First Chapter: Dave Eggers’ Novel, ‘Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?’

“We know each other, Kev. From way back. And I didn’t want to bring you here like this.”

Dave Eggers | Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? | June 2014 | 23 minutes (5,800 words)

 

BUILDING 52

—I did it. You’re really here. An astronaut. Jesus.
—Who’s that?
—You probably have a headache. From the chloroform.
—What? Where am I? Where is this place? Who the fuck are you?
—You don’t recognize me?
—What? No. What is this?
—That? It’s a chain. It’s attached to that post. Don’t pull on it.
—Holy shit. Holy shit.
—I said don’t pull on it. And I have to tell you right away how sorry I am that you’re here under these circumstances.
—Who are you?
—We know each other, Kev. From way back. And I didn’t want to bring you here like this. I mean, I’d rather just grab a beer with you sometime, but you didn’t answer any of my letters and then I saw you were coming through town so—Really, don’t yank on that. You’ll mess up your leg.
—Why the fuck am I here?
—You’re here because I brought you here.
—You did this? You have me chained to a post?
—Isn’t that thing great? I don’t know if you’d call it a post. Whatever it is, it’s incredibly strong. This place came with them. This was a military base, so there are these weird fixtures here and there. That thing you’re chained to can hold ten thousand pounds, and just about every building here has one. Stop pulling on it.
—Help!
—Don’t yell. There’s no one for miles. And the ocean’s just over the hill, so between the waves and the wind you’d barely hear a cannon fire from here. But they’re not firing cannons anymore.
—Help!
—Jesus. Stop. That’s way too loud. This is all cement, man. Hear that echo?
—Help! Help!
—I figured you might yell, so if it’s going to be now, just tell me. I can’t stay here while you do that.
—Help!
—My respect for you is plummeting.
—Help! Help! Help! Hello—
—All right. Jesus Christ. I’ll be back when you’re done.

—You done?
—Fuck you.
—You know, I’ve never heard you swear before. That’s one of the main things I remember about you, that you never swore. You were such a serious guy, so precise and careful and upstanding. And with the crew cut and those short-sleeve button-downs, you were such a throwback. I guess you have to be if you want to be an astronaut—you have to be that kind of tidy. Have that kind of purity.
—I don’t know you.
—What? Yes you do. You don’t remember?
—No. I don’t know anyone like you.
—Stop. Just think about it. Who am I?
—No.
—You’re chained to a post. You might as well guess. How do we know each other?
—Fuck you.
—No.
—Help!
—Don’t. Can’t you hear how loud it is in here? You hear the echo?
—Help! Help!
—I’m so disappointed in you, Kev.
—Help! Help! Help!
—Okay. I’m leaving till you get your shit together.

—Now are you done? It’s cold out there at night. The wind comes up the bluff and the Pacific—I don’t know. It gets bitter. With the sun out it’s almost balmy, but when it drops it gets arctic quick. You must be hoarse. You want some water?

