The command nodule was the first component of our space capsule to be finished and, when Scotty debuted it, we drank Mooseheads all the way around. Our isolated Arctic facility may not have been the flagship of the Canadian weapons-development program, but that night the icefields echoed with our success. Dr. Q put some Latin music on the reel-to- reel, and Vu killed us with his can-can. I did a merengue with Dr. Q, and I tell you, I was zany, I wasn’t myself. It must have been the bubbles in the beer. Palm to palm, we held our arms high, poised and steady, while below our hips flashed like solid-state diodes-one two three, cha-and I was feeling quite heady. I let Q lead.
But then, in the conga line, Vu’s sweaty hands on my shoulders brought me down to earth. What was a party without our little fur trapper,Jacques? At this moment, he might be lost on an icesheet, running from some polar wolf or a Siberian tiger. What if his luge threw a skid and veered into a crevasse? I think masturbation is a filthy habit, but on those nights when Jacques would hole up in our Sno-Cat shed for a session with his “baton de joie, ” I confess I admired his bravery in the face of loneliness.
As the conga snaked around the heli-arc welder and acetylene torches-cha, our legs would fly in unison-I had to endure the wafting smells of gin and starch coming off Mansoor, our flight-simulator specialist, and my thoughts grew dark and selfish. I began to wonder which one of us would be making the moonshot. Dr. Q was too important, Scotty was prone to drink, and, of course, I had my allergies. Secretly, I was for sticking Vu in the darn thing.
Just then, Mansoor led the conga line up to the command nodule and stopped in front of the canopy. The capsule was beautiful: anodized alloy frame, gold-plated com links, fireproof Perspex windows all around. The tiny nodule’s infrastructure alone contained fifty kilometers of wiring, enough that Scotty had to train two snow ferrets to pull the cables through the complex web of conduits.
Mansoor opened the hatch and moved to step inside like he owned the thing, like he had just crowned himself moon pilot.
Part of me really wanted Mansoor to go, except for the fact that there was an outside chance the whole dang thing might work, that he might make it to the moon and return a Canadian hero. But Mansoor couldn’t squeeze in through the hatch. None of us could, not even Vu! Scotty had made the nodule too small. When we cornered him behind the central shop-vac unit, his desperate margarita eyes passed over all of us. “There must be something wrong with my slide rule,” he said. “It could have happened to anybody.”
Furious, Dr. Q called an emergency meeting, right there in our sombreros. Mulroney, secretary of the Canadian Intelligence Agency, listened in on the scramble phone. Q stood to speak, his bald dome a beacon to me, his class ring winking.
I held my breath. “What we need,” he said, “is a candidate who can withstand intense g-forces, high levels of radiation and long periods of cold and dark. He must be able to entertain himself and also be under 150 centimeters tall.”
Mulroney assured us the CIA would find our man, so there was nothing left to do but get back to work and trust in Canadian Intelligence.
Three nights later, I was pouring liquid argon into a bowl of flatworms when Mulroney arrived at our lab in person.
He’d flown through the perpetual dark and taken a Sno-Cat thirteen kilometers from a tiny icefield landing strip before snowshoeing blind along frozen lifelines. I was doing some side research on reanimation, and the worms had just begun to crackle and flip in the Pyrex when Mulroney pushed his way through our storm-proof doors, his war medals glowing amber in the light of the heaters. He had a little man with him.
Mulroney had never come out to our tundra lab before, so it was clear something big was up, something far too important to risk using the scramble phone. Right away, I poured my frozen worms into a thermos for a little vacation, after which I would hopefully revive them. I’ 11 admit I didn’t really have a plan for bringing them back to life. I figured I’d put them in a bowl of warm water and give them lots of love.
“Gentlemen,” Mulroney announced, “I present your Canadanaut.”
“Canadanaut?” I asked. “What the heck are you talking about?”
“It means ’Canada-voyager,"’ Mulroney said. “The boys in PR cooked it up.”
Mulroney then pushed forward a tiny, emaciated man with a skin condition. He was blindfolded and probably drugged.
Dr. Q asked him his discipline. Aeronautics? Vector analysis? ’Tm an English teacher from Edmonton.”
I walked over and poked him in the chest. He almost fell down. What a puss. I didn’t even want to know his name.
How were we going to beat those Russian Communauts into space with a bookworm at the wheel? Did I have to remind everyone of the grave military implications of failure? Dr. Q and I decided to get right to work. The first thing we did was irradiate our Canadian hero with uranium isotopes.
I set the dial at 500. Q shrugged, so I cranked it up to 650 rads, a dose that made our subject turn pink and swelly. The procedure also loosened his teeth, and the diarrhea would not stop. On the master clipboard, Q marked his radiation tolerance as “moderate. ”
Next, we stuck him in the centrifugal chamber, a procedure that pulled his arms out of their sockets, and that was it-we were back to scratch.
I was relieved that our so-called Canadanaut was gone, but something was still bothering me. This mission wasn’t about Canada. This flight was about one man leaving the world of men, making a sacrifice for the love of mankind. It seemed to me that our pilot should be called a Man Voyager, or Homonaut, a name that suggested fellowship and unity.
The subject came up at dinner that night. Scotty slammed his fork down. “The whole point of this enterprise is exploration.
I say our man is a Star Jockey and should be referred to as such. In a certain sense, we’re all Star Jockeys.”
’’I’m partial to Empyreal Cosmoteer,” Q said, “but you can’t fight the boys in PR.”
“What about Sky Musher?” Vu asked.
We pretended not to hear him.
“If we’ re being open, sirs,” Mansoor said, “I prefer the title Qamar Musafir or perhaps Kaukab Tayyar.”
Steaming, I tore my bib off and blurted, “We’re Homonauts or nothing at all.”
Dr. Q waved his hand. “Pull yourselves together, men.”
Scotty, in a temper, grabbed his ferrets and stormed off in a Sno-Cat to hunt for possible launch sites. Vu wanted to go after him, but Q said no, “Let him cool down.”