By Preston Dennett
Nobody likes surprises, not really. So there are alien bases on the moon. Sorry we forgot to mention that. Alien bases, artifacts, ships, other stuff we don’t understand yet. Why did we cover it up? We decided you couldn’t handle the truth. Hah! Is it any surprise that people reacted the way they did, and that NASA was doomed? Perhaps things would have been different if we weren’t so long in learning the truth. In some ways it’s the same situation with Sampson Thornton. He admitted himself that he covered up certain events. But you have to understand Sampson to understand his story, why he remained quiet about what happened. He liked the mystery; he didn’t want to destroy it. Sampson’s moon was filled with mystery.
Mysteries are funny. They make people nervous. The moon’s most persistent mystery, transient lunar phenomena—tulips—is the perfect example. Thousands of reports of lights on the moon, lights that appear in strange patterns, coming from a wide variety of credible sources (including astronomers) for more than two centuries. We finally go to the moon and see them close-up. Then we establish moon colonies, and we still see them. We photograph them. And yet, be the one to report seeing a tulip yourself and you are ridiculed. Say you make contact…well, ask Sampson.
Like I said, nobody likes surprises. And of all the surprises Luna sprung on us, none was greater than the one discovered by Sampson Thaddeus Thornton. No wonder he was ridiculed and attacked. I maintain, however, that this reputation is unjustified. In fact, Sampson only agreed to tell me his story to correct the many lies that have been told about him. And there have been many.
—from Sampson’s Moon
(by Claudia Wu)
I absolutely love sunrise on the moon. Love it! It’s always different, the way the sun peeks over the horizon, turning the blackness to a dazzling array of grays, silvers and whites. And best of all, it’s the time we scavvies get to suit up and go hunting. You can feel the excitement pulse through the city, the crowds gathering to see us off, the expectation of success electrifying the air. I especially love getting Sally (my rig) ready. I love packing up the foodstuffs, tightening the treads, juicing up the batteries, polishing the solar panels, flushing out the air scrubbers, checking the seals, cleaning the filters…and the countless other things that need to be pulled, pushed, tightened, loosened, glued, filled, emptied, squeezed, tested, repaired and, of course, hidden.
Sally’s not much to look at, and she’s older than space and broken in twenty places, but she’s dependable as a dog, and has gotten me through more scrapes than I can count. Most important—she’s all mine. Not many scavvies can say that. I work for myself.
Of course, that explained why I was fresh out of funds. With my last two outings both dismal failures, this trip would make it or break it for me. And with Elliot missing, the stakes for him were life and death. We scavvies have to stick together, and let’s face it, this was Elliott. Any one of us would have given our right arm to find him.
Sally and I showed up early at the inspection station. I wasn’t shocked to see the crowds. But my stomach turned at the look of some of the rigs, all expensive and shiny and new. I cued Sally into the growing line and found Maddy Wu in the waiting room. Like me, she was independent and answered to nobody but herself. For that reason, I respected her. I liked her because she was a damn good scavvie, one of the best, and an old-timer like me. Needless to say, we’ve come to know each quite well. She waved and flashed her crooked teeth.
“What took so long? Surprised you’re not already out there.” She waved toward the window at the moonscape.
“Don’t you worry your pretty little head. I’ll find our man.”
“Not if I find him first.”
“Even if you find him, where will you put him?”
Maddy narrowed her eyes. “I’ll find a spot. My rig will out-perform yours anytime! You just say when!”
I raised my hands. “Just kidding. This isn’t a race.”
“Of course it is,” she said. “Besides, you know it’s true. Zebediah the Great may be old, and he may be small, but he’ll lay out Sally like a track. And you know as well as I, the first to find Elliott will find whatever it is he supposedly found. Do you know when his message actually came in?”
“No, I haven’t been able to find out. It’s the message that’s important anyway. It’s them! Of course! That’s it. What the hell do you suppose he meant by that? You’ve got to admit it’s an odd last message. Could mean anything.”
“Ten to one, he got the moon sickness. I bet we’ll find him outside his rig, without his helmet, like the others. I don’t know. What do you think he was trying to say?” She closed her eyes and tilted her head oddly toward me.
I wagged my finger at her. “Don’t go trying that medium stuff on me.”
“Why, you’ve got something to hide?”
“Maybe,” I said.
She was silent a moment, and she became still. I knew the look. She was telepathing me, conversing with my spirit guide—whatever the heck she called it. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open and she smiled. “The tulips, huh? You really think there’s a connection?”
The oxygen went right out of my tanks. There went my secret weapon. May as well let her know; she knew anyway. Damn woman! You couldn’t hide a thing from her. “Could be.”
She pursed her lips. “Interesting. So I guess that means you’re heading to Erasmus.”
Damn her! I tried to play innocent. “No,” I said, an obvious lie.
She threw her head back and laughed loudly. The other scavvies looked down at us, dressed in their expensive spacesuits. Bet not a one of them worked for themselves. Most of them were kids, in their fifties or younger, probably not an original find among the lot. They didn’t know what it was like before the lunar surface had been tracked and re-tracked, before it had been picked clean of every damn alien artifact that could be found.
The station door opened and a man said, “Madeline Wu?”
She stood up.
“Your rig failed inspection.”
Maddy put her arms on her hips and stared at the young man with livid anger. “What is this? My rig is fine! Show me! And you better be right or else I’ll have your job. In fact, where is your manager?”
I laughed, and felt sorry for the poor technician. By the time Maddy was done with him, he would wish that he’d just passed her. Why the Luna government insisted on inspection was beyond me. It’s not like they would try to rescue us if we got in trouble. We scavvies were on our own. The discoveries on the moon had given Earth a ticket to the stars, and what did we moonies get? Nothing! All the money was going to the new worlds. Nobody cared much about Luna anymore. And to think it was the original scavengers who found the alien ships. It didn’t seem fair. But then again, there wasn’t much about the moon that was fair.
As I waited impatiently for Sally to impress the judges, Chuck “the Slime” Guzman oozed into the room and stank next to me.