—I’ll just leave this bottle here. Drink it when you want. That’s why I left your left hand free. We’ll be here awhile, so just know I’ll make sure you eat and have whatever else you need. I have some blankets in the van, too.
—How’d you get me here? Were you the guy moving that couch?
—That was me. I saw that trick in a movie. I can’t believe it worked. You helped me move the couch into the van, and I tased you, then I used some chloroform and drove you here. You want to hear the whole thing? It’s pretty incredible.
—No.
—You can’t really park very close to this building we’re in, so I dragged you out of the van onto that cart there—you can see it outside. It was already here, and it works perfectly. I could push an elephant on that thing. So I got you onto that cart, then I pulled you a quarter mile from the parking lot to this building. To be honest, I’m still just dazed thinking that all this worked. You’ve got me by, what, thirty pounds, and you’re definitely in better shape than I could ever be. But still it worked. You’re a fucking astronaut and now I have you here. This is a great day.
—You’re nuts.
—No, no. I’m not. First of all, I’m sorry. I never thought I’d do something like this, but everything lately made it necessary. I’ve never hurt anyone in my life, and I won’t hurt you. I would never harm you, Kev. I want you to understand that. So you don’t need to struggle or anything. I’ll let you go tomorrow after we talk for a while.
—You’re really fucking nuts.
—I’m really not. Really. I want you to stop saying that, because I’m not. I’m a moral man and I’m a principled man.
—Fuck you.
—Stop saying that, too. I don’t like you when you swear. Let’s get back to remembering me. Do you?
—No.
—Kev, stop. Just look at me. The sooner we get through all this, the sooner I can let you go.
—You let me go and I’ll kill you.
—Hey. Hey. Why would you say that? That doesn’t make any sense. You just set yourself back hours. Maybe more. I was planning to let you go later on tonight. Maybe tomorrow at the latest. But now you’ve got me scared. I didn’t picture you as a violent type. Jesus, Kev, you’re an astronaut! You shouldn’t be going around threatening people.
—You’ve got me chained to a post.
—Still. What I did to you was methodical and nonviolent. It was a means to an end. I wanted to talk to you, and you haven’t answered my letters, so I didn’t think I had a choice. I really do apologize for having to do it this way. I’ve been in a strange place lately. I was getting these migraines, I couldn’t sleep. Holy shit, the pressure! The questions were piling up and were strangling me at night. Have you ever had that, where you’re lying there, and the questions are just these asps wrapping themselves around your throat?
—You are so fucking nuts.
—You know what, Kev? I’m not. But I have to say, right when I said asps I knew it was a mistake. Someone like you hears that word, the specificity of it, and you think I’m some obsessive weirdo.
—But you’re not.
—See, the sarcasm, too. That’s new. I remember you being so sincere. I privately admired that. I don’t like this new edge. Now listen, I think you can tell I have my faculties together.
—Even though you kidnapped me and brought me here.
—Exactly because I brought you here—successfully. I made a plan, executed it, and I brought an astronaut to an abandoned military base one hundred and ten miles away from where I abducted you. That makes me a pretty competent person, correct?

