It had been hot, stifling hot and, having been stuck in her sweltering, non-air-conditioned office all day Carrie-Ann was glad to be out in the fresh evening air.
It was the middle of June and England was baking in a record-breaking heatwave. Even with all the windows opened wide and a fan on every desk, the air that was circulating was still too warm.
For once, the management had seen sense and allowed the clerks to remove their ties and unfasten the top button of their shirts or blouses.
In the thirty years she had been in existence, she had never known such weather. She had heard stories from some of the older clerks, even from her Gran and Grandad, about the long hot summer of Nineteen-seventy-six but that was a distant memory even for them, some sixty-three years ago.
She looked up at the now darkening sky and, although still quite light as she walked through Hyde Park at Ten in the evening, the full moon hung low and glowed with an eerie pale orange glow.
Carrie-Ann had seen it so many times before and still, she found it fascinating. There was something about it that gripped her heartstrings so tightly, a feeling that was uncannily similar to when she had been in love. The awe she felt seemed to create a great lump in her throat and made her heart pound with joy.
Seventy years before, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans to set foot on the moon. Ever since that day, men had dreamed of scheduled flights, like jumping onto an airliner had been, to fly from one country to another.
For almost seventy years that dream had been just that, wishful thinking. There had been many ideas, many designs but the technology just hadn't been available. Stanley Kubrick had put that dream onto the silver screen a year before the actual landing but, by the time Two-thousand-and-one had arrived that dream was barely any closer to becoming a reality than it had been in Nineteen-sixty-eight.
But then, everything changed. In Two-thousand-and-thirty, SpaceX, in collaboration with Virgin Galactic had successfully launched a one hundred seat shuttle which had orbited the moon and returned safely. Six months later, the same craft flew the same route but with a full complement of passengers and so, space tourism had begun.
From then, things moved apace and now, had she had a reasonable telescope, Carrie-Ann would have been able to see the twinkling lights of the new lunar resort which had opened just last year with its one thousand room LunarHilton Hotel.
She sighed deeply. How she would love to go there, to stand on the moon's surface and look at Earth in the same way as she was now staring at it. Deep down, though, she knew it would never happen. If she worked every hour of every day of her life she would not be able to save the several thousand pounds needed to buy even a one-way ticket. What she earned as a clerk was only just enough to cover her living costs, with only just enough left over to enjoy a meal out maybe twice a year, such were the prices in London.
For a moment, Carrie-Ann closed her eyes and wondered whether such tourism would ruin the beauty of her planet's only natural satellite, just as it had so many of the once lovely places on earth.
“Yes,” she said half aloud. “It probably will, eventually.”
“What did you say, Miss?”
Startled, she spun around to see an old, white-haired man leaning heavily on his walking stick, directly behind her. He was accompanied by a much younger man, about her own age, who was casually dressed in a woollen jumper and jeans.
“Oh, gosh, erm, I'm sorry, I didn't know you were there!”
“No, no. It is I who should apologise, for startling you. I should have coughed, or something, first.”
Carrie-Ann looked at the wizened old man. He seemed familiar somehow, and yet...
“Anyway,” he continued in a shrill but steady voice. “You said something about, 'it probably will'. What did you mean?”
Embarrassed now, Carrie-Ann felt herself blush.
“Oh, I was just muttering to myself. I thought I was alone. I was thinking about the moon and whether tourism will mar its beauty someday.”
The old man looking skywards.
“Yes, maybe it will,” he agreed. “It is beautiful though, isn't it?”
Carrie-Ann nodded but remained silent. As usual, her shyness prevented her from answering.
“I always wanted to go there,” he continued. “Sadly, now it is possible, I am too old.”
She wanted to say something to the contrary but she couldn't, Whatever she thought of just sounded too patronising. He was right, he was too old and nothing she could say would change that. Instead, she decided to agree.
“Yes, life sucks sometimes, doesn't it?”
The old man smiled.
“Oh, I don't know. I'm not complaining. I have had a long and prosperous life. I've had some disappointments, certainly but I have also had some great successes. Life, really, is what you make of it. If I had spent my life bemoaning what could have been, then much of what I did achieve may not have happened. D'you see?”
Inside her head, something seemed to flash. Like a bright light but invisible to anyone but her.
“Do you know, you're right!” she said suddenly. “I was standing there wishing that I too, could visit the moon and being sad that it will never happen. Damn it! I can't change that so why worry about it? There are many other things that I can do, though. Hell yes! I... oh,” her voice trailed away. “I'm sorry.”
The old man was grinning now.
“You have no need to apologise, young lady. I like your spirit.” The young man beside him was also smiling but remained silent.
