Recording of Candidate 749’s Psychological Evaluation
Dr. Namor: “What’s keeping you here?”
Candidate 749: “Gravity.”
Dr. Namor: “Seriously, Candidate. You
can leave the program at any time. You can always go home.”
Candidate 749: “Now why would anyone
want to go and do a thing like that?”
0300: Approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes until launch
Redgrave slid into a booth at the 495 Truck Stop, grabbed a menu and vacantly
stared at it for a few minutes.
stop wasn’t his typical hangout. The smell of burnt bacon grease and stale
cigarettes wasn’t something that appealed to him. But it was the only place
open and better yet, no one even deigned a glance in his direction when he
potbellied man in a corner booth lit a cigarette then punched in a number on
his cell-phone. Joseph’s attention shifted from the man to a no-smoking sign
posted on the wall a few feet away from the man’s booth before shifting back to
the man. As he pulled in a drag, the end of the man’s cigarette lit up orange,
calling to mind the glow of rocket exhaust from the archival footage of the
Apollo missions Joseph watched again and again when he was a kid. Joseph’s
stomach knotted up.
Did those Apollo
guys get this nervous before they launched?
snapped his attention away from the man’s cigarette.
woman with olive skin, dark eyes, and long hair pulled back into ponytail stood
at the edge of his table, holding a steaming pot of coffee. If Joseph were to
venture a guess, the waitress was of Puerto Rican decent and probably 18 or 19
years old. Twenty at the most.
fresh,” she said with an awkward smile.
“Can I get
you something else? A soda? A beer? An orange juice?”
the alcohol, none of those things were on the prohibited list. The rest of the
crew were massive coffee drinkers, but he’d never acquired the taste despite
his lifelong propensity to rise early and work late into the night.
he said, simply.
woman nodded. “Coming right up.”
waitress vanished behind a set of double saloon style doors and Joseph returned
to the menu. Nothing seemed particularly appetizing. But that wasn’t too
surprising, considering that very little about Earth was appetizing to him
anymore. This cold detachment, which didn’t fully blossom until his father
passed away the night before Joseph graduated from high school, was also the
decisive factor in him being selected to the mission. The admin at NASA claimed
publicly that it was his superb credentials, military experience and work
ethic, but Joseph had read the classified file and he knew that it was the
psychologist's recognition of his borderline anti-social disorder that put him
over the thousands of other applicants. Joseph wasn’t a sociopath, but just
close enough to be the perfect candidate. In the psych’s words, “Mr. Redgrave
is empathetic and pragmatic enough to successfully work as part of a team but
lacks the ability to form personal relationships that could harm the mission.”
Joseph had read those words initially, he’d felt a sense of relief as they
confirmed something he’s always suspected about himself, but just hours before
the launch they were threatening to become something else, a chain holding him
to the earth. He’d mastered everything he’d ever tried to do and soon would
master space travel, yet a sense of failure lurked at the edges of his mind. He
had tried to attach himself to others, but he could never maintain the grip.
People were just too slippery.
waitress returned with a cup of water and crushed ice. She placed the glass on
know what you want to order?” she asked.
tapped the menu against the surface of the table. He had to order something, he
couldn’t just hang out with a cup of water. He blew out a long breath. “What’s
she replied. “At this time of night. Nothing. But we do have a special that
started at midnight.”
guess, steak and eggs?”
flashed genuine surprise. “How’d you know? We haven’t even written it on the
gestured to a smudgy whiteboard located near the entrance that still listed
yesterday’s special; fish and chips.
guess,” he replied.
nothing to do with it. Every diner, truck stop or small-town café within a
fifty-mile radius of Cape Canaveral would run the same special today. Steak and
Eggs was a NASA tradition going back to when they first strapped Alan Shepherd
to a 5-ton missile and launched him into space.
you’re one of those clairvoyants I’ve seen on YouTube. You do look familiar.”
shrugged. “I’ll take the special. Steak medium. Eggs over easy.”
waitress scribbled his order onto a little notepad. “Biscuit or toast.”
matter. He probably wasn’t going to touch his meal.
me.” He folded the menu and extended it to the young woman.
waitress scribbled his surprise onto the paper then took the menu. “Name’s
Maria, just let me know if you want something else.”
accent was unique as if it had a slight north-eastern flavor. It reminded him
of his college roommate’s accent. Reggie was from New York.
