Is there life on the Moon? Very doubtful, say the astronomers. But our new author, herself a keen amateur astronomerand, incidentally, the first woman writer of science fiction we have had the pleasure of introducing to our readershas other ideas. In this, her first story, she has imagined a truly alien creature which might yet exist on the airless satellite, and at the same time, has formed another interesting theory to account for the much-discussed Lunar craters. We fancy you will look forwards eagerly to more of Miss Eadie’s tales, after having read this one.
ON a clear February morning in the year 2043, three men checked in at the high gates of the Interplanetary Company's immense grounds, and stood waiting outside the gateman's grille. After a few minutes, a voice grunted, "Number eighteen," a small packet was shoved through the grille, and the window was slammed down again. Weston picked up the packet, glanced at it, and then walked on silently, a bitter expression on his face.
"Same again?" Vasievitch asked him. Darenne did not dare to speak.
Weston nodded. "Space-ship Autolycus, to the Moon and back. Cargo of supplies outwards, precious ores inwards. Hell! How sick I am of this eternal ding-donging between Earth and Moon!"
"You ought to have got on the Mars route long ago," said Vasievitch, sympathetically.
"Not me! I've only got fifteen years’ service with the Company, and not a stain on my record!" Weston was crimson with suppressed fury. "And until I'm willing to hand over twenty-five per cent of my pay to Pruss, and guarantee him the votes of my crew, I'll have to go on seeing men with a couple of years' service landing the best berths."
He strode on rapidly, while the two younger men fell into conversation behind. Darenne was a lad of eighteen who had only just started with the Company. Vasievitch, although well in his thirties, had an open and ingenuous look which made him appear much younger.
"That Pruss is a swine!" exclaimed Darenne. "Why don't the men do something about him?"
"He's the boss. He holds the majority of the votes because all his puppets stand with him," Vasievitch shrugged. "But it won't go on much longer. I hear the Moon miners are threatening to strike."
"Oh? I knew they were asking for better conditions. Home leave every two years and thirty per cent increase in pay, wasn't it?"
"And only fair, too." Vasievitch spoke with feeling. "Fancy keeping them cooped up there for five years on end, living in artificial surroundings. Artificial air, no sunshine, no clouds, no open sea; nothing worth living forjust work, work, work. It beats me how they've stood it so long."
"And do you think the Company will give in?" asked Darenne.
"Too mean to provide transport, that's all," the other answered. "They say they can't afford it, though they must be making a good thing out of the stuff we bring back every quarter in the Autolycuspriceless ores like borodium, korsakum, balakium. Every cargo we bring is worth a fortune, and there are five other ships on the route."
By this time they had reached No. 18 shed, where the Autolycus was waiting, fully stocked with compressed provisions, tools, clothing and supplies of every kind for the men who toiled in the Lunar mines. A few mechanics were working around the shining bulk of the space-ship, while the foreman, in conversation with a stranger, stood looking on. At sight of the stranger, Weston stopped abruptly, and the others were able to overtake him. He was standing quite still, the little packet squeezed in his clenched hand.
"You know who that is, Vasievitch?" he asked.
VASIEVITCH looked at the stranger. He had seen him only once before, on the day when he was first engaged by the Company; but there could be no difficulty about recognising Pruss, Manager of the Interplanetary. He was not a tall man, but his extreme thinness exaggerated his height, while his sunken cheeks and eyes gave his face a cadaverous appearance which was at once repulsive and fascinating.
Weston took a grip on himself, and moved forward. The others, feeling as if they were about to witness the collision of two rushing stars, followed slowly. But there was no outward sign of conflict.
"Passenger for you this trip, Weston!" hailed the foreman. "Mr. Pruss."
Darenne and Vasievitch stared at each other.
"He's got nerve," Darenne muttered.
"Coming with Western's shipa man who hates him like poison!"
Pruss nodded briefly to Weston and walked towards the ship, mounted the gangway and disappeared within.
"He's going out to see about this trouble in the mines," explained the foreman. "Trying to bully the men out of what they want, I suppose. But he's a live wire, is Pruss!"
Weston had not said a word. Vasievitch and Darenne, who knew the violence and passion of his hatred of Pruss, born largely of his own uprightness of character, felt a kind of terror at the thought of spending the long voyage in company with the two. There was bound to be trouble. They followed Weston into the ship with sinking hearts; and within an hour, the Autolycus had left the Earth.
The voyage was a tedious one for experienced spacemen, though to Darenne there was still a glamour about the wonder of the starry sky, brilliant and glorious beyond description; a thrill in the strangeness of the white Sun, with its creeping border of tiny flames. Weston and Vasievitch took alternate watches at the controls; Darenne did the cooking and odd jobs, and studied space navigation in his spare time, while Pruss kept strictly to his own tiny cabin, to which all his meals were taken by Darenne. Slowly the Moon drew nearer, and at last they were making for Tycho.
The city of Tycho was built within the vast crater of that name. With terrible effort and loss of life, the entire floor of the crater had been levelled and, enclosed by the circle of mountains, a mighty dome had been erected, spanning the whole interior. Under this dome, through which air, heat or light could not penetrate, the Moon miners lived in hostels; here were their cinemas, theatres, libraries, restaurants, and the offices and research laboratories. The whole was a spacious and well-planned city; but the light, the heat, the air, all were artificial, and lacked the delights of Earth's free surface.
