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. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------------------------------- 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.