The bar was no more promising than the rest of the town, but I didn’t feel like sitting in my hotel room staring at four walls before the launch. Taking a trip to space, even as tourist, seemed to be something that should have more of a sendoff, some acknowledgement that this time was in fact special.
Probably if I’d taken the Virgin Galactic route there would have been a party, but something about going up into space with the people who did it first made more sense to me. That and it was 50,000 dollars cheaper. Still, a gruff trainer signing off that I had completed my three days of athletic preparation did not quite feel like all the pomp the occasion was due.
Walking through the door of the bar was like walking back in time, not just a few decades, but centuries into the past. Most were dressed as you would expect them to be in some old soviet movie, ratty gray coats, with wool hats and long gray beards. The only woman in the room was the bartender, and it was unlikely anyone had made a pass at her in 15 years, or dared try.
The room was packed with the only available seats at one of the many tables around the edge of the room, each with at least one occupant. Parties are usually better when more than one person is involved, but I didn’t particularly relish ambling my way up to a stranger, especially strangers who looked like this.
I grabbed my beer which was chilled in a long cold glass and started an aimless walk toward somewhere to land. Everyone seemed to ignore me, everyone except for a man with a dark beard and darker eyes in the far corner. It was not a warm look per-say but it did seem to be the best invitation I was going to get, and he did not raise any objections when I sat down across from him. He even had the decency to say the first words.
“You’re going up tomorrow?”
“Yes,” I replied a little startled, “how did you know?”
“No one visits this place except to go up into space. And you look tired, but not like the rest of us. We have been tired all of our lives, but for you it has only been the last few days.”
I took a nervous sip of my beer, “Yeah, they’ve been working us pretty hard. Seems like a lot of effort just to sit in a chair, be weightless for twenty minutes, and then come back down.”
“Then why do it?”
“Well, because, I d’know. It’s space. It’s the kind of thing you dream about when you’re a kid. And I know it’s not like the men who went to the moon or anything, but it’s the biggest taste of it I’m likely to get.”
Unexpectedly the man laughed, “That is a good reason. Men much younger than you forget what it is like to be a child. I saw Gagarin fly when I was eight and I’ve never forgotten it.”
Yuri Gagarin was practically the reason I was here, that and the money. We may have landed on the moon first, but Gagarin beat us to the heavens. He returned there about eight years later, only that time dead. Not many in the year 2030 remembered him with quite the same reverence, but as I’d said, space was my dream since I was a child.
“But that was seventy years ago! Pardon my asking but what do they put in the water around here?”
“It’s not the water,” the man said as he took a sip of his own drink. He then pulled a shot glass from deep in the folds of his coat and poured out a little of his mug. The substance was thick and viscous, a dark crimson that swayed back and forth in the glass as he poured. Leaving half the shot glass empty he pulled out a flask and filled it to the top with something brown.
“Nothing like a jack and blood, eh my young friend? And you thought all we Russians drank was vodka!”
To be continued…