“Well, if it isn’t old man Sampson Thornton. Thorny. Wasn’t sure if you’d show up. Are you still driving that old hunk of junk? I don’t know how you can stand it. It’s so small. I’m surprised it’s still working. You know, it’s not safe out there for you. I have to hand it to you for keeping on trying, though. I mean, considering your last two outings.”
Chuck went on, bragging about his new expensive rig, and looking for other ways to insult me. I hated him. I hated him, and his expensive ultralight pressure-suit with its radiation-protected super-clear faceplate, and the way he stood, the way he looked down on me—me, who had paved the way for the likes of him. It made me sick.
I did my best to ignore him, but he really ripped my pressure-suit when he kept insulting Sally. Insult me, fine. But I won’t tolerate anyone saying those kinds of things about my Sally. I was about to tell Chuck to go follow my tracks when Inspection called my name.
“Sampson Thornton? Your vehicle has failed.” The inspector pointed to a list of items.
“What?” I roared, tearing the red ticket out of his hand. “What the hell is wrong with my tanks? You’ve got to be kidding! Let me see your manager!”
Six hours, an eight hundred dollar repair, and a two hundred dollar bribe later, I was set to go. I looked around for Maddy, but she had already left, as had nearly all the others. So I was late, oh well. At least I was out.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the buildings of Aldrin City faded into the moonscape. My rig clogged the traffic behind me, and I cursed the damn regulations that kept me on the roadways for at least five miles outside of the city. Too many complaints about tracks. As far as I was concerned, they could follow my tracks!
No matter. I was in a good mood. Sally was humming along, the green panel lights casting a merry glow. My batteries were charged, my tanks full, and my secret cache of rum remained undiscovered by the inspectors. It felt good to be out again, on the hunt. I may be an old man, but when the hunt starts, I feel as young as when I first started, all those years ago, when I was just a moonpup.
I put Sally on auto while I turned on the screen to view my secret weapon: a map of recent tulip activity. I admit it, I believed in tulips. Most of us old moonies knew that the tulips were real, but nobody seemed to think much about them. Earthworms, of course, just laughed at the stories. We learned to keep quiet.
The map was my own crude creation, put together from the accounts of scavvies, maintenance workers, travelers, and other people who had reported an encounter, as well as the reports from Earth made in the last three centuries. I had been quietly collecting reports for years. Looking at the map, the connection between the tulips and discoveries of the artifacts was clear. The area also had an unusually high number of accidents or disappearances, like Elliot’s. It was the Bermuda Triangle of the moon, and most scavvies learned to stay away from it.
I was not surprised to find that Erasmus was thick with reports of tulips. Hell, I had seen one myself there many years ago. Damnedest thing I ever saw. Scared the hell out of me, and I don’t scare easy. Bright as the sun…in fact, I thought it was the sun. And tall, I’m estimating ten meters. It was off in the distance, moving away, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was avoiding me. Which meant it was intelligent. But as everyone knows, TLP is supposed to be a natural phenomenon. Or so the officials say. Me, I wasn’t so sure.
The map said it all. The correlation between disappearances and tulip reports was obvious. There had been a few recent sightings, all in the heart of Erasmus. Well, that’s where I would search for Elliot. If I knew Elliot, that’s where he would go. Hell, it was pretty much the only place left that hadn’t been tracked, re-tracked and picked clean of artifacts. I thought of the other scavvies who were now undoubtedly searching Elliot’s official route that he had reported to Inspection, and chuckled to myself. They were newbies. They’d learn soon enough that scavvies don’t tell anyone—especially Inspection—where they are going. Not if they wanted to be successful in this business.
I examined my route. I would take the long way around Mount Icarus, skirt the edge of Crater Curie, traveling the edge of Gable Canyon until it ended and finally moving into the heart of the vast Erasmus lowlands. A longer route than I wanted to take, but at least I would get a good look at the Shard.
And no matter, I was in a good mood. After an hour I turned off the main road and into the wilderness. I was finally out! I dug out my secret cache of rum. It was still early in the trip, but what the hell? Time to celebrate, and take in every moment. If things didn’t go well, this could be my last time out. I drove the thought from my mind and enjoyed the moonscape, taking a sip now and then to warm my stomach.
The view of the sun reflecting silver off the slopes of Curie was rivaled only by the sweeping majesty of Gable Canyon, with its fantastically sculptured walls. I passed dozens of old tracks, and kept on moving, letting the hours pass. I thought about Elliot; I studied my map, watched more scenery, sipped my rum, but not too much; I still needed to remain clear-headed.
Gable Canyon finally smoothed out and disappeared. Then the Shard finally came into view, a smallish-looking gray protuberance off on the horizon. Two hours later, its true size became obvious as it towered overhead.
I pressed my face to the windshield and peered up at its magnificence. Of all the alien structures found on the moon, the Shard was—in my opinion—the most beautiful. Nearly four miles high and razor-thin, only eight meters in diameter at its thickest point, which wasn’t the base. It reflected a dazzling silver light, and looked like a thin shard of diamond glass. No wonder it was the number one tourist spot on Luna. I was glad that the scientists couldn’t identify or duplicate the material. Nobody still had any idea what the Shard was, and I preferred it that way. The moon needed a little mystery. It had been stripped of so much. Let it at least keep that.
A warning buzzer blared. Sally was angry! I read the panel with dismay. Overheating already, and I just got out. She needed shade. A half-kilometer to the right, a tiny outcropping provided enough cover. Sally was lugging when she finally pulled in. I shut off the engine and instead of getting angry, took another sip of rum, studied my map some more, and waited.
Sally was just cooling off when I saw a glint of light in the distance. Tulip? I punched up the scope. No, it was a rig. I zoomed in and laughed. It was Maddy, following my tracks!
She suddenly slowed and stopped where I had turned off to find shade. She paused for only seconds before she went moving ahead, following my secret pre-planned route and leaving me behind. Her rig was lighter than mine, and faster. Damn her, and damn this heat! Sally still wasn’t ready to go. Nothing to do but wait. Maddy obviously recognized my tracks. Why didn’t she stop? What if I was in trouble? Of course, I could try to distract her. I dialed her number.
