a.r.gagne

Leaps That Might Have Been

Leap One: One Giant Leap

Chapter Four	



	Armstrong wasn't answering the door. Sam continued to knock until his
fist ached and flared with pain. Al came through the wall, spirit-like,
and appeared next to him. He said that Neil was in there and that he was
blankly starring at his wife's photograph, but he was not responding.
Sam tried once more to get the man out into the hallway but it was to no
avail. He then sighed and started to walk back to his room down the hall
with Al in tow.
	"I thought..." He quieted and uttered a fake cough noticing the maid
coming towards them. "I thought you said I was supposed to talk to
Armstrong," he continued when she had rounded the corner.
	"You were but you...ah...just picked the wrong time."
	"The wrong time, Al..."
	"Ziggy says that Armstrong had just got of the phone with his wife.
They had had another argument and ARmstrong was pretty depressed. Maybe
he planned to drink it away. You lit the fuse again to set him off."
	Sam looked at the ground and shook his head. He wondered if a leap
would ever go smoothly. Now he had to find a way to get through to a man
that wouldn't even give him the time of day; had to wrorry about what he
could say to him, being careful to step around the land mines of the
man's soul. How could he get the man to come out of his irom shell? Al
watched as he paced around the room spurting out scenarios that he
constantly turned over, brought back up, and then dropped again. Having
to force a man into telling another man his problems was a difficult
task, and the fact that the man in question was an American legend
wasn't making it any easier. Every so often Al shot some idea into the
ix that Sam would dismiss, saying that it would not work. Ziggy had
nothing. Finally Al gave up trying to reason with the man and sat
ideally by as Sam questioned. Then, suddenly, just before he was about
to go back, Sam said something that the hologram hadn't expected.
	"Where were you the day of the moon landing, Al?"
	Al though about the question he had just been hammered with a moment
ago, the memories that he had tried to surpress flooding back to him
like an aimless raging river with torrents as powerful as hurricanes.
Suddenly he was was back in 'Nam, back in the jungle that he had spent
what seemed like centuries in, the place that stole his life away from
him in oh so many ways. He was gazing between steal bars slicked with
human waste and grime. It was raining and the drops pinged off the tin
roof and streamed down the cell in thin rivulets. His face was painted
black with mud, he had trouble seeing his captors before him, and he
still wore the camouflage of a US soldier. He lifted the bottle of
water, if that was what this was, to his lips and downed a mouthful,
chunks of who knows what slid painfully down his throat but it quenched
his aching thirst. The man next to him was unconscious or sleeping.
	"When Chip and I left we had never thought that such a thing was
possible," he started as Sam arched his head to listen. "I mean...when
we were kids we played moon men but as an adult how could you take
something like that seriously. I hadn't seen much of the world outside
since '66. except streams of light but most of it was darkness. Darkness
in light. I was being held then in a camp in Sahoy --a small town north
east of the capital of Vietname. We had been moved around for weeks but
the pace had slowed for the time being...the treatment hadn't.
	"That week in 1969 I had been a prisoner of war for four years...had no
life for four damn years. The Vietnamese guards had one of those small
black and white television sets, probably smuggled in under their
superious noses. Most of the time the channels was set to see updates of
the war, perhaps the media would leak info. The lot of them couldn't
understand english except for a few men. One of them was a vicious
bastard with a scar across his left cheek." Al ran a finger down his
face to show Sam. "The men were hulked around the thing, and from the
pit I was in it kind of reminded me of a football team in a huddle. They
were watching the landing with anger and rage, screaming in their
language. The english man with the scar spit at us and said that we
Americans knew nothing.
	"After the broadcast they dragged us..." he paused, "out of our cells
and beat us till the point of unconsciousness. Laughing and cursing as
they hammered us with wooden pegs and the butts of their riffles. I
still have the scars. During this all I could think of was Beth..."He
trailed at the mention of her name, stopping suddenly, and Sam realized
how similer Armstrong and Al were. Both had inner deamons, both were
safes with rusted padlocks and chains.
	"I remember it being the worst torture I received in those camps...when
I got back, however, I found that that beating wasn't the worst thing
that happened in '69."
	"I'm sorry, Al," Sam offered, remembering pieces of one leap. He was in
the jungles overseas as well, he had a chance to save Al from the
horrible fate that had befallen him. The photograph of the boy starring
back at him in that tent that one night years ago. He remembered.
	"Why didn't you le-" His question was cut off by the beeping of the
hand link. Al checked, mumbling off incoherent sentences that Sam
couldn't understand.
	"Runway...a run way?" Suddenly Al got the message.
	"Oh no, Sam you've changed history. Now Armstrong runs away tonight but
this time he's..."
	"He's what Al!"
	"He's never heard from or seen again until his body is fished out of a
river seven miles east of here six months from now."
	Sam was out of the room once he heard the word 'body' exit Al's mouth.
His legs took him quickly down the hallway, nearly knocking down the
maid as he ran. He pounded on Neil's door repeatedly...harder then
before. Other patrons of the hotel began looking out of their doors and
into the hallway, trying to figure out what all the comotion was about.
	"Neil," he shouted, "come on out, Neil! Go and seen what he's doing
Al," Sam said and Al walked through the door and into Armstrong's room.
Inside he found the room in shambles. The bed sheets were madly tossed
on the floor, the lamp shade hung askew, the mirror was shattered by
what seemed to be a hairbrush. And, sitting in two pieces on the dresser
amongst the shards of broken glass, was a photograph of a pretty blond
woman. Al transported himself back into the hallway where Sam paced
frantically back and forth. Seeing the hologram, he stopped.
	"He's...he's gone Sam."