Roads built mostly on the tracks of the famous "rays" took the men to the mines and back; and thus,
for five years at a stretch, they spent their lives between work and recreation. Many had their wives with them, but families did not flourish in the artificial atmosphere, and women with young children always had to be sent home to Earth.
Now, the landing-stage of Tycho City was in sight, and Weston was preparing his ship for alighting when, all at once, far beneath them, a small space-ship shot up from the Moon's surface. It approached the Autolycus rapidly, and lights along its sides flickered the peremptory signal: "Take a message!"
Weston adjusted the radio, and a slightly metallic voice at once asked the usual preliminary: "Who are you?"
"Space-ship Autolycus out from Earth. Cargo of supplies," Weston responded, mechanically.
"You can't land here," said the voice. "The miners have declared a strike. No ship from Earth will be allowed to land until we see Pruss."
Weston made a gesture to Darenne, who dashed off towards Pruss's cabin. Then he turned again to the mouthpiece.
"Mr. Pruss is with us," he announced. "He will speak to you in a moment."
PRUSS came hurrying up, his sunken eyes gleaming. He went straight to the radio, switched on the televisor, and rattled a knob.
"Who are you? Let me see your face," he ordered. The screen on the instrument-board lit up, and a young, determined face appeared.
"I'm Raffins, the miners' representative," it announced.
"Right!" said Pruss. "What is it you want?"
"You know," said Raffins, firmly. "Home leave every two years, and an increase of thirty per centthose are our demands. Have you come to speak with our leaders?"
"I've nothing to do with your so-called leaders," Pruss rapped out. "This nonsense has got to stop, and I've come here to stop it. You men must come to your senses. The Company can't afford to send out transport ships every two years, or to pay you more than ten per cent increase. And that's my last word!"
"Well, this is ours, Mr. Pruss," said Raffins. "The men are on strike. No more, ore will be sent to Earth until our conditions are agreed to. No ships will be allowed to landor, if they do, the crews will be taken prisoner and held as hostages. There'll be no more balakium. or korsakum for Earth until the men here are satisfied. I have their authority to tell you that."
The Manager's thin lips compressed in a straight, firm line. His dark eyes narrowed. He was not accustomed to meeting with defiance. But he, too, was determined not to yield.
"You'll get no supplies from Earth, then!" he snapped. "You'll starve. There's no food on the Moon, nothing to eat or drink, but what we send you. You'll die like trapped rats, unless you accept my offer."
"We'll never do that," replied Raffins. For a moment his face shone on the screen, hard and assured, and then he shut off.
Weston and Vasievitch looked at each other significantly. It was a serious threat the miners held out. No korsakum for Earthand korsakum was the fuel on which Earth's cities depended for light, heat and power. Without further supplies of the precious Moon ore, not three months would pass before
they would be at a complete standstill, thousands of expensive machines would be idle, and the two new cities in Antarctica would slowly freeze to death. It was a powerful weapon for the minersbut could they hold out that long?
"They're mad!" said Pruss, harshly. "Weston, the engines! We're going to land."
Weston stood perfectly still.
"I am on the side of the men, Mr. Pruss," he said, coldly.
Without a word, Pruss walked quickly to the controls. He had started life as a spaceman, and knew fairly well how to operate even the more modern ships. Weston had braked so that the vessel remained almost stationary, balanced between the pull of the Moon and the repulsive power of its own rocket-engines. He had been waiting for the all-clear signal to land when Raffins had established
contact. Now, Pruss shut off the braking rockets, and the ship began to descend slowly towards Tycho. The three members of the crew stood silently watching.
Through the port-holes, the small ship was still visible; it was cruising between them and the landing-stage. Suddenly, a bluish light glowed from its rear, and immediately a jarring shock flung the four men in the Autolycus to the floor. The ship lurched violently.
When they had staggered up, Weston looked out of one of the ports, and saw that a whole bank of rockets had been sheared away and was completely useless. The ship was rushing madly away from, the Moon in a Sunwise direction. Weston went to the controls, considering as he did so how to best
employ the remaining power in order to make a safe return to Earth.
"What are you doing?" demanded Pruss.
"Back to Earthif we can manage it," said Weston, shortly.
"Don't be a fool.'" Pruss shouted at him. "I told you, we're going to land down there. Turn the ship!"
WESTON ignored the order, and the others went and stood beside him at the controls, in silent defiance. But this gesture of loyalty was their undoing. Seeing them all bunched together, Pruss
instantly drew his automatic and covered them, menacingly. Realising the hopelessness of resistance, at least for the moment, Weston indicated by a nod that he had given in. Pruss leered in triumph.
"Avoid Tycho, and land on some part of the Moon near the roads," he instructed, as he stood over the three with pistol pointed threateningly.
Weston worked at his levers. It was a difficult task to manoeuvre the crippled Autolycus, and to get her safely down required intense concentration. Pruss placed his back to the wall, and nodded to Vasievitch and Darenne.
