Last Saturday saw the 49th anniversary of the first moon landing…
They were gone.
Michael Collins watched gloomily as the Eagle moved away from the Command Module, then pirouetted in front of it. Collins knew, of course, that that was part of the plan, that it was being done so that he could inspect the Eagle for any damage, but found it hard to fight down the feeling that Armstrong and Aldrin were just rubbing it in, like Cinderella’s sisters sashaying in their new dresses before her, before the Ball.
At least Cinderella had eventually ended up going too, thought Collins. No such luck for him. No Fairy Godmother was going to appear, change the Command Module into a landable space-buggy and six space-mites into giant tyres, or change his massive boots into glass slippers, though that last bit was probably just as well.
Collins was startled from his reverie by Houston asking if all was ok with the Eagle. He scrutinised it quickly and expertly. “Columbia here,” he said. “Eagle is good to go.”
So it went. And wouldn’t be back for twenty- eight hours.
He had been so excited when he heard he’d been picked for the crew, for the mission which was THE ONE, the one where they would finally walk on the moon. Then he had realised that he was going to be the third man, the one who got all of the work but got none of the fun, the one that history would forget.
Perhaps he should have taken a cool nickname, he thought. Perhaps if they’d been able to announce the moon-walkers as “Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael “um, um, (for some reason the word “Woody” kept leaping into his mind), er, Michael “Whatever” Collins.”, then it might have been Neil Armstrong now stuck in the Command Module, burning out his fuse up here alone.
Collins sighed, then sat back in his seat. He spent a long time staring out of the window at the earth, trying to figure out where his house was.
He did, of course, have a computer, so he could watch television, though since it was 1969 he would have to watch simply whatever was on.
He turned it on. It was I Dream Of Jeannie. He turned it off.
At least Captain Nelson had got to meet a Genie, he thought.
Then, suddenly, there was a knock at the window. Collins looked toward it, for one mad second expecting to see a blonde in a crop-top and pantaloons.
Instead, it was Neil Armstrong. Collins could see the Eagle a few yards behind him. Armstrong made the hand-signal for winding down a car window, which Collins took to mean he wanted the hatch opened. He pulled the lever, there was a low hiss, and the hatch swung open. An unsecured screwdriver drifted between them and out into space, and the two briefly watched it go. Then Armstrong climbed into the Command Module, they closed the hatch, and Armstrong took off his helmet.
“What’s wrong?” asked Collins. “Why are you back?”
“We realised we need you to come with us,” said Armstrong.
“Why?” asked Collins.
“Well,” said Armstrong, “it’s all going to be really historic, I have this little speech planned -”
“The one about the one small step for a man,” nodded Collins.
Armstrong’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know that?” he asked. “I’ve kept it secret.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Collins, “you’ve been muttering it to yourself over and over for months now. They’re already selling t-shirts in the NASA souvenir shop with it written on it.”
“Well,” said Armstrong defensively, “I had to practise it. I’d hate to mess it up.”
“Well, never mind that now,” said Collins. “Let’s get back to the bit where I have to come with you.”
“We realised that we weren’t going to have a record of any of it, if there wasn’t someone there to film us coming down the ladder. So we want you to do it.”
“How would that work?”
“We all go down, you keep quiet all the way, we send you out with the camera, and when you’re set up I come out, then Buzz.”
“But,” said Collins, excitement rising in him, “that means that -”
“Yes,” nodded Armstrong, “you’ll be the real first man on the moon. Though of course we can never tell anyone. We could never admit that we spent billions sending people to the moon and never thought of how we might record them actually arriving.”
Collins nodded. “You’re right,” he said. “We’d have to keep it secret forever. It’d be like -”
“A conspiracy,” said Armstrong.