Doctor Helena Russell stood in beautiful business-suited perfection before the conference room of medical researchers and international reporters. She pointed to a journalist and took his question.
"Doctor Russell…how does it feel to have found a cure that virtually stops cancer, as we know it, in its tracks. How…"
"It was my father's research. " Helena interrupted with a proud smile. "I just collated the data after his death. The cure was there in his notes…"
"Doctor, you are being too humble!" another reporter insisted. "You have dedicated yourself to doing nothing, but the clinical human experiments for these last several years…"
"And so have all my colleagues," she gestured to the half dozen of her co-researchers standing and sitting behind her. "It has been an international team effort since way before my joining."
"And now you say you are giving the cure away for free?" the reporter continued with reverent awe in his voice. "You stand to make literal BILLIONS of dollars if not even Trill…"
"The cure belongs to the world." Helena declared with warmth. In a softer tone she continued. "After all…my father would have wanted it that way."
"Doctor Russell, this must be one of the greatest days for you," a young female reporter intoned. "You finally get to announce the validity of your anti-cancer vaccine and your husband is about to go off on the Astro 7 mission. How do you…"
"What?" Helena asked, her smile turning into a look of deer-caught-in-the-headlights surprise.
"Oh my gosh!" the young reporter gasped apologetically. "I thought you were aware… They announced it this morning…just an hour ago."
"Reallyl?" Helena's smile began to return.
"Yes!" the reporter was now glad to be the one bringing a woman she so admired the news. She read from a her digital network pad, "'Lee Russell named last minute replacement astronaut on Astro 7 probe to Jupiter upon mission commander being diagnosed with early stages of flu-like symptoms.'"
"Oh my god!" Helena cried as she started to fumble with her own information pad. "Does it say when the launch is?"
"9 a.m.!" another up-to-date reporter shouted. "Two hours from now. That's 8pm North American East Coast time."
Helena held up her digital pad to the cameras and reporters.
"See? A message from Lee an hour ago! I stop responding to messages because I thought it was one of YOU lot looking to get a scoop on this conference!"
The whole room of scientists and reporters roared with laughter, which gave her time to read the message unprompted by questions.
"OH!" Helena finally announced. "I have to end this conference… Or…or one of my colleagues will please continue for me. I have to catch a shuttle to Florida."
Applause followed her as she hurried out of the conference hall. She waved as she ran excitedly out the door.
Less than an hour later Helena was seated in the otherwise empty cabin of an ISO chartered hyper-jetliner as it skimmed the edge of the stratosphere…cruising much faster than sound towards Cape Canaveral.
"That's fantastic!" Helena chatted with her husband via video link. She could see him looking excited as he was officially adorned in his white jump suit uniform with a 'Astro 7' mission patch on it.
"I know, Helena." Lee Russell sat in the astronaut's lounge on a pad at the Kennedy Space Center. "But you won't make it in time. We take off soon. I so wanted you to see me off"
" It's okay Lee!" Helena said enthusiastically. "We are already descending."
"I have to board soon Helena. I…I love you. I wish I could have been there for your news conference. Congratulations! You are the greatest doctor in the world."
"Hahaha," Helena laughed, "And I am married the greatest astronaut in the world."
"And when I get back…" Lee began
"…1 month from now…" Helena added with a clever smile.
"Yes, one month from now. Twenty-eight days. One cycle of the moon. Do you know what we are going to do?... " Lee asked leadingly. A surprising warm flush of heat flowed through Helenas body and she blushed like a school girl in spite of herself.
"Ummm…Yes. I think I have some idea." Thoughts of love, family and future crowded her brain.
"I have to go now. Final medical check before boarding. See you, Love. "
"Come back to me, Lee. I WILL be waiting."
" Of course I will come back. Like a pearl in the dark ocean or the moon in the black night sky…you are my beacon in this life. I will always come back to you…"
Always the poet, Helena lovingly mused to herself. Goodbye, my husband.
As the airspace directly around Cape Canaveral was on restriction during launches Helena's hyperjet had to land at Cocoa Beach down the road. Many spectators were camped out on the sand in anticipation of the night launch. Helena walked out there amongst them.
A giant jumbo-tron tv was set up on the dunes and thousands of people crowded around it as well as faced the direction of the Canaveral pads.
"5-4-3-2-1…blast off" the launch controller announced. "And so launches Misssion 94-7. The Astro 7 mission probe to Jupiter and beyond!."
The launch was spectacular and beautiful and the watchers cheered and applauded it. Helena spontaneously found herself waving her hand over her head as if Lee could see her.
