics. If heroes could be sacrificed so callously, what about them? It was too much. The citizens would not be distracted this time, could not.
“And that’s how we killed the monsters!” Jacob launched out of his bed and grabbing his toy model of the Atlantis zoomed around the room.
Laughing, Maggie watched her son and wished it were that simple. Truth was the battle had just begun. But it HAD begun.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
OK, so, eh… this took kind of a political turn, which is really not my bag, so thanks for sticking it out.
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: Today was the final launch of the NASA shuttle program. As a native Central Floridian, the shuttle blasting off every so often almost became something of a nonevent. The old adage, “you don’t miss something until it’s gone” totally applies here. I’m going to miss that speck of orange and trail of spiraled white smoke in the blue sky. I’m going to miss the sonic boom that rattles the windows but blends into the warm Florida night like a crescendo from a slightly over-eager percussionist. I’m going to miss the larger-than-life greatness it represented, the limits it disintegrated with each flight.
The program began 30 years ago- 1981, the year I was born. I find the symmetry oddly comforting, and count myself lucky that I was able to witness, with my own eyes, the launch of dozens of shuttles. I know where I was when we lost the Challenger… I saw that too (even as a five year old I knew something was very wrong, there was too much color, the shape was not right). So I guess I just wanted to express my gratitude to the men and women only a 40 minute drive up I-4 who brought such greatness to our state, our country, the world. Thank you.
So, U.S.A. what’s next?
Love & Squirrels.