Santiago Quintana wasn’t alive when NASA lost — or destroyed — the Moon Exploration Technology (MET). All of the hard work put in by the vibrant mathematicians at NASA — primarily oppressed black “human computers” such as Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan — the work product had simply vanished. The MET, as the story goes, enabled a group of men to fly two hundred and fifty thousand miles through the sky, over the clouds, into space, eluding or maybe even absorbing massive amounts of radiation — until finally landing on the moon.
Once there, the astronauts were able to hold a phone conversation with President Nixon, jump around like kids on a trampoline, and spike a waving flag into the moon’s surface. Then, of course, they flew back home to celebrate — national heroes! We beat the Ruskies! It was only later, after the celebrating, that NASA would give us the bad news: the MET existed “no more.” The loss wasn’t ever explained in a clear, linear fashion as to why or how the MET was gone. Instead, there was hand-waving and confusion. The MET was just gone. Gone! The binders, the tapes — all of it.
The story of the MET nagged at Santiago. He couldn’t accept the loss. These were important physical documents and recordings! He watched the Don Pettit video over and over. How could the MET be lost? Who would destroy the MET? Why? It seemed so impossible to Santiago. “How can someone lose or destroy our ability to go to the moon?” he would often ask himself, speaking out-loud in a sincere tone. This seemed like an act of war against NASA, against the United States — and Santiago was a soldier, sworn to defend the country.
By way of background, Santiago Quintana was a proud Cuban-American. And, a lover of the Stars and Stripes, he put the emphasis on American! The only time Santiago had teared-up in the past twenty years was at a parade on the Fourth of July, during a wonderful rendition of America the Beautiful, performed by a bottom-heavy lesbian East Indian immigrant, singing despite her constant public complaints about American “bigotry”:
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Santiago, thanks to his parents’ risky boat voyage, had escaped the autocratic Castro regime; at eighteen, he joined the US Army. He served, with honor and distinction, in the Iraq War. He fought as an Army Ranger, and he had sixteen confirmed kills — twelve of those right between the eyes. He wasn’t disenchanted when it came out later that the war was fought under false pretext. Every stated justification for the Iraq war ended up, with the benefit of hindsight, to be non-sense pushed (mainly) by the Neocons. Still, Santiago loved his adopted country and fought bravely when it asked him to.
There was a reason for Santiago’s fascination with the MET — it didn’t materialize out of nowhere. When he was a little kid, before all the soldier and army stuff, Santiago had dreamed of being an astronaut. He wanted to be the first Cuban — Cuban-American — on the moon . Maybe even beyond, like Mars, Venus, whatever. He dreamed of strange cities on other planets, imagining life forms previously unknown. He pictured massive forests with intelligent space-bears, speaking in layered code, and nimble, floating elephant-like aliens who communicated with a tonal system emanating from their trunks which were equipped with advanced harmonica-like devices. Gardens and seas were filled with glorious ethereal animals, incredible fish-like creatures. But, in Santiago’s vision, the fish had no sharp teeth! Santiago’s cousin, Ramón, had been eaten by sharks (a rare occurrence in the beautiful Caribbean waters near Cuba). The day, for anyone who knew Ramón, had become known as ‘el dia del agua roja’ — and for Santiago, it created a lifelong shark-phobia, entrenched in his mind. Fish with teeth were not allowed in Santiago’s vision of space!
As the realities of his life set in — military training, fighting, career advancement — Santiago’s dreams of deep-space travel faded away. First, they slipped slowly away and then, after a time, they were completely gone. Often, in his youth, he would fall asleep outside, in an area behind his parents’ house, staring at the moon. He had a vision of himself kissing his beautiful and buxom Cuban wife after he returned to planet earth, triumphant, with his space helmet held under his arm — a gallant pose. He imagined himself planting the American flag, for the second time, a quarter of a million miles away, and watching it wave in the gentle moon breeze.
That train — the moon train — didn’t stay on the track. There was no trip to the moon for Santiago. There was no wife — at first, his military career took precedence over finding the right woman. Then, when he returned stateside and began dating in earnest, he realized that he didn’t want to catch some single woman in her mid-thirties, fresh off that carousel and trying to find a soft landing on the wrong side of the wall. Real grenades didn’t scare him, but he had no interest in jumping on a female grenade. There was no flag on the moon, 2.0. No voyage home. This reality wasn’t a source of sadness for Santiago; instead, it was a wistful reminder of the innocence of childhood, of days gone by.
Today, Santiago was taking action to help his country. Even though, at thirty-six years of age, he had missed his own personal space-travel window, something drove him to solve the problem of the disappearing MET so others could finally go, again.