—Kev. You work for the government, right?
—I work for NASA.
—Which is a government agency. And every day the government is bringing some enemy combatant to some undisclosed location to interrogate them, right? So what’s wrong with me doing the same thing?
—So I’m an enemy combatant.
—No. Maybe that was a poor comparison.
—Buddy, you’ll be in prison the rest of your life.
—I don’t think so. Only dumb people get caught.
—And you’re a brilliant criminal mastermind.
—No. No, Kev. I’ve never done anything illegal in my life. Isn’t that amazing? I really haven’t. The great crimes are committed by first-timers. I see you looking around. Isn’t this place great? How cool is it that we’re actually on a military base? You recognize this stuff? Look around. This was some kind of artillery storage building. I think they would fasten the cannons or whatever to these posts so they could move back and forth to absorb the kickback. I’m not really sure, but why else would they have these posts here?
—I’m going to fucking kill you. But the cops will kill you first.
—Kev, that won’t happen.
—You don’t think there’s a massive manhunt to find out what happened to me?
—Don’t be conceited. You were never conceited. You were one of those guys who knows he’s smart and strong and destined for great things, but you also knew it wasn’t going to help you if you advertised it to the world. So you had a nice kind of public humility thing working for you. I liked that. I understood your whole gambit, but I liked it and respected it. So don’t blow it with the “I’m an astronaut” bravado.
—Fine. But you’re still dead. They’ll find me in twenty-four hours.
—No, they won’t. I texted three people from your phone, telling them all you were in different places. I told one of your NASA coworkers you had a death in the family. And I told your parents you were on a training assignment. Thank god for texting—I can impersonate you perfectly. Then I turned your phone off and threw it away.
—There’s a hundred things you haven’t thought of.
—Maybe. Maybe not. So are you wondering where you are? This whole base is decommissioned and falling apart. No one knows what to do with it, so it’s just standing here, rotting on billion-dollar land. You can’t see it from here, but the ocean is about a half mile down the slope. The views are incredible. But on this land there are just these crumbling old buildings. There are hundreds of them, and twenty more like this one, all in a row. I think this one was used to test chemical weapons. There’s one nearby where they taught interroga- tion methods. And the ones like this, they all have these posts you can hook things onto. Why are you looking at me like that? Does that mean you recognize me?
—No.
—Yes you do.
—I don’t. You’re a fucking lunatic and I told you, I don’t know lunatics. My life’s been charmed that way.
—Kev. I really want to get started. So we’re either going to get started the way I hope we can get started, with us talking, or I’ll tase you, get you in line a bit, and then we’ll get started. So why not just talk to me? Let’s go about this like men. We have a task ahead of us and we might as well do it. You were always all business, getting things taken care of, moving on. I expect that kind of efficiency from you. Now where am I from? How do you know me?
—I don’t know. I’ve never been to prison. I’m assuming you escaped from somewhere.
—Kev, you see that taser there? If you decide not to talk with me then I tase you. If you yell for help, I leave the building till you shut up, then I come back and tase you. It’s so much better if we just talk.
—And then what? You kill me.
—I couldn’t kill you. I’ve never killed anything.
—But if I tell anyone about this, you’re in prison for ten, twenty years. Kidnapping an astronaut?
—That’s my problem, not yours. Obviously, you’re locked to a post, so I have the upper hand in terms of when someone finds you and how far away I can be by the time you’re found. Kev, I don’t mean to be a dick, but can we get started? Obviously I have this whole thing figured out. I brought you this far, and I managed to get you chained up. I mean, I’m not an idiot. I’ve been planning this for a while. So can we start?
—And if I talk to you then you let me go?
—I won’t harm you. You’ll be rescued eventually. I leave, I send a message to someone, telling them where you are, and they come to find you. By then I’m on my way. So one more time before I get angry. How do we know each other?
—College.
—Ah. There you go. College. You remember my name?
—No.
—Kev, c’mon.
—I don’t know.
—But you knew I was from college.
—I didn’t know that. I guessed.
—C’mon. Think.
—Bob?
—You know my name isn’t Bob. No one’s name is Bob. —Dick?
—Dick? Oh, I get it. That’s a name you’re calling me. Listen. I want to think you’re a nice guy, so just tell me you remember my name.
—Okay. I remember you.
—Good. And my name is …
—Steve.
—No.
—Bob.
—Bob again? Really?
—Rob? Danny?
—You really don’t know! Okay, let’s walk through it, slowly. Was I from undergrad or grad school?