				*  *  *  *  *  *

	"He had it set in his mind that his wife was going to leave him," Al
was saying as they waited for the taxi cab. "After he left the bar he
called her and blew up at her again. This time she hung up on him." Al
had told Sam the story as the information came to him. Before they had
went to the bar, the couple had had a dispute about weather or not
Armstrong would see her before the launch. She said she had wanted to
talk to him. He said that there was nothing to talk about. Both had left
angry.
	"He wanted to get everything off his mind then, Sam." Al had then said
that there was no more information on Armstrong until his death is
reported in newspapers across the country. "I guess he decided that he
really couldn't have the best of both worlds and..." Al didn't need to
finish.
	Sam asked himself in a hushed whisper..."The best of both worlds?" An
idea then hit him and he told Al to check the launch site.
	"The launch site? Why?"
	"Just check it. I've got a hunch."
	"A hunch," Al said and made his way to the site. A moment later he
returned to tell Sam that Armstrong was there, in front of the rocket,
and he didn't look very good.
	"How did you know?"
	"The best of both worlds, Al. He is there to think about what to do."
	"Well you gotta' go and alter his train of thought."
	Sam had then called the taxie cab from the direct line connected to the
hotel phone in the lobby. He already knew what he would say to Armstrong
and asked Al to check with Ziggy.
	"She says that there is a fifty/fifty chance that if you tell that to
Armstrong he will either beat the hell out of you or come around."
	"A risk I am willing to take."
	The cab pulled up and he got in.


	The launch site was quite and the chirpping of crickets could be heard
from the nearing fields. Armstrong gazed skyward at the rocket, the
tower that seemed to never end, reaching heaven itself. He then looked
at the first stars that began to appear, each twinkling with a serinity
that only space could create. The moon...the white spere above yet to be
damaged by human minds...yet to be polluted and destroyed. He balanced
the moon on his thumb, thinking that it would be better id we didn't
land there. What could science need to know about a place we couldn't
even breath on anyway? So many unanswered questions. What was she
thinking now. Did she miss him> God he missed her...but the moon...what
if we find something up there that changes it all...life...what id she
meets somebody better while I am above the earth? Lord knows it wouldn't
be hard.
	"Beautiful, isn't it, Neil?"
	Armstrong spun around to see Buzz a few feet behind him. Buzz, who had
been so strange lately, had snuck up on him. He didn't want to see him
now, didn't want him to see him torn up the way he was. To tell the
truth, he had always admired Buzz, looked up to the man and felt looked
up upon when the man looked at him. They became as close as brothers or
closer these past months. Maybe he should have confided in him those
many weeks ago...maybe he should just leave instead of threatening this
mans career.
	"Go away, Buzz," He said quietly...the anger had left him now.
	"She's not worth it," Buzz said, holding up the halves of the woman's
picture. "She's not worth your chance Neil."
	What was he saying. Anger now flarred in the pit of Armstrong's
stomach. If there was a color deeper then red for anger he saw it. He
thundered over to Aldrin, his fists clenched in balls of steal. How dare
he take her picture? How dare he speak about her like that?
	"You thke that back Buzz," He screamed. "You take it back!"
	"You know it's true, Neil. That's why you came here and didn't go to
her. Do you really think a woman is worth altering the course of your
destiny...especially one who doesn't see things like you and I do." Buzz
then said something like 'I know what I'm doing Al', but Armstrong
dismissed it, grabbing the man by the scruff of his neck and shoving him
to the ground. Her picture flew from his hands, tumbling to the cold
pavement. Armstrong caught the halves before the wind had a chance to
take the away.
	"This is the woman I love," he said, near tears, his left hand raised.
	"Then tell her that," Buzz said from where he lay.
	Armstrong paused and it occured to him that it had been weeks, maybe
months since he had uttered the words to his wife. He lowered his hands,
a single tear fell to his feet, and extended his arm to help Buzz up. He
took Armstrong's hand and both men stood face to face.
	"When was the last time you took her out, the last you you brought her
a rose?" He should have hit Aldrin for what he was implying, but he
really couldn't remember when. He turned his back to Buzz and again
starred at the rocket.
	"But what do I choose?"
	"You don't have to choose, Neil. You just have to tell yourself that
she loves you enough to wait for you."
	She had said that...weeks before he first came to Houston, she had said
she would wait until that rocket brought him home no matter how long it
took. Armstrong's fear had been the cause of the first fight three
months ago...he couldn't believe it. Now he realized that eventhough he
thought he was fearless...that he couldn't be touched...one thing had
broken down the walls. Love.
	"Call her." Buzz's plea made Armstrong respect him more.
	"It's going to be one hell of a jump when we get up there. Isn't it
Buzz?"
	"Yeah...one giant leap."
	"One giant leap," Armstrong thought, "I like that."

