Rating: PG - Gen - wee!Chesters - Outside POV
Disclaimers: SPN & characters are owned by their various creators.
Summary: A minuscule planetarium in a dumpy museum has two die hard fans that never miss a moon launch.
He hadn’t been working at the children’s museum for very long.
The dark and tiny auditorium wasn’t exactly where he’d pictured himself after a triumphant finish of grad school. A wanted ad in the campus paper had made the job seem like an exhilarating and wise way to spend a short summer. The town it was located in was conveniently near the rent free bedroom his mother had over the garage. After spending years toiling over an exhausting thesis on binary stars systems he had been looking forward to something simple. It had seemed like a nice break without abandoning his degree as a few of his European backpacking friends had done. With a title like ‘Director of Astrophysics and Space Exploration’ he had vividly imagined how he would earn the mediocre paycheck.
An elderly security guard caught him by surprise by peering through the closed doors.
“Was checkin’ the locks.” The man explained. “You doing a show?”
“Yup.” He responded. “Just like I do every day.”
The old man nodded doubtfully and hastily took his leave.
Sipping from a warm can of Dr. Pepper, he glanced down at the jaunty glow-in-the-dark nametag pinned to a neon pink T-shirt. He had a lot of fond childhood memories of sitting in awe under the grand expanse of a planetarium ceiling. Unfortunately, this production had no British narrator accompanied by a glorious seven-movement orchestral suite by Holst. The only piece of high tech that existed in the outdated museum was the cash register that charged ten bucks for the privilege of parking.
The noon show was starting in a few minutes and the domed theater was still empty.
Weekdays were slow with all the working moms these days. Slumping against a wall, he looked at the circle of reclining chairs that sat around the looming dumbbell shape of the optical apparatus. The application of intense study in three different universities had taught him the wonders of electromagnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and plenty of atomic physics. Now with nothing but a slide projector and an earnest voice he gave a twenty minute picture show on How Man Conquered Space: The Adventure! His initial approach had been a three hour report complete with fuel charts, orbit trajectory theory and a carefully non-partisan forecast on the future of manned space flight. However, he quickly realized the need for an edit as soon as the kids started to lose their shit less than 60 seconds into the crafted oration. Instead of continuing to watch most of the adults hurry out in the middle of the show with their outraged children, he simply chopped the lecture into pieces. He learned to spice up the details in order to keep the toddlers off the edge of total meltdown. There were keywords that yanked them from their stupors like: pogo oscillation, freeze dried ice cream and The Super Guppy. He figured out how to include lame jokes about astronaut bathrooms to remind the parents to stay awake.
Some vintage photos of 1960’s technology and a weak spray of stars were difficult to pass off as viable entertainment.
The double doors under the red letters of the exit sign abruptly banged open.
Even given the limited seating, it appeared the audience was once again going to be a small one. He watched the two kids head straight for the back row right next to him and the ancient slide projector. It was the best seat in the house for the images that would be distorted or upside down for the other half of the non-existent crowd.
“Hello there.” He said as they made themselves comfortable.
Considering he was getting used to the sight of the boys he thought it wouldn’t be unsuitable to greet them for a change. In fact, the unaccompanied children hadn’t missed a single show for five days in a row. The older one usually did all the necessary talking.
“Hi.” The kid answered.
“So where’s your mom this time?”
A part of him was inwardly flattered that they had arrived without fail all week long but the other part was perplexed. Their mother’s apparent love for a third rate museum gift shop was a trifle strange. It wasn’t free to get through the front door and he didn’t know why anyone would come to the shabby exhibits and grungy cafeteria on a daily basis. The woman had never actually escorted them into the theater but when asked, they always explained her absence with the inexplicable lure of the tacky postcards in the lobby.
The boys were watching him impatiently.
“Turn on the stars.” The older kid prompted.
With a sigh, he pressed the button to simultaneously dim the floor lights and fire up the machine at the room’s center. The blank dome above them darkened into the cloudy Milky Way and the faint silver shape of a waning crescent. Ignoring the noisy crackling plastic of prohibited snack foods, he gathered his thoughts. Without much effort the memorized script came pouring forth like a recording.
“Welcome! And thank you for visiting us here at the—“
“You can skip that part.” The boy assured him. “Get to the rockets.”
Following the good advice, he dropped the inspirational intro and clicked the images directly to a launch pad at countdown. He had never been a great perceiver of childhood ages but the months down in the basement planetarium had made him a a decent guesser. The older child looked somewhere around the sixth grade and his little brother appeared the same size and ratio of the other kindergartners that ended up sobbing in boredom around here. Not this one though.
This little guy was sitting at the edge of his seat in rapt attention.
“The Saturn V rocket is just one foot shorter than St Paul's Cathedral in London, and only cleared the doors of the Vehicle Assembly Building by 6 ft—“
“How tall is that?” The same kid interrupted.
“That thing in London.” The boy checked a pretzel bag’s depths before handing it back to his little brother. “How high is it?”
“Oh.” It never occurred to him that the spectacular frame of reference might be completely meaningless to anyone besides himself. “It-It’s 365 feet.”