—Undergrad.
—Thank you. I was three years younger. Ring a bell?
—No.
—Think Intro to Aerospace Engineering. You were a TA. —There were a hundred and twenty kids in that class.
—But think. I stayed after a lot. I asked you questions about time travel.
—You used to wear Timberlands?
—Aha. There you go. And my name is …
—Gus.
—Close! Thomas.
—Thomas? Sure, I remember. I could never forget you. So Thomas, why the fuck do you have me chained to a post?
—Kev, did you know Neil Armstrong died today?
—Yes, I did know that.
—How did that affect you?
—How did that affect me?
—Yes, how did that affect you?
—I don’t know. I was sad. He was a great man.
—He went to the moon.
—Yes he did.
—But you won’t go to the moon.
—No. Why would I go to the moon?
—Because you’re an astronaut.
—Astronauts don’t go to the moon.
—They don’t anymore.
—No.
—Right. And how do you feel about that, Kev?
—Jesus Christ.
—I have a taser, Kev. You’re better off answering.
—I didn’t care about going to the moon. It hasn’t been a NASA priority for forty years.
—You wanted to be on the Shuttle.
—Yes.
—I bet you wonder how I knew that.
—No, I don’t.
—You’re not curious?
—Every astronaut wanted to go on the Shuttle.
—Sure, but I know how long you’ve wanted it. You told me one day you were going to go up in the Shuttle. Remember that?
—No.
—You probably said that a lot. But I remember it so well. It was so steady, you were so sure. You inspired me. You asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I think you asked me just so you could answer the question yourself. So I said something about being a cop or FBI agent or something, and do you remember what you said? This was right outside Moore Hall. It was a crisp fall day.
—I said I wanted to go up in the Shuttle.
—Exactly! Do you really remember, or are you just humoring me?
—I don’t know.
—Kev, you really better take this seriously. I take this seriously. I went through a fuckload of trouble to get you here, so you must know I’m serious. Now with all fucking seriousness, do you remember that day when you looked me in the eye and told me you were absolutely sure you would go up in the Shuttle?
—Yes. I do.
—Good. And now where are you?
—I’m in a military base chained to a post.
—Good. Good one. But you know what I mean. I mean, where are you in your life now? You’re sure as hell not on the Shuttle.
—The Shuttle is decommissioned.
—Right. A year after you became an astronaut.
—You know too much about me.
—Of course I know about you! We all did. You became an astronaut! You actually did it. You didn’t know how much people were paying attention, did you, Kev? That little college we went to, with what, five thousand people, most of them idiots except you and me? And you end up going to MIT, get your master’s in aerospace engineering, and you’re in the Navy, too? I mean, you were my fucking hero, man. Everything you said you were going to do, you did. It was incredible. You were the one fulfilled promise I’ve ever known in this life. You know how rarely a promise is kept? A kept promise is like a white whale, man! But when you became an astronaut you kept a promise, a big fucking promise, and I felt like from there any promise could be kept. That all promises could be kept—should be kept.
—I’m glad you feel that way.
—But then they pulled the Shuttle from you. And I thought, Ah, there it is again. The bait and switch. The inevitable collapse of anything seeming solid. The breaking of every last goddamned promise on Earth. But for a while there you were a god. You promised you’d become an astronaut and you became one. Just one thing after another, except that one year, which I’ll ask you about later. I know a few things about that one year.
—Jesus Christ. You know, I keep thinking I’ll wake up. I mean, I know this is a nightmare, but it’s one of those ones where you can’t wake up.
—Kev, you talking to yourself now?
—Go fuck yourself.
—Kev, I’m really serious about the swearing. Stop it. I don’t like it from you. I really don’t, and I won’t accept it. I will actually do what I can to stop you from cursing more.
—Fuck you.
—Kev. Last warning. I honestly mean it. You must know by now I’m a man of some resolve. When I determine to do something, I do it, just like you. I brought you here, and I have a taser here, and I’m sure I can find some other tools around that will be unpleasant. And the fact that I’ve never done anything violent in my life will not be good for you. It’ll make me messy, and I’ll make mistakes that a more experienced person would not.
—You say you’ll release me tonight?
—I’ll let you go as soon as I can. As soon as I’m satisfied. —Okay. Let’s do it then.
—Really?
—Yup. Let’s start.
—Good. You know I’m a moral man.
—Of course you are.
—I am. I’m a man of principle, just like you.
—Right.
—Good. You know, now, finally, finally, I’m seeing the exact guy who got through MIT and the Navy and all these academies and became an astronaut. This is how you did it. You set a goal and you accomplished it. And this is just like that. I gave you the parameters and now you’ll work within them, execute the plan, and move on to the next step. I love that about you. You’re still my hero.