				* * * * * *

	It took a few hours for Armstrong to called his wife. Sam had been with
him through those hours, telling him again and again the right thing to
do was tell her that he cared. With all the doubts and all the fears
that ran through Armstrong's mind, he finally picked up the receiver and
dialed the number. It was one day before the launch. It turned out that
his wife had been waiting by the phone since she had hung up on him,
crying, sorry for the arguments, sorry for hanging up on him that night.
She had even tried to reach him but the woman at the desk said that he
wasn't around. Armstrong said that he was sorry, it was his fault, and
that he loved her more than anything the Lord could create. He then
laughed, looking at Sam.
	"See...we never agree."
	His wife said that she heared that and both began to laugh. They were
still talking when Sam checked in on him three hours later.
	"So I guess it's time to leap," he said to Al as he closed his
hotel-room door.
	"Your works not done yet Sam," Al replied. "You have to make sure
Armstrong gets on that rocket tommorow."
	

	Houston Control was all a buzz as the crew members stepped out into the
lobby. Olson was a nervous wreck and maddly pumped Sam's gloved hand
just before they were to board the rocket. Sam was equally as nervous,
despite Al's assurance that he would leap before the rocket took off.
The shuttles door opened and the men stepped inside. Here Sam found a
maze of levers, platforms, and ladders. Armstrong looked secure. The
night before his wife had wished hi luck and asked him to think of her
when they were going up.
	The skies over Houston were clear, a blanket of blue silk, and hundreds
upon hundreds of people were packed at the fences of Houston Conteol to
witness the event. The old and the young had come to gaze upon this
moment in history, one of many that had taken place that summer of '69.
All showed their support for their men as the door slammed shut by
cheering. Some prayed, some screamed, all were proud.
	Inside the rocket Sam was strapped into a seat in front of the two men
that were working the controls for the first leg of the journey. Al was
there beside him saying that at any moment he would leap. Still, Sam
wondered what it would be like to go up on space, to walk on air,
knowing that the feeling would be something that even the weight trips
couldn't equal. He was here in this place in history knowing that there
was a young man today in Elk Ridge glued to a television set, his father
by his side. Sam smiled as Olson's voice came threw the loud-speakers.
	"We are ready to launch in ten, nine, eight, seven, six..."
	Sam braced himself and glanced at Armstrong beside him. Armstrong
extended his thumb and Sam saw that he was smiling. In his other hand
was a taped up photograph of a pretty blond woman.
	"Five, four, three, two..."
	"By Sam," Al said and waved.
	"One. BLAST OFF!" The rocket rumbled and as it began to leave the Earth
Sam leaped.

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	Lights flashed in multicolor beams as Sam realized he was in some kind
of club, standing in an unkempt boot. The place was dim, almost dark,
and the flickering lights did no job of brightening up the atmosphere.
Sam also noticed that nobody was dancing to the music being played from
in behind him (some song from the retro age, Sam guessed) and that he
couldn't even see a dance floor.
	Sam turned around and saw a plump man in a skin tight suit, his curly
blond hair matted and dishevelled, changing the record. Now a slow
melodie drifted in Sam's ears. It was rather peacefull actually and he
recognized the piece as Fur Elise from Beatoven. The man spun around on
his swivle chair and looked at Sam with a gaze of lust, the lights
shimmmering off his suit.
	"You look great," he said with a smile. Sam didn't respond, not wanting
to give the guy any ideas. A woman with red hair then stormed into the
booth complaining about the choice of music. Sam diverted his eyes from
the woman who couldn't have been more then nineteen. She was wearing
nothing but a string of leather underwear. Sam listened as the man
argued with the woman, then used the same line on her as he had just
used on him. He then grabbed a microphone that stuck out of the stereo
system and began to speak in his slow southern drawl.
	"That was the sentious Sindy, gentalmen. Next up for your viewing
pleasure is Patricia."
	Sam now knew that he was in a strip club. He caught a glance at the
mirror that hung near the side of the booth and walked over to it.
Dozens of nude pin-ups filled the glass but Sam saw who he had leaped
into.
	The woman in the mirror, a tall blond with a tattoo of a heart
entangled in wire on her left bicep, was dressed in a white lace bikini
witht the bottom to match. Her hair was slicked back into a dangling
ponytail and her eyes were like specks of pure crystle.
	The d.j. placed another track in the stereo --this time a waltz by
Strauss-- and said: Gentalmen...Patricia." 
	Sam could see the stage now, rings of small lights around it, the
mirrors and the men that sourrounded it, and the twin poles that were
off to the sides. No other dancer took the stage.
	"Pat," the readheaded girl beside him said, pushing Samout of the
booth. "You're on."
	"Ohhhhhhh boooooooy," Sam said as he was shoved towards the stage.