disappeared into the kitchen and Joseph peered out at the window. Trucks buzzed
by on I-95, the roar of the diesel engines still audible over a country crooner
cooing from an old jukebox. The endless parade of headlights sparked the memory
of the first time he’d climbed into the kiddie version of NASA’s G-Force
training centrifuge. Attached to the end of a metal arm, the machine spun him
so fast that the ceiling lights stretched into a single line. He’d went the
fastest and lasted the longest, his heart swelling with pride as he recounted
the accomplishment to his father during the ride home from Space Camp. Of
course, he left out how he fainted and woke up covered in vomit, but that
would’ve made little difference anyway. His father was proud. Joseph could
still feel the touch of his father’s calloused hand as he tussled his hair.
his father think now? Would he still be proud? Or would he be sad that his son
was leaving Earth forever?
, Joseph thought, because he’s dead
closed his eyes and pushed down the ache bubbling up inside. Time didn’t heal
me, are you all right?”
opened his eyes. Maria stood at side of the booth, tiny notepad in hand.
A bit of
flush rushed to Joseph’s cheeks. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just a little anxious
Maria lowered her left hand to her stomach.
“I’m not exactly looking forward to when I get off my shift.”
brought the glass of water to his lips. “Like working here that much, huh?”
chuckled. “No. I don’t even like living in this state.”
Joseph felt about the planet.
we are,” she said.
narrowed and Joseph felt a sting of panic at the thought that he’d blown his
you mean?” she asked.
didn’t recognize him. “You’re young enough. You can move.”
“I wish it
were that easy, but...”
you just go back home?”
leaned back a bit, taking on a playfully combative posture. “How do you know
that this isn’t my home?”
from the Northeast. New York probably.”
widened. “The Bronx actually. How’d you know? Are you really psychic or
accent,” he replied. “It pops up here and there.”
frowned. “I guess you can take a girl out of the Bronx, but you can’t take the
Bronx out of a girl.”
it seem like that’s a bad thing.”
shrugged. The potbellied trucker lit up another cigarette. Maria glanced over, a
mixture of frustration and something else, helplessness maybe, swept across her
countenance as the smell of his cigarette smoke quickly filtered throughout the
like him smoking in here, do you?” Joseph asked.
have ash trays which means the owners don’t care so it doesn’t matter what I
think. Even if…” She drew her lips into a line and brought her left hand to her
realization clicked into place and Joseph slid out of the booth. “Excuse me for
stepped aside and Joseph approached the trucker. “Hey mister, can I have a word
trucker blew out a long puff of smoke. “What do you want?”
braced himself on the surface of the table and whispered, “Normally I wouldn’t care
about you smoking in here but that young waitress over there is pregnant, so do
the decent thing and cut it out or take it outside.”
man said, his expression shifting to one of remorse as he snuffed out his
cigarette in the ash tray. “My bad.”
returned to his booth. Maria waited there with curious look on her face.
“What’d you tell him?”
“I just went
over there and did my best Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse
crinkled her brow. Obviously she didn’t get the reference.
shook his head, “Never mind,” then quickly changed the subject. “How far along
seemed a little caught off guard by the question. She titled her head slightly.
“How’d you know?”
“I have a
sixth sense about these things.”
a lucky guess, or a lucky
hypothesis. Maria could’ve just been afraid of the dangers of second hand
really are a psychic?”
replied. “Just a jerk unafraid to make an ass out of himself by assuming a
woman is pregnant.”
laughed. “Now you sound like my dad.”
hear that I’m not alone.”
would probably get along real well, as long as you aren’t a Red Sox fan.”
pulled up one of his pant legs. “Whites only for me. I had a bad experience
with red socks once. They turn the rest of my whites pink.”
that’s a joke only he would laugh at.”
two things we have in common.”
it’s three,” she said. “Because he like you was always wide awake cracking bad
jokes at three in the morning.”
tipped his glass of water in acknowledgment then took a drink.
turned to leave but abruptly whipped herself back around. “You’re not a baker, are
donuts and pastries?”
my dad is. He’s the second generation in a pastry shop.” She frowns again. “I
was supposed to be the third.”
nodded. “Is that why you left home?”