Carrie-Ann stared at him again, that familiarity had returned but she couldn't quite work it out.
“Do I know you?” she asked slowly. The old man shrugged.
“Maybe,” he replied. “Many people do but I am afraid that I don't know you.”
“Oh, gosh, I'm sorry. My name is Carrie-Ann.”
He held out his free hand which, she noticed, was very thin and bony but perfectly steady.
“I am pleased to meet you, Carrie-Ann. I am Richard and this young man is my Grandson, also called Richard.”
“Pleased to meet you, Carrie-Ann,” the young man said politely, also holding out his hand.
He then turned to the old man.
“We should go now, Grandfather,” he said gently. “It is getting dark.”
The old man agreed and turned once more to Carrie-Ann.
“You should go too, Carrie-Ann. A park is not a safe place for a young woman alone after dark.”
“Yes, Mr... erm, Richard. I will. I am glad we met. It has been a real pleasure.”
“The pleasure is mutual, I assure you,” he replied. “Just remember, life is what you make of it. Goodnight and good luck.”
Carrie-Ann was true to her word. Whenever she saw the full moon, she remembered that balmy evening and she never again felt regret that she couldn't afford that ticket. From that day forth, she channelled all her energies into improving her life through hard work very quickly she began to climb the ladder of success.
It wasn't easy, she never expected it to be. Sometimes she would overstretch herself and miss her footing but she never complained, never worried but just concerned herself with getting back up and moving on.
Six years later, as Carrie-Ann sat in her penthouse apartment in one of the smart, high-rise, glass and steel blocks in the business quarter of the City, she decided to look at the huge, pale orange orb that was growing ever brighter in the dying embers of the setting sun. Going to the window, she put her eye to the big, expensive telescope's eyepiece and focused.
The moon almost filled the lens but just off to one side she could see a small silver star moving towards it. For a moment she looked away and tapped the screen of her cell phone.
“Ah yes,” she to herself, “VSS Enterprise. Virgin Galactic flight LNR0007.”
She returned to the eyepiece and zoomed in further.
There, she could see it. The twinkling lights of the Lunar Space Park, so much bigger now that when she first heard of it.
She smiled and turned away. No sighs, no wishes, just the pleasure of being able to afford such an instrument that kept her in such close proximity to the thing she loved the most.
She sat back into the big comfortable sofa and picked up a glass of sparkling water from a small table beside her. She didn't drink, had no desire to.
She pressed a button on the console set into the sofa and the glass wall in front of her lit up as the hidden TV screen burst into life.
Carrie-Ann froze, the glass suspended in mid-air, its journey to her lips instantly forgotten. There, on the huge screen was the old man she had met in Hyde Park exactly six years ago.
“It was announced today that the businessman and philanthropist, Sir Richard Branson has died. It was reported that he passed away peacefully at his home in Oxfordshire. He was Ninety-five.”
She returned the glass to its place on the small table.
“I knew he looked familiar!” she said aloud. “I should have known!”
A few days later an envelope appeared at her apartment. There was nothing particularly special about but something made it stand out from the rest of the mail it had arrived with. She opened it immediately.
There was no letter but protected by a small card was a tiny flash drive. She pressed it out from the centre of the card and walked over to the glass wall of her living room. There she pressed the drive into a tiny slot in the glass. Immediately, the TV came to life. In its centre was a smiling Richard Branson.
“Hello, Carrie-Ann. Remember me? Although you don't know it, you impressed me with your vigour and joy of life so I decided to find out more about you. Over the past six years, since our meeting in Hyde Park, I have watched you grow steadily. I have seen your trials and your tribulations... oh, don't worry, I haven't interfered. Everything you have achieved is entirely down to your own hard work and energy. I am also pleased to see that even with your strength you have always remained kind and considerate to all those around you. I imagine that, by now, you will be aware of my passing since this recording was made as a part of my will. Yes, that's right. I made a proviso in my will that you are to receive a small gift. It isn't much, in the general scheme of things and it won't make you rich but I don't think you will mind that. All I will say, in closing, is that I am proud of you and hope that you will live a long and happy life. Somehow I think that you will. Enjoy your gift, Carrie-Ann and think of me.”
For a moment the screen went blank and Carrie-Ann stepped forward to remove the drive but before she got there, the screen turned red and right in the centre was the Virgin Galactic Logo. At the same time, music began to play, an old song from long, long ago but one which she had in her collection.
“Remember the good old 1980's
When things were so uncomplicated
I wish I could go back there again
And everything could be the same
I've got a ticket to the moon
I'll be leaving here any day soon
Yeah, I've got a ticket to the moon..."