Her face appeared on the screen. She flashed an innocent smile, clearly expecting my call. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” She sent a feed of the Shard, and then came back to the screen.
“Stunning,” I said. “What’s the deal with following my tracks? Run out of your own ideas already? And why didn’t you stop? Or at least call? You knew it was me.”
She peered at me, eyeing me up and down. “Is that rum? Don’t you think it’s a little premature to start celebrating?”
I snorted. “What? That’s not a beer behind you?”
She smoothly pushed the bottle out of view. “Pardon me?”
“You’ve been following me. Maddy, I thought you were better than that.”
“I’m not following you. You just happen to be going the same way I am going. And besides, if I’m not mistaken, now you’re following me.”
“Ah, but there’s a difference. You don’t know where you’re going.”
“What, you mean your secret tulip map? Don’t look so surprised. I may be pretty,”—she batted her eyelashes—“but I’m also smart. I’ve known about your map since you started it. Do you know how many people have asked me if you’re okay, you know, in the head? People think your obsession with the tulips might be a sign that your tanks are getting low, that’s all I’m saying. Next you’ll be telling me you think they’re intelligent, and that they are the aliens.”
“And what if they are?”
“Damn it! I knew it! ou do believe it. Maybe your tanks are already empty.”
“Then why are you here? If you weren’t following me? You believe it too. These tulips are not natural.”
She shrugged. “Let’s just say I have a hunch, a feeling. You know me, I’m a lucky girl.”
At that instant, her rig hit a large bump, sending her sailing out of her seat up to the ceiling. She crashed roughly down, and tried quickly to regain a graceful composure as she scrambled for her bottle.
“Maybe you should wear a seatbelt,” I said.
“Maybe you should follow my tracks,” she retorted. She smoothed out her hair. “You are okay, aren’t you? You don’t need help?”
“No, I’m fine,” I said. “Thanks for asking.”
“I’m just a little hot. I can’t believe you followed my tracks. I’m going to catch up to you.”
“Not if I can help it. And I didn’t follow your tracks! As I was saying, I have a feeling about this place. Where else would Elliot go? This is where all the action is. And like you say, there have been a lot of disappearances here.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No? Oh, sorry. Well, listen Sammy boy, the trail is roughing up, so I’m going to switch you off and blaze on. Catch me if you can!” She flashed me a moon sign and switched off.
I took a last swig of rum and seeing that Sally was feeling better, took off after Maddy. As I followed her tracks, I could see her rig ahead of me, bouncing along, shining in the sun. She slowly increased her lead, becoming smaller and smaller until finally disappearing from view.
I patted Sally and told her not to worry, that I still loved her. Whatever method Maddy used to guide her, it was right on. She took exactly the route I would have taken. Where I had gotten there with reasoning and my secret map, she used her intuition, I guess. Unless she was reading my mind. Women! Never could figure them.
I followed her tracks, vowing to catch up with her and show her who was boss around here. Meanwhile, I watched the Shard disappear into the background, and wondered for the millionth time, what was it for? Perhaps a monument to memorialize an ancient war. Or maybe a communication device to reach distant galaxies.
I daydreamed along on auto when Maddy called. Her face looked frightened.
“Sampson! Where the hell are you? You’ve got to see this.” She fed me an image. At first I couldn’t see anything unusual, just your average moonscape, a rolling field of rocks and boulders. Then, right before she switched back, I saw it. A shape, a rig. Could it be Elliot’s? I couldn’t make out the call numbers.
“See it?” she asked.
“Not really. A rig?”
“Come on, Sammy. You know I owe you. Let’s do this. It’s Elliot’s. I’m sure of it.”
“How do you know?”
She narrowed her eyes, smiled slyly. “You question my judgment?”
“I’m just asking.”
“I don’t know, I just know. Just hurry up. The trail gets a little sketchy up ahead. We’re getting pretty far out, you know.”
“Fine, just don’t start without me. And while I should know better by now, I don’t believe you. If that’s Elliot’s rig, I’ll…I’ll…”
“You’ll what? What? What the hell is that? Sampson,” she said, her face forming an expression of shock, “You’ll want to see this. You owe me for this one!”
“What the hell is going on?”
“Just watch!” she snapped, and fed me a live image of the rig that was allegedly Elliot’s.
I watched. It was a tulip, blazing white-hot, huge, and hovering directly over the rig. And then it began to lower, lighting up the ground brighter than sunlight. Lower and then it was behind the rig, circling it. A few seconds later, it darted away towards a rock outcropping, where it disappeared.
Maddy’s face appeared on the screen. “Consider this my official apology. You were right. Those damn things are intelligent. I can’t believe I saw one! Did you see the way that thing moved?”
“I told you,” I said.
“And I apologized. Now get your damn rig over here so we can get down there. I need your help to find a way around these cliffs.”
“Are you guys talking about the tulip?”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Is that you?” Maddy asked.
“It’s me, guys.” Chuck’s face appeared on the screen. Maddy instantly hung up.
“This is a private call!” I barked. “How did you find our channel?”
“Sorry, I didn’t know. Where are you guys?”
“Never mind,” I said. “What the hell do you want?”
“Nothing, I just was looking at Madeleine’s footage there of the tulip. Not bad, best I’ve seen in awhile. Not good enough to convince any skeptics, of course, but still… You’re at the north end of Gable, aren’t you?”
“Good-bye, Chuck,” I said, hanging up. Great! He had heard everything. He was probably already following our tracks. I called Maddy and gave her a new frequency, encrypted this time. It cost more, but I’d be spaced if I let the likes of Chuck listen in.
I put the throttle on high and took Sally as fast as she could go. Maddy was right, the trail soon began to get rough, and before long, I had to slow down or risk snapping a tread, or worse. The landscape steepened the farther I went.
Finally, I came up to Maddy’s rig. It was perched along the trail, which suddenly swept sharply down into the flatlands below. Off in the distance was the area of the missing rig.