“You ask a
lot of nosy questions, mister.”
shrugged again. “People interest me.”
she did, for the moment.
mostly because of a boyfriend…an ex
followed a boyfriend here?”
sighed. “All over actually, but he dumped me here after a gig, but not before
leaving me….” She placed a palm over her stomach. “At least he’s paying for the---
A cook in a greasy white apron smacked his hand on a bar, next to plate of
steaming food. “Order up.”
like your steak and eggs are ready.”
retrieved Joseph’s order, a group of bikers walked in. They occupied an entire
wall of booths. One of them cast a long glance of recognition in Joseph’s
direction, then nodded. Joseph nodded back. His anonymity here wouldn’t last
placed Joseph’s plate of food on the table before him, then topped off his
water. “You need anything else?” she asked.
She reached into the pocket of her apron and produced the notepad. She tore off
the bill and sat it on the table. “You can pay here or at the register. It was
nice talking to you, mister.”
back. “You, too.”
Maria ventured over to take the bikers’ orders, a Florida State Police officer
and a Military Police-woman entered the truck stop restaurant. Joseph sighed
and reached for his wallet. The pair approached him.
surprised it took you this long,” he said without looking up.
aware that you are in violation of launch procedure protocol,” the military
fret, I’m not trying to run,” Joseph said, counting out the money he needed to
pay the bill. “I just wanted to stretch my legs a bit before I go.”
think you’ve done that enough,” she replied.
finally looked up. “One of you wouldn’t happen to have a pen on you, would
patrolman pulled a pen from a front breast pocket and handed it to Joseph.
kindly.” Joseph pulled the rest of the cash out of his wallet and placed it on
the table. It was a large sum, but he wouldn’t need it anymore anyway.
“Come on, sir,” the policewoman said. “Admin
is anxious to have you back.”
they’ll have me back, after one last thing.”
flipped over the bill and quickly scribed a note on the back before placing it
on top of the cash. The military policewoman tapped her foot impatiently.
piled a salt shaker on top and slid out of the booth. “Take me to your leader.”
the two officers escorted him out, one of the bikers shouted, “Good luck,
seemingly frozen in place, stared at him with curious disbelief.
winked at her as he passed by. “I left you a tip.”
another word, the spaceman exited the truck stop.
Uber waited for Maria at the back of the parking lot. She climbed into the
backseat, her feet aching from a long night of work
and her stomach
in knots. The disbelief about her encounter with the spaceman had faded,
replaced with the heaviness her upcoming appointment deserved.
driver paid her little attention. Gripping his steering wheel, he leaned
forward to peer at something though the windshield.
commentator spoke with restrained excitement from the car’s stereo. “This is it
folks. T-Minus 10 seconds and counting…”
driver reached over and turned up the radio.
knee bouncing with nervousness, Maria glanced up from her phone. A bright light
flashed across the horizon, like a firecracker bursting in the distance,
followed by a streak of exhaust.
have lift off! We have lift off! There it is, folks. History in the making! The
first colonists of Mars are on their way, led by Commander Joseph L.----
driver flicked off the radio. “That was nothing like the movies,” he said,
before turning back to Maria, his arm stretching over the back of the passenger
seat. “1020 Wipple Road, correct?”
watched the streak of exhaust for a moment longer, transfixed by it.
the driver said. “The Planned Parenthood
on 1020 Wipple Road, right?”
the mention of her appointment, she snapped back to reality.
man put the car into gear and pulled away. Maria, gazed at the streak of
exhaust spiraling upward, pressing against the rim of a beautiful blue sky for
as long as she could, the words of the Spaceman’s message lingering in her mind
until they compelled and abrupt shift inside her.
said, reaching forward grabbing the driver by the shoulder. “Can you take me to
the airport instead?’
it will cost you extra.”
peered into her purse. The wad of money wrapped in the spaceman’s receipt was
more than enough.
smiled into the rearview mirror. “Sure do.”
smiled back then reached for her phone. Biting down on the corner of her lip,
she called a number she hadn’t in over a year.
but familiar voice picked up after the second ring. “Lugo’s Bakery, this is
She squeezed the bottom hem of her dress until her knuckles turned white.
Maria! Is that you? Please tell me that’s you.”
Pappi, it’s me.” she said, her voice cracking as tears welled in her eyes. “And
I’m coming home.”
Declassified Recording of Commander Joseph
L. Redgrave’s Psychological Evaluation
Dr. Namor: “Seriously, Candidate. You
can leave the program at any time. You can always go home.”
Joseph L. Redgrave: “Now why would
anyone want to go and do a thing like that?”
2018 by Sean C. McMurray