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|Publisher:||Elder Signs Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
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An Anthology of Dark Science Fiction
By Jay Caselberg, Eric Del Carlo
Elder Signs PressCopyright © 2016 Charles P. Zaglanis
All rights reserved.
DARK OF THE MOON
"Houston," the voice crackled, "we've completed our separation. We're starting our descent to Tsiolkovsky now." Tasha monitored the transmission, only half-glancing at the flickering control panel screen as she fired her own rockets. She didn't need to follow it word for word, any more than she needed to check the adjacent monitor's feed from Earth with its pre-dawn view of the moon's hair-thin crescent — the dark of the moon — just above the horizon, to know, more than anyone else, what was happening. The voice was that of Gyorgi, her husband. "Commander Sarimov, we read you in Houston. All systems A-OK?"
"Gyorgi Sarimov here. Yes, Houston. Tsiolkovsky's below us, brighter than Tycho on your Earthside. Its central mountain — you'll see for yourselves once Natasha has brought her C.M. to a higher orbit. Meanwhile, to north, we can see the sun glinting off the peaks of the Soviet Mountains while, southeast of us, Jules Verne Crater, the Sea of Dreams...."
Tasha heard NASA's reply, mostly lost in static, perhaps a result of her shifting orbits or, more likely, because the Command Module that she now piloted alone was itself passing behind the moon. It would store the pictures that Gyorgi sent to it, waiting until it passed once more into sight of the Earth where she could transmit them to the International Space Station and, thence, to Houston. But, for now, she could still hear Gyorgi's voice.
She shut her eyes. Listened.
... fancies such as these were not the sole possessors of my brain. Horrors of a nature most stern and most appalling would too frequently obtrude themselves upon my mind, and shake the innermost depths of my soul ...
Why had she thought that?
She thought instead of when she had first met Gyorgi, at what they then called the Baykonur Cosmodrome, over tea at the enlisted men's mess. She was, technically, a civilian and he still in training so that the officer's sector was barred to them. Back when the U.S.S.R. still existed.
Such horrors as she herself had experienced that dark night when she'd felt a loneliness such as she felt now — separated from her then future husband, with nothing that she could do. The night of the accident.
And then she chuckled. Gyorgi had found the words now to speak to her, perhaps just in a whisper over the uplink. For her ears only. And Gyorgi remembered. He quoted to her not the words that she had thought during the accident or words of his own, but those of an American author, Edgar Allan Poe, from a story she'd shown him in Florida after he'd started his training with NASA.
The story had had to do with a balloonist who'd gone to the moon.
* * *
When she began the transmission again she already knew of the Lunar Module's safe landing, of Gyorgi's careful step out onto Tsiolkovsky's smooth floor. She'd seen, as if through his eyes, the other two follow: one man American, one a Frenchman. There would have been another American too, in orbit in the C.M. had he not taken ill just before their launch window. She had been a last-minute substitute for him. In her mind's eye she saw herself still on Earth, standing outside in the dim winter air to watch the nearly invisible moon rise, where she would be had it not been for Gyorgi's powers of persuasion. And she thought that in the imagination of another Frenchman, not far from where she and her husband had lifted off scarcely four days before, other lunar cosmonauts had launched themselves in a shell from a huge gun.
So many authors, and not just Americans and Frenchmen, had been enamored of the moon for centuries. Even the namesake of her husband's landing site, their own Tsiolkovsky, had written among his scholarly papers a novel, Outside the Earth. Others too — Oberth, Goddard, the Englishman H. G. Wells — wrote fact and fiction about lunar travel or travel to planets beyond the moon. Or, in the case of Wells and another American, Lovecraft, of alien beings beyond the moon, who, turning the premise on its head, came to Earth to do evil.
Horrors most stern and most appalling ...
Tasha shuddered. As if mankind couldn't do evil enough itself.
She thought of Russia. Its people. Its sorrows. Its myths also, though, that, like the Western science-fictional myths filled with their own wonder, had helped bring her and her husband together.
And now he had landed, part of the first expedition to the moon's far side. The side that was dark when you could look up and see the moon — always faced out to space. And light when you couldn't, so that now when the moon was hidden from Earth, Gyorgi had light by which to explore.
"... We're setting the cameras now on the crater floor." This she brought up on the C.M. monitor to watch for herself, to compare the camera eye "reality" with such deeper truths as her mind's eye might show her, again almost as if she might see through his eyes. So well did she know her husband by now, and his way with descriptions.
And she saw a graveyard ...
* * *
Her mind snapped back to the Baykonur Cosmodrome. To a metal table and glasses of hot tea. "You," Gyorgi had said. "You know the myths, too, then?"
"Yes," she answered. "The Sun and the Moon. The stars their children. You, cosmonaut-in-training Sarimov, brought up in Krasnoyarsk" — they'd known each other that well by then — "are the image of Dazhbog, of the Sun."
He chuckled. She gazed at his sun-bright hair — her own was pale brown, at best its dim shadow — as he smiled and answered. "Then you, mechanical engineer Tasha, must be that strangely named beauty Myesyats. Named as a man, yet entirely a woman, the Goddess-Moon." He chuckled again. "You know, they were married."