While I had explored a good portion of the moon, this was not an area I knew. Call me superstitious. Maybe I was just being careful. Maybe I thought some places on the moon should remain unexplored. For whatever reason, like most scavvies, I stayed mostly out of the Erasmus regions.
My screen buzzed to life. “What do you think?” Maddy asked. “Should I chance it?”
“Are you crazy? No. We’ll find a way around. Any sign of Chuck?”
“No. The nerve of that creep. Listening in on our conversation. There ought to be a law!”
“You tried hailing Elliot?”
“Of course!” she snapped. “No answer.”
I activated the map and zoomed to the area. The only way was to backtrack and go the long way around. The escarpment was less shallow there.
I sent the route to Maddy.
“That’s what I thought,” she said. “Well, let’s go. You first.”
I turned the rig around and headed down towards the flatlands. Maddy stayed close behind.
It was slow going because of the rough terrain. We were about halfway down when I saw them—tracks—moving at a diagonal down the ridge, exactly toward the missing rig. I felt the air leave my lungs. I knew those tracks, they were Elliot’s. Maddy was right! It was Elliot’s rig. I turned to follow the tracks, covering them with my own.
I didn’t alert Maddy. She’d figure it out soon enough and I wanted to delay her I-told-you-so’s as long as possible. She came on-line anyway. “This way? What are you thinking? But you said—”
“I found tracks,” I interrupted. “I’m following them.”
She didn’t reply, but she started to hang back, lag behind. She knew.
I kept up my speed and followed the tracks. I was kind of surprised that anybody would go this way. The slope was still too steep for easy travel. Elliot would never normally take this route. He must’ve seen something. The tulips? I wondered.
The slope continued downward and it looked like everything would be fine. Then suddenly, near the bottom, I had to stop. It was too steep. I could still see Elliot’s tracks; they were all slides and scrapes and skips. It looked like he barely made it down.
Maddy chimed in. “Why are you stopping? Let’s keep going. What, are you afraid?”
I surveyed the slope one more time. I don’t know why, but I had a bad feeling. And, yes, I was afraid.
“Are you going?” Maddy asked impatiently.
I couldn’t do it. It was too steep. “I think we should go back.”
“Are you crazy?” Maddy said.
Seconds later, her rig zoomed silently passed mine, hesitating only momentarily before zooming recklessly down the slope. I cursed my lack of courage. I should’ve known Maddy wouldn’t listen. I held my breath as she careened downward. Her rig hit a few bumps, actually took flight and slammed back down, at one point balancing on edge. She was a pro, though, and handled her rig with finesse. After I saw that she was okay, I followed, though perhaps more slowly.
I did my best to keep up with her. She was a natural at picking the best route down. Definitely didn’t need my help. She came across Elliot’s tracks, stopped for exactly one second, then resumed her reckless plunge, following Elliot’s tracks at a significantly higher speed.
What the hell was I so afraid of? Perhaps it was all the stories that had come out of this area. And why not? Hell, I was scared. I had seen that tulip descend on that rig. A natural phenomenon does not behave that way. Whatever that thing was, it was alive.
Which meant, they probably were the aliens. Probably? They had to be. All this time, everybody was wondering where the aliens went. Who built all these alien structures—all the ships, the moonballs, the sculptures, and especially the Shard—and then just left? Well, maybe they didn’t leave. Perhaps they’ve been here the whole time, only we didn’t know it.
One thing was for sure, TLP weren’t caused by moonquakes, which was the most popular theory for two centuries. Hell, most earthworms still believed that, assuming they even knew about TLP.
Maddy led the way valiantly, and I continued to keep up best I could. I kept getting distracted by the view of the vast valley floor opening up below. While it looked smooth and inviting from up high, I knew it was covered with dust pits, deadly cliffs, knife-edged rocks that could snap a tread instantly, and all kinds of hidden dangers. In other words, it was beautiful.
Still, considering the hazards, I wanted to be extra careful. Maddy graciously waited for me when I fell too far behind. We then continued down the slope.
She sent me a zoomed image of the rig.
Her face appeared. “See, I told you!” she said. “It’s Elliot’s! Look.”
It was Elliot’s rig. The call numbers were clear as day. Unfortunately, there was no sign of activity. No sign of life.
“I hate to say it, Maddy, but he’s probably dead. I mean, he would have called responded by now. Whatever he found…”
“We don’t know that. He might be fine. He might.”
Maddy. Always the optimist, but I knew better. We both did. He was dead, and probably because of what he found. What had he found? And where was he? And what was that tulip doing? Were these things dangerous? I had always thought so, but somehow I never considered them deadly.
It took another hour. When we started getting close, Maddy sped up so that by the time I arrived, she was already suited-up and walking around Elliot’s rig, peering in the windows.
I suited up in fifty seconds sharp, jumped outside and joined her. “Let’s get inside,” I said.
“No need. He’s not here.”
“What are you talking about? You haven’t even been inside?”
“The door to the airlock is open. His rig is empty. Look down.” Maddy said flatly.
“Look. Down.” She pointed.
There were footprints—Elliot’s—leading away from his rig toward a rocky outcropping a few hundred meters away.
“Well, shall we follow them?” I asked. “You saw that tulip. It could be dangerous.”
“Are you kidding?”
She didn’t wait for my answer, but turned and began loping alongside the tracks. Not to be left behind, I leapt up beside her, and we bounded across the moonscape together with the tracks between us.
The trail led behind the rocky outcropping and down into a hidden rille, curving around, then suddenly becoming deeper and narrower.
All at once it ended, or seemed to. But as we followed Elliot’s footprints, we saw that the mini-canyon led to a dark overhang, which suddenly revealed itself to be a hidden cave.
Elliot’s tracks led directly inside. We stopped and looked at each other on our helmet screens. Maddy’s expression looked like a kid before Christmas morning. She had good reason. Caves were a prime location for finding alien artifacts.
I saw her eyes turn and look at her screen—at me. She laughed. “Scared?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I have a good feeling about this.”
“I don’t.” I said. “I think I figured it out. One of those tulip things killed Elliot. He came in this cave and didn’t come out. The tulip we saw probably killed him.”