"Get out four space-suits from the supplies, and have them in readiness," he ordered.
"What are we in for, now?" muttered Darenne, as they went off. "That man's insane!"
"Or madly reckless," said Vasievitch. "He won't stand a chance against the miners, even if we reach Tycho. They're obviously well prepared; they've even got illegal weapons, judging by what happened to our ship."
"Where could they get themor do you think they've made them?" asked Darenne.
"The way it worked, it looked to me like a development of their own tools. They use balakium compounds to blast their way into the rocks of the Moon, and possibly some genius among them has adapted the idea to make this weapon. It's pretty powerful stuff."
Weston did his best, but they made an awkward landing, which, considering the state of the ship, was scarcely surprising. The vessel landed with a bump, rolled over on its side, and lay still.
"Space-suits on, and get out!" commanded Pruss. "We must find out where we are, how to get to the nearest roads, and how far we are from Tycho City."
The four men clambered through the air-lock. The Autolycus had fallen so that the entrance was on the top side, and they had to slide over the smooth metal hull of the vessel and drop down from a considerable height on the other side. Fortunately, though, the Moon's lesser gravitation made this an easy matter, and soon they were standing on the rocky surface.
Although they had travelled regularly to the Moon for years, neither Weston nor Vasievitch had much idea of what the Lunar surface was really like. They had always arrived on the landing-stage at Tycho, entered the great air-lock on a sliding runway, and spent about a week inside the city; then they were off again. So, they were unprepared for the terrifying strangeness of the uninhabited Moon.
All was black and white, with tints of brown in the rocks. Only those surfaces directly lit by the Sun were visible; the rest were hidden in total darkness. When the shadow of the Autolycus fell on Darenne's legs, he looked as if he had been rendered invisible from the waist downwards. The
shadow itself was like an immense gulf in the surface, so dense was its blackness.
In the distance, a range of mountains whose bases were hidden in shade looked like isolated, flat, white shapes whose distance there was no means of determining: it was as if they were floating in the sky like solid clouds. The ground was covered with rubble, pebbles, the debris of meteors. Only that part of each small stone which faced the Sun was visible, and the result was that the plain appeared as a scattering of hundreds of thousands of tiny, white shapes and specks, like the minute splinters of a mirror on black velvet. At times, it seemed to the four men that the ground was not solid at all, but that they were facing a vast emptiness dotted with floating points of light, like the starry sky above them. Only by an effort of will could they bring themselves to walk upon this uncertain world.
THEY advanced a few yards in silence, and discovered a band of darkness more dense than the rest, which revealed itself to be the mouth of a narrow, deep cleft in the surface. As far as they could judge, it would be a couple of hundred yards across; a few yards more to one side, and the Autolycus would have gone smashing down to the bottom of it!
Each space-suit was equipped with radio apparatus for communication in the deathly silence of the Moon, and it was Darenne's voice, slightly shaky with excitement, which first came across.
"That looks like something," he said, pointing with a gesture which almost overbalanced him; for he had not yet adjusted his movements to Lunar gravity. He was indicating what looked like a dome, though whether it was near or far they could not decide. It was not unlike Tycho City in shape, but lacked the surrounding ring-wall of mountains.
"What could that be?" frowned Pruss. "There isn't another city on the Moon that I know of. Make in that direction!"
They walked warily over the shifting, rubbly surface. It was not long before they found themselves nearing the dome-like structure, which towered above them to a great height. It seemed to be about six hundred yards in diameter, and was almost a perfect hemisphere. They walked round it, and reached the point where its shadow fell. Pruss marched on, and vanished as he entered the shadow, as if he had been snuffed out. The others hesitated to follow; there was something so horribly eerie about that disappearance. Presently, however, he reappeared.
"No good”, he said. "It's a natural formation, I'm afraid."
"I've never heard of things like this on the Moon," breathed Vasievitch, gazing at the tremendous dome in awe.
"But I think I know what it is!" put in Darenne. "I've read a bit about selenographythe Lunar craters, and all that and there's no theory, even yet, which completely explains the origin of the ring-mountains. But there is one which suggests that originally there were tremendous bubbles on the surface, when the Moon was young and volcanically active. Well"
His speech was abruptly interrupted. Suddenly, a tremendous vibration shook the ground on which they stood, sending them sprawling. For several minutes the motion continued, and the surface shook as if some mighty drum-stick were beating it. Then, weirdly, in the silence, a gigantic crack ran down the side of the dome. The vibration died down, and stopped.
It took the four men some time to help each other up, hampered as they were by their clumsy suits, and they all stood dazed for a few moments, while they stared at the mysterious dome.
"It seems as if it is still volcanic!" said Vasievitch, at length.
"Perhaps it is!" cried Darenne. "Then, that would almost prove the theory. In the Moon's early days, these tremendous bubbles of lava shot up, burst, and then fell back on the surface to form ring-walls. There must have been tremendous activity when the largest of them were formedcraters
like Tycho! But this dome here must have been one of the last to form, and has never been forced to burst; the internal activity has almost died down. Even in the old days, the astronomers claimed to have seen at least one such formation as this on the Moon, although I believe the spot has never been visited by any of the pioneer spacemen."
