Sunday, 22 March 2009

City of lights

1 The spaceplane
I remember the day of the take-off. It was a beautiful day – sunshine, blue sky, and no clouds anywhere. I was so excited. I thought it was the best day of my life.
A warm, soft wind was blowing across the desert. I remember that because, while we were walking towards the plane, the wind blew Mary’s hair across her face. The cameramen loved that. Helen and I cut our hair really short, like all astronauts. But Mary’s hair was long and fair. The gentle wind blew it everywhere, and one TV cameraman walked in front of her and began filming her.
There were cameramen everywhere. Of course, it looked really good on TV: three young women in silver spacesuits were walking across the desert stand in the early morning sun. And there, in front of us, was our fantastic, beautiful, blue and silver spaceplane.
There were no other planes like this anywhere. ‘Tomorrow this one will float beside the orbiting Space Station and three days later we will be back here, on Earth,’ I thought.
That is the reason why this plane is so fantastic. It can take off from an ordinary, like an ordinary plane, and fly straight up into space. Then it can fly back down and land again like a plane. It uses its own engines all the time – jet engines in the atmosphere, rocket engines in space. And if the engines are OK, it can fly back up again the next day.
‘And I am going to fly it. Me – Cathy Fox, a twenty-nine-year-old girl from a small town in Georgia – I’m going to be the first person to fly this wonderful, beautiful plane away from Earth and into black starry space,’ I thought.
We climbed in and sat in our seats. I looked at my hands as I touched the controls. They seemed quite still, quite calm – but inside I wanted to sing. I was so excited. Helen, my co-pilot, sat beside me and Mary sat behind us.
I turned the engines on and slowly turned them up to full power. The noise was terrible. I checked everything carefully and then talked to Mission Control.
‘OK, Space Bird One,’ said Mission Control. ‘You are OK for take-off. Good luck, everyone!’
‘Thank you, Mission Control.’ I smiled at Helen, and then turned to look at Mary. ‘OK, are you ready?’
Mary’s face was a little white, I thought, but she smiled bravely. ‘Sure, Cathy,’ she said. ‘Let’s go.
I touched the controls. There was a noise like thunder and the spaceplane took off. Above us, in the clear blue morning sky, I saw the Moon. Mary looked nervous, but I wasn’t worried about that. You see, Mary Carter and I had been at school together. I was her best friend in those days, so I knew her well.
She had looked nervous when we went spear-fishing underwater for the first time. But she caught a baby shark that day, and we ate it that evening. We were both ten years old then.
Mary had looked nervous when she and I started hang-gliding. But she had become the best woman hang-glider I he USA. She was much better at it than I was. She was the first woman who flew a hang-glider from the top of the Rocky Mountains to the sea. She was eighteen then.
Sometimes she looks small and nervous. But I know that inside she’s really strong.
After school, I became a pilot and she became a journalist. She went all over the world: Japan, Latin America, India. Then she got her own TV programme. She interviewed scientists and asked them to explain their work. Then she got married and had three kids. I think that she loved those kids more than anything else.
I never married. I didn’t want kids, I loved flying too much. I didn’t see Mary often. I read her reports in the newspapers, saw her on TV, and met her once or twice a year. That’s all.
When NASA built this spaceplane, they wanted a lot of publicity for it. They wanted everyone in country to read about it, and to see it on TV. They wanted people to say how fantastic it was, because they wanted to get more money for spaceplanes. So NASA decided to ask a journalist to fly in the plane, and to talk on TV and write about it. And Mary got he job.
She was a famous reporter, with her own TV programme about scientists. I guess that’s why she got the job. Of course, she was young and pretty with long fair hair, too. And maybe Helen Wilson and I were allowed to fly with her because they wanted three women in the plane. That looks good on TV, too! We didn’t like that, but we didn’t care too much either. Mary was a good journalist, and Helen and I had both been in space twice before. We all knew our jobs. And it was a really beautiful plane.
Once, a man from the CIA asked me a few questions about Mary. He was worried about some of her TV programmes. ‘Is she OK?’ he asked. ‘Can she keep quiet, if she has to?’
‘Listen,’ I said. ‘I know Mary. I was at school with her. Of course she can keep a secret. She’s a famous journalist. She knows her job. Don’t worry.’