He was, at present, on July the 7th, 2019, about twenty minutes into a public tour of NASA headquarters. The well-fed tour guide was rambling on and on about NASA’s massive, bloated moon budgets. “Twenty-two billion a year, my friends! Twenty-two billion!” he hollered. “And, we are planning to go back to the moon by 2024. We are requesting budgetary increases to get back to the moon. It’s such a big project, we are asking for another ONE HUNDRED and FIFTY billion dollars. We will need more with the inevitable overruns and political graft. Friends of NASA need to get paid! Sustainable travel! Moon colonies! Trips to mars! You name it, we’ll do it, as long as we have the money. If not 2024, there’s always 2034! Money is what propels this rocket ship!”
No one, of course, questioned the expenditures. No one really focused on the cost-overruns or what really happened to the all that money — the United States was so heavily in debt, what did it really matter? No one suspected a graft. No one suspected a big, diseased rat. NASA’s brand was above the fray, it was impeccable, it was untouchable.
Limiting his motion, Santiago stealthily took a small, improvised smoke bomb out of his pack. The smoke bomb was a harmless, plastic device that passed easily through the metal detectors at the front of NASA — but when deployed, it would create a major distraction with a large puff, a cloud, of smoke. A moment later, he pulled the clip and casually dropped the device behind a garbage can. There was a small pop, and then the device started spewing smoke. Amidst the chaos, the shouts and the confusion that followed, Santiago slipped away from the lumbering tour guide and the alarmed herd of oblivious, camera-strapped tourists (many of them chattering in their native Chinese language). Based on experience, he was able to skillfully jimmy-pick a locked door around the corner. He opened the door, stepped inside and closed the door behind him. He was in the bowels of the NASA building!
He walked impassive through the halls. His military training took over. He strode with purpose. Walking…scanning…walking.
Santiago was determined to find the lost moon calculations made by the most brilliant mathematicians the United States has ever seen!
He felt a presence walking with him. He couldn’t explain it, but it was strong. Santiago, a religious, God-fearing man — saved through Jesus, in fact — thought that the presence felt like the Enemy. He felt the presence walking behind him, around him, trying to move through him. Crouching over him! He didn’t know what to make of it. Why would the Dark One have a strong presence here at NASA, a United States government facility? Avaritia? Santiago’s face showed a small amount of concern, but the worry displayed on his visage was over-ridden with determination and confidence.
Santiago ignored the evil presence; he kept pressing forward, scanning the walls and doors, looking for a guidepost, a clue — something to take him to the MET. Minutes later, deep in the bowels of the back of the NASA building, in a dark, dusty crevice of the building, full of shadows, he found it. Remote, forgotten.
In bold lettering, the square sign read “MOON TECHNOLOGY ROOM.” The sign was rectangular and chipped on the top left corner.
Goosebumps rose on Santiago’s arms. Butterflies in his stomach. He didn’t even get those in combat! He looked over his shoulder, feeling that presence again, the Enemy. He saw nothing, so he proceeded. He flip-cracked the cheap lock on the door and walked in the room, closing the door behind him.
He was inside the realm that had the answers he had been seeking for so long. The Moon Exploration Technology was in here! Santiago Quintana was about to do something that NASA had ignored for fifty-odd years. Bring back the binders and tapes that would let the United States of America go back to the moon. He would secure the data and take it to the reception desk, for immediate return to the moon. What an achievement!
Yet, something made him feel that things weren’t right. He pressed the wall, searching for a light switch. Finding no switch, he unhooked a small flashlight from his pack — Army Rangers are always prepared. He flicked on the light, and the darkness that had engulfed him utterly was penetrated by a stream of light. He scanned around the room with the light. There they were! The binders! Santiago recognized these exact binders from the NASA public relations photos so widely circulated after the moon landing.
“We’re going back to the moon!” he exclaimed, and the sound echoed through the mostly-empty room.
Santiago walked over to the treasure trove of knowledge. He couldn’t feel the presence of the Dark One, not at all. Arriving at the binders, a stack of approximately twenty thick compilations, Santiago took a deep breath. What a beautiful moment. He opened the first one. A look of confusion came over his face, which quickly morphed into horror. He flipped through the entire binder. The same look, abject horror, was plastered on his face.
Santiago tossed the first binder aside. He opened the second. Same thing. Same look. The third binder. Same. On and on! He made it through all the binders. Plastic document pockets containing fast-food receipts, all of them. Fast food — burgers, chicken, tacos. Thousands of receipts piled into the document holders.
“Fucked at the drive through!” yelled Santiago.
Horror ceased to show on Santiago Quintana’s face. It was replaced with a flash of realization, then a settled look of defeat. The Army Ranger went to a knee for a moment. Overcome with emotion, he went all the way down, laying on his back. Then, feeling undignified in that position, he went back to a knee. The flashlight still beamed a bright white light, but now it was pointed aimlessly at the floor. A great man, a disciplined man, a brave man who had stared down a vicious enemy, in combat, was utterly destroyed. Santiago remained in the kneeling position, completely sapped of his usual abundance of strength — momentarily, at least, he even questioned his ability to go on. In a soft voice, saturated with contempt, Santiago Quintana muttered, “¡Dios mío! Todo es mentira.”