Weston and Vasievitch listened with interest to this little lecture, but Pruss was busy noting the height of the Sun and the direction of the shadows. Presently, he ordered:
"Back to the ship! This dome ought to give us some idea where we are, if we can locate it on the maps."
They started back to the Autolycus. As they went, Darenne looked back at the dome. The huge crack seemed wider than ever; and as he gazed, it seemed for a moment that something like a large, pinkish rope emerged from the rift and twisted about on the outside of the dome. But his eyes were dazzled, and he could not be sure.
AS SOON as they had locked themselves in the ship and removed the suits, Pruss drew out a small table that was let into the wall, and spread out a collection of maps.
"Come here, Weston," he ordered, and the spaceman joined him with reluctant discipline. "I want you to look over some of these maps and see if you can find a dome-formation like the,.one we have seen, and also a cleft similar to that near the ship. I have a feeling that the mountain range we can see in the distance is actually part of the ring-wall of Tycho, and if it is, we should be able to prove it from the maps and find out where the roads are."
They both bent over the charts, which were difficult to work with on account of their comparative inaccuracy and the fact that they were mainly compiled from photographs, in which the variations of shape and direction of the shadows made recognition of features very uncertain. Young Darenne was wrestling with a problem in space-navigation; while Vasievitch stood at a port-hole, his eyes fixed thoughtfully on the distant dome with its great, black crack. He felt uneasy and disquieted. The familiar Moon, which he had come to regard as part of the day's work, had all at once changed her face, and now wore an aspect of strangeness and hidden menace.
Suddenly, the floor tilted upwards, and the ship began to rock. The Moon maps flew off the table, and were scattered on the floor, Darenne was shaken from his chair, and Vasievitch had to cling to the rim of the port to keep upright. It was a 'quake even more violent than the one they had felt in the open, beside the dome. For several minutes they struggled for balance, hanging on to any
convenient object, while the ship swayed so much from side to side that Weston feared it might topple into the cleft so perilously near.
Vasievitch was staring out of the porthole, unable to take his eyes away from the amazing spectacle presented there. For, at the first shock, the crack in the dome had gaped wider. Then, the entire surface of the dome was suddenly rayed and starred with clefts and, in utter silence, and with the weird deliberation of a slow-motion film, the whole structure collapsed. In a few moments, only a ring-wall of rock and debris was left in place of the dome. Vasievitch was transfixed with astonishment; and before he could recover, something else happened to make him gasp still further.
He saw that an object of some kind was rising from the crater. At first, such is habit of mind, he took it for a dust-cloud of the sort that would naturally rise above a collapsing structure on Earth. But dust does not hover on the airless Moon; the smallest particle falls as rapidly as a stone. It was something
stranger, more terrible. Before his eyes a gigantic, living creaturea thing so vast that it filled a space six hundred yards in diameterwas ponderously heaving itself over the side of the ring-wall.
VASIEVITCH could not speak, but his urgent gestures brought the others to the port-hole. The motion
of the ground had ceased, and the four men stood still and silent, stricken with terror, while they watched the immense, pinkish-grey shape slowly emerge on to the face of the Moon.
"What is it?" cried Vasievitch, at last. "It's terribleghastly! Look at it!"
Darenne felt his inside shrivel up with a wild excitement. So there was life on the Moon! And the craterswas this the origin of them all? Had they, at one time, each been a sort of shell housing creatures like this? For it struck him right away that this was the true purpose of the dome; that the
thing had lain inside it, like a chick in an egg, waiting for maturity and the strength to break out. The quaking of the ground had been caused by nothing more than the struggles of the enormous creature within its prison. And if all this were so, then what of craters like Tycho and Plato? Huge beasts must have emerged from them, too, in the dim, fervent past of the Moonbut how much bigger than this new-born monster! It was unthinkable.
"It may be harmless," Pruss was saying, in even tones. "We know nothing of life on the Moon; Best not to make any movement that might alarm it, but wait to see what it will do. We should be safe enough in here."
He returned calmly to his maps, while the others stood at the port-hole, staring with unbelieving eyes. In the sharp light, everything was clearly visible, and even at such a distance they could see that the great, pinkish shape was now standing unsteadily on a number of short, thick legs, each spreading out into a broad, soft hoof. Along the sides hung a row of short tentacles, or elongated teats, while the whole creature was covered with a loose, baggy hide, drooping in folds. It had no distinguishable head, but at front and rear were two patches of a different sort of skin which was translucent, iridescent, seeming to shine softly against the dull hide.
The thing stood still for a few minutes, shaking itself slightly, and then began to wander to and fro, as if exploring the new world that had suddenly been revealed to it. With every moment, it grew steadier on its feet, and although at first it had staggered uncertainly, it was soon able to move rapidly on its many legs. Then
"It's coming this way!" shouted Vasievitch, fearfully.
In tense silence they watched, while the Moon-beast came speedily and purposefully in the direction of the ship. Its vast bulk loomed against the landscape, larger and larger, until it seemed like a mountain of flesh on the move.
"Has it seen us?" muttered Darenne, in a trembling voice. "What can we do? We haven't a chance against a thing like that, if it attacks us!"