That was my first big mistake, I suppose. I forgot that Mary likes to ask difficult questions.
2 Into orbit
40,000 feet, said Helen ‘Six minutes to rocket engine start.’
‘OK,’ I said. ‘The spaceplane’s flying beautifully, isn’t she?’
‘She sure is,’ Helen answered. ‘She flies like a bird.’
She smiled at me. She was as happy and excited as I was.
I didn’t know Helen very well, but I knew she was a good astronaut. She had lived on the Space Station for three months last year.
‘Mission Control to Space Bird One. Mary, are you ready to talk to your kids now?’
They wanted her to talk to her kids, on breakfast TV. If she explained things which the kids could understand, then anyone would be able to understand.
‘Sure, Control,’ said Mary. ‘We’re ready.’
We heard three excited voices on the radio. ‘Hi, Mom! We saw the take-off! Hey, how are you?’
‘Hello, Danny! Hello, Sue! Hello, David! Can you see me on TV?’
‘We can see the plane I the sky, Mom, but it’s really small now. Are you very high up? Can you see our house?’
Mary laughed. ‘No, Sue, I don’t think I can. But it’s a beautiful view. I can see the whole of the desert, and the mountains to the north…’
Helen smiled at me. ‘That’s what the world wants to hear,’ she said. She was right. At that exact moment, people all over the world were listening to Mary and her children. The TV camera in the plane was showing pictures of her pretty, happy face, and the TV camera in her home was showing pictures of her three excited children and their proud father. That was what NASA wanted. And it was what Mary was good at.
Four minutes later, she asked me to speak.
‘OK, kids. Le me show you our pilot, Captain Cathy Fox. Do you remember her?’
‘Sure, Mom! Hi, Cathy! Are you really flying that plane?’
‘I am. I’m flying the most beautiful plane in the world, and your Mommy is sitting behind me. We’re already higher than any other plane in the world, and we’re still going up. But there’s not much air around us now, and the jet engines need air. In about thirty seconds we’re going to turn off the jet engines and turn on the rocket engines. Then we’ll be in space. You’ll see a bright light on your TV screen. Ready everyone?’
‘Ready,’ Mary and Helen answered.
‘OK. Twenty seconds to rocket engine start… fifteen … ten …five, four, three, two, one…’ I turned on the two rocket engines. The plane moved forward at a high speed, and we were pushed back into our seats.
Two minutes and five seconds later, I turned off the rocket engines. I checked my controls carefully. Speed, fuel, air … everything was OK. I sat back in my seat.
‘OK, guys. We’ve done it! We’re flying into space!’
On the radio, we could hear laughs and cheers from Mission Control on Earth, and from Mary’s family. Behind me, Mary started talking again, to the millions of people who were listening on Earth.
’I can see the edge of the Earth now … I can see the sea … I can see all the way across the Nevada Desert to the sea, kids! This is fantastic! And the sky isn’t blue any more. It’s going black, because we’re outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Yes, the sky’s black above us, and I can see the stars and the Moon, but the Sun is shining on the sea below. This is the most fantastic view I have ever seen, kids!’
‘Hey, Cathy, we did it! Look up there!’ Helen smiled.
I looked again. There it was. Six thousand miles to the east, and ten miles above us, the Space Station was orbiting around the Earth. It looked very small and I thought I could cover it with my little finger. But I was flying the plane there. That was the reason for our journey.
3 Floating in space
Ten minutes later, we were in free fall. I undid my seat straps, and pushed gently on the sides of my seat with my fingers. I floated slowly out of my seat. I sat on the ceiling of the cabin and smiled down at Mary.
‘Go on. Try it.’
‘OK. Watch this, kids.’
She undid her straps and pushed on her seat. But she pushed much too hard and went straight up to the ceiling. I caught her and pushed her down to Helen. Helen smiled. We had both done this before, but it was Mary’s first time in space. We had to teach her how to float.
We all enjoyed that. I really love floating in space. It was wonderful for the TV cameras and we tried to put on a really good show. Mary’s long fair hair floated everywhere. We often had to catch her. We probably looked like three people who were swimming under water.
Then we strapped ourselves into our seats and had our first meal.