“All the more reason to hurry. He could still be alive.”
“Are you sure you want to go inside?” I asked.
“Yes, and so do you. This is it, Sammy! Whatever Elliot found, all my oxygen says it’s in here. We’ve finally hit the big one!”
“We’ll be out of radio contact,” I said.
“What’s wrong with you?” Maddy asked. “We’re going in.”
What was wrong with me? More than likely, Maddy was right. Just a few steps away could be a treasure trove of undiscovered alien artifacts, the big find I had always wanted.
“This is where the tulip went,” I said.
“Yeah, well…we still have to go. Elliot could still be alive. He might need us.”
We went inside the cave.
The darkness lasted only seconds before our suit lights blazed forth, lighting up the cave before us in stark relief.
I saw rock walls, obviously naturally formed. But then it took one sharp turn to the right and the walls widened out. The cave floor sloped down and smoothed. The walls also smoothed.
We crept out together along what now appeared to be an artificially constructed corridor, down a ramp toward an opening. Looking at the walls, I could see that they glistened like the Shard. Maddy stopped and grabbed by arm lightly.
“You see the walls?”
“Yes,” I said. “You were right, this is big.”
“No, you were right. I was following you. Your mind, that is. You found this place.”
“You ready?” I asked. This was no time for confessions.
She gulped. “Let’s do it.”
We stepped forward through the opening.
The cave opened to an open rounded chamber a hundred meters wide. Our lights cast a bright circle of light on the floor, which sparkled wildly, casting chaotic rainbow reflections around the room. At first the room appeared to be empty, but then I saw something at the far end…round spheres? I cast a beam toward them. It was a haphazard pile of round balls, each smooth and white, about fifty centimeters in diameters. Moonballs. I knew them well. As I cast the light beam around the room, I saw several other piles. I estimated there were at least fifty total.
“More spheres?” Maddy asked, disappointed.
“It doesn’t look like there’s much else,” I said. “But these are still worth something.”
Like all moonies, we were familiar with most of the alien artifacts that had been found on our home. These strange spheres had been found in many places. As souvenirs, they were considered quite valuable, certainly worth more than either of us had ever seen. But it wasn’t anything new. There didn’t seem to be anything else in the room.
“There must be nearly a hundred of them,” Maddy said. “Sammy, this could be the biggest collection of moonballs ever found. Let’s grab some, get out of here and stake our claim!”
“Wait,” I said, seeing something behind one of the piles of moonballs. I cast my flashlight at it. It was Elliot, or what was left of him. It looked like he had taken off his helmet. I had seen decompression before. Moon sickness.
Maddy’s scream cut through my speaker like a siren. glanced to my right and saw that she had walked toward the closest pile of spheres. She was now standing up and falling backwards, while one sphere that she had apparently just inspected lit up brilliantly and began to rise upward and expand.
Maddy scrambled backward crablike then jumped to her feet and stood by my side. Together we watched the glowing sphere expand larger and larger. It shot down a brilliant pillar of light and then blossomed outward at the top. It was a tulip. The damn moonball had transformed into a damn tulip!
We both stepped backward, stopping only when our feet hit an obstruction. I glanced down quickly. More spheres.
Meanwhile, the tulip was growing, brightening, illuminating the chamber completely. I saw Elliot clearly now. He was very dead.
The tulip flared and moved toward us.
I lurched backward toward the exit.
“One more step and you’re dead!”
Maddy’s voice was stern, authoritative. I stopped in my tracks.
“Look over there!” I screamed. “Elliot’s dead! They k-killed him!”
“Will you shut up?!” Maddy hissed. “It’s trying to communicate!”
“What?” I tried to stop hyperventilating.
“Sshh!” Maddy gestured to keep still, which I did.
Maddy, however, stepped forward, knelt, and looked directly into the blazing light. I recognized her stance. She was telepathing it. The tulip moved closer until they nearly touched.
I eyed the exit, wondered how long it would take me to reach it. I certainly didn’t want to end up like Elliot. I saw enough vacuum-packed bodies in the decom of ’98 to last a lifetime.
What was Maddy doing? She now sat before the deadly flower, motionless. I grew impatient. Couldn’t Maddy see that these tulips were dangerous? The evidence was right in front of us. Elliot was dead.
I noticed the light in the room dimming. Maddy stepped up, backward. The tulip moved back and began to fade. Suddenly it collapsed, shrinking into a sphere, which lowered to the ground, became dull. As the room became dark I noticed that my suit-lights were still on.
“Jesus Christ!” I said.
“It was an accident,” Maddy said. “They didn’t mean to do it.”
“What? No, you’ve got it wrong this time, Maddy. They’re killers. Elliot’s dead. He’s right there, his body.”
“It was an accident. They were trying to communicate.”
“How can you be so gullible? It’s not just Elliot! This exact thing has happened to a dozen scavvies, Maddy! This could have been us!”
She was shaking her head. “Shavi explained it to me. It was an accident. They were just trying to communicate.”
“Her name,” Maddy said calmly. “At least I think it’s a she.”
“Shavi? You’re serious?”
“Can’t you see? You were right, Sammy. These are the aliens. Or rather…they were. Shavi explained everything.”
“What? Come on, Maddy. You’re not making sense.”
“Just calm down for a second and let me explain. hey were trying to communicate in the manner that their species communicates. The best way I can think of to explain it is possession. They were trying to ah…move inside us, and not so much possess us, but to commune, to communicate.”
“Wait,” I said. “Something’s not adding up here. These can’t be the aliens. How could aliens like this build ships? They don’t even have hands. They’re just pure energy.”
“Don’t you get it? Sometimes, Sammy…,” she sighed, patient. “Yes, these are the aliens, but they’re no longer alive.”
“Alien ghosts?” I croaked, disbelieving.
“Sorry, Sammy. I can you see you don’t like it, but that’s it. You’ve got your aliens. But they’re dead. They died long ago. These are their spirits.”
“What’s so hard to believe? Humans have ghosts. Animals have ghosts.”
