The planet’s Earth-like gravity had an unexpected welcoming effect on Mission Commander Stevenson as he stepped out of the craft. This was the forty-first world he had visited on this particular eighteen month mission. He hadn’t shared with anyone yet that it would be his last. He was sixty-four years old and while his mind was never sharper, his body was starting to say no.
NASA probably expected him to call it quits sooner rather than later, but he knew they would be sorry to see him leave. Not the first mission commander to make a career of exploring new galaxies, he hoped he would prove to be the most steadfast. He had personally stepped foot on six hundred thirty-five extraterrestrial worlds. Not one of them contained life.
Oh, sure, he had had plenty of R and R back on Earth between missions, but it was all beginning to wear on him. As evidence of this, to a person, all the other astronauts could even deliver his famous “one complaint” speech–accent and all–verbatim.
Month thirteen, almost to the day, he’d say, “For someone as fortunate as me, someone who has seen the glory of the cosmos up close and in person, to complain would be criminal.” The imitator would then pause, just like Stevenson always did. “But I am human. I do have my own thoughts. And if I had to pick one thing that I would change about the program, it would be the gloves! I have spent over half my life feeling the inside of a pair of gloves. Every celebratory hug we’ve had after discovering we got a chance to live on after opening the door, every rock I’ve lifted, every flagpole I’ve planted, every tool I’ve used, everything has felt the same. I just wish something could be done about that.” Every newbie expected the speech to end at that point and just about interrupted the old man as he continued undeterred, which made it all the more amusing for everyone else. “I miss the feel of a woman, the feel of a Christmas tree, the feel of not quite warm enough shower water. Most of all, I miss the feel of dirt–my dirt.”
As he looked back for the others to join him on the ritual first walk around the new world, he unconsciously reached for the fastener on his glove.