That’s a difficult thing, too. If you don’t pick up the food carefully with a fork, it floats away all over the place. Most of Mary’s food floated away. We had to chase it round the cabin. The people who were watching TV on Earth loved that, too.
But Mary got tired of playing. She tried to be serious. That was when the trouble started. Helen was working at the back of the cabin. Mary and I were floating at the front, and watching the Mediterranean Sea. It was a beautiful clear blue, with Italy in the middle. And between us and Italy, something was floating in the sky.
‘So that’s one of the famous US military satellites, is it?’ she said. Her voice was loud and clear for the TV. ‘We have about thirty of those, don’t we, Cathy? They can shoot down anyone who attacks the USA, can’t they?’
I didn’t know what to say. Mary knew we must not talk about things like that, and the TV camera was still on. She kept on talking.
‘Cathy, is it true that those military satellites can fire their weapons away from Earth, if the wan to? Why? Is the US government afraid of enemies from space, too?’
The red light o the TV camera went off, and we heard an angry voice from Mission Control on the radio. ‘What are you doing? You know you can’t talk about things like that on TV, Mary, don’t you? Keep quiet about things like that!’
Mary looked annoyed. ‘Sure I know I’m on TV. That’s my job, isn’t it? A lot of people want to know about our satellites. They pay for them with their taxes. Why shouldn’t I ask questions about them?’
‘We pay you to keep people happy, not to ask difficult questions. Talk about the view, OK?’
‘OK,’ Mary said. For a minute or two no one spoke. Then the red light on the TV camera was on again. We saw the Sahara Desert and the mouth of the River Nile through the window. Mary said something nice about it. There was another small satellite above Cairo, but she didn’t say anything about that. The small satellite became bigger. It was coming nearer. Mary spoke again.
‘Hello, Egypt! We’re above you now, and we can see that you’re having a lovely sunny day!’ She was smiling into the camera, but I knew that she was very angry.
The satellite was very near now. We could only see half of Egypt because the satellite was very big. I floated up and turned the TV camera off myself.
‘What is it, Cathy?’ Mary asked. ‘It’s huge.’
‘I don’t know,’ I answered. I turned on the radio.
‘Hello, Control,’ I said. ‘We have a big object below us. We’re not sure what it is. Are we near any satellites?’
‘Wait a moment, Cathy. I’ll check. How big is it?’
I looked out of the window. It’s difficult to know how big things are in space – you don’t know how far away they are. But I couldn’t see Egypt at all now - just Turkey, and Part of the Sudan.
‘Huge, Control,’ I said. ‘I’m looking at an object as big as the Space Station. Helen, come here and look at this.’
4 The UFO
Helen floated up to join us. ‘Wow, Cathy, what is that? Its not one of ours, is it?’
‘I don’t know whose it is,’ I said. ‘But I don’t like it much. It’s coming straight toward us’.
‘Hello, Cathy,’ said Mission Control. ´There is no satellite near you, and we can see nothing on the radar. Can you still see it?’
‘Can I see it?’ I said. ’I can’t see anything else!’
The object now filled most of the window. And it didn’t look like a satellite at all.
‘That’s a UFO, isn’t it?’’ said Mary softly. She sounded frightened, but excited, too. ’I knew it! I knew they were real!’
The object was round and flat, like a wheel. Green and blue lights were flashing at the edge of it. It was spinning slowly and there was a yellow light in the middle.
Mary floated up to the TV camera and turned it on.
‘We have to tell the world about this! Listen, everyone. In front of this spaceplane, there is a huge UF … mmm!’
Helen put her hand across Mary’s mouth and pushed her away from the TV camera. The red camera light went off.
‘Hey, will you be quiet up there!’ This is another thing that we don’t talk about, OK? Cathy, is that thing still there?’
‘It sure is,’ I said. ’ It’s here, it’s just watching us.’
‘We’re trying to get it on the radar now. I think we’ve found it. Listen, Cathy, try to move away from it. Turn the rocket engines on.’
‘OK’, I said. But first, I picked up a camera and took some pictures. I knew that we couldn’t show this thing on TV, but we had to have some pictures of it.
‘Strap yourselves in, guys,’ I said. ‘We’re going to say goodbye to our new friend.’