“And they look like that?”
“Like the tulip? When they’re alive, no, actually. They’re like us in many ways. Two arms and legs, a head, but the similarity ends there. They are taller, more slender, more flexible. They’re not from here, the moon. They came from somewhere else. They were refugees. They fled here, and found our planet occupied.”
“They told you this?”
“Shavi. She told me. Sammy, it was incredible. I could feel her inside me. It was like I became her.”
“What else did she tell you? Are they going to kill any more people?”
“No, they were about to commune with us when we came inside here. They knew there was a danger, but they were desperate. That’s why I told you to stop moving. And then I communicated with them. See, that’s how they communicate with the living members of their own species. They were just trying to talk.”
“And all these?” I waved my flashlight at the spheres. “These are all tulips?”
She nodded. “The Seekers? No…the Finders, something like that. That’s what they call themselves. We can’t take them, you know. We have to leave them here.”
“Maddy, you know how this sounds?”
“You know I don’t lie, Sammy.”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you. But everyone else…”
“I don’t care,” Maddy said. “It’s all true. You know, she told me something else. It’s important.”
“What?” I asked.
“They need us to do something for them.”
“Us? What?” I asked. “And why do I have the feeling I’m not going to like this?”
“Well, okay, me. But I assumed you’d want to help me. It’s not a bad thing. They just need my help.”
“They want me to activate the Shard.”
“Activate the Shard?” I laughed, perhaps a little too rudely. “What the hell does that mean? Activate the Shard? You mean, our Shard?”
“Well, maybe they meant repair the Shard. Or complete. Hard to say; they don’t really use words.”
“Well, did they say how you’re supposed to do this?”
“No, not really.”
“Did you ask why?”
Suddenly Maddy began to cry, which is so unlike her. “Sammy, they were left behind. I don’t understand it…not exactly, but they need me to activate the Shard.”
“What are you saying? The Shard actually has a purpose? It’s not just art? It’s an antenna to communicate with their home world?”
“I don’t know, they didn’t say. I just know they need the Shard. Sammy, I don’t understand it. I don’t. Give me a break. I’ve never communicated with an alien ghost before. But I know that they’re desperate. They need a living being, somebody physical—me apparently—to activate the Shard. We have to go. Now.”
“What? You’re actually going to try and do this? Maddy, think of what you’re trying to do. You don’t even know what actuate the Shard means.”
“It’s a public park, Maddy. There’ll be people everywhere.”
“I know,” she said. “But I have to try. Come on, Sammy. Don’t let me down. This is the adventure of your life. Let’s go!”
“Now? These tulips hang around for a quarter-million years, and they need our help now?”
“I’m serious, Sammy. It’s not that they suddenly need our help. They’ve needed it for a very, very long time. Their opportunity to activate the Shard may already be lost. We have to hurry. Come on, Sammy, cheer up! This is what we’ve always wanted. It’s going to be huge!”
“If you say so,” I said.
But I wasn’t as optimistic as Maddy. How could we sell the spheres now that we knew what they were? You can’t sell an entity. And if Maddy was right, and the tulips actually were the spirits of deceased intelligent aliens—alien ghosts—it would be wrong not to help them. And call me crazy, but I was beginning to think Maddy was right. Still, there had to be a way to pull in some money with all this.
Maybe Maddy could activate the Shard, whatever that meant! Maybe then we could finally learn the reason for it. Maybe it would have some fantastic purpose: like an endless power source. Something that big, that impressive, couldn’t be there for no reason. It had to be something big. Of course, there was really no question. Whatever the consequences, I would go with Maddy. She was right; I couldn’t miss something like this.
We returned back to our rigs. We decided not to call in Elliot’s rig yet. Or rather, Maddy decided. She was afraid to attract any attention until we had at least gotten to the Shard. I disagreed, saying that finding Elliot was huge news, not to mention the spheres, and that we should call it in and lay claim to our find. We compromised on leaving a note attached to Elliot’s ship claiming scavenging rights, and enigmatically hinting that we had gone on an important mission and would be back shortly. I crossed my fingers and hoped that the honor among scavvies would be enough for the claim to hold. Certainly it would have in the old days, but times on the moon were changing.
We headed off, going the long way around as it would have been nearly impossible to go up the slope the same way we came down. I had to stop twice during the climb because Sally kept overheating.
I did my best to keep up with Maddy, and she did her best to wait for me. Neither of us found it easy.
We were going much too fast. The cliff came up with almost no warning. Maddy’s rig went over first, and mine followed.
It was not a cliff, thankfully, just a very steep slope. But it was too steep. Maddy was able to keep control for a few seconds. Like an expert, she aimed straight down, didn’t try to brake her treads which would have sent her tumbling. Her rig shot down like an arrow, hit a small rise and flew several meters upwards, then crashed down as if in slow motion. I held my breath as it started to swivel back and forth, threatening to tumble. Incredibly, Maddy maintained control and wrestled her rig the rest of the way down.
I, of course, wasn’t far behind. Luckily Sally was a little heavier and more forgiving than Maddy’s lighter rig. Still, Sally hit the same rise, flew upwards, and crashed down. It felt like an explosion. The seat-straps seared into my flesh. Warning buzzers flashed around me. Like Maddy’s, my rig started to swivel. It took all my will power not to slam on the brakes. Instead, I steered straight down the slope. In seconds, the roar subsided, and we were at the base.
I heard a loud hissing sound and grabbed frantically for my helmet. By the time I strapped it on, my oxy-gauge showed the cabin at half-pressure. I reached to the back, whipped out the emergency patching foam, and began spraying it anywhere I thought there might be a leak.
One terrifying minute later, the leaks were sealed and the oxy-gauge started to rise. Maddy was already on-line trying to call me. Incredibly, it still worked. “Jesus, Sammy, I’m sorry! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “A few leaks, but I’m good. you okay?”
“I’m good. I’m sorry, Sammy. I didn’t see it.”
“Don’t worry. I’m fine. Sally’s fine. But maybe we should slow down a little. And Maddy?” I paused. “Maybe we should stop and think about what we’re doing.”
