It can easily be accomplished with a computer
by Dwayne A. Day
Monday, July 7, 2008
Jake stopped the jeep and jumped out, starting toward the old rusted gate when he heard the distant roar of the jet engine. He turned and looked back toward Groom’s long runway and watched as the big grey bomber came toward him. It was moving slowly, and as it sailed over Jake’s head at no more than a couple of hundred feet it suddenly faded from view, as if the blue morning sky above was shining through the fuselage. It wasn’t complete—he could still pick out the plane’s outline against the sky if he looked hard enough—but otherwise the plane was invisible.
“Show-off,” Jake muttered, suppressing a smile. They weren’t supposed to turn the system on until they got over the test range, and certainly not this close to the base. That had been for his benefit. The pilot—who was it today? Frog? Whizzer?—knew that Jake was out there and was teasing him. Look what I can do… he was saying to the boss.
Jake turned back to the gate and took the key out of his pocket and unlocked the thick padlock there. The lock was new, although the gate was probably nearly as old as the facility itself, and if he had given it a good sharp kick he probably could have busted it open. He pushed the gate all the way back and went to his jeep, got in and proceeded the remaining quarter mile down the dusty road until he reached the bunker entrance recessed into the side of the small mountain. The door alongside the vehicle entrance opened as he approached and a man emerged.
He was carrying a shotgun, pointed at the ground.
Jake didn’t like that. Nobody had told him that Tapper had a weapon. Where did he get the weapon? Jake was unarmed, and if he had thought he was going to face a 70-year-old man with a shotgun, he might have gotten one of the MPs to drive him out. Too late now, he was committed. He stopped the jeep, turned off the engine and got out, resisting the urge to raise his hands in surrender.
“That’s a dumb question. Who else would I be?”
Jake agreed it was a dumb question. He had never been good with introductions. “I’m Jake.”
“Just call me Tapper.”
“Why the shotgun?”
Tapper was carrying the shotgun from the top, his finger was nowhere near the trigger. It wasn’t a threatening posture.
“Rattlers. Couple of times in the past month I’ve come out here in the morning and found some rattlers sliding around, looking for mice. I think they might have a den over there by those rocks. There’s a cable tray over there and I think it keeps them warm at night.”
“Slithering. Snakes don’t slide around, they slither.”
“Whatever. Look over there. See that? That’s what I mean.”
Jake looked where Tapper had pointed. There was a track in the sandy soil that clearly was left by a snake.
“I’ll have to get someone out here to deal with them. I’d shoot ’em if I see ’em. But I’m not poking around under those rocks. Don’t like snakes, especially rattlers. Give me the creeps.”
“You could use a fire extinguisher. Stick it in there and freeze ’em to death.”
Tapper just stared at him for a moment, as if he was about to tell Jake that his fire extinguisher idea was the stupidest thing he had ever heard, but he kept his mouth shut. Finally he broke the silence. “Come on in, I’ll show you around.” He turned and headed back toward the door.
Jake followed and they went through the tan painted steel door next to the large recessed tunnel entrance. There was an old pickup truck parked just inside the large garage doors. Two rows of fluorescent lights ran down the tunnel for a couple hundred feet deeper into the mountain. The tunnel was painted a pale green and it was spotless. Looked brand new. It also had a shallow downward slope into the mountain. There was a small booth recessed into the wall with a wooden table and an ancient telephone on it. Also a logbook and pen. Tapper set the shotgun down on the floor next to the table. “Sign in,” he said, motioning toward the book.
Jake didn’t question him. He took the pen and signed his name on the top line of the page. The first page. There were no other names in the book.
“They take the logbook the first day of the month,” Tapper answered the unspoken question. “Security purposes,” he said with a trace of scorn in his voice. “But I don’t get any visitors. Only a couple of maintenance guys sometimes. Somewhere back on base there’s a big pile of those empty logbooks. Stupid bureaucrats.”
Tapper started walking down the tunnel and Jake followed. The end of the tunnel was another garage door with a door next to it that Tapper walked through. It was dark on the other side.
“Okay, you stop right here,” Tapper said. “Wait a moment. I’ll get the lights.” Tapper was gone instantly into the darkness. Jake waited for his eyes to adjust, but they didn’t. There was only the light from the entranceway behind him and it was quickly swallowed by the room he was in. He could hear Tapper rustling around to one side and then there was the banging of some big electrical switches and suddenly floodlights came on above him.
And he was on the surface of the Moon.
