Hilton Hotel, Lunar Base Camp Alan Shepard

by Sean Gullette





"...zero gravity ass," the Senator said, tightening his harness. "That and the old frontier spirit. You'll see what I mean. Some of these girls up here could--" was Astor hearing this correctly?--"dry hole a muleskinner."

Across the cabin, Jack Astor lay half awake. Days of sleeping and airsick pills had left him depressed and logey and dehydrated. He had been dreaming that he was walking across the brittle frozen surface of Lake Michigan, with his former mistress, Janet, when he felt the attendants' small hand on his shoulder and woke up. Framed in the porthole was the lower wall of the Sea of Tranquillity. The Senator was still talking to Brightman, the engineer, who looked green against his gray lambskin seat.

Jack lay back in his chair, eased the elastic strap down from his forehead, and took a deep breath. They were orbiting the moon, waiting for the Resort to rotate into punch-in position under them.

The Senator winked at Astor as the elegant young stewardess swam neatly through the hatch of the Daimler passenger compartment. She was smiling and holding a nip bottle of Glenmorangie with a small rubber nipple on top. "I found some!" she said naughtily. "But you mustn't tell anyone. Alcohol avec sleepers is a no-no."

"I'll be silent as the tomb, Mademoiselle Amber Jones," said the Senator, grinning. Jack watched him grimace, his jowls working hungrily as he began to suck. In the thick polycarbon porthole behind his head stars moved laterally as the pilot adjusted course. Behind his, the golf pro, Dauphin, was wearing a black eyeshade, his head lolling back and forth on his chest. The stewardess shook him awake as the pilot's voice came through the intercom.

"Ten seconds to punch-in, gents," said the copilot. "Seven, six, five, four..."

From a half-mile up, in the girders above the hotel atrium, welding robots pumped out streams of sparks, moved, sparked again. The living complex of the Hilton-Ichiban would one day accommodate 4400 guests, but only 500 of the living units were finished, inhabited by Hilton people, a small army of construction workers, and two dozen women listed on the customs manifest as support workers. Astor was here to consider funding a vast golf complex, 90 holes sprawling across the face of the small planet. He was 66 years old, 15 pounds overweight, married for 40 years, worth a half a billion dollars.

They checked in and showered and Bridget the concierge led them to meet Van, a young Australian Hilton Hospitality fellow in orange outerwear, in the pre-lock loading area. In the back of the buggy were suits fitted for each of them and two bags of Titleist clubs. "Where'd the clubs come from?" the Senator asked as Van checked the seals of their suits with a divemasters' vigorous pats and tugs. "I sent 'em up last fall," said Dauphin, helmet already on, keying the chin-operated microphone. "Looks like someone's had a few cracks with them already. Couldn't resist." "Can't blame them. The whole world saw Shepard make a 200 yard drive in '72. Shot heard round the world." "First time out, sir?" Van asked Jack. He nodded abruptly. He had been staring at the horizon. "No worries," the younger man smiled. "Safer here than crossing the street in Manhattan." "This is going to be fucking great," said Dauphin. The buggy lurched forward into the airlock and Astor felt the dead heat of the exterior flood in as the outer door rose, a shaft of sunlight burning across their faces.

Where the wheel ruts in the flats ended the dusty hills began and they accelerated. Dauphin leaned his mirrored bug eyes towards Astor and said, "That's where I was saying for the first tee." Jack looked where he was pointing, a mesa with a steep face and a sloping backside. Van looked over for confirmation and then ran the buggy fast at the pillar of stone, plowing into the sandy earth at the base. They got out, Jack testing the gravity in the open for the first time. He hopped tentatively. The ground's pull was stronger than he had imagined. Brightman was measuring the mound with a laser sighting measure. "Steel stair-and-ramp, no problem," he said to Astor.

"Let's hit some fucking balls here, men," said the Senator. "Give me a second," Van said. He made a short run and floated quickly towards the top of the mesa, a blue climbing line trailing out behind him to the winch of the jeep. He bumped into the wall of the mesa and used a small axe to float himself to the top. He drove a stake into the earth, the sound of the hammer coming to Astor flat and dull, and clipped the line to a carbine. Van's voice was suddenly in his ear, "clip on and swim up, gents."

The sky was inky black, the more distant stars flickering like faulty wiring, the closer ones glaring and fierce.

From the top Astor's eyes traced the stark shadows of the mountains rimming the Aristarchus plateau. Van returned with the clubs and Brightman drove the tee spike into the earth, then knelt and quickly slipped the flexible rubber tee cup onto the shaft, then fitted a flourescent orange ball to it, the cup's light suction holding it in place. It was his design.

"Honors, Jack?" said the Senator. Van offered him two drivers, a handsome Titleist Nickalus wood and a lighter alloy club. He took the familiar wood, its strange lightness the first objective measure of the 1/6th gravity. "You'll see," said Dauphin. "Go ahead and whack one."

Jack took his stance and tried a gentle test stroke. Without the deadweight of the club, the shaft moved steadily at about half of normal speed. He lined up and swung hard, hitting the ball square and low with a barely audible tick, and followed through, feeling peculiar as the club wiggled in the air above his head.

They watched together as the ball moved up and away, at first only slightly faster than the movement of the club, then seemed to accelerate suddenly. It rose and rose, with no visible arc, climbing at its original angle until, a full sixty seconds later, it became invisible against the sky.

"Oops," said the Senator. "I think I get it," said Astor, straightening. "About half-force, and with some downspin." Dauphin grunted, "Exactly. But it's the whole stroke. Takes a while to adjust." "A few minutes is all," said the Senator hurriedly. "Try it again." "Let's call those two hills that look like tits the flag," said Dauphin, pointing with the alloy club. After slicing twice, Astor sent the ball in a long, low arc that caught gravity thirty seconds out and broke downwards toward the bowl of the crater. It landed 500 meters down the slope, displacing a slowmoving trail of dust. "Oh, beautiful, just right," said Dauphin. The Senator slapped him on the back. "That might just have been the longest golf drive in human history." "Oh, money!" said Dauphin. "See: at least the moon's good for something." "It's getting hot," said Van. "You guys need a drink."

The four men followed the sturdy thighs of Bridget, the concierge, up the alloy railing towards the restaurant at the top of the hotel atrium. Bridget keyed the door open and they came out through the floor of the round platform of the dining room. They faced a 30-foot wall of glass, tinted against the glare of the late-cycle sun. "What do you think, Jack," said the Senator. His voice wobbled strangely. Six women sat at a large table across the vast domed room. They wore brightly colored, lightweight cotton dresses. One of them looked over, directly into Astor' eyes and the smell of marijuana drifted across to him as a sharp pain tore up his left arm like a gaff. He fell back against the wall, feeling suddenly heavy. Behind the prostitutes he could see the collapsed lava tube of the Cobrahead, half swallowed by the arcing shadow of lunar dusk, and the great permanent darkness beyond it.