‘Why can’t we show it on TV?’ Mary asked. ‘This is the most important thing on the trip! It’s … fantastic! We must tell everybody!’
‘It’s an official secret,’ said Helen. ‘Didn’t NASA tell you? All UFO are official secrets.’
‘Do you mean that we can’t talk about them?’ asked Mary. ’But it’s there, in front of us! I can see it!’
‘Sure,’ said Helen ’I can see it too. We know they exist, but we can’t just tell everyone about them on TV. People would be afraid. Anyway, we don’t know what they are.’
‘So what?’ said Mary. ´I’m afraid, but I want to know what it is. Can’t we go a little closer?’
‘No,’ I answered. ‘We’re going away. Hold tight.´
There was a problem with the rocket engines. First they wouldn’t start, then they were too strong. For five minutes, Helen and I worked hard to control them.
‘What’s happening?’ Control asked. ‘Are the engines OK now?’
‘I think so,’ I said. My hands were wet.
‘Where is the UFO now? Can you see it?’
‘Yes. It’s much smaller now. About five miles away, maybe.’
‘OK, we can see it on the radar. Keep your engines on for four minutes and twenty seconds. Then you will be in orbit 200 miles above the Space Station. Then rest for a while. Go to sleep, listen to music, or something.’
‘OK,’ I said. ‘That’s a good idea.’
5 Cathy’s plan
But we didn’t go to sleep, because I couldn’t turn the rocket engines off.
‘What do you mean, you can’t turn them off?’ Helen asked.
‘You try it,’ I said. She cried, but she couldn’t turn them off. We couldn’t control the plane.
‘Cathy, what are you doing up there?’ shouted Mission Control. ‘You’ve got to turn those engines off! You’re going out of the Earth’s orbit.’
‘What does he mean?’ Mary asked. ‘Where are we going?’
‘I’ll tell you,’ said Helen quietly. ‘He means that we are going out into space. We are going to leave the Earth and never come back.’
‘That’s not possible,’ she said. ‘It can’t be possible!’
‘Shut up,’ I said. ‘I think I know what to do!’
Suddenly, the controls worked again and the rocket engines stopped. But it was too late. Six minutes and ten seconds too late. We were about 400 miles above the Space Station and we were going away from it at about 20,000 miles per hour. Out into space.
I looked at Helen. Her eyes were wide with fear.
‘We’re leaving the Earth’s orbit,’ she said. ‘And we haven’t enough fuel to get back.’
‘Does that mean that we’re going to die, here in this plane?’ Mary whispered.
‘Maybe,’ I said quietly. ‘I don’t know yet. Check where we’re going, Helen. I’ll check the fuel. Then we’ll decide what to do.’
I checked the fuel. We had only about three minutes of rocket fuel left. Helen was right. It wasn’t enough to get us back to Earth. Suddenly I was afraid.
‘There is nothing we can do,’ I thought. ‘We will just go on and on into space. We will use the oxygen and we will die. Perhaps one day, a hundred years from now, someone else will find the plane. They will open it and see our dead bones, floating around inside.’
While Helen was working on the computer, I floated back to Mary. She was looking out of the window at the Earth – our beautiful, blue and green home. Her hand was hitting the glass softly, as though she wanted to get out. I took her hand and, for a moment, we stared at the Earth together. We said nothing.
Then she let go of my hand and pointed. ‘Look. There’s the UFO again.’
The UFO was quite small now, about ten miles away. It looked like a small wheel. It was shining in the sunlight above the Earth. As we watched, it suddenly began to move away towards the Moon. It moved surprisingly fast. In two minutes it had disappeared.
‘Do you think the UFO stopped our engines?’ Mary asked. ‘Could it do that?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘And at the moment I’m not very interested. Helen, where are we going?’
Helen looked down from the computer. ‘In twelve hours, we’ll be in orbit about five miles above the Moon.’
‘Are you sure?’ I asked. ‘We’re not going to hit the Moon, are we?’
‘No. but we’ll get a beautiful view of it.’
‘Great!’ I said. ‘A beautiful view of rocks and dust. But … wait a minute!’
Helen and I looked at each other, and we both had the idea at the same time. There was a chance – a small chance – but it might work. It had to work. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life going round and round the Moon, until we used all our oxygen.
