It was the most thankless mission mankind had ever attempted, but Stephen Coyne thought of himself as the right guy for the job.
"A small step for a man," he hissed into the intercom as his lead-loaded soles stepped out of the airlock and sank into a dusty, malleable rock surface far more pristine than human history knew. Maybe someone at mission control would appreciate the joke, he thought. Just to do away with the absurdity of the endeavor.
Navajo Indians say the moon is the handiwork of the First People on earth, who produced two discs out of a slab of quartz and put them on top of the highest mountains in the east. The first one, the Sun, would bring heat and light to the people; the second one, the Moon, coolness and moisture. Two wise men steered the wheels through the heavens: the Sun Bearer and the Moon Bearer.
Steve wondered how Mr. Armstrong must have felt, 50 years ago, as he entered the secret studio to hoist himself into his space suit, knowing he was about to pull the biggest prank on humanity anyone had ever attempted. He tried to imagine what Armstrong did after the shoot, when he had to wait for the unmanned Apollo 11 to splash into the sea before he was finally allowed in public again. Maybe he took the time to reread For Whom the Bell Tolls or A Farewell to Arms, he pondered, thinking for no reason whatsoever that Armstrong was a Hemingway man, smoking Arturo Fuente cigars with patient gusto.
He wasn't just here to collect rocks and other materials that could finally be properly studied; his feet stood here, as the first ones to ever walk on non-terrestrial ground, to finally make good on all the lies.
Captain Onida should see this, Steve thought, looking over the vast crunchy valleys of dust. He wondered why his commander suddenly decided not to leave the ship after landing. During training at Cape Kennedy, it seemed like this covert quest was exactly what Onida was born for. Steve's commanding officer was a secluded, profound and spiritual man, one of the few people in this modern age who still dared to outsource a large chunk of his morality to an outside party. For an ex-military man who had committed himself to a space exploration program, he had little love for modern times. In fact, he despised them. He felt like the very last remnant of an ancient, extinct civilization, ravaged by the modern desolations of machinery and greed.
He told magnificent stories, wondrous ancient chronicles solidified by millennia of oral lore. Steve remembered how he, with almost tearful regret in his eyes, divulged the story of the Tl'éhonaa'áí, or Moon Bearer. "You think we'll see him when we land there?" Steve asked bitterly.
Now that they had actually landed on the moon's surface, he didn't even want to leave the cockpit. Strange, if only because he didn't see the captain as someone who chickens out when moments of truth stand before him.