Stretched out in front of him for maybe a thousand feet and for hundreds of feet to his left and right was a lunar surface. Grey soil and some rocks and a couple of big boulders. And it wasn’t just flat either. It sloped downward and curved, like a shallow valley. It was the Moon. Just like in the photographs. The ceiling was high and there were tracks along it and a lot of lights, not all of them illuminated.
“Pretty damn cool, huh?” Tapper asked.
Tapper laughed. “Yeah. Everyone says that. Come on, I’ll show you the rest.”
Jake didn’t want to tear his eyes away from the sight, but he did, and he followed Tapper through a door and down a hallway.
“Over here’s some storage. Just stuff for raking and smoothing the dirt. That room there is where they suited up the astronauts. And their spacesuits were kept in there. Somebody took the suits away about five years ago. Dunno why.” Tapper was motioning toward featureless doors they passed. “Camera storage over there. That’s janitorial. That’s electrical. The archives is down the hall to the left. Over there’s the old film developing room. Now this… this is pretty cool.” Tapper opened a set of double doors and flipped another light switch and Jake was back on the Moon. Except that there was a full-sized lunar module sitting on the surface, and a lunar rover—the astronauts’ car—sitting nearby.
“Go on, say ‘wow’ again,” Tapper kidded him.
Tapper walked toward the lunar module. “See that?” he pointed up toward the ceiling. The room itself was smaller than the previous one they were in, but the ceiling was higher. “There’s a pulley system up there. Wires ran down to the ascent stage. Electric motor’s over there against the wall. It could pull the ascent stage up, off the lander, just like a launch from the surface. Stanley wanted it to look right. Wanted full size. But it was a real SOB to get to work right. They ended up pulling it up slower and running the cameras slower to compensate, or something like that. But then they had to run all the footage through some video processor to make it look like a television image. They finally gave up and just did it all with a model. A few years ago I visited the Cape. On a lark, you know? Went to this auditorium and they had a full size mockup, or nearly full-sized anyway, and it did the exact same thing—ascent stage pulled up to the ceiling just like this one. My jaw nearly bounced off the floor when I saw it. Somebody from Disney came up with the exact same idea that we did.”
Jake was standing next to the lunar rover. It was in pristine condition, polished.
“That used to work. You could have ridden it around here. We had an anniversary party here back in 1979. Maybe fifty, sixty of the guys from the old days, and everybody got to ride that thing around the main stage. We all got drunk as skunks and somebody made up traffic citations for ‘driving under the influence on the Moon.’ But some maintenance guy pulled the batteries out of it years ago. Probably because they were leaking or something. I’ve thought about hooking up some new batteries to it and taking it for a drive, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Come on.”
Jake pulled himself away from the stage and followed Tapper back out the door and down a corridor and around a corner and then up some stairs and through a door. Now they were in a control room, windows along either side, looking down on the two moonscape stages. There were consoles with hundreds of switches along the windows. “This is the director’s booth,” Tapper announced matter-of-factly. “Lighting controls for both stages, plus other controls like the cable rigs. But Stanley always directed from the stage floor. He had his assistants up here to control the lights and stuff.”
Tapper pointed at the far wall of the room. It was constructed out of cinderblock and painted institutional green.
Jake looked. He didn’t see anything.
“What do you see?”
Jake turned to Tapper. “Nothing.”
“Damned right you see nothing. When the project was over we had a wrap party and everybody who worked on it signed their names in here. Everybody. This wall was covered with Stanley Kubrick’s signature and Arthur Clarke’s and all the astronauts—except Shepard, dunno why. And all the ADs and the gaffers and the grips and everybody. Even the security guys signed it, which was a bit of a surprise. Course, we were all pretty soshed at the time.”
Jake saw no sign of the signatures.
“And now look at it! You don’t see anything, right? You know why? Because some moron decided back in the 1980s that all those names were a security risk and he had a guy come in here and paint the wall. Now what kind of dumb nonsense do you think that is? I mean, it’s a secure facility. Ain’t nobody ever going to get in here who doesn’t know what this place is all about, right? So why do that?”
Tapper didn’t wait for an answer, he just harrumphed and headed back out the door and down the stairs. For a man in his seventies, he had an enormous amount of energy. Jake struggled to keep up, following him back down the main hallway and through a set of double doors that they had passed earlier near the front of the complex. Jake followed him through the doors… and was shocked again. He was in a big office with wood paneling and a big wood desk. After the cold sterile look of the rest of the facility it was a surprise. It looked like somebody’s den in a big mansion. There was even a window, although behind the glass was a realistic painting of a lake and low mountains. After all, they were about a hundred feet below ground. The room was filled with the rich scent of fresh brewed coffee.