‘Let me work on the computer,’ I said. ‘We have to get the figures for the fuel and power exactly right. Maybe it’s possible.’
Half an hour later, Helen and I floated away from the computer, smiling. I took a carton of orange juice and drank it.
‘It is possible, then?’ Mary asked.
‘Sure,’ Helen said. ‘We can do it. But we have to get it right first time. We won’t have a second chance.’
6 Halfway to the Moon
Mary was looking out of a window, staring at the Earth. The Earth was much smaller now, much further away. It was like a blue and white ball in space. Not a very big ball now – not much bigger than the Sun. we could see Australia, India and Africa at the same time.
‘I want to talk to my kids,’ she said. ‘They’re down there. They don’t know what’s happening.’
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Go ahead.’ I was still feeling happy because Helen and I had found the answer.
‘Mission Control won’t let me,’ said Mary softly. She looked at me. She was crying quietly. ‘Cathy, they won’t let me talk to my children! What’s wrong with those guys down there?’
I thought about it for a moment. Mission Control certainly had a big problem. Mary was on this trip to get good publicity for NASA. Good publicity – not the kind of publicity that you get when you see a UFO and your engines go wrong. And now we were halfway to the Moon. The world wanted to see Mary on TV, and wanted her to explain what was happening. But she thought that the engines didn’t work because of the UFO.
‘Listen, Mary,’ I said. ‘I’ll tell Mission Control that you want to talk to the kids on TV. But don’t say anything about the UFO, OK?’
‘Why not?’ she asked. ‘The UFO turned off the engines, didn’t it?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what turned them off.’
‘Well, why can’t I talk about the UFO, anyway?’ she asked. ‘It’s important, isn’t it? It’s a fantastic discovery. I’m a reporter, I know what people are interested in. but now we’ve seen the most astonishing thing since Christopher Columbus discovered America and you won’t let me talk about it!’
‘Listen, Mary,’ I said. ‘This is the first UFO I’ve seen. But other people have seen them – pilots, maybe even other astronauts. And what happens when they talk about it? People laugh, don’t they? NASA doesn’t want the world to laugh at us!’
‘They won’t laugh at us,’ she said. ‘Two astronauts and a famous TV reporter. We’re not crazy – we saw it! Anyway, you took pictures.’
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘And we’ll look at the pictures when we get home. But if Mission Control tell us not to talk about it, then we won’t talk about it. They must have good reasons.’
I hoped they had good reasons. But I wasn’t really sure. Helen, however, was quite sure.
‘No, Cathy. It’s more important than that,’ she said. ‘If you tell the world about this on TV, Mary, what do you think will happen? People will be terrified! They’ll think that the end of the world has come! They won’t believe in the government, or in the S Army, or in NASA! Everything will change. That’s why it’s an official secret!’
Mary shook her head. ‘You’re crazy,’ she said. ‘Completely crazy!’
We talked for ten more minutes. Mary couldn’t understand us, but she agreed to say nothing about the rocket engines. NASA liked that. It was very exciting, and the world was watching. Mary explained it well.
‘We don’t know why the rocket engines didn’t work, but we think they’re OK now. But we don’t have enough fuel to get back to Earth, so we’re going to ask the Moon to help us. When we go behind the Moon, we’ll be moving very fast because of gravity. If we do nothing, we’ll go around the Moon forever, like a satellite. But when we get back to the bright side of the Moon, for a moment we’ll be going towards the Earth – and if we escape from the Moon’s gravity, we’ll be on our way home. It’s just like when you run towards a tree in the garden, kids. If you catch hold of the tree with one hand, spin around it, and take you’re hand away at the right moment, then you’re running back the other way. So all Cathy and Helen have to do is to fire the rocket engines at exactly the right moment.’
Her children listened to her and asked lots of questions, and millions of people watched on TV. After all, it isn’t every day that three children lose their mother behind the dark side of the Moon!
7 The City of Lights
Twelve hours later, we were falling towards the Moon. The Earth was very small and far away, and the Moon was very big. It was a huge, white shining ball of dust and rocks and mountains. We were falling towards it, faster and faster. Mary asked us a lot of questions about it, and we talked on TV for half an hour. They showed a lot of pictures of the Moon. Then, at the end of the programme, Mary asked one of her really difficult questions.