Maddy stared at me blankly on the screen. “I’m doing this, Sammy. With or without you.”
“Doing what? We don’t even know what we’re doing. This could be dangerous. We’ll have to trespass to get close to the Shard. And if we do, we could get fined, or worse, arrested. That’s assuming we even know what we’re doing. We’ve got Elliot’s body back there. His rig. The cave. Isn’t that enough? e should turn around.”
“I’m not turning around. You can turn around. I’m going on.”
“It’s not only about you,” I said. I regretted it as soon as I said it, but even then, I couldn’t stop. “You’re being selfish. Scavvies have a bad enough reputation as it is. And you’re going to…what? What are you going to do Maddy? You don’t even know. One thing’s certain, if we get caught trespassing to touch the Shard and meditate around it, trying to touch it,” I sneered, “Well, I guess we deserve our reputation.”
Maddy, to her credit, dignified my comment with a disdainful snort. “This is important. Sammy, this is big. You can see that, right? We’re doing this.” Her mind was made up.
I sighed, resigned. I learned long ago, when Maddy’s mind is made up, there’s no changing it. And besides, she was right. If she wasn’t totally crazy and just imagining the whole thing, this was big. Maybe that’s what worried me.
“What are we going to do when we get there?” I asked. “I mean, assuming our rigs hold out.”
“I don’t know. I’ll make those tracks when I get there.” She narrowed her eyes. “We? Aha! Good for you Sammy. We’re going to be famous.”
“You talk like that’s a good thing.”
“What, you don’t want fame and fortune?”
“Fortune? Sure. Fame, no. We scavvies are an endangered species, Maddy, and I prefer it that way. We don’t need any more Chucks on the moon. And if this story gets out, you can bet all your oxy that every damn earthworm with a dollar to their name will think they can make the next great discovery on the moon and be rich and famous. Don’t you think it’s better that we leave some things a mystery? You’re talking about the Shard here, Maddy. If you figure out what it really is…I mean, after that, what else is there? It’s all we’ve got left.”
“I’m not looking for fame either, Sammy. We can keep this part secret if you want. Is that what you’re saying? I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I think I prefer it that way. I agree with you, the last thing we need here is more people. We’ll just reveal that we found Elliott and the moonballs. We’ll leave the tulips out of it. We’ll keep Shavi and my communication with the Seekers a secret. Okay?”
I rolled my eyes. What could I tell her? We both knew that there was no way something this big—if true—could remain a secret. But then again, NASA had hid the existence of the alien artifacts on the moon for decades. “We’re good,” I said.
She smiled, nodded, and clicked off her screen. Her rig peeled out quickly, then instantly slowed and assumed a more leisurely pace. I figured she must still be rattled from the near miss, but after two hour of slow crawling, I couldn’t take it anymore. I radioed her to speed it up.
She moved a little faster, but kept stopping suddenly at imagined threats. Finally I took the lead and took us out of the flatlands toward the Shard.
As soon as the Shard came into view, I headed directly toward it. It first appeared as a little white spike. But as we got closer, it gradually revealed its immense height. No matter how many times I’d seen it, it never failed to impress. We were still hours out, and it already appeared to bend over our heads. It looked so thin and delicate that the slightest shock would shatter it into countless diamond pieces.
So Maddy wanted to activate the Shard. Or rather the aliens wanted her to do it. Call me a softy; I felt an Honest-to-God thrill at what we were doing. Even though I had no expectation of succeeding, and part of me suspected Maddy had become delusional, I still felt good, better than I had in years. It was like the old days, when there were still discoveries to be made, treasures to find. The days of the moon-scavengers were numbered. Soon there would be nothing left. But this proved that my home still contained a few undiscovered mysteries.
One thing was undeniable; this would be my biggest find ever. I would have been satisfied just finding Elliot, not to mention the cave of moonballs. But things were different now. Now I knew the truth. The tulips were the long lost aliens, or rather the ghosts of the aliens. And they needed our help.
I stared again at the Shard, now appearing like a shining crystal tower, reaching up towards the stars. The tracks of vehicles became more numerous and the terrain leveled. We were getting close.
Sure enough, other vehicles began to appear around us, heading in the same direction. The Shard grew slowly taller.
Three hours later, Maddy and I stood side-by-side at the fence, five kilometers from the base of the Shard, though it looked much closer. The dome of the new Shard museum stood behind us, in my opinion, an ugly scar upon the moonscape. A crowd of people thronged around us. Everyone was eager to get as close as they could to the moon’s biggest alien artifact. The last time I had been here, there were no parking lots or buildings or paved walkways, and people could walk up directly to the base.
The Earthworm tourists were easy to spot, shuffling along nervously, clinging to each other. Only a few of the visitors showed the easy natural gate of born moonies. We moonies, I knew, don’t feel the need to visit the Shard. Perhaps we’re just spoiled.
Maddy was pacing. I knew what that meant. She had an idea.
“We’ll have to approach from the other side. Come on,” she said, bounding over to her rig.
I knew better than to argue, and just followed her. We left the parking lot and I followed her as she led us around the base. There was no fence on the far side, which was largely blocked by rough landscape. Maddy, however, spied some tracks, and used them to guide her through an opening in the crags and close to the base.
I was not surprised to find that it was not guarded. Everyone wanted to visit the moon, but nobody wanted to stay. The new worlds were a much more attractive prospect for most people. As a result, the moon’s population was steadily declining. If trends continued, I thought, soon the moon would be empty of humans again. I shuddered at the thought, and turned my attention to Maddy.
She had already walked around the entire tower twice. She was getting frustrated. I asked her if she was okay, but she ignored me. It was exactly what I had feared—nothing. Nothing was happening. She didn’t know what to do.
I waited for her to come to me, which she finally did. “Maybe it is just a monument,” she said. “I’m sorry, Sammy. I’m trying to communicate with the tulips, but I’m getting nothing. It’s like they’re not even listening. I don’t get it. I really thought they would come. Honestly, I thought they would be here waiting.”
“I’m sorry too.”
