He had returned, many years later than he had planned, but returned nonetheless. The Cape was empty now, the remains of the buildings standing as a mournful monument to his organisations achievements. The launch pads were silent now, but in his mind he could still hear the countdowns, the manly shouting, the mighty roar of the rockets lifting into the sky.
Strange things had happened in Murca of late. People disappearing, the future changing. Johnny could sense it in a distant, abstract way. Murca stood on a fulcrum, a few steps one way would tip them over into the abyss; a few steps the other way would take them into a golden future. Either way, Johnny knew he would not live to see it. He was old, and his body was failing him. His wife was gone, his children grown and tired of listening patiently to the old man's tales of rockets. He had nothing left but his memories.
And so he returned. To walk these halls once more. To see the sights and hear the sounds. But most importantly, to honour those who hadn't made it to journey's end. Here, standing before the memorial just a short walk down the hall from his old office, he stood and stared at the portraits of Virgil and Bob. He read the plaque and he could feel them watching him.
He took from his pocket a pair of candles and a match. The sound of the strike was shockingly loud in the empty building. To Johnny, it was the sound of a rocket hurling itself into space. He lit the candles reverently, and then sat back against the wall and began talking, apologizing for getting them killed in his mindless pursuit of his goals, for making the wrong choices at the wrong times. The apology became disjointed, tearful, rambling. Johnny tried to convince himself that two lives were a small price to reach the Moon. But one look at Bob Johnson's portrait and he could feel his resolution slipping.
Johnny finished speaking. He'd had his say. He stood up and stumbled to the exit. On the ground floor, walking down that last long corridor he began to shake, his body rebelling at his demands and yearning to finish it. He struggled on, and up ahead he saw the double doors thrown open and a blinding light shine into the shadowy building. Johnny slipped to the floor, unable to go any further. His mind strained to understand.
Then, ahead of him, waiting in the brilliantly lit doorway was Virgil and Bob, just as he remembered them in their flight suits before those final launches. They saw him, and smiled and waved. Virgil held out his hand, calling to Johnny to come and join them.
I'm seeing the dead. How can I be seeing the dead? Johnny thought. And then it hit him. He too had reached journey's end.
His body suddenly felt young and strong again. He stood up and reached out to his old friends. And there, in the empty halls of his life's work, Johnny von Braun breathed his last.
You are standing on a 4.5 billion year old complex, self-sustaining organic spacship, which is orbiting a power source a million times larger than your ship. There are 200 billion other power sources, many of them with ships like yours, in your fleet. There are 40 other fleets in the immediate neighbourhood and your entire neighbourhood is moving at two million miles per hour towards an object 150 million light years away. Welcome to life, it's a lot more exciting when you think on larger scales.