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Gene Cernan looks like he's just seen a chick from the Show Me State.

Even in the subdued light of her moon truck interior Robyn noted Gene Cernan was rather gaunt, and prematurely gray for a man in his thirties. And for his part Cernan noted that Robyn was pregnant. And Robyn noted that he noted. My baby will be born right here, Commander Cernan.

Born. On the Moon.

On the Moon. I'm Robyn Lokken by the way. She handed Gene a clipboard with a sheaf of papers secured to it. Most of this is for your handlers at NASA but there's also some correspondence for President Nixon, and he should get it without too much delay. Very important stuff.

Cernan looked at the stack of papers, and then searched Robyn's face. She looked like an older version of his own daughter. He wanted to like her. Then he looked through some of the papers she had given him. Included were five glossy color photos. He pulled them out and asked what they were.

Images of each one of the previous Apollo landing sites, taken months or years after their departure. Note the missing ascent stage in each photo. We thought NASA might want a photographic record.

Cernan became quiet, and put the photos back on the clipboard. He seemed to be a little sad. So this meeting, what is it, a fancy sales pitch?

She smiled. It all boils down to this, Commander: Everything you've done with your socialized government-financed space program, we're doing faster and better with good old-fashioned capitalism. When I say "we" I mean the Astrodynamics Corporation, or Astrodyne for short. So tell your debriefers that Apollo 17 is pretty much it. You won't need to come back.

Cernan felt embarrassed. All the effort spent by America, all his training, all that national treasure, and in the end it meant exactly nothing. The whole Space Race was just a little fart in a big hurricane.

It's twelve days before Christmas, Robyn told him with a sly grin. I've got about a hundred fifty of your Earth pounds of presents for your geologist companion out there named Mr. Schmitt. Rocks from right here at the North Massif, taken from various depths up to six hundred feet below the surface, which you can't do. Sulfur from a highlands channel we call Yellow Rille. Documentation is provided with each sample. Hopefully it will compensate for all the precious minutes you're losing talking to me.

I'm sure it will. For what it's worth, thank you, Miss Lokken.

Well, time marches on and your backpack won't run forever. So that's pretty much all I wanted to say to you, Commander Cernan. In summary, thanks for playing, but there's nothing for the United States government to see or do up here on the Moon. The big boys and girls are in charge now, so please move along. And thanks for taking the time out of your tait schedule to meet with me. Have a nice drive back, and a safe flight home.

When the two men returned to their Lunar Module named Challenger and removed their helmets, Harrison Schmitt snapped a photo of Cernan for the history books. He looked haggard, exhausted, and just a little haunted.

Cernan guessed the pretty blonde young lady he met out there on the Taurus-Littrow valley floor with her sheaf of papers and bundle of rocks spelled instant doom for NASA's manned moon program. Apollo 18 and 19 were designated to explore the lunar farside, but they would probably be canceled soon after Cernan, Schmitt and Ron Evans returned to Earth with that paperwork. The twenty-five billion dollars that had already been spent on the Apollo project now seemed like the biggest waste of money in American history. Eugene Cernan thought he might get still the title "Last Man on the Moon" but even that would all be a big fat lie and he knew it.

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Strangers In Paradise