"There's nothing to do but wait," said Weston, in a low tone. "It may pass without noticing the ship."
They could feel the ground shaking under the tread of the monster, in spite of the slight gravity. The thing was tremendousten times bigger than the Autolycus; and it came surely, directly towards them. There seemed to be no escape.
"Get the space-suits on!" came the quiet command of Pruss. "We must be prepared for any emergency."
The frightful shaking of the ground increased as they struggled with nervous, clumsy fingers to fasten the straps of their air-tight, electrically-heated space-armour. The Moon-beast was almost upon them. Then, at the last moment, it swerved. From both port-holes, nothing could be seen but an immense expanse of pink skin; but it was passing them by, stumping on its short legs, with the tentacles swinging at its sides.
THEY saw that it had gone past the ship and stopped at the cleft beyond, where it turned slightly towards them. A great, vertical mouth opened in the front, and a long, hideous trunk uncoiled itself
and went searching down into the depths of the cleft. A? the same time, the monster squatted down, with a bump that rocked the ship. The tentacles on the visible side stretched towards the ground; and as soon as they touched it, they became rigid and seemed to attach themselves like roots to the soil.
It remained still for some time, while the men watched, fascinated. At length
"It's growing!" gasped Darenne.
It was true. Before their eyes, the giant animal was slowly swelling, and the creases in its hide were filling out like balloons into a row of blisters.
"What can it be doing?" Weston wondered.
"Feeding, probably," suggested Darenne. "There may be some form of nourishment in the soilminerals, perhapswhich it sucks up through those things in its side, whatever they are, and Stores up in its swollen skin. Possibly it lays up huge reserves of food, so that it need only browse at long intervals."
"Possibly," agreed Pruss. "But I think myself that, although you may be right about the tentacles, those blisters are air-sacs, judging from the rapidity with which they are swelling."
"The trunk, then!" cried Darenne. "Did you notice that long proboscis it put out? There is some air on the Moonvery little, but still some. And the places where it is likely to remain are the clefts and narrow rills where the Sun never shines; probably it lies there frozen in the form of liquid air. That's what the thing is after: it drinks in air as we drink in water, and fills its sacs so that it need not go on breathing all the time, as some Earth animals do. And that must be why it made straight in this directionit was air, not us, that it was coming for."
Pruss and. Weston nodded their agreement.
"Then it may go away as soon as it is satisfied, and not return until we have had time to escape," said Pruss. "So, Weston, if you are ready, we'd better get back to our maps.
"Wait! It's moving!" Darenne cried again.
The tentacles were withdrawn, the trunk coiled back into its slot, and the Moon-beast rose awkwardly to its feet. With slow, heavy movements it began to lumber again towards the ship, evidently intent on taking the same way back, Pruss and Weston pretended to concentrate on their survey; Vasievitch sat in a corner with clenched hands and nervous, trembling lips, while Darenne stood fascinated at the port-hole. The creature drew nearer, and it became obvious that it was going to pass even closer to the Autolycus.
Soon, its vast form had blotted out everything else, and nothing could be seen but a stretch of pink-grey skin almost grazing the thick glass of the port. Darenne examined this with interest, and saw that the skin was smooth and firm, without trace of pores or markings.
"It's passing us by," he reported. "I think we're all right, now."
He began to undo the straps of his armour. Even as he did so, the frame of the port-hole creaked harshly. Pruss and Weston sprang to their feet as Darenne leaped back, and the whole side of the Autolycus bent, caved in, and cracked like a nut.
Through the gap heaved a mass of pink flesh, almost filling the space within. The four men shrank back in horror and disgust. For a moment, it seemed as if this huge, obscene body would smother them. Then, slowly, it withdrew; and as it cleared the rent in the ship's side, the artificial atmosphere of the vessel rushed out into the Lunar vacuum with a swiftly fading hiss, nearly sucking the men with it.
Through the gaping hole, they watched the thing lumber off into the distance. Vasievitch, his nerve completely shattered by the horror of the experience, was almost weeping.
"It just leaned against the ship!" he sobbed. "That's all! It just leaned against the ship for a moment!"
THERE was no time to be lost. "We must get away from herequickly!" said Pruss, turning to pick up
his scattered maps. Luckily, their lives had been saved by the fact that they were in space-armour, but it was quite likely that the monster would return to its drinking-place, and they might not escape so fortuitously. When it would come that way again they could not tell: perhaps in a few hours, perhaps not for a whole Lunar day. But before it did, they must find a safer place in which to shelter. Next time, the monster might easily tread right on the ship and crush them all to pulp. Then, it was important that they reach the city soon; for they could not take food while wearing the space-armour, and delay might bring starvation.
In a few minutes, they were ready to set off. It was a weary business, trekking over the Lunar surface. Uncertain, shifting ground made walking difficult, while the confusing shadows and glaring sunlight, although slightly modified by shaded glass in their helmets, were very exhausting. Even the lesser gravitation made things harder instead of easier, since it necessitated keeping a constant and tiring control over every movement, to prevent awkward leaps and over-balancings. A few miles of it sufficed to wear out the party, and they were forced to halt for rest.
