Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: Dark Moon - Chapter V by@astoundingstories

Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: Dark Moon - Chapter V

They were seated in the cabin of the man-made meteor that the brain of Harkness had conceived—two men and a girl. And they stared at one another unsmilingly, with eyes which reflected their comprehension of the risks that they ran and the dangers which lay ahead in the dark void. Yet the brown eyes of Mam'selle Diane, no less than the others, were afire with the thrill of adventure—the same response to the same lure that has carried men to each new exploration—or to their death.
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Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Dark Moon - Chapter V: The "Dark Moon"

CHAPTER V. The "Dark Moon"

They were seated in the cabin of the man-made meteor that the brain of Harkness had conceived—two men and a girl. And they stared at one another unsmilingly, with eyes which reflected their comprehension of the risks that they ran and the dangers which lay ahead in the dark void. Yet the brown eyes of Mam'selle Diane, no less than the others, were afire with the thrill of adventure—the same response to the same lure that has carried men to each new exploration—or to their death.

Behind them, a rear lookout port framed a picture of awful majesty. The earth was a great disc, faintly luminous in a curtain of dead black. From beyond it, a hidden sun made glorious flame of the disc's entire rim. And, streaming toward it, a straight, blasting line from their stern exhaust, was an arrow of blue.

It had taken form slowly, that arrow of blue fire, and Harkness answered an unspoken question from the girl.

"Hydrogen and oxygen," he explained. "It is an explosive mixture at this height, but too thin to take fire. It will pass. Beyond this is pure hydrogen. And then, nothing."

He turned to switch on their radio receiver, and he set it for the newscasting waves that went forth from the most powerful station of Earth, the Press Tower of New York. A voice came to them faintly. For a time it vied with the muffled roar of their thundering exhaust; then it lost volume, faded, and was finally gone.

Their last contact with Earth was severed. There remained only blackness, and a great abyss through which they were plunging.

Harkness busied himself with calculations. He would have spoken, but the silence that followed the vanished voice of Earth had robbed his own voice of control.

A telescope sight was fixed rigid with the axis of their ship. He looked through it, moved their controls, and brought the cross-hairs of his instrument to bear upon a star.

"That's about right," he said quietly. "I got all the information that the observatories had on the orbit of the Dark Moon. It is circling the Earth from north to south. It coincided for a short time with our own moon when it first hit; that's what kicked up the big wave and jarred us up. But it swung off and seems to have settled down in its own orbit now.

"Two hundred thousand miles away is what they make it, though I think that is more or less of a guess. I wish we could measure our speed." He looked at the earth-induction speed-indicator. Useless now, it registered zero.

"Well," he added, "we are shooting for the North Star. We will pass close to the Dark Moon's orbit; it should be about over the Pole on this date. And there is one good safe bet, anyhow; there is nothing between here and there to stop us."

He was being weakly facetious, but his efforts met with an enthusiastic response. The tension of the moment, it was plain, had not affected Harkness alone. But it was many hours before the error of his statement was made manifest to all.

An island, faintly luminous, lay ahead. It grew to enormous size as they dashed upon it. Harkness sprang for the controls, but, before he could reach them, they had struck the vast field of pale green light, flashed through it, and left it diminishing in size behind them. Then, other lights, not brilliant, but like phosphorescent bodies, that came and went and flashed by with blinding speed.

Another luminous area rushed at them from ahead. At first it was a speck, then an island, and then a continent in size, and through it moved other brighter lights. This time a slight suggestion of an impact was felt. Here was matter of a form they could not guess. It was Chet who pointed to the glass of their control room. The heavy lights of the lookouts were smeared with sticky fluid that drew together in trickling streams.

"Nothing between us and the Dark Moon?" he asked of Harkness. "And space is an empty void? We Earth-creatures are a conceited lot."

"Meaning?" the girl questioned.

"Meaning that because we live on Earth—walk on solid ground, swim in the water and fly in the air—we deny the existence of life in space. There's the answer written in the blood of some life that was snuffed out as we hit it."

