Part Three of The Archives of the Moon
by Robert Gibson
In order to arrive within sight of those ruins, he first must traverse the jagged region silhouetted against the spectral dome of glowing air.
He began to drive forward once more, climbing alongside interbranching rilles towards the black volcanic serrations on the skyline, beyond which loomed the indistinct hugeness of the hemispheric blue.
The way became steeper among soaring buttresses both igneous and meteoric, the half-obliterated or superimposed wreckage of archaean catastrophe. Naturally it all spoke to Royden in the language of science, suggesting mechanisms of formation to his expert eye, but he also received different impressions, unaccountably purposeful, as if the dead starlit wasteland were gesturing at him with a myriad writhing cloaks or sleeves which nevertheless never moved; and the glowing hemisphere beyond the final ridge was a god enthroned over the still-life, summoning Royden to account for his intrusion...
Determined to abate these feverish imaginations, he halted the jeep to make an examination of a noctilucent plant - one of the growths which took advantage of the dribblets of air close to the ruins.
It was of a flaccid, thallophytic nature, trailing lank, pulpy appendages like lucent streamers, which lay over the sides of a crevice in which the thing must be rooted. Royden gazed carefully around. Now he could see a few more plants of similar shape, twisted among the clefts and rubble. He had discovered a new species of lunar flora. And these speciments might well be the only ones in existence, feeding slowly on some rare mineral in the volcanic escarpment or the rare gaseous exhalations from the fissures which veined the slope as well as the attenuated nimbus of the nearby hemisphere of air. This was what he needed - the self-satisfaction which came from a straight discovery...
Most of all, he derived irrational comfort from the puny, un-prepossessing nature of these lunar organisms. They symbolised the moon's incapacity to produce advanced life-forms. This senescent little world would never again harbour anything sufficiently complex to be malign, no matter what it may have produced in its youth... yes, its remaining denizens were doomed to the status of subject-matter for recondite botanical journals. It was amazing how cheered Royden felt by this.
With no further halts or misgivings, he completed the last stage of his motorised journey. He parked the jeep close to a jagged outcrop close to the summit of the final rise, and emerged in space-suit, tonanite pistol gripped in his right hand.
He did not believe that Dawcott and his teams would go so far as to threaten his life, whatever chicanery they might be engaged in; so why had he brought the weapon? Setting that question aside, Royden hopped and scrambled the last stretch to the ridge-summit. With each slow leap he found it easier to realize that he was entering the fringes of a realm of genuine atmosphere, with its diminishing pools of black, its increasing umbrageous gradations, and the approaching twilight of his destination.
Even after many minutes had passed he still stood in the same position, staring as if he had never seen the lunarian city before in countless photographs and films. No matter the quantity of representations and descriptions he had perused, the presence of the reality shook him in some profound subliminal fashion.
It was only slowly that he came out of his daze and began to advance down the short slope towards the lava bay on which the ruins stood haloed, a zone of preternatural light, a dim bubble on the shores of night.
No signs of human life could he see; not a trace of Dawcott's team. Bathed in eonian silence, the grounds of the city were littered with unsurmisable relics of an ultra-terrene architecture. In a panorama of mysterious styles they preserved a record not only of durative creation but also of unguessable, partial destruction...