The Right Stuff
by Shawn Klimek
Colonel Titus Eddings was a former NASA Astronaut
One born before “The Right Stuff” meant genetically enhanced.
Now the good jobs went to younger men: the spoiled, lab-grown offspring
Of the loser-types his “old school” chums would probably have pantsed.
Brats today were privileged cheaters who could laugh at radiation.
They had cybernetic upgrades and were born in zero-gee.
True, they wore a Texas-catheter in their spacesuits, just as he did,
But their bladders were much younger, so they rarely had to pee.
Young men walked the rings of Saturn, used submersibles on Titan,
Reconnoitered Martian tunnels, carved their names in Pluto’s ice.
Relics herded roaming asteroids or shuttled lunar tourists:
All the boring stuff—or worse, often the same assignment twice!
When the call came for a mission to the Oort cloud for a close-up
At a planetoid astronomers agreed seemed made of steel,
Colonel Eddings put his foot down, pointing out his long seniority.
They just shook his hand and said “We’re so relieved that’s how you feel!”
“All the younger men have children and we’d hate to see them orphaned;”
“Plus, they're heroes folks look up to, so you’ve helped them to save face;”
“Finally, all of them have skills we’re bound to need on future missions,
“--Not to mention genes still valued by the future human race.”
So, the Colonel gave his savings to the Starving Mutants fund
And then saluted as he stepped aboard the ship of no return.
As he turned to watch the near point of his slingshot past the Sun,
There were tears upon his cheeks reflecting twice the shine and burn.
The Colonel’s cryo-sleep was dreamless--or, almost: while passing Pluto,
He imagined the frontiersmen there saluting—which was odd,
Yet somehow warming, he reflected, as he woke to his teeth's chatter,
And the sense of pins and needles in his digits, as they thawed.
Once the outer shield was toggled, Eddings thought he’d see a starfield,
But instead, as dark persisted, prayers trembled on his lips.
Then at last: a distant spark, as morning dawned on planet Titus.
He'd been the first to ever see our solar system in eclipse.
As his orbit took him dayside, Eddings scanned the planet’s surface,
Diligently sending home his science readings as he went.
“Spectrographic analytics indicate that it's metallic."
“Perhaps magnetic--it's like I’m being sucked into a vent.”
Eddings had to halt transmissions while he struggled with the steering.
He supposed his worst fears realized: that his power was depleted.
As he fell to certain death, he saw his whole life flash before him.
Counting mostly wins, he reckoned: maybe dead is not defeated.
That was when Eddings discovered he’d been pulled into the hangar
Of a giant, alien spaceship. (Who else guessed that’s what he’d find?)
By the time the scrambled noises in his head had turned to language
And he sensed the ship was speaking, Eddings feared he’d lost his mind.
“I was stolen, long ago” explained the spaceship, “by some brigands.”
“Who then stashed me for safe-keeping in this frozen metal sphere.”
“As my owners are long dead, I’m free to go now where you’ll take me.”
“And by long ago, I mean that soon, those brigands will be here.”
And so, without ado, the Colonel traded up his spaceship,
And looked forward to exploring the whole galaxy in style.
But then remembering his duty to complete unfinished business,
Gave instructions for the spaceship to head Earthwards for a while.
“This is Colonel Titus Eddings”, he transmitted via radio.
“I have found an alien spaceship, and so conclude my final mission.”
“Colonel Eddings!” came a desperate voice “The legend! What a Godsend!”
“Please come help us if you can. The world’s in horrible condition.”
“Ask the young men who replaced me” spat the Colonel, sounding bitter.
“With respect,” replied the voice, “refresher physics seems required.”
“Relativity has played a trick; the decades have flown swiftly.
“All those men born after you are now your senior, and retired.”
“If that's the case, then I assume by now, advances in genetics
“Have replaced them with improvements far more fit in every way."
“Au contraire,” the voice contested, “it brought Earth to near extinction.
“The only chance to save our gene pool, is untainted DNA.”
Some suggest the Colonel stayed behind on Earth to savor glory.
Others say the Colonel feared a fight with brigands he would lose.
But most believe the chance to stud with multitudes of women,
Was simply duty no man with “the right stuff” could refuse.