“You didn’t think they would come,” she said.
It wasn’t a question, but I shook my head.
“It’s okay. I should’ve known better. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“We had an encounter. You were shocked. Hell, I’m still in shock.”
“They did communicate with me,” she said softly. She looked up at the Shard. “I really thought they would be here.”
“They should have explained better what they wanted you to do.”
“They’re ghosts, Sampson. I was the first person who has ever understood them. You can’t imagine how lonely they have been. How long they have been here, trapped, unable to communicate…” Her voice trailed.
She stared up again at the Shard, turned back to me. “I’m leaving,” she said.
“That’s it? You’re just giving up?”
“That’s not fair. I’m here, aren’t I? I fulfilled my part of the bargain.”
“But aren’t you supposed to activate the…?” I waved my hand at the alien monument.
“Activate, activate! What does that even mean? I tried, Sammy. I meditated, I tried to telepath with them. They didn’t come.”
“Well,” I said. “Have you tried telepathing the Shard?”
“What?” she said, looking at me sharply. “No, I didn’t. I just tried to contact them. The Shard, it’s just an object. Unless…you think?”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “Worth a try.”
She asked me to guard her while she went into trance, which I did.
I didn’t think anything would happen, so I wasn’t really prepared when it did.
I had my back to Maddy and was watching the other tourists ambling around in the distance. I wondered if they could see us.
Apparently, unknown to me, Maddy had activated the Shard.
First I noticed a strange glittery light dancing across the moonscape, illuminating the ground around me. Suddenly it was bright enough so that I could see my shadow.
I turned around and gasped. Light! Light, like I’ve never seen. It looked like a bolt of frozen lightning. A jagged silver laser beam. The Shard had become like a living creature, pulsing, radiating.
I heard a squeak. It was me trying to call Maddy. I saw that she knelt down and remained motionless with her head down, mere meters from the now brilliant Shard.
Balls of light appeared, swirling around the Shard. Looking behind me, they came from every direction. The spheres, the tulips, hundreds of them…thousands.
Looking back, the balls of light swirled around and then, zzzzt! disappeared into the Shard, which was now transforming, growing in brilliance, becoming brighter and brighter.
In seconds, Maddy would become engulfed.
I lunged forward and looping my arms around her arms, grabbed her from behind, lifting and dragging her back.
She didn’t react at first, and seemed to still be in a trance. I was about to lay her down on the ground when she kicked her feet, quickly stood and shook free of my grasp.
She tilted her head up and gazed at the Shard.
“It’s not a monument,” she said. Her face looked incredibly calm. Her cheeks shined with tears. “It’s something much better.”
She finally tore her gaze from the Shard and looked at me. “Sammy, you’re not going to believe it. It’s not what we thought it was. It’s not a monument. It’s not a communication tower. Sammy, it’s their ticket home. It’s…ah…a transporter. It’s taking them home. And Sammy, I’m going with them.”
“What?” I croaked.
“They invited me. They explained everything.”
“You talked with it?” I said, waving my arm at the Shard, which was now looking almost translucent as the balls of light impacted it from every side.
“Not with it, with them.”
“With the aliens?”
“Sort of, yes. But not with their ghosts. Sammy, they were alive! At the other end of wherever this thing goes. I spoke with the living ones. They showed me their world. Sammy, it’s beautiful. They invited me to go with them. I’m going.”
“What? How?” I managed to say.
“You’re not going to like it,” she warned. “But don’t worry, I’m going to be okay.” She hesitated.
“They’re going to possess you? You’re going to let one of those things possess you?” She didn’t need to say the words. They were written all over her.
“Now you’re telepathing me,” she grinned. “You’re more like me than you know, Sammy boy. Now, step back. Shavi is coming. She has been chosen to take me. I can’t pass up this opportunity. You know I can’t.”
“Maddy, what about Claudia?” It was a low blow, asking about her daughter. I was just being selfish, but I didn’t care. Losing Maddy would be the end of an era. There were so few of us old-timers left.
“She’ll understand. Just tell her I love her.”
“You’d better turn around.”
One of the tulips had just swooped down and was now taking full form. By now, only a few of the glowing white spheres were left, the rest having been absorbed by the Shard.
Shavi, I presumed, floated forward. Maddy stepped closer towards it. They faced each other for a timeless moment.
Finally Maddy turned, lifted her hand and waved at me.
I waved back, but she had already turned and stepped into the damn thing. The tulip blazed red, then a pearly white.
It flew upwards into the Shard.
She was gone. And the Shard…well, everybody knows what happened next. I don’t see any reason to continue with this. I’m aware that many people consider it a significant event. It was important for me to tell it. Now everybody knows the truth. But for me, it was very personal, and I’m not so sure that it’s anybody’s business but my own. So, if you don’t mind, I will end my story here. You know the rest anyway.
And that was it. I was never able to get Sampson to reveal anything more about what he did after Shavi took my mother and the Shard disintegrated. I’ve collected the stories of many eyewitnesses, and have personally interviewed several of them. Despite the news accounts, there is no evidence that Sampson had any part in destroying the Shard or killing my mother. The only reason he never spoke publicly about what happened was to honor the agreement between him and my mother. He never wanted to talk about the aliens from the beginning. And I’m not convinced that if he had, he would have been well received. I suspect he told a cover-story not because he didn’t think people would believe him, but because he was afraid they might. Again, you have to understand Sampson. I think he was ashamed about what happened. I think he felt like he had destroyed the last mystery left on the moon. He never said that, but that was the impression he gave me.
Either way, he has now revealed what happened, and how the Shard was destroyed. Whether or not you believe his account is up to you.
And I think it’s important to re-iterate that it was he and my mother who found Elliot, not Chuck Guzman, whose account of the Shard’s destruction varies widely with Sampson’s in so many ways, and is, in my opinion, pure fiction. As I said, Sampson agreed to tell his story only to correct the many lies that have been told about him, and because, as he said, it was an important event, which I think you’ll agree, it was.
—from Sampson’s Moon
(by Claudia Wu)
Tags: Preston Dennett