“Yeah, pretty nice, huh? They built this office for Stanley. There’s another one at the other end of the main hall for Arthur. Not as nice as this one. Stanley had a bigger ego and so they had to cater to it, give him something really nice. His apartment’s back there. Nice digs. Nothing but the best for the boss. This is where I live now.”
Jake walked around the office. There were a lot of oak bookshelves, but they were covered with paperbacks. Hundreds of them. Spy novels and adventure novels and thrillers. “These your books?” he asked.
“Yup. I read a lot in the evenings after I’m done fixing whatever needs fixing.” Tapper handed Jake a hot mug of coffee and then sat down heavily in the padded chair behind the desk. Jake took a seat in a plush chair in front of it.
Tapper slid open a drawer in the big desk and pulled something out, a photograph. He slid it across the desk. “Take a look at that.”
Jake picked up the photograph. It was a glossy 8 x 10 black and white showing an astronaut standing on top of a small footstool in his spacesuit, suspended a couple of feet above the surface of the Moon. His helmet was off and a young, skinny man with black-rimmed glasses and a buzzcut was holding a cup of water with a straw up toward the astronaut’s mouth. Jake didn’t have to look twice to realize that the young man was Tapper. The features were unmistakable.
“Yeah, that’s me. Nineteen sixty-nine. I was 23, fresh out of the Marine Corps after two tours in Nam. I did a lot of things around here. Even learned how to run a movie camera.”
Jake started to slide the photograph back across the desk.
“Turn it over,” Tapper told him.
Jake turned over the photograph. “Thanks for all your help, Tapper!” it said in black ink, and below that was the signature, “Neil Armstrong.” Jake smiled at that.
“Kept that taped to my bunk here the whole time I worked on the project. Of course, I couldn’t take that with me. I had to turn it over to security when we closed down. But when I first started working here again I went into the archives and dug around and there it was.”
There was a long silence. Jake took a sip of his coffee. He didn’t really like coffee, but he had to admit that it was good coffee. He set the cup down and decided to get to the point of his visit.
“Well, I’m guessing you’re wondering why I came out here to meet with you.”
“Not really. I know why. You want me to move out.”
“That’s okay. I’m cool with that.”
“Really? No objections?” Jake was surprised.
“Uncle Sam doesn’t charge me rent, so I can’t complain if he wants to evict me. No. I’m a realist,” Tapper replied. “I didn’t expect you to name me project manager or anything like that. I’m too old. Plus, I took this job because I’m not that fond of people and I wouldn’t want to be surrounded by all of them again.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, this was a beautiful facility in its heyday, but it will need a complete renovation if you’re going to use it to fake another Moon landing in the next couple of years. I’m not just talking about changing the landscaping and all that. Even though I’ve maintained it, the rigging is probably really out of date by now. And you’re going to need new lighting and other stuff for all the cameras. Lots of work to get it ready—not nearly as big a project as it was to make it ready back in ’68, but still a lot of people. I can’t manage a project like that and, like I said, I don’t like people. I’ll move out.”
Jake paused. He wasn’t quite sure what to say. “You think we want to film the next Moon landing here?”
Now it was Tapper’s turn to pause. “Uh, yeah…” he said tentatively. “Isn’t that why you want me to move out?”
“Well… no. You see, we don’t need this facility anymore. We’re shutting it down.”
“Shutting it down? But how are you going to fake the Moon landings again? You’re gonna need this place.”
Jake just shook his head.
“Don’t tell me that we’re actually going to do it this time, for real, I mean,” Tapper asked.
“No, no. We’re going to fake it again. But we’re going to do it all on a computer.”
“See gee eye?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of CGI before? Computer generated imagery?”
Tapper gave him a blank look.
“Computer animation? Haven’t you seen any movies in the past twenty years? That’s how they do it all now, dinosaurs and giant spaceships and talking robots. It’s all done in a computer.”
“They can do that?”
“Tapper, haven’t you seen a movie in the past decade?”
“Not really. Don’t leave this place much.”
“But we got you a satellite dish!”
“I only use that for watching football. Otherwise I don’t like television.”
“They do it all on computers now. That’s how we’re going to do it. We’ll hire some group of whiz kids and they’ll fake it all for us. Save a boatload of money. When we—I mean you—did Apollo, they used it to funnel a lot of money into other stuff. That was the whole purpose. But NASA still had to spend a lot to make it look real. This place alone cost a bundle to hole out of the hillside and equip with all this stuff. There’s no need anymore. We’ll just do it on a computer for a tenth of the price.”