‘It looks a very lonely place, Cathy,’ she said. ‘Why don’t we have a Moon Station there?’
‘You can see why,’ I said. ‘There’s nothing on the Moon except dust and rocks. No air, no water. It’s better to have our own Space Station.’
‘Yes, but there must be something interesting there’
She said. ‘I mean, why did NASA send all those astronauts there in the 1960s, and then suddenly stop? It seems crazy to me.’
‘I don’t know,’ I said.
Mary looked at me with a strange smile on her face. ‘Sure you do, Cathy. There’s no Moon Station because the first astronauts saw some UFOs there, didn’t they? The first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, saw two…’
There was a loud noise from Mission Control, and the camera light went off, but Mary kept on talking.
‘… two huge UFOs on the edge of a mountain, ten times as big as Armstrong’s spaceship. Isn’t that true?’
‘Oh, Mary, of course it’s not true!’ said Helen angrily. ‘You know you can’t say things like that on TV!’
It was a new story to me, and I didn’t believe it either. But I was wrong about that, too.
As we came closer to the Moon, we saw a dark across the ground. It seemed to be rushing towards us. It was the line between the bright side of the Moon and the dark side. On the bright side, everything was shining white in the sunlight; on the dark side, it was as black as midnight. We were going behind the Moon, to the dark side.
‘We’re going very fast now, aren’t we?’ asked Mary.
‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘It’s the Moon’s gravity. But we won’t fire the rocket engines yet.’
Suddenly we were behind the Moon. The stars were still shining above us, but below us there were no stars. It was empty. Everything was black. Almost everything.
Mary saw it first.
‘Cathy, what’s that? What are those lights down there?’
I was looking at the computer. ‘Lights?’ I said. ‘Don’t be silly, here aren’t any lights. You must be looking at the stars.’
‘No I’m not. There are lights, Cathy – lights down there on the Moon! Lots of them. It looks like a city or something!’
‘Please, Mary, I‘m busy!’ I said. But then I looked up and saw them too.
I saw the most surprising thing that I have ever seen in my life. I know Helen says she didn’t see them, but she’s lying. She saw them – we all saw them. And for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, we just sat and stared at them with our mouths open.
The lights below us were like a city. There were orange, green and red lights, yellow and white, like tall buildings. There were circles of lights, big wheels that went around and around. They changed colour all the time. And there were bridges of light – long, very thin bridges. They were maybe half a mile high and twenty miles long, going from one side of the city to the other.
The City of Lights was moving. All the time, it was going around, like a wheel. And every few minutes, small planes took off quickly from the sides of the wheel, went along the bridges and flew off into the night. There were lights flashing on them, too. We watched the small lights become smaller in the darkness.
We didn’t say anything. What could we say?
After half an hour the city was behind us, and in thirty-five minutes it had disappeared.
Helen was the first to speak. Her voice sounded strange, a little nervous.
‘Four minutes, thirty seconds.’
‘What?’ I was still thinking about the City of Lights. I couldn’t forget it.
‘In four minutes and thirty seconds, Cathy, we have to start the rocket engines.’
‘Oh. Yes, sure, you’re right.’ I had to forget the lights, and fly the plane home. We only had one chance. Helen and I watched the controls.
‘Twenty seconds …ten. Start the engines … nine, eight, seven, six …’ I checked the fuel carefully on the computer. Was there enough? ‘… two, one, full power!’
The rocket engines pushed us back into our seats. It felt strange after we had spent so much time in free fall. Suddenly the ground below was shining with white light. We were on the bright side of the Moon again!
‘We’ve done it!’ Helen laughed aloud. ’We’re going home!’
The rocket engines fired for exactly two minutes and fifty seconds. It was enough to take us out of the Moon’s gravity and back towards Earth. We had only ten seconds of rocket fuel left. ‘But when we get back into the Earth’s atmosphere, we can use the jet engines to fly,’ I thought. We were going home!

8 An official secret
Mission Control sounded really happy. OK guys! You did it! Fantastic!’
‘Thank you,’ I said. Somehow I didn’t feel happy, I just felt tired. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. But the man at Mission Control couldn’t stop talking.
