Carl and Larry cannibalized unnecessary parts from The Amalgam. They used their collective engineering and electrical skills to streamline The Sun Skimmer’s systems. Larry picked up a used Pendleton at a rocket supply store on his credit card. Carl welded The Amalgam back together. Finally, five weeks to the day after Jad’s crash they were ready to launch. The Sun Skimmer’s friction profile was too high. Even with the Pendleton humming at fourteen, they realized they still needed a lighter pilot.
Then it happened. An Eastern European man by the name of Egor Ivanovitch did the unthinkable: he circled the moon. He didn’t land or bring back a moon rock, but it would only be a matter of time, and that’s when desperation took over.
“Lisa, he’d be great at this.”
“That’s not the point, Carl. The point is that it’s completely unsafe.”
“This is his shot at greatness, his chance to leave a legacy.”
“His shot? His chance? His legacy?”
“Yes, Lisa, his chance to have his name go down with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, George Willard, Anthony Ford and the subsection of humanity who has set foot on another world. That could be his. At thirteen!”
“Or he could die in a fiery ball of burning metal. Or he could die gasping for breath on an alien landscape. Or crash in the ocean as his anti-gravity thingy gives out and sink to a dark and watery grave. And that’s just off the top of my head, if I put some thought into it, I’m sure I could come up with something really terrible.”
“Sometimes you gotta risk something.”
“Not our son. Risk your own life, risk that fool Crisp’s life, but don’t risk our son’s life.”
“You can’t keep him on your leash forever.”
“What are you fighting about?” Jad asked. He’d just come in from outside.
“We’re discussing,” Lisa said attempting to make it true more for herself than for Jad.
“Your Mom doesn’t want you to fly the rocket again,” Carl said.
Jad looked at Lisa.
“Really, Carl? How about we talk about this later?” She turned to Jad. “Honey… It’s just not safe and I don’t want you risking your life.”
“But you came home safe and sound, Jad,” Carl said. “You were amazing! I’ve seen seasoned pilots freeze under less pressure.”
“Carl…” Lisa said in a tone she often used during their marriage before exiling him to the couch.
But Carl barreled forward. “You’re probably the only thirteen year old who’s flown a rocket,” he said. “And not only that, you were fantastic.”
“Yeah, but I crashed The Amalgam,” Jad said.
“So what? It’s had more damage on a regular landing! You were great, Jad, and I want you to keep at it.”
“Carl, this conversation is over,” Lisa said. “Leave now.”
“Awwww come on, Lisa. He’s thirteen. He’s old enough to know what’s going on, what’s at stake.”
“I agree, Carl, but this is not how I planned to let him know. So please take your leave.”
Carl threw up his hands and walked out. Lisa sat Jad down and, to her credit, talked through every risk and reward of Carl’s proposed moon trip. At the end she told him why she would not let him go and how dangerous the trip really was. Jad agreed with her in the room, but her words weren’t the ones that kept playing in his head. No, those were his father’s words: the words of praise.
He loved those words and the way they sounded coming out of his father’s mouth. He held onto those words. He clutched them tight and lived on them for weeks until their truth and affirmation had drained away. Jad had to have more. He needed to twinkle in someone’s eyes who did not offer it willingly like his mother, but meted praise out in bits and pieces. Pieces that you fought and strove and wrestled out of them until you stood triumphant and perfect.
Two weeks after that safe, rational discussion with his mother, Jad decided to fly a rocket to the moon.
One night after Lisa went to work, Jad packed a bag and walked next door to Larry Crisp’s house.
Larry had misgivings about the situation now that Lisa was not behind it, but Carl came over before he could back out. Then they made their plans. Jad would stay at his house two more days until launch conditions were optimal. This would also keep Lisa from tracking them down before they could launch.
To Be Continued…