Harkness shook his head doubtfully. "Matter of some sort," he admitted, "and the serpents came from somewhere; but, as for the rest, the idea that the ocean of space is filled with life as our Earth-oceans are—creatures living and moving through unknown fields of force...." He did not finish the denial, but looked with wondering gaze at the myriad points that flashed softly into glowing masses and darted aside before their onward rush.

It was hours later that he checked their flight. Slowly at first he cut off the exhaust from their stern and opened the bow valve. Slowly, for their wild speed must slacken as it had been built up, by slow degrees. The self-adjusting floor swung forward and up. Their deceleration was like the pull of gravity, and now straight ahead seemed down.

More hours, and they were at rest, floating in an ethereal ocean, an ocean teeming with strange life. Each face was pressed close to a lookout port. No one of the three could speak; each was too absorbed in the story his eyes were reading—this story of a strange, new existence where no life should have been.

Animalculae. They came in swarms; cloud masses of them floated past; and swirls of phosphorescent fire marked the presence of larger creatures that moved among them. Large and small, each living creature was invisible until it moved; then came the greenish light, like phosphorescence and yet unlike.

Still Harkness could not force himself to believe the irrefutable evidence. What of astronomy? he asked himself. Why was this matter not visible through telescopes? Why did it not make its presence known through interference? Through refraction of light?... And then he realized the incredible distance within the scope of his vision; he knew that this swarming life was actually more widely spaced; and the light of a brilliant star shone toward him through the center of a living mass to prove that here was matter that offered no resistance to the passage of light.

A void of nothingness was before his eyes. He saw its black emptiness change to pale green fire that swirled and fled before a large shape. The newcomer swept down like light itself. Softly green like the others, its rounded body was outlined in a huge circle of orange light. Like a cyclopean pod, it was open at one end, and that open end closed and opened and closed again as the creature gulped in uncounted millions of the tiny, luminous dots—every one, as Harkness now knew, a living thing.

Strange light whirled into life and vanished, each evidencing a battle where life took life in this ocean of the invisible living. A gasp from the girl brought Harkness quickly about.

"Another one!" she said breathlessly, and pointed where the blackness was looped with writhing fire. It came swiftly near to show the outline of the dread serpent form; the suction cups showed plainly.

Danger was in this thing, Harkness knew, but it passed them by before he could move. The further lookout showed two gleaming monsters locked together in deadly embrace. So swift was their whirling motion that details of form were lost: only a confusion of lashing tentacles that whipped and tore, and one glimpse of a savage maw that sheared the tentacles off. Then the serpent was upon them.

Harkness had seen one time a sight that was indelibly impressed upon his memory. A steeloid cable had broken under a terrific strain; the end of it had lashed out with a speed the eye could not follow, to wind itself around the superstructure of a submarine—and the men who were gathered there.

He thought of that now, saw again the bleeding mass that had been an instant before a group of humans, as the serpent seized its prey. The two combatants were encircled in a living coil of light. Then, as motion ceased, the ethereal sea went dark except for pulsing suction cups that drew and strained at the bodies they held.

Harkness was groping for the controls—he saw too plainly their own helplessness when they were at rest—but the voice of Dianne checked him.

"That bright star went out," she said; and Harkness let his gaze follow where she pointed.

The stars that were distant suns shone in brilliant points of light; no atmosphere here to dim them or cause a flickering. A bright point vanished as she looked—another!—and he knew abruptly that he was seeing a circle of blackness that moved slowly between them and the stars.

"The Moon!" he shouted. "The Dark Moon!" And now his hand found the controls that threw their ship into thunderous life. It was approaching! He swung the metal ball to throw them ahead and to one side, and the roar from the stern told of the fast-growing speed that was pressing them to the floor....

An hour of wild flight, and the circle was close upon them. Too faintly lighted to register in the telescopes of Earth, there was still enough of luminosity to mark it as a round disc of violet that grew dimly bluish-green around the edge.

