“After Eight” (5)
By Paul Larkin
When Greta Garbo met Søren Kierkegaard
At first they thought it was joke. All the guys in white shirts at ground control slapped each other on the back and said he was a gas man altogether. Even the supreme commander laughed as she shrugged the greatcoat around her huge shoulders and puffed out rings of cigar smoke in appreciation at what she had just heard. Smoking was strictly forbidden at the NSCC (National Space Control Centre) but this was the Supreme Commander of Land, Sea and Space, so her underlings left it to other underlings to point out the smoking ban. So the point was never raised.
The astronaut, who was himself a highly decorated military veteran, repeated his statement that he wasn’t coming down and everybody laughed again. Only the Supreme Commander of Land, Sea and Space didn’t laugh the second time round because she had served in very dangerous combat zones with the man who was orbiting somewhere above her head and had never trusted him. He had always been too brave for his own good. Reckless and prone to reading books even when under fire. This was one of the reasons she had opposed his commission as a space commander. That was before she became SCLSS. She moved swiftly over to the star deck to ask whether there was a private telecom system for contacting the astronaut. The answer was that there were several but he had disconnected them all. The Supreme Commander exited forthwith and was already on her encrypted phone giving orders to scramble air defence systems as she hit the corridor in her stride.
Of course the censored news of the astronaut's refusal to return to earth spread as fast as an internet virus. By all accounts, he had decided that he quite liked the tranquillity of space, had a stack of books and sound files on his iPod and just wanted to chill for a while after a long life in the front line. He became not only the media’s latest overnight hero but also a beacon of hope for spiritual thought and philosophy. He was a Zen wizard. A Jedi knight. World leaders found they had to take a position on his stance. France was all for him as was the West Indies. The people of Ireland (the West Indies of the North West Atlantic) went out on to the streets to support his right to a metaphorical quiet pint but to their disgust, the Irish government said it would support wherever the money was coming from. The crisis deepened suddenly when the fact was leaked that the SCLSS (she who must be obeyed) had rigged a button to her desk so that she could personally obliterate her former comrade in arms once all the legal hurdles were cleared, which was going to take about two minutes.
The world held its breath. The astronaut somehow appeared on YouTube happily quaffing what looked suspiciously like a pint of stout and proceeded to explain that in all his travels and adventures he had never stopped to think about the most important things. Space had brought him closer to immortality and yet how to define that echo of immorality in himself? It was a heartfelt plea and the world breathed a sigh of relief and pleasure that idealists were still around. The Supreme Commander of Land, Sea and Space announced that her finger was no longer on the zapper. Then the astronaut got quite drunk and made a second broadcast where he shed tears and talked about the love of his life. A great woman. An Amazon. A woman who had faced the enemy, standing shoulder to shoulder with him but who could never face up to the fact that she truly loved him. It was no good she couldn’t deny it. He then announced that he had written a poem for her as he knew she would be watching.