They were crossing the floor of some ancient, half-ruined crater, and across the plain in front of them towered a section of the wall. Glittering harshly in the sunlight, it rose grim and forbidding. Pruss scanned its length eagerly, until his eyes detected a promising spot. Some distance away, a rock-fall had left a pile of enormous boulders close to the wall-face.
They varied in size from that of an average building to vast things as big as small hills. High up in the wall, he noticed what seemed to be a sort of cave or niche in the rock, and by climbing the pile of boulders, it was just possible they might be able to clamber into it.
"That looks fairly safe," he said, pointing. "If we can get up there, we should be able to shelter until we can and out where we are."
Darenne stood up at once. "We'd better get on right away, then/' he said. "No use taking risks."
The others struggled up, and slowly they began to plod their way towards the cave. It was not an inviting place, but it might provide refuge; and, for all they knew, the creature they had seen might not be the only one of its kind on the Moon. . . .
They were perhaps half-way to the foot of the crater-wall, when they felt an ominous shaking of the ground.
"It's coming!" cried Vasievitch. "Quick! Let's get up there, out of the way. Runrun!"
They tried to hurry, but could progress only in long, high leaps which, in spite of the distance covered at each, seemed infuriatingly slow, since the slighter gravity of the Moon turned all their movements into slow-motion. But there was no sense in giving way to panic; they must get on, steadily, if there was to be any hope of escape. Another leapand another. . . .
Darenne stopped to look back while they were still some distance from the pile of rocks, and saw the vast shape of the Moon monster emerging from the shadows on the other side of the ring-plain. It seemed huger than ever, and as .it came into the sunlight, he noticed that some of the sacs at its sides were now hanging loose again.
"I can see it!" he panted.
"Faster, then!" rapped Pruss; and they redoubled their efforts, goaded by the growing feeling of impotence aroused in them by their futile struggles against the terrors of this strange world. Would they never reach safety?
The monster was coming nearer. Considering its immense bulk, it moved rapidly, and soon they realised, with more resignation than fear, that it would overtake them before they could reach the cave. They looked around for some nearer hiding-place, and presently they drew near a vast pinnacle of rock which threw its shadow across the plain to the foot of the crater-wall.
"We can hide behind that!" shouted Weston. "Turn aside!"
They leaped into the shelter of the pinnacle. Instantly, so utterly black was the shadow, each vanished from the others' view; and there was a moment when, in the terror of seeming alone, panic almost overcame them. Frantically, they reached out gloved hands for contact, and it was not until
they were able to clasp them that they felt safe in the knowledge of the others' presence.
Meanwhile, the Moon-beast came on, and the ground trembled under it, until the column of stone behind which they crouched swayed as if it would smash down on them at any moment. Each man held his breath as the monster passed. How near it was, this hideous distortion of life! Slowly, slowly, it drew ahead it passed them by. Then, abruptly, there was a mighty shock, followed by stillness.
DARENNE and Pruss looked out. The monster was squatting on the ground close by the crater-wall, its mighty bulk rising above the mound of boulders, dwarfing them to a pile of mere pebbles. As they watched, the tentacles on its sides stretched down and fastened themselves to the rocky surface.
"The thing's feeding again," reported Darenne. "What shall we do?"
"The only safety lies in destroying it," said Weston, gravely. "But how?"
"That's rightkill it!" cried Vasievitch, hysterically. "We'll never know a moment's peace until we get rid of it!"
"But with what?" asked Pruss. "You surely don't expect me to finish it off with this?" He tapped his automatic.
"I think you can, sir!" exclaimed Darenne, excitedly. "Look! You see all those balloon-like things on its back and sides? We worked it out that those must contain its air-supply, and you'll notice that several of them are now deflated. Evidently, the monster exhausts them one by one. If you could fire at it, and burst the other sacs, then it would die from lack of air, wouldn't it?"
"But that's only theory!" objected Weston. "You don't know that they are air-sacs. After all, the thing is entirely alien to Earth creatures; it may be constructed along totally different lines."
"It's worth trying," said Pruss.
"The risk is too great," said Weston, coldly. "It would be foolish to wound and possibly enrage it so that it turned on us. If we wait here, it will soon go away."
"I prefer to take the risk," Pruss replied harshly. "I must get to Tycho City. I can't afford to wait here for everand neither can you! It'll mean starvation if we don't carry on."
He stepped out of the shadow, drew his weapon and aimed carefully. Darenne, anxious to miss nothing, followed him eagerly. Pruss fired; one of the Moon-beast's distended air-sacs instantly collapsed, Darenne jumped for joy and found himself staggering clumsily like a man floundering in water. Before he could recover himself, Pruss had fired again, and another sac was burst. But the monster showed no sign of pain; it went on quietly squatting beside the wall.
"The thing can't have any sensory nerves!" Darenne elated, joining the others in the shadow.
"I hope not!" said Weston, grimly; but Pruss had shut off his radio, and did not hear. He went on firing soundless shots.
Twenty sacs in all had been burst, three were already deflated, and only three remained full. Pruss rested his arm for a few minutes, and raised his automatic again. But hand and eye were both fatigued; his aim was not so sure, and this time a bullet entered one of the translucent, quivering patches at the back of the gigantic creature. Instantly, a shudder went through the monsterevidently, these were sensitive spots; the tentacles were abruptly withdrawn from the soil, and the Moon-beast heaved itself slowly on to its thick legs. Then it began to turn round.