‘Listen, Cathy, everyone here on Earth thinks you guys are wonderful! The President wants to talk to you on TV, in about half an hour. Will you be ready for that? Make sure you’re looking good!’
‘Er, yes, sure,’ I said. I turned the radio off and looked at Helen and Mary. For a moment no one said anything. Then we started arguing.
‘We can’t say anything about it,’ Helen said. She looked cold and very angry.
‘What do you mean?’ Mary pushed her long hair behind her ears. ‘You’re crazy! We’ve seen a City of Lights on the Moon – a UFO city! We’ve found people from another world! It’s the most important thing in history! Of course we must tell the President!’
‘No,’ Helen said. ‘It’s an official secret. It’s so secret that even the President must not know. All UFOs are official secrets. Cathy knows that too. I won’t say anything about it, and neither will you, Cathy.’
‘No,’ I said.
I’m sorry I said that now. Maybe it was the biggest mistake of all. But I said it anyway.
‘But why? Why, Cathy?’ Mary looked as if I had shot her in the back.
Helen tried to explain. ‘Look, firstly, we don’t know that they come from another world. Maybe they’re people from Earth. Maybe they’re our enemies…’
‘Oh, come on, Helen!’ Mary laughed. ‘Don’t be silly!’
‘And, secondly, if they are from another planet, they’re much more intelligent than we are. You saw that UFO. It went a hundred times faster than we did. Do you want to tell everyone that the Army and NASA are weak, and can’t protect us? People will be afraid!’
‘But this is crazy!’ Mary shouted. ‘Why do you think the UFOs are our enemies? Maybe they’re friendly. Maybe they can help the people of Earth.’
‘They turned off our rocket engines, didn’t they?’ I said.
‘Maybe,’ said Mary. ‘But the engines are OK now, aren’t they? Maybe they did it because they wanted us to see their city! Listen, Cathy, maybe the UFOs want to help the world, and be our friends. If they’re so intelligent, maybe they can help us. Maybe we won’t need wars and military satellites and secrets any more! Think of that!’
‘Do you think the President or NASA are going to believe that?’ asked Helen. She looked even colder and more angry. ‘Listen carefully, Mary. This is a very important secret. It is not something for your TV show. You must not say anything at all about it – not now, not ever. I’m sorry, but if you talk about this, Cathy and I will say that you are lying. NASA and the CIA will say that you’re crazy. They’ll send you to a hospital. You’ll lose your job, and you won’t see your children again, maybe for years. Is that what you want?’
Mary went very white. She looked at us both. For a long time no one said anything. We watched the Earth becoming slowly larger. Then Mission Control spoke. ‘The President will be ready in three minutes.’
‘OK,’ said Mary slowly. ‘I won’t say anything about it now. But when we get back to Earth … we’ll see.’
When we got back to Earth, the people at NASA told us to keep quiet. We wrote a report, but it said nothing about the UFO or the City of Lights. I gave NASA my pictures, but I don’t know what happened to them. I never saw them again.
Mary went home to her family. She didn’t write anything about the UFOs or talk about them on her TV programme. I didn’t say anything either. I wasn’t happy about it, but I wanted to keep my job. But I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
Then, a year later, Mary asked me to come on her TV show. ‘It’s a programme about space flight,’ she said. ‘I want you to talk about it with me on TV. I’m going to … say something.’
‘Good,’ I said. I was very excited. But I didn’t tell anyone else. And then, two weeks before the TV programme, Mary was killed in a hang-gliding accident. Something was wrong with the hang-glider, her husband said. One minute it was fine and the next minute it fell out of the sky. No one knew why.

That’s why I’m writing this. I’m going to send it to every newspaper in the world. It was Mary’s job really – she was the reporter. But she had to think about her children, so she kept her mouth shut for a year. Then, when she was going to talk about what she had seen, she died in that ‘accident’. I haven’t got any children. I know I’ll lose my job, but I don’t care now.
I can’t stop thinking about the City of Lights. Mary was right: it’s the most important story we can ever tell. That’s why I’ve written this. I know some people won’t believe me, but I have to tell them. I have to!
Captain C. Fox, NASA Space Centre, 26 May 2006


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