With the spans of miles involved with the epic space journey the children seemed unaffected by the data.
“How about this?” He reasoned. “It’s like sitting on the roof of a 30 story building.”
The boy shifted uncertainly in his seat.
“H-How tall is that?”
He reshuffled his well trained logic one more time.
“Picture this museum with eleven more stacked on top of it and pour the whole thing full with fuel and liquid hydrogen. Then imagine strapping yourself to the very top and lighting the fuse.”
The kid regarded the towering rocket with a renewed appreciation.
“It’s full of gas and engines?”
He waited a few more seconds to see if that resolved the issue adequately enough to allow him to continue.
It was hard not to get distracted when the five year old started clapping during the explanation of lift off. The acclamation had happened during every show at the sight of the exact same photo of a rocket hurtling into the bright blue skies over Cape Canaveral. Other than odd bursts of enthusiastic applause the smaller boy was unusually well behaved.
The rapid click of the picturesque slides brought them to his personal and most favorite image of them all.
A stark relief of the lunar surface suddenly covered the entire ceiling, the gaping craters and oceans of lava plains stretching in every direction. Each jagged mountain range and black shadow was as easy to see as if they were sitting a mere few hundred miles above in an orbiting command module.
It was fairly weird to be addressed as ‘sir’ but he supposed the role of an educator designated him as such.
“Yes… uh, young man?”
“Can you leave it on that picture for a while?” The older one hesitantly asked.
He didn’t see why not. The next few minutes of statistics were all about astral topography anyway. When he ran out of the geological minutiae he found himself already arriving at the only interactive portion of the assembly. A helpful parent had once suggested the talk could be livened up by including some back and forth. The proposition had irritated him at first but then he had to admit that there really was little else to do in the dark. He had discovered that most people readily responded when presented with a theoretical dilemma, the more ludicrous and rhetorical the better.
“If you were an NASA engineer looking at the whole entire moon,” He proposed. “Where would you send your astronauts to land?”
The kids gazed considerately up at the luminescent landscape above.
“Would you send your spacecraft to the dangerous highlands where the most interesting terrain was? Or would you go to the safe lowlands where the environment is flat and—“
The eager response cut him short.
Although the two boys were familiar with the speech and well aware of the outcome of the first moon landing, they always yelled out the same thing. The loud insistence to follow the more treacherous of the options appeared to be their favorite part.
“Well, those of you that answered the lowlands...” He waited for them to groan in appropriate disappointment before the answer even came. “…you were correct.”
A photo of the famous footprint in the lunar soil and the American flag came next. He was particularly proud of the diagram he’d designed himself to depict the module’s descent to the surface. After a brief description of Walter Cronkite’s live and tearful broadcast to the world, the twenty minute show was finished in less than ten. He automatically brought up the lights and waited for the audience to hustle out the doors to find their mom like they had every other time. However, this time they just continued to thoughtfully munch on pretzels.
“So uh...” He awkwardly looked around, unsure of what to do with the dutiful spectators. “Thanks for coming.”
The older one took the cue and started to get to his feet. Watching the kid resignedly begin to pull on his unwilling brother’s hand, a thought suddenly came to him.
“Hey, you guys want to hear about Apollo 13?”
“What’s that?” The boy wondered cautiously. “Did it go to the moon?”
“They tried but the mission failed.” He wasn’t able to keep the genuine excitement out of his voice. “Some say that the entire operation was cursed.”
The sixth grader regarded him skeptically while the five year old blinked in wide eyed suspense.
“There’s an explosion?” He offered them tentatively. “Imminent danger, super computers and a happy ending?”
The older boy painfully deliberated between tugging his brother towards the doors and staying right where he was. Shaking the pretzels around in the sack, he made the reluctant decision to stick around.
“Kay, but can ya start at number one first?”
“Number one what?”
The kid rolled his eyes.
“There’s an Apollo 13, so what about all the rest of ‘em?”
He looked down at his watch.
“That’s going to take more than ten minutes.” He told them. “Your mom will probably be wondering where—“
He was interrupted yet again when the anxious five year old crawled up into the seat to urgently whisper in his brother’s ear. The hushed voice rose as the youngest finally attempted to communicate with a method other than applause. Brow creasing in annoyance, the other boy listened before pushing the smaller child back into his chair. As the kindergartner stared on expectantly, his brother took a moment to gnaw uncomfortably on another pretzel. It took a few tries but the relayed request came out in a mumble.
“C-Can you fly up there?” His cheeks colored with the question. “On-on the moon?”
Attempting to encapsulate the reality of a zero-gravity situation, all that immediately came to mind were mathematics that would even put a room of scientists to sleep. He used his new found skills at summarization instead.
“Kinda.” He answered with a grin.
The eyes of both of the boys lit up like they’d just found out Santa Clause had a street address. With another glance at his watch, he decided that a few extra minutes were no big deal. After all, the show was originally supposed to be a full three hours long. Besides the occasional classroom field trip with overdue book reports, no one often ever lingered behind.
It was even more of a rarity when anyone stopped to ask about the really good stuff.