"Good-bye. Good-bye. Good-bye," she shouted over and over, tears streaming down her face.
"Wow. That lady is really into it." Some on-looker commented.
"Shhh…quiet. Don't you know who that is! That's the doctor who is curing cancer! She's here!"
"That's my husband!" Helena waved and shouted without the least bit of restraint. And everybody looked with her towards the dot of flaming light high up in the sky…but still lifting itself inexorably into the heavens.
When most of the launch crowd had shuffled home, Helena had remained on the beach with her thoughts. She watched longingly as the crescent moon rose in the east over the water. She knew Lee was out there in that direction…and going BEYOND.
Every night she went out there on the sand to watch the moon rise. Die hard space-fans were there too to watch the jumbo-tron with updates about the mission beamed in directly from the cape. Cocoa Beach was after all one of the world's "space cities", where the future of mankind was launched. She and Lee had a house there…where she only occasionally had visited in the last years, while most of the time she was in Research City in Delhi India. That's where she was when she had found out her husband was going into space…half way around the world.
She had never been much of an 'astronaut's spouse'. After all she had a full plate herself, and her husband was only on the "back-up" team for the approaching mission. Never being given a full assignment to himself. But things had changed. All their luck had changed. Now, she was quite enmeshed with the 'space community', while tele-commuting to her colleagues daily across the world. In the day-time she was assuring that her father's life's work was adequately shared with the whole 'humanity' community. At night, that time belonged to her and Lee, as she psychically willed him success in his probe into deep space.
By the time the full moon was rising, two weeks after launch, bad news was coming back from far off the ecliptic of the Sun. Engine failure? An anomaly near Jupiter? Pilot error?
Helena Russell was not the panicky type of woman. So she took the news with calm resolve even as the fresh reports were coming in. Still though, the news displayed at the beach hit her like a ton of bricks, even though she would never show it.
"Loss of communication…craft break up…energy phenomenon."
She read it all and took it in. She remained cool and level and tried to be optimistic. No one could tell her anything to act differently. There was nothing to go on. No ending, but no effective continuance. Just nothing. No bodies, no explosion, no debris. Nothing. As if they had all disappeared. But there was one last transmission that was garbled. Just what sounded like: "…must get back to my moon…." …maybe. It did not make much sense and confused ground control.
Helena knew what it meant.
For a long time several space organizations had tried to convince the great Helena Russell to join them, even as she was working on the cancer project. She could not have cared less about it, with the exception of her husband being an astronaut.
Her heart, since before medical school, had been set on working on the same research as her father. She had been daddy's girl when she was little but he had buried himself in the search for an answer to the human condition for a long time. She worshipped him in that way. When she had finally gained the status of being a 'fellow' research physician he finally allowed her to assist him in his endeavor…until he died all too soon. Nothing could stop her then. She would not let all his dedicated years come to nothing, and she did not.
But now…the cure was at hand… And now, no word from Lee…her husband.
By the time a smooth talking British-accented bureaucrat had called her she was already thinking about what to do next….but she swore she would never leave this earth. Yes, she could turn her research towards space-medicine, but she would do it from the solid ground.
She would examine the effects of space on returning astronauts and make sure that leaving astronauts were of the best caliber and condition.
She saw off probe after probe and nurtured back astronaut after astronaut….all from the various medical centers at the various space launch cities from around the globe.
Until one day the smooth-talking commissioner advised her there was an new position for a Chief Medical Officer on the moon. The moon base called Alpha. Where soon a full 'moon city' would be inhabited. Where in a short amount of time a new probe would be launched. She would have complete autonomy to run things and do research up there promised the Commissioner named Simmonds…as long as she could assure THIS probe launched safely under her medical supervision. This probe going to a place called "META" had to be a success…where some had failed.
That was something Helena, now, wanted in on, and it would seem almost selfish to decline.
After all, she thought, there is nothing left for me here. I might as well be on the new frontier.
She left Earth for the last time.
And then it was:
September 13, 1999
She had not expected it to happen. Who could have anticipated this?
But there she was. Blasting out of Earth's orbit with the rest of Moon Base Alpha. Burning past Mars.
The beautiful blue glow of Earth was fading in the distance. The solar system's asteroid field was next. And then would be Jupiter.
It was the worst nightmare imaginable for someone attached to the International Lunar Commission to have. And still…
As she settled down and helped a young Dr. Matthias attend to casualties…in the back of her mind she thought...she allowed herself to think:
Lee, I am coming to you. If you cannot find your way back to your moon , then your 'moon' will come to you.
In the situation she was in, it was rather silly and not very rational to think this way…
…But it made her feel better.