She blushed. By then they had slept together, but still ... talk of marriage? She frowned as she answered. "True. They were married. But then he abandoned her."
Gyorgi laughed. "Yes. But the following springtime ..."
And that's when she'd found out how much she really loved him.
* * *
"Houston, do you read? The cameras are working, but possibly we've made a miscalculation. We've set down on the southern side of Tsiolkovsky's central peak since that's where the ground seemed the smoothest, but as a result our landing site is in shadow. Perhaps in a few days, when the sun has shifted somewhat ..."
She watched the pictures on the TV monitor and saw what Gyorgi meant. When they turned away from the mountain they were to explore, she could see the far crater wall, brilliant in sunlight, and the L.M. itself, where it sat on its landing struts, half lit, half shadowed.
But back toward the mountain, the strange jagged peak that, so the scientists said, could only mean that Tsiolkovsky itself was an impact crater — and what an impact, the scar it left nearly three times as wide as the Earthside's most prominent feature, Tycho! — back that way all that the cameras could pick up was darkness.
She looked through Gyorgi's eyes ...
Darkness. A jumble. Shadow and darkness — the realm of Chernobog. And yet, in the darkness, this side of the mountain, what looked like small hillocks, yet pointed and craggy.
"The central peak's children?" she whispered half to herself. Realizing, of course, that even if she were trying to contact him, Gyorgi, outside the L.M., couldn't hear her.
She watched as if through his eyes, as if her sight, too, were confined by his helmet as he and the others peered into the darkness.
The hills were still far away from the L.M. and the men wouldn't go to them until the next morning — Earth morning, that was, after they'd had another sleep period. Yet they did look a little like gravestones.
Huge, sharp gravestones, patterned in rows. And between them — did she see what Gyorgi really saw? — what could almost be mist if the moon had an atmosphere.
Shadow and darkness. Her thoughts went back once more to that evening in Baykonur when all her inquiries about Gyorgi had turned up nothing. She'd lain in bed in her room that night, claiming she felt ill, and tried to concentrate on Gyorgi.
She thought of the Sun and the Moon and their mythic love — the cause of the seasons. Dazhbog and Myesyats. Thought of their quarrels that, so the myths claimed, also gave birth to earthquakes. Dazhbog's abandonment of his Moon-Bride every winter, but — here she concentrated the hardest — his coming back each spring. And ...
She joked about it afterward, saying it must have been the special sensitivity of her Russian woman's soul. Or perhaps just stress. But she had seen it.
... the vision ...
... white walls. An accident ward in a rural hospital outside of Baykonur where Gyorgi had crashed his motorcycle. The doctors had not yet informed the officials — or, rather, as her vision widened, she realized they had told the cosmodrome's commandant but, although she'd asked, he had not told her.
The shadow. The brightness. The earlier myths of primeval man, of evil and goodness. Chernobog and Byelobog, gods of the Dark and Light. Light of truth, withheld even when she had asked ...
Gyorgi had come back the following morning, little the worse for wear. And, of course, what she thought she had seen could have been a coincidence — she knew he drove too fast. She had even argued with him about it. But in the meantime, she'd made two decisions. The first was to officially ask for a transfer to the cosmonaut program, to become a cosmonaut-in-training. This, she knew, was what Gyorgi had wanted, but up to this moment she had always held back.
And the other, when Gyorgi was better, was to insist that they get married.
* * *
She lay on her couch remembering now, while, on the moon's far side, Gyorgi was sleeping. She had read the Western myths. Fantasy. Science fiction. Books she had purchased to read, alone, in the Florida nights while Gyorgi had been away on training.
She knew about training, and nights spent alone, even after her and Gyorgi's marriage. Even though by then she was a cosmonaut, too, "to follow in the footsteps of Tereshkova," as her husband had put it to those in command, there still was no question of her being actually sent into space herself. Even Valentina Tereshkova had been a symbol, making that one flight in 1963, but, as a woman, thereafter perpetually grounded — so, too, her own job had continued to be primarily that of a mechanic.
But then the Soviet Union collapsed and they'd moved again, first to Luga where her family came from — here she could find work, whereas he was idle — and then to America as a package with the great Energia rockets that NASA bought from the Russian Republic to help in the rebirth of its moon program.
And while Gyorgi learned the ins and outs of American space capsules, Tasha read Western authors and wondered. She'd wondered at all the authors' obsessions with reaching the moon. For all, it seemed the ultimate mystery, especially its dark side. And even, for some, it seemed also the key to a deeper mystery.
The Russian myths, before the Sun and Moon, spoke of gods of light and shadow. Of Byelobog and Chernobog. She wondered if Lovecraft had known the Russian myths —
Why had she thought of H. P. Lovecraft? Rather than Verne or Poe or the others? — yet surely he had known, if not directly, as surely they all had. His vision sharper, perhaps, in some respects, just as the others' was sharper in others. It was her belief that all human thought was ultimately based on identical truth, on some all-but-forgotten memory of mankind.
