Forever Mankind
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Forever Mankind

The cabin radio crackled to life. The astronauts, cramped as they were, were all set to lift off the surface of the moon and rendezvous with their craft in orbit. The two men had spent 48 hours on this desolate rock, watching their home hang unmoving in the sky, as if it were some great blue lamp. Outside the cabin window, the lunar regolith sat still and silent, undisturbed by wind or rain. Looking out at this bleak, colorless landscape, the men each sat, unsure whether to miss the embrace of the Moon or eagerly await what lay for them back on Earth.

"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace."

The men have no more time to ponder. As their path home orbits overhead, their third comrade waiting for them, Captain Marcus D'souza flipped the switch to initiate stage separation. To anyone who would have been watching, and to all those viewing through the TV camera set up outside the Lunar Exploration Module, a spray of debris coated the lunar surface as the explosive bolts separated the descent and ascent stages. Instead of lofting the lunar ascent stage onto its graceful path to orbit, though, the cabin jumped, listed, and fell back into the cradle of the LEM.

"These brave men, Marcus D'souza and Luke Abraham, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice."

As the millions viewing back on planet Earth watched in horror, the LEM is wrapped in a spray of sickly red gas. Though they may not have known what this meant, the astronauts aboard the vessel certainly did. It does not need to be said. The cabin remained silent, until Luke Abraham put his hand to the radio transmitter.
"Houston, we've had a fuel leak on the APS, please advise. Over."
Though he had asked for solutions, Abraham already understood what this meant. There was no redundant propellant in the APS. There was no redundant engine. For all the work the engineers had put in to make every system redundant, this was the one system with no failsafe. Abraham understood. It ended here.

"These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding."

Houston responded quickly, confirming what the two astronauts already knew.
"There are no redundancies on the APS. If there's a fuel leakage…"
The transmission cut off. The men did not bother asking for clarification. It was now clearly understood by both parties they would not be making it off the moon. They faced the possibility of death not with panicking or pleading, but with the same stern attitude they applied to everything else. Even before the two men were selected to be the descent crew, they had understood their profession carried with it the risk of dying in the cold void of space, far outside the grasp of their home. The orbiter, their third comrade trapped within, flew by, and with it their last hope for salvation. It hung suspended above the pitch-black sky, some shining artificial star, emblematic of the hubris of mankind.

"They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown."

The astronauts knew their battery was depleting, and quite rapidly. They came to a wordless agreement to split the time left between them, and talk to those whom they had anything left to say to. Luke Abraham spoke over the radio to his family, to his sobbing wife, and to his children, who were much too young to truly grasp the situation, but to whom it was painfully clear that they would never feel their father's embrace again. As he listened, D'souza looked out the cabin window to the tranquil lunar landscape, stretching to infinity in his eyes.
"These are the sands of time," he thought.
"This regolith has been here for a thousand years before our arrival, and it will stay the same a thousand years after."

"In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man."

Abraham's time was up. As he said a tearful goodbye to the family he left 240,000 miles away over the radio, Marcus headed for the reciever. While he began to bid farewell to those he loved, Abraham began to dress himself in his spacesuit. Once D'souza's line went dead, he turned and did the same.

"In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood."

Turning towards the airlock, both men stepped through the chamber and out into the harsh light of the lunar surface. Their feet, for the last time, kicked up undisturbed lunar regolith as the men headed for a nearby stone. Made of the same basalt which had been flung off the surface of Earth billions of years ago, the men figured that if they were to die here, they should at least die on a remnant of their home. D'souza closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and raised his visor, feeling the warmth of the sun carress his face one last time. Abraham did the same, thinking of his home.

"Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts."

Both D'souza and Abraham, as if syncronized, switched their oxygen feed to the nitrogen pressurizer, feeling the warm sun on their faces as they calmly drifted off to the last sleep of their lives.
A funeral was held a week later. There was nothing to bury. Widows wept, and children cried, but the two men on the moon laid in peace.

"For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind."

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