—I’m glad. Let’s do it then.
—But don’t be overanxious. This has to unfold naturally. I don’t want it to be perfunctory.
—Right.
—Your answers have to be truthful. The questions might even hurt. If I think you’re doing some political non-answer kind of bullshit, you will stay here till I get some straight, maybe even painful answers, okay?
—I understand.
—Okay, good. So we’re going to go through things for a few minutes. I’ve read about your path but I need to hear it from you. You ready?
—Yes.
—You were on the baseball team all four years in college, and you still got a 4.0. Is that correct?
—Yes.
—How the hell did you do that?
—I didn’t go out. I went to college to study and get to the next step.
—When did you know what the next step was?
—Before I started college.
—So before you started college, you knew what you would do after?
—Of course.
—What do you mean, of course? No one thinks that way.
—A lot of people do. I had to. The second I got to college, twenty thousand others who wanted to be astronauts were already ahead of me.
—How?
—Maybe they went to a better college. Maybe they were part of a demographic NASA didn’t have well represented. Maybe they didn’t have asthma when they were kids. Maybe they had better connections.
—Did you really have asthma?
—Until I was twelve.
—Then what?
—Then I didn’t.
—I didn’t know that was possible.
—It is.
—You had totally diagnosed asthma with an inhaler and everything?
—Yes.
—And then no more inhaler, no asthma?
—None.
—See, you are a god! I love that.
—It happens sometimes. Many young people see their symptoms disappear with dietary changes or a change of climate.
—And now you’re talking like an astronaut again. Thank you. “Young people, dietary changes.” That’s what an astronaut would say. He wouldn’t say “kids,” and he would do what you did, which was turn your own story into something about the Youth of America. I love that. You are good. Did they give you special PR training at NASA?
—I haven’t gotten that far.
—Okay wait. Hold that thought. We’ll get there. But first I want to back up. We’re gonna talk about the steps. You knew you were in undergrad to get your engineering degree. Was it in—What kind of engineering was it in?
—Aerospace engineering.
—And you’re somehow a catcher on the baseball team. How the hell did that happen?
—I played in high school, and walked on the team.
—So you weren’t on a scholarship?
—I was on a partial academic scholarship.
—No!
—Yes.
—See, I’m so glad we did this. I’m so glad I brought you here, because already my faith in humanity has been partially restored. Here you were on the baseball team, and all this time I figured you were in college on a baseball scholarship, and that’s why you played four years while your real priority was grades and getting to the next step. But now I find out that the catcher for the fucking baseball team was on an academic scholarship! That is perfect. That is astounding.
—Well, I wasn’t good enough to get a full ride with baseball.
—But you played! I watched you play. You started our senior year, when the other guy, what’s his name …
—Julian Gonzalez.
—Right, when he transferred, you played every game. And you still kept a 4.0. I mean, did the rest of the team think you were some kind of freak?
—They did.
—Why, because you didn’t go out at night, screw girls and all that?
—Basically.
—But then you did screw a girl!
—What?
—Oh shit. Sorry. I didn’t mean to jump into this. But I know about Jennifer and the, you know.
—What?
—We’ll get to that later.
—Fuck you.
—I told you it might get uncomfortable.
—I’m done with this.
—Okay listen. I’m sorry. We were really cooking there. Please, I won’t bring up Jennifer. I already know about all that anyway. I asked around and I think I got the story.
—You got what story, asshole?
—Don’t fuck with me, Kev! You did two things wrong just now. You threatened me and you swore again.
—I didn’t threaten you, but I will. I will fucking tear your head off.
—See, this is such a disappointment. Is that what held you back—your temper? Don’t pull on that chain.
—I get mad when people chain me up and ask me about my girlfriend from a hundred years ago.
—I bet you get mad a lot. Especially now. Yeah, you have a lot to be mad about now. And I do, too. That’s fine. That’s understandable. See, that’s another way we’re similar. We both execute our plans, and we both have heavy gears turning in our heads that threaten to crush our skulls.
—Oh god, you’re so nuts! Holy shit.
—If you say that again, I’m tasing you, Kev. Not because I want to, but because you calling me nuts is so expected and so boring. Call the kidnapper nuts, blah blah, it’s boring. You’ve called me nuts twenty times and it hasn’t improved your situation. And I’m getting tired of your distractions. I just want to get through this without hurting you, okay?

