From the author: The ghosts of two internationally famous space travellers meet up on the Moon--and they intend to change history. Content warning for language.
Neil wants to know if I forgive them, the rocket men. How can he doubt it? Every dog forgives; a man can beat us and still we will love him. Yes, it would have been nice if my passing had had more meaning; there’s a statue to commemorate me these days, I’ve heard, but men should have kept on reaching for the stars.
“Do you remember the capsule, Laika?” asks Neil. I wag my tail and lick my new friend on the hand. He is special too. He was the first man on the Moon, the other men tell me. It wasn’t his fault I died in orbit, or that Apollo 17 saw the end of manned space exploration. Neil was the one who said they should rescue me from my past.
I look at him with my large, brown eyes and blink. “Yes, I remember the capsule.”
I remember the noise and vibration of the launch in 1957. I didn’t know then that I’d gone into outer space, and the significance of that event. I didn’t know the world was watching, a world a button press away from destruction. But now that these other men that look the same but aren’t have come for me, for us both, and taken me from the overheating Sputnik and taken Neil from the gravity of his situation, and given me intelligence, I remember it all: I was Earth’s first space traveller.
Neil runs his hand along my back, ruffling my fur. I was alone then, and afraid, but not anymore.
“Will you come with me?” he asks. “We have a job to do.”
“Where are we going? What job is left for the likes of us?”
“The Moon is left,” he says. “I’ll tell you when we get there.”
“Isn’t it cold up there?”
“No colder than Earth, for us.”
“I’m not afraid of the cold, only of being alone again.”
“This time, they’ll be two of us,” he says. “And only two.”
Neil snaps his fingers. The grass and sky is replaced by grey dust beneath my paws. It smells of gunpowder. Everything is monotone.
“Is this the Moon? I thought we would need suits," I say. "How come we don’t need suits?”
Neil smiles. “Because we have the key to Schrödinger’s Box this time. Anything goes.”
“I never did like cats," I say, tail between my legs. “Don’t conjure any cats.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” he says. “Look, here’s the flagpole.”
“American. If I was a boy dog my old Soviet masters would have wanted me to do my business up that.”
“Let’s be thankful you’re a girl, Laika. Your business would soon evaporate here anyway.”
“So what are we here for, Neil?”
“We’re taking down that flag,” he says.
He seizes it and rips it from the regolith.
Neil says his country has given up on the Moon. He says sending 12 men in 40 years barely constitutes a landing.
“Now for our next task,” he says. Again, he snaps his fingers. A man appears in front of us, a middle-aged man.
“My God!” says the man. “I’m on the Moon!”
“Yes, Mr. President,” says Neil. “Welcome to Tranquillity.”
Even I know Richard Nixon. I bark at him, the capitalist president, and he scowls at me. Neil offers him the flagpole.
“This is yours, sir,” says Neil.
“Jesus Christ!” says the President. “It’s fucking magnificent up here! I take it back. No, not the flag, Mr. Armstrong. What I said about Americans going to the Moon for the last time this century.”
Neil snaps his fingers. The President vanishes. “Laika, our work is done. Let’s go for a walk.”
Neil has brought a tennis ball. He throws it for me, and I run and run in great lunar leaps like I’ve never run before.
“What shall we do now?” I say, lying in the dust, panting.
“What do you want to do, Laika? You’re your own mistress now.”
I ponder that for a moment. My own mistress. Who would have thought?
“I want to stay here,” I say. “I like it here.”
“So do I,” he says. “It’s quiet, with my new best friend.”
So we sit in the dust and look into the black sky, until the cancelled Apollo 18 spacecraft comes drifting over the horizon.
And I wag my tail at it.