Behind the pinnacle of stone, the four men waited, paralysed. The creature's slow turning was like the menace of a gathering storm. They could only stand and wonderwhat now? Then the monster charged. Stung by pain, it rushed madly across the crater-floor, right past their hiding-place. They cowered against the rocky column, while the whole Moon seemed to shake beneath its ponderous tread. Then it was gone, storming across the ring-plain.
"Now's our chance!" cried Weston.
"Yes, onon!" shouted Pruss. "We can get to the cave before it comes back.”
"If it ever does!" laughed Darenne, as he leaped after the others. "I think we've scared it off."
But they had not quite reached the pile of boulders before the ground trembled, and Vasievitch gave a shout. It was coming back!
"Can we make it?" gasped Darenne.
The monster was coming straight towards them. Suddenly, Pruss leaped off to one side.
"Into the shadow!" he shouted. "It won't be able to see us there."
AN OVERHANGING ledge cast a gulf of utter blackness on the ground at the wall's face. The shadow
stretched as far as the pile of rocks, and Pruss saw that they might reach their goal beneath its cover. In an instant they had turned aside, and were all swallowed up in the darkness. Gripping one another's belts, they trotted on blindly in the desired direction.
The Moon-beast halted, seemingly bewildered. Then its huge, vertical mouth split open, and the trunk emerged, half-uncoiled, to touch the ground lightly with its tip. For a moment the creature paused; then, still trailing its trunk on the ground, it came on again, making straight towards them
"It can see us!" cried Vasievitch. "There's no hopewe'll never get away from it. The thing's more than natural!"
"Double back!" shouted Pruss. They obeyed. The creature paused again, touched the ground momentarily with the sensitive end of its trunk, and instantly changed direction to follow them. It was very near, and they were putting out their last ounce of strength in the hope of finding some other place of refuge, when Darenne suddenly tugged at the belt in front of him.
'Stop, all!" he shrieked. "Stopstand Still! Don't make another move!"
Something in the urgency of his voice halted them, and the result was immediate. As soon as they came to a standstill, the monster stopped in its tracks, and stood fumbling over the ground with its trunk. The four men huddled together, gasping with fatigue. The oxygen supply in their suits was not
calculated to allow of such violent exertion, and was beginning to go thin, although, with careful use, it was good for many hours yet. Their hearts beat as if they would burst.
"You see!" whispered Darenne. "It can't see us, but it can hear us. That's why it was able to follow us so well."
"But that's impossible!" Weston protested. "Everybody knows that sounds can't be heard on the Moon, because there is no atmosphere. If it can hear us, then it must have supernatural senses."
"But sound needn't depend on airit can travel through solids as well," explained Darenne. "It's possible to hear by putting one's ear to the ground, and that's just what the creature is doing. Did you notice it feeling the ground with that trunk thing? It must be used as a sort of ear, as well as for
sucking up air. While it keeps its trunk on the ground, it can hear vibrations travelling through the solid earth; it could even hear our footsteps as we ran. But as long as we keep perfectly still, it can't find us. We've just got to wait here until it gets fed up and goes away."
"It seems like that, right enough," Weston admitted. "I'd never have thought of it, though; you're a smart lad, Darenne. See! It doesn't know what to do, now!"
The monster was standing on the same spot, patiently searching over the ground with its quivering trunk. In the shadow, the Earth-men leaned thankfully against the crater-wall. With mingled fear, exertion and lack of oxygen, their hearts were thudding so violently that their whole bodies seemed
to shake beneath the wild beatings. But they were safe. The monster was only a couple of hundred yards away from them. Yet it could neither see nor hear them. They had only to wait. . . .
For what seemed an eternity to the travellers, the Moon-beast stood intently still, its trunk against the ground, listening for them with hideous and terrifying patience. Then, it moved. Turning precisely in their direction, it charged furiously, thundering down upon them while they stood helpless.
"It's all up!" cried Pruss. "We're done for! It can still hear usit can even hear the beating of our hearts!"
They scattered in a useless, panicky flight. But there could be no escape. In an instant, the thing was upon them. The whole world was spinning, toppling, smashing down . . .
WESTON came to his senses after long wanderings in some dim, pain-filled region. He found himself lying on the open Lunar plain, with a throbbing pain in his left arm, while the black, star-lit sky shone peacefully above. With difficulty, he turned over, and found that he was lying against the enormous, towering side of the Moon-beast, which was quite inert. Dazed and exhausted, his head spinning from lack of oxygen, he struggled to his feet, and supported himself with one hand against the vast, pink side. He had passed beyond fear . . .
Some hundreds of yards away lay another body in a space-suit. Weston staggered weakly towards it, and found that it was Vasievitch, who was just recovering consciousness. There was nothing he could do but wait for him to regain his full senses, and while he waited he looked around. From where he now stood, he could see that the monster was lying on its side, with its enormous legs sticking out stiffly and its trunk dangling brokenly on the ground. Above the vertical mouth was a great, brownish bruise, like the skin of a withered apple, from which a slow trickle of whitish liquid was flowing. The air-sacs were all hanging empty.