—Okay, now back to the narrative. After college there was that lost year, and then you went to MIT. Was that the same thing, where you knew what you were there to do?
—I was getting a master’s in aerospace engineering. Of course I knew what I was there to do. I wasn’t getting some degree in basket making.
—Okay, fine. So MIT was what, two years?
—Three.
—Wow, you’re already in school for seven years. You know what I was doing after undergrad?
—No.
—My uncle made me work in his factory. Can you imagine that? I had a college degree and he made me work on the floor, next to a bunch of Eastern European women. How fucked up is that?
—I don’t know, Don.
—Thomas.
—Sorry. Thomas.
—Wait. You remember my friend Don?
—No.
—I think you might. That is so weird that you said Don. Don was your biggest fan. You remember him? He was usually with me. He went to the same school as you and me.
—I don’t remember him.
—For a couple years at least. He was Vietnamese American? Really good-looking guy?
—I don’t know, Thomas. It’s been a long time.
—But he was always with me. There’s a reason you just mentioned his name. That can’t be a coincidence.
—I think it was a coincidence. I’m sorry.
—Jesus, that is weird. Don’s been on my mind all the time lately. You know he died?
—No, I didn’t. I didn’t know Don. But I’m sorry he died.
—It was a while ago now. God, two years or so. This is so eerie, because I swear Don really admired you. I mean, he had more of a NASA jones than even I did. He asked about you a lot in school, after I found out you were trying to get on the Shuttle. He asked about
you after school, too. It was more him, actually, who kept reminding me about you. It was one of the things we always talked about. He knew when you joined the Navy. I’d call or he’d call and we’d talk and pretty soon one of us would say, Hey, how’s Kev Paciorek doing? You know, just a check-in. I think he would have loved to be an astronaut himself. But who ever heard of a Vietnamese-American astronaut, right?
—There are Asian-American astronauts.
—But back then, none, right? No one who looked like Don. And he didn’t have the most stable home life. I think you have to be from some kind of solid family unit, right?
—My parents were divorced.
—Oh yeah. I knew that.
—Listen, I’m sorry I mentioned his name. It was an accident. I’m really sorry he died so young.
—That’s okay. Yeah. I mean, that’s fine. But I’m convinced there’s a reason. You don’t remember his face? He had these dark eyes, this big white smile? God, this is weird. I’m … I’m just going outside for a second.

