Part One of Archives of the Moon
by Robert Gibson
A Rococo Science Fantasy
inspired by Clark Ashton Smith
“It is indeed unfortunate, Dr Royden,” said Professor Sherman of the Interplanetary Survey, “that visitors are not at the moment to be permitted access to the advanced research base in the ruins of Farside. I can assure you that the prohibition has not been needless. The reports of plague were quite definite, unequivocably endorsed by Administrator Dawcott himself.”
Royden, a hardy and determined adventurer with degrees in archaeology and selenography, turned away with a shrug. He did not believe the reports. No virulent organism – no life of any kind except for a few harmless and leathery cacti-like and lichenous forms – had yet been found anywhere on the moon; and the sprawling, enigmatic ruins on Farside, first discovered during the circumlunar expedition of 1976 and subjected to frequent and intensive study for the subsequent sixteen years, had been pronounced entirely sterile.
Now he was being told that all transportation to the site had been interdicted because of plague! He suspected the existence of an alternative explanation. Here among the precincts of Frontier Base on the moon’s eastern limb, webs of intrigue involving officials of the Interplanetary Survey were not unknown. Royden had heard rumours concerning the recent discovery of written texts in the ruins of the incommensurably ancient Selenite city on Farside; and if the rumours were true, if such texts had been found, and especially if they were on the point of decipherment, it was not inconceivable that certain men of rank, among whom this Professor Sherman might well be included, had illegally decided by means of a period of concerted secrecy to obtain for themselves alone the entire credit for the elucidation of the lunar civilization.
To Royden this conspiratorial hypothesis appeared vastly more plausible than that of a sudden and unexplained pestilence. However, he kept his suspicions to himself. He took his leave of Sherman after voicing some perfunctory thanks for the interview and some expressions of regret for the danger which now faced the teams working on Farside.
It had never been Royden’s habit to harbour excessive veneration for the dictates of officialdom. As soon as he was free from immediate observation he packed his belongings, which included a foldable vacuum-suit, torch, maps, and tonanite pistol, and strolled in the direction of the outer area in which the lunar jeeps of Frontier Base were parked.
The habitable, residential sections of the Base were situated inside a crater-bowl of exceptional depth, in which a patch of breathable air still lingered, an exiguous remainder of the atmosphere which had enveloped the moon in its aeon-distant youth. For a while, carrying his gear in a case, Royden strolled clad merely in ordinary terrene clothing, in order to arouse the minimum of speculation as to his exploratory intentions. The efficacy of this stratagem was, however, naturally circumscribed by the increasingly acclivitous path which soon brought him into higher regions of thinner air. His breathing wracked by gasps, he was eventually forced to unfold and don his vacuum suit. Fortunately for his plans, he was able to do this in solitude, for by this time he had reached the peripheral and mostly deserted regions of the crater.
From his present altitude he turned to gaze briefly back down into the pool of air, which shone with a cerulean glimmer that stirred his blood with sudden longing. The glow was a mere hint of blue, a pocket of trapped earthlight mingled with the artificial illumination of Frontier Base. But what must it have been like on the moon, in the days of its ancient glory?
Royden sighed and continued his climb, up and out onto the highland, to the place where the jeeps were parked. With the eerie leaping stride of which terrestrials are capable under lunar conditions, he hurried towards the vehicles. To steal one of these was Royden’s intention; and it appeared that he now had an opportunity to do so. The Base’s personnel had not deemed it necessary to provide a permanent guard for the area; the assumption on their part being that any prospective thief would be sufficiently deterred by the realization that once the loss had been reported there would be no place of human habitation to which he could drive his prize without being apprehended.
Undeterred by these considerations, he sprang to the door of the nearest jeep. It was not locked, for on a sparsely-populated world of mutually congizant personnel such precaution was deemed unnecessary, or even antisocial – since in the hostile lunarian environment a life might unforeseeable depend upon speedy ingress to an air-tight habitation.
With practised efficiency Royden activated the controls of the vehicle, so that it surged forward over the basaltic desolation that ran to meet the inhumanly close horizon, which, within the space of a few minutes, hid the glow of Frontier Base from view.
It was night on the moon, but at first he was able to drive by earthlight. Steadily, though, the friendly gleam of his terrestrial home sank behind him as he sped confidently towards Farside, that face which the moon averts eternally from mundane scrutiny. After a short while the light from the human world disappeared abruptly, leaving Royden with a sensation of utter isolation.
He told himself that he was only travelling from one base to another, but in his heart of hearts he knew that this was a journey into the dark potentiality of the unknown.