Reading the news today about Elon Musk’s planned tourist flight to the moon, I decided it might be time to share a passage from a novel I’ve been working on for almost two years now. It’s called The Fourth Time, and my main characters are an archaeologist and her science-fiction writer husband, both of whom work at a place called Southeast Texas State University. Enjoy!
“I have something to show you,” Seth said. I dragged a second chair up to the desk and sat down to wait while he found the something. “Ah, here we go.” A full-screen video popped up showing a photo of the moon that rapidly zoomed in to a close shot of the moon’s surface.
“Nice,” I said.
“Well, that’s just the opening screen,” he explained. “Here’s the thing.” He clicked on a little spaceship icon. “It’s a lottery, Meg. A lottery to win a trip on a shuttle right around the moon and back. Run by that private corporation that’s starting up commercial space travel – you know, Out There, Inc., the company founded by Nolan Saveur. Anyway, I want to use some of my book advance to buy you a lottery ticket for your birthday. What do you say?”
I said nothing. I knew Seth meant this as a pleasant distraction, another means of pulling me out of my funk. Instead I felt like crying.
“Meg?” Seth said. “Did you hear me? I thought you might think this was a fun idea.”
“It’s just… it’s like the dream I had. You know, just before we left? A space flight around the moon. With civilians…”
“Oh, gosh, now I remember. You thought it was from one of my stories. I’m sorry Meg. I guess this is sort of like dejá vu for you. ”
I struggled to tame my feelings—anger? fear? resentment? I shrugged and looked out the window. “No, it doesn’t feel so much like dejá vu as like… Is there a word for remembering something that hasn’t happened yet?” I laughed softly and tousled Seth’s thinning hair. “Maybe it just means you’ll win the damn lottery. Do you really want to go?” I’d missed the part about it being my birthday gift.
Seth frowned at the screen. “You know I’d love to buy the ticket for myself, but with my heart problem and high blood pressure, you know they’d never let me go. You on the other hand, with all your digging in the dirt, as you say, in the great out-of-doors – you’re plenty fit and healthy. Please, Meg? I really, really want to do this. It could be your birthday present. Or, if not for your birthday, then for mine. Although mine is still six months away.”
“Isn’t that the company that lost a ship on their first unmanned trial? Somewhere on the dark side of the moon?”
“Ah. Well, yes, they are. But since then they’ve had three successful flights – one unmanned and two manned. They wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t confident of the safety of the thing. They’re calling it the Moon Loop.”
“Sounds like a new expressway. Or an amusement park ride. Or maybe a breakfast cereal.” I sighed. “How much are the tickets? God, Seth, I can’t believe I’m asking a serious question about your loopy idea! What are the odds?”
“Tickets are only $500,” Seth replied. “Odds, of course, depend on how many tickets they sell. But I can guarantee our odds are much improved if we actually buy a ticket!” He winked at me.
“Only $500? Gosh, Seth, think what else we could do with that money.” I was thinking about the new dishwasher we needed and our recent discussions about putting new tile in the bathroom.
“Oh, god, Seth. Let’s just cut to the part of this discussion where I give in and you send these nuts our $500. Happy birthday to us.”
“Are you sure, babe?”
“Yes, yes. I’ll think of this as an investment in the dubious cause of civilian space travel and my husband’s career.”
“Whatever did I do to deserve such an incredible partner in zaniness as my Meg?” Seth grabbed me, gave me a kiss, and let out a happy little whoop as he zeroed in on the part of the website where you actually buy the lottery ticket.
As I left the cabin to walk over to the lab for an afternoon of processing artifacts, I thought that maybe the combination of the jaguar sighting and Seth’s ill-conceived and badly timed offer of a lottery chance for a moon ride might have been just the ticket to pull me out of that place where I take myself and my experiences way too seriously. In the self-same moment, I felt a bitter sadness for the apparent randomness of it all.