—Sorry about that. Crap is it cold out there. It’s the wind off the ocean that gets you. And the lack of humidity. There’s nothing to the air here, nothing held in it, no heat or water or weight. It’s just this set of steel blades that churns over the ocean and up the bluffs and across these hills. It was different where you grew up, right Kev? I mean, there was humidity there. You didn’t have to rush to get your winter coat the second the sun dropped.
—So I take it you live around here?
—I can’t really talk about where I live, can I, Kev? We should really get back to your story. Sorry I had to take a walk. I just needed some time to figure some things out, and I think I did. So you were saying that after MIT, what?
—I joined the Navy.
—As what?
—As an ensign.
—Where was this?
—Pensacola.
—Were you flying planes or what?
—Yes, I was reporting to the Naval Air Training Command.
—But you flew, right?
—A few years later I went to Test Pilot School at Patuxent River.
—That’s in Maryland. Right. I knew that. So you were testing planes then? Flying?
—I was flying F–18s and KC–130s.
—Those are what, fighter jets?
—Yes, the F–18 is a twin-engine tactical aircraft. A KC–130 is a tanker that provides in-flight refueling.
—You sound like yourself again. All that jargon spewed out so fluidly and confidently. You never had doubts about yourself, or any of these numbers or theories or equations. That was how you were as a TA, too. You remember the professor in that class?
—Schmidt.
—Right. Remember he used to jog to class? He’d be wearing a sweatsuit to class, and he’d stand up there, meandering all over the place. I think he’d had a lot of trouble in his life, right?
—I don’t know.
—So that’s a yes. And he went through the material pretty well, but he seemed to question the point of it all. I don’t think he liked academia. He wasn’t doing any significant research, was he?
—The man is dead. I don’t know the point in questioning his state of mind during that class.
—I think he was really sad. He talked about losing his wife, as if she’d been taken away from him by some shadowy army that should be held accountable. But it was cancer, right?
—I believe so.
—But she must have been sixty, like him, right? You hit sixty and all bets are off. Wait, weren’t you stationed in Pakistan for a while?
—After Monterey. I went to the Defense Language Institute for a while.
—For what? Arabic?
—Urdu.
—So you speak Urdu.
—I do. Not as well as I used to.
—See, this bends my mind. Catcher on the baseball team, 4.0. MIT for engineering. Then you speak Urdu and become an astronaut with NASA. And now it’s defunded.
—It’s not defunded. The funding is going elsewhere.
—Into little robots. WALL-Es that putter around Mars.
—There’s real value to that.
—Kev, c’mon. You know you’re pissed.
—I’m not pissed. I knew what I was getting into.
—Did you? You really thought that in 1998, when you said you wanted to go up in the Shuttle, that the whole program would be killed twelve years later? That they’d be parading the shuttles around the country like some kind of dead animal?
—People liked that.
—It was sick. Instead of the Shuttle actually flying anywhere, they flew it around on top of a 747. It was a joke. Just to send home the point that the whole thing’s defunct, that our greatest engineering triumph needs to go piggyback on some other plane. It was pathetic.
—It was just a show, Thomas. Nothing to get upset about.
—Well, I am upset. Why aren’t we on the moon now?
—As we speak?
—What happened to a colony on the moon? You know it’s possible. I heard you talk about it in some interview.
—Well, it is possible. But it costs a lot of money, and we don’t have that money.
—Of course we do.
—Who says?
—We have the money.
—How do we have the money?
—We just spent five trillion dollars on useless wars. That could have gone to the moon. Or Mars. Or the Shuttle. Or something that would inspire us in some goddamned way. How long has it been since we did any one fucking thing that inspired anyone?
—We elected a black president.
—Fine. That was good. But as a nation, as a fucking world? When did we do anything remotely like the Shuttle, or Apollo?
—The Space Station.
—The International Space Station? Are you kidding? I never liked that thing. Floating up there helpless like some space kite.
—Then you don’t know what you’re talking about. A lot of very useful data has come out of the ISS.
—I know you have to toe the party line there. That’s fine. We both know it’s bullshit. The ISS sucks and you know it. It’s a box kite in space. So that’s where you’re headed now? I heard about that. Is that where you’re going?
—That’s my best bet now.
—But you have to get on a Russian rocket to get there.
—Seems that way.
—Now we have to buy seats on Russian rockets! How fucked up is that? Can you imagine? What kind of inverted fucked-up world, right? We start the space race because the Russians strike first with Sputnik. The competition drives the entire process for a decade. We get to the moon first, then we go back again and again, and we keep innovating, reaching, and it’s beautiful, right? It coincides directly with the best years of the last fifty.
—I don’t know about that.
—Well, whatever. It worked. And now we kill it all, and we pay the Russians for a backseat on their rockets. You couldn’t write a sicker ending to the whole story. How do the Russians have money for rockets and we don’t?
—They’ve prioritized differently.
—They’ve prioritized correctly.
—What do you want me to say?
—I want you to be pissed.
—I can’t do anything about it. And I’m not about to trash NASA for you, chained up like this.
—I don’t expect you to trash NASA. But look at us, on this vast land worth a billion dollars. You can’t see it, but the views here are incredible. This is thirty thousand acres on the Pacific coast. You sell some of this land and we could pay for a lunar colony.
—You couldn’t buy an outhouse on the moon.
—But you could get a start.
—Not likely.
—You know what? Hold on a second. What time is it? —
—I guess it’s hard for you to check. I think I have time. I have an idea. Hold on a sec. Actually, you’ll have to hold on a while. Maybe seven hours or so. I think I can do this. And here’s some food. It’s all I brought. And some milk. You like milk?
—Where are you going?
—I know you like milk. You drank it in class. You remember? Jesus, you were so pure, like some fucking unicorn.
—Where are you going?
—I have an idea. You gave me an idea.

* * *

From Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, copyright 2014 Dave Eggers. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, McSweeney’s Books. Purchase the full book.