Tapper looked doubtful. “Huh,” was all he could say. It seemed so appropriate that he said it again. There was a long awkward pause between the two men. “So you’re closing this place down, you say?”
“Yeah. Oh, we’re not going to raze it or anything. Somebody might need the storage space some day. Heck, we’ve got some airplanes we might store in here. It’s more than big enough.”
“But you don’t need a caretaker.”
“No. When we close it up, we’ll stick a few Roombas in here to clean up the dust, but that’s it.”
“Robots. Small robots that sweep the floor. Plug themselves in automatically to recharge. We don’t need to do anything.”
There was a long pause again. “Okay. I guess that means I’ll have to move out.” Tapper sounded disappointed.
Jake felt sorry for the man. Tapper may have been a recluse—you had to be to work as caretaker of an old underground bunker—but he seemed like a decent fellow. Jake knew from Tapper’s file that there were reasons why he preferred to live alone in an underground bunker. He wanted the solitude.
“Well, there was another reason I came,” Jake started. “We have another facility—it’s on the other side of the base—and the caretaker there is leaving. We’d like you to take that over. Pretty much the same job as here. A little smaller inside, but not that much different.”
“Really? What is it, Mars or something? You fake those rovers too?”
“No. I can’t really tell you what it is unless you agree to do it. Then I’ll take you over and show you and introduce you to the residents.”
“Yeah, two of them. Used to be three, now only two.”
Tapper sat there silently for almost a full minute. “I don’t know…” he said, skeptically. “I took this job because of the people. I don’t really like people, you know.”
“Yeah, you said that. Look… I can’t really give you all the details, but I don’t think you have to worry about it. They mostly keep to themselves. Mostly. Hardly ever bother you. And, well, you see, they’re not really people. Not exactly.”
Tapper’s eyebrow went up, intrigued. “Okay. I’ll do it.” He stood up quickly and started for the door.
“Just like that?” Jake asked, getting up to follow.
“No. Not ‘just like that,’” Tapper replied, heading down the hallway for the main tunnel without pausing to look at the younger man. “I’d rather stay here. But I’m a pragmatist; if Uncle Sam says he’s going to close this place down, then there’s nothing I can do about it. And if Uncle Sam thinks he can use my services somewhere else, then I’ll give it a try.”
They walked through the big main stage with its stunning simulation of the Moon. Jake slowed down to look. It was truly amazing. But Tapper had already headed through the door.
Tapper was heading up the main tunnel now, Jake practically had to trot to keep up with him. Where did this guy get all his energy? Jake thought.
Suddenly Tapper stopped and turned around. “I have one condition, though.”
“You get somebody in here to remove the paint they used to cover up all the names. Restore the wall to the way it was when we all left back in 1972.”
Jake gave him a puzzled look. “I’m not sure they can do that. I mean, it’s paint.”
“Sure they can. Art restorers do it all the time, remove paint off of a canvas to reveal what’s underneath. Get somebody who can do that and you’ve got a deal.”
Tapper took a breath and sighed. “I figure that unless the Chinese get up to the Moon and go looking for those footprints nobody’s ever going to know what we did here. Probably never. Well, nobody but a bunch of kooks and weirdoes who don’t believe anything their government tells them and stumbled on the truth by accident. But we did something pretty impressive here, and even if Uncle Sam decides to seal this place up and never let anybody in here again, I’d like to go to my grave knowing that our names were still up on that wall where we wrote them.” Tapper sighed again. “So get somebody in here to restore the wall and I’ll leave this place and help you out with the new one.”
Jake thought about that a second. “Okay, done.”
That was all it took. Tapper turned and started heading for the main door again.
“Uh, Tapper, you might want to bring the shotgun.”
Tapper stopped and looked at him. “It’s dangerous?”
“No. Not really. You won’t even need shells. Like I said, the residents you’ll be dealing with in the new facility mostly keep to themselves. But occasionally they get a little rambunctious and you need to remind them who’s boss. Just wave the gun around and they get the idea and they’ll leave you alone again.”
Tapper went and picked up the shotgun from the spot where he left it near the door. “Okay, let’s go. We’ll take your jeep.” he said, and headed out the door. “And you can tell me all about this new facility and its reclusive residents.”
Jake followed the older man out the door. “Tapper, you ever hear of a place called Roswell?”