Yet the myths were, at base, simply metaphor. The evil of shadow was surely man's evil. That she believed, too. Just as the Energia rocket was her metaphor-child — she and Gyorgi had proved unable to have their own children, despite the myth-union of Dazhbog and Myesyats spawning the stars. But she'd helped assemble the Energia on its new American launch pad so Gyorgi could ride it, and then, when Captain Brechner came down with the flu and she was assigned to the C.M. in his place, they both could ride it ...
The ship to the moon's far side — through its darkness. Opening mysteries to reach to the stars beyond, past the planets; stars shrouded, yet burning bright in their own darkness. The children of Sun and Moon.
God and Goddess, one in the other.
* * *
Tasha dreamed of the moon and stars, her mind metaphorically one with Gyorgi's. It was while she slept in that way that she often felt she understood the most.
Tasha dreamed of the following morning — no need for TV now — as the L.M. opened and three men dismounted, bulky in spacesuits. She walked with the first of them into the shadows.
She saw the balloon first, the one Poe had dreamed of in his chronicle of the Hollander-Cosmonaut Hans Pfaall. She saw its bent hoop, its tangled netting, its bag-covered gondola — more than even her husband could see because her eyes were clearer. She saw the projectile that Jules Verne envisioned, fired from the giant columbiad cannon, which, even if it had not achieved touch-down, still lay on its side in the shadow before her.
She saw other shapes, too, arrayed in long rows. Rows that converged on the central mountain. A bicycle-like frame surrounded by skeletons of long-dead geese; another surrounded by metal spheres. The V2-like slimness of Robert Heinlein's and Willy Ley's coupled dream, made into cinematic flesh in a film she'd seen once when she was a child, Destination Moon. And yet other shapes too, saucer-like nightmares, the visions of men like Jessup and Scully that lay, side by side, with truly non-human dreams. Shapes to fit truly non-human proportions ... She blinked.
... and yet all dead. The ships crushed and broken. ...
She heard Gyorgi thinking:
... let us put bones then. This plain would be nothing but an immense cemetery, on which would repose the mortal remains of thousands of extinct generations ...
She woke. Yes, a graveyard. A graveyard of spaceships. The words were not Gyorgi's though, but — she thought back — those of Michel Arden. The French adventurer in Jules Verne's novel.
She blinked. On Earth, in Houston, the sun would have just gone down — she'd slept the whole day through. Far to the west, the moon would be setting too; this time she wouldn't see even a sliver.
The TV monitor was still on, the equipment functioning automatically. She heard its static. She sat up to look at it, seeing the images, shadowy, fleck-filled.
"... tomorrow we'll rig lights that we can take with us," her husband was saying. NASA was gentle, unlike the Cosmonaut Corps of her own nation — first they must have rest. "Those, with the portable camera we have now, may give more information on those oddly shaped rocks we've found." Then he had not seen.
She sank back to the couch as he gave his description. A cemetery, yes, laid in rows, but still only stone and dust.
Only she saw what was buried beneath it.
* * *
Gyorgi! she screamed — knowing he couldn't hear her, not outside — watching her husband step from the L.M. the final time. Half dreaming, half waking in front of the monitor, she waited as the three astronauts, in blazing light now, walked through the ships' graveyard, her own spacecraft having swung back around the moon too late to do anything more than just watch them. She saw, with her vision, the L.M. itself, in the line of corpses. The crushing of men's dreams.
But Gyorgi could not see.
During the night she'd recalled, in her mind's eye, those last days before the launch. Her husband's arguments with NASA that not only had she had cosmonaut experience — something of an exaggeration at best — but also that, as a woman, with a woman's patience and natural steadiness, her presence in orbit around the moon would impart a steadfastness in those that were on its surface. But he had been wrong. She did not have patience. Not for the sort of waiting she did now, wanting to see, straining to see, what, even with the aid of their cameras, her husband could at best describe only dimly.
Except that she did see. The loneliness and stress produced visions in her mind. She'd looked to her instruments first, of course, the "Christmas tree" panel lights all still glowing green, just in case it might be some bad mix of air. She'd checked and re-checked again, thinking at one point she might call NASA to ask their opinion, but, no, she had best not — why cause needless worries? It was only the loneliness after all, that and the fitfulness of her sleep habits, despite the schedule of sleep-times NASA had asked her to follow.
Excerpted from Dark Horizons by Jay Caselberg, Eric Del Carlo. Copyright © 2016 Charles P. Zaglanis. Excerpted by permission of Elder Signs Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsDARK OF THE MOON,
GOSPEL OF THE ASCENDED MACHINES,
AARON J. FRENCH,
DEMON ON HIS SHOULDER,
ERIC DEL CARLO,
THE FALL OF STRONGHOLDS,
A SMALL PLOT OF LAND,
THE GLASS PLAGUE,
DRIFTING INTO THE BLACK,
TIMOTHY G. HUGUENIN,
THE DAMASCUS CODE,
LEE CLARK ZUMPE,
MAKING THE ROUNDS,
DAVID N. HOENIG,
THE PSYCHIC BATTERY,
E. DANE ANDERSON,
KEVIN BANNIGAN JR,
THE YELLOW PLANET,
WE HAVE RULES HERE,