That was the night of 21 July 2333. Clay took the train back to Bangor and found he already had messages from Ms Su Park, lead pilot for the so-called Human Horizon Expedition, and from an aide to the expedition’s overall director, Dr Henri George. They welcomed his acceptance and looked forward to his coming on board. There were forms to fill out and a few more medical tests to be done by Clay’s doctor (in addition to the many Clay had already submitted to when he had been induced to apply last spring) and lots of files to read. The Ghost 201 single crew explorer pod was a two-generation leap in the design of one-person utility spacecraft, and even if the simulator program they sent him was just a pale imitation of the real thing, it was a very exciting and difficult pale imitation. He had time to study, fortunately: he wasn’t expected to report for training till October, and the launch date was set as March 2334.
So Clay went back to work and worked his tail off. He did his best not to imagine that the freight shuttles he was flying for a living were Ghost 201s. It was difficult to really confuse the two, as he switched from flying the real, clunky, rugged, slow shuttles to simulating the mythical, tiny, delicate and zippy explorer pods and back.
Clay held onto his job as long as he could manage to. He found it surprisingly easy not to tell anyone that he was on the Human Horizon Expedition, and he didn’t even let the cat out of the bag when he gave his ten day notice. Everyone thought him the quiet sort, so no one pressed him on his plans. When he finally quit, it was only because he had to fly to Quebec for the hop to the Moon to start training on 12 October. His last day of work was, literally, the eleventh: he took two shuttle trips to take foodstuffs up for the ships that supplied the asteroid miners, and bring their ore down.
The second trip up, he had his old timey music on the headphones. It was a grand mix of some sort, nothing from even the current century, but as he took off, with the Moon full and just above the horizon, orange as an actual orange, that one song came on: guitar or something, sounding half like a chime and half like a chain saw. And then the ghostly backing vocals, and then the diction-averse male lead singer, and those lyrics struggling to be read through the haze of his voice: “Heard that red moon talking, red moon, talk to me.” Clay, who had felt nothing very much for a long time, felt something, and he kept feeling it, kept hitting replay time and time again. “Gimme, gimme shelter, oh yeah” (something). He never was sure what the something was. But he was sure it was important.
“Gimme shelter” was playing in Clay’s head the whole time he was helping unload the shuttle and load it up again. He switched over to Vivaldi for the trip back down. Then he went home, took a shower, went to bed, got up in the morning and headed for the station for the trip to Quebec.