"It's dead," muttered Weston, more to himself than the half-conscious Vasievitch. "It must have run out of air almost as soon as it went for us. Young Darenne was right. Well, we're safe now, thank heaven!"
Vasievitch was stirring, and Weston helped him to his feet.
"What happened?" he asked, dazedly. "Didn't it get us?”
"Nowe got it," Weston reassured him. "That idea of bursting its air-sacs seems to have worked all right, though it would have done sooner if Pruss had been able to finish it off before it got us on the run. As it was, the thing had just enough air to keep it going until it attacked us; then it dropped in its tracks. If it hadn't been so keen on following us, it might have had a chance of filling itself up again, I suppose. But it's dead meat, now."
Vasievitch sighed his relief. "But Darenne and Prusswhere are they? We'd better find them."
"Over there, perhaps," suggested Weston, nodding towards the monstrous body. "They may not have been flung as far as we were."
He started to hurry back, while Vasievitch, not yet quite recovered, followed him more slowly. They circled the gigantic creature, and walked down the other side, where its mighty legs lay like a row of colossal fallen pillars. Close by the farthest of them, Weston saw something, and leaped forward.
Pinned down by the immense column of flesh, Pruss and Darenne lay side by side. Their space-suits had been ripped open, and in the vacuum of the Lunar surface, the tissues and vessels of their bodies had burst from internal pressure. It was not a sight a man could look upon twice. As Weston turned away, Vasievitch signalled to him.
"Come here, Weston!" he called. "There are men coming over the crater-wall. Look! Do you see them?"
Weston joined him and saw that, small, lonely and distant, a line of men in space-armour was slowly descending the far side of the ring-wall. He turned a knob in the breast-plate of his suit, and radioed on several wavelengths: "Hello! Who are you?"
"Expedition from Tycho City," came the answer. "Who are you?"
"We're stranded down here. Can you see us?" Weston responded. "Make towards the huge, pink shape you see close by the crater-wall. You needn't worryit's harmless."
"We see you. Wait where you are," was the reply.
"They're from Tycho," Weston explained to Vasievitch. "They'll be able to supply us with oxygen and take us back with them."
"That's a piece of luck!" Vasievitch enthused. "Did you see any trace of Pruss and Darenne? We'd better find them before"
"I found themdead," said Weston, solemnly. "Better not go there. There's nothing we can do."
THEY sat down and rested their backs against a vast leg of the Moon-monster, while the men from Tycho descended the crater-wall, crossed the plain, and came up with them.
"I'm Raffins," the man at the head of the column announced. "We're miners from the city, in search of food. They say there's vegetation somewhere on the Moon; before long, we may need it. But what in the Solar System is this?"
Weston explained who they were, and as he described their flight from the monster, the miners gazed at the vast carcase in awe.
"Jupiter! What a thing!" breathed one. "And to think that's been running around loose, and we didn't know it! We'll have to watch out for its brothersif there's any more of 'em left. The sooner that species is extinct, the better!"
"So Pruss is dead," Raffins said, thoughtfully. "That makes things easier for us. With him out of the way, there won't be half the opposition to our demands. Boys, we've made two lucky hits at once!" He laid his thick-gloved hand on the side of the colossal Moon-beast. "First, Pruss is dead, and our battle's half-won. Secondly, we can be sure of winning the second half of the fight no matter how long we have to hold outas soon as we can get this mountain of grub to Tycho."
The miners stared, and muttered among themselves.
"From what I'm told," Raffins went on, "this thing lived on air and on minerals from the soil. It seems to have been some sort of animated vegetable; anyhow, it ought to be good and nourishing, and if we can't find a way of making it edible, then we don't deserve to get the better conditions we're fighting for!"
He swung his axe, and pierced the hide of the monster. A gush of white, sticky-looking fluid flowed out. Raffins struck again, and tore away a piece of the skin, infinitesimally small compared with the vast bulk of the looming carcase. The inside of the creature's body consisted of a sort of greenish, translucent jelly-pulp, in texture not unlike the flesh of an orange.
"We'll get this cut up, frozen, and transported to Tycho City without delay," the miners' leader added. "But we can't manage it alone. I'll have to radio for help." He worked busily with the knobs on his breast-plate. "You coming along with us?" he asked Weston and Vasievitch, while waiting for an answer from Tycho.
"We're with you!" said Weston. "We'll hold out until we force the Company to give wayuntil they realise they can't do without us."
"Good!" said Raffins. "That Will speaking? Raffins here. Send us out fifty trolleys, two hundred men . . ."
Weston patted the side of the Moon thing affectionately. He could almost like it, now. He caught Vasievitch's eye.
"Wait till we've got our berths on the Mars route, Vas!"
"Yes; we should get them now, all right!" Vasievitch smiled back. Then, abruptly, the smile faded, his eyes clouded. "A pity we won't be taking DaRenne along with us, though," he added, wistfully. "A clever kid, Darenne."
Weston bowed his head. He was hoping with all his heart that when this trip was ended he would never see the surface of the Moon again.
Published in Tales of Wonder and Super-Science #16 (1942)
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