It ceased to grow. Their ship, Harkness knew, was speeding beside it some hundreds of miles away. But they were within its gravitational pull, and were falling toward it. And he aimed his ship bow-on to make the forward blast a check upon their falling speed.

The circle broadened; became a sphere; and then they were plunging through clouds more tenuous than any vapors of Earth—thick layers of gas that reflected no rays from the distant sun.

Beside them a sinuous form showed where a serpent of space was trying to match their speed. Harkness saw it twisting convulsively in the stratum of gas; it was falling, lifeless, beside them as they sped on and away. Here was something the beasts could not combat. He made a mental note of the fact, but his thoughts flashed again to what lay ahead.

Every eye was held close to the lookouts that faced forward. The three were breathless, wordless; the hand of Harkness that held the tiny ball was all that moved.

Ahead of them was their goal, the Dark Moon! And they were prepared for Stygian darkness and a land of perpetual night. The almost invisible gas-clouds thinned; there was a glow ahead that grew brilliant as they watched; and then, with a blinding suddenness that made them shield their eyes, there flashed before them a world of light.

Each line of shore was marked distinctly there; the blue and violet of rippling seas were blended with unreal hues; there were mountains upthrust and, on the horizon, a range of volcanic peaks that poured forth flashing eruptions half-blanketed by invisible gas.

"The Dark Moon!" gasped Harkness. He was spellbound with utter awe at the spectacle he beheld. This brilliant world a-gleam to its farthest horizon with golden, glorious sunlight, softly spread and diffused! This, this! was the Dark Moon!

He turned to share with the others the delirium of ecstatic wonder too overpowering to be borne alone—turned, to find his happiness shot through with a pang of regret. He saw Chet and Diane. They had been standing together at a wide forward lookout; and now she was holding one hand of the pilot to her breast in an embrace of passionate joy.

Unconscious, that gesture of delight at this climax of their perilous trip?—Harkness told himself that this was so. But he swung back to the helm of the ship. He glanced at instruments that again were registering; he saw the air-pressure indicator that told of oxygen and an atmosphere where men might live. He gauged his distance carefully, and prepared to land.

The moment of depression could not last, for there was too much here to fill brain and eyes. What would they find? Was there life? His question was answered by an awkward body that flapped from beneath them on clumsy wings. He glimpsed a sinuous neck, a head that was all mouth and flabby pouch, and the mouth opened ludicrously in what was doubtless a cry of alarm.

Then land, that took form and detail; a mountain whose curled top was like a frozen wave of stone. In a valley below it trees were growing. They swayed in a wind, and their branches reached upward and flowed and waved like seaweed on the ocean's floor. Green—vivid, glowing green!—and reds and purples that might be flowers and fruit.

An open space in a little valley spread invitingly before him, and he laid the ship down there in a jungle of lush grasses—set it down as gently as if he were landing from a jaunt of a thousand miles instead of two hundred times that distance straight away from Earth.

The others were looking at him with glowing, excited eyes. In the cabin was silence. Harkness felt that he must speak, must say something worthy of the moment—something to express in slight degree the upwelling emotion that filled them all, three adventurers about to set foot upon a virgin world....

The pause was long-drawn, until he ended it in a voice that had all the solemn importance of a head-steward's announcement on a liner of the high-level service. But the corners of his lips were twitching to a little smile.

"This," he announced, "is as far as we go. This is the end of our run."

The tension that had held them emotionally taut was ended. With outstretched hands Diane ran toward him, and her broken laugh betrayed the hysteria she was holding back.

"Congratulations!" she cried, and clung tightly to his hands. "Congratulations, M'sieu Walter—"

Her voice choked and she could not go on; but the eyes that were raised to his were luminous through the tears that filled them.

From the cabin beyond came a clash of levers, where Chet was preparing to open a port. And Harkness followed with unseeing eyes where the pilot waited that their commander might be the first to step forth upon an unknown globe—upon the surface of what men had called "The Dark Moon."

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/30532/30532-h/30532-h.htm#Page_148

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