‘Which of you is the better pilot?’ the reporter asks wryly. His question is directed at Flight Lieutenants Roden Dank and Billy Garrett. The interrogatory permanganate flare of a flashbulb draws the sense and shape of the question into sharp relief for the astronauts who sit empanelled before the assembled press pack.
‘That would be me,’ Lt. Dank replies, definitively. A powerfully built man right down to the Rodinesque gauge of his lips, Dank flatters the cameras with a broad plank-and-rail grin. ‘It’s like comparing night and day.’
Lt. Garrett clears his throat after the fashion of a hooked trout regurgitating the barb that would foredoom him.
‘Were the sun to mock the moon for its impermanence in the heavens, which of you would not sense the folly in that?’ he asks the pressmen with the commingled self-assurance and steely resolve of a career test pilot.
‘If Lieutenants Dank and Garrett are the sun and moon, what does that make you, Major Tuttle?’ asks an ambitious young news cadet, turning the room’s attention toward the mission’s recondite Flight Commander, Major Erwin Tuttle.
Maj. Tuttle’s interlocutor presses his pen to the page of feint-ruled notepad and so steadies the trembling of an inexperienced hand. Tuttle holds a fixed and silent stare, unpicking with his studied eye the tangled, veiny grain of the hi-gloss walnut panels that line the theatre’s rearmost wall.
‘I am the Flight Commander,’ he says. The finality of the observation is all the more impressive for the monotone in which it is delivered.
‘A-are you excited, Major Tuttle?’
‘What about your wife and kids?’
‘They tell me I’m excited, too.’