The Moon a dead world? Well, it depends what you mean by "dead". Dylan's tale suggests that though the Selenites are long gone, their remains may include a spiritual booby-trap... You artifact-collectors, go carefully in those ruins.
Every child was familiar with the first photographs of the three Selenite cities. In those old images they resembled nothing so much as great, ivory fingers of skeletal hands, stark against the black sky, reaching in eons-long silence for the still blue eye of the Earth. Patryk even had several of the original prints in his collection.
But standing there, looking up at those half-buried spires, was different. They subdued him. The weight of the epochs that had come and gone since even a mote of dust shifted in the ancient necropolis before him was suffocating.
Then the feeling passed.
“So, how do we do this and not get arrested?” he asked Waceera, a Lunar woman who stood out against the regolith in a bright yellow surface-suit with a scorpion decal adorning her helmet. He’d discovered her through the extensive underground channels he’d acquired building his collection. For a guide she was expensive, half up-front, but she seemed to be his only choice: his representatives were rebuffed by every other prospector, smuggler and freelancer they approached. Still, she had her own rover, and was experienced with the Lunar wilderness.
“Well, we aren’t going in there,” she said, glancing at the ancient structural bones as she unpacked the dusty rover. “Sensor beams all around. Bring the feds down on us in a second.”
“It’s the same with the other two cities?”
“Worse. The good one, in Hypatia, has tourists busing in from Utulivu all the time, and the one Farside is almost as popular. These ruins are smallest.”
“Hmm. So where are we going, then?”
“You’ll see,” she handed him a satchel. He knew from her invoice that it held spare oxygen tanks, water flasks, spelunking equipment and a flashlight. “I’ll tell you when we’re up in the hills, out of listening range.”
“But there’s nobody around for miles."
“Not so. There’s a team of archaeologists in a hab not far. Radio sounds wide and clear without air in the way. Lady Luna has no privacy.”
“If we aren’t going in the city, I don’t see why that matters. The hills aren’t under federal protection too, are they?”
“You’ll see,” Waceera repeated, "you'll be impressed, I think."
They made their way up the uneven terrain. Their path led into the rolling foothills of a towering caldera, no doubt extinct long before even the city at its base. Waceera bounced naturally across sunken boulders and rubble, but Patryk was less steady, frequently stopping to correct his balance and keep himself from toppling. He had, in the course of his travels, been to every inhabited or formerly inhabited world in the system, but learning to walk again remained a challenge each time.
“So,” he asked absently, focusing on his footing but hating prolonged silence, “I have a question.”
“Why did you say yes to this?”
Waceera glanced back at him.
“The money, friend.”
“Right,” he said. “Only nobody else was interested in the money, once they found out I’m looking for Selenite artifacts. Didn’t even give a reason, just showed my people the door, every one of them."
Waceera was quiet, and Patryk wondered if maybe she hadn’t heard him. He was about to repeat himself when she spoke up.
“Our heritage, I guess. They belonged to the Moon, like we do. Or, some folks think it’s bad luck to mess with moonmen ruins. Most don’t even visit, except maybe as kids.”
Patryk nodded sagely.
“Superstition. You know, on Mars it's taboo to disrespect a water talisman.
Almost couldn’t find anybody to sell me one.”
“Why would you want one? You can afford all the water on Earth.”
“Heh, well, that’s not quite true. But I’m a collector of alien cultural items, among other things. I’ve got the most complete arrangement of Callistan prayer shrouds in the system." He didn't try to suppress the pride in his voice.
“Mmm,” Waceera said. “But nothing Selenite.”
“Not yet,” Patryk agreed. “It’s a hole that’s been eating at me for years. Nothing on the market but replicas and fakes. Even the black market! Can you believe that?"
After seeming hours of trudging they entered a low, unassuming ravine between two slopes. Waceera finally came to a halt.
“Here,” she said, turning and looking him over. She tutted. “You’re covered in dust. Could get in the joints of your suit, make a leak.”
“This is it?” Patryk panted,“Is this a trick?”
Waceera unclipped a magnetic wand from her belt and played it over him, diffusing the static that made the Lunar regolith cling to him.
“Not a trick. Look, in the dark there,” she pointed with her free hand.
Patryk followed her finger up to a jagged promontory standing over the gully. Shadows on Luna were sharp-edged and solid; he squinted against the bright Sun.
“I don't see it,” he said.
“There’s a cave,” Waceera insisted. “In the shadow, look!”
Continuing to squint, he finally saw what Waceera was directing him to: an opening, tall and narrow as a man, which he had missed in the gloom.
“What is it?” he asked. “A lava tube?”
His guide shook her head. “Don’t know. Funny sort of lava tube, if it is. But what’s inside is more interesting. Better effect if I don't spoil it for you.” She took her flashlight from her bag and started for the slender aperture. He went after her as best he could, rummaging for his own light.
“It’s tight,” she warned, tossing her satchel into the crevice and sliding after it. “Careful not to knick your suit on anything.”
“I’m not completely incompetent. This isn't my first airless world, I’ve been around the System a few times.”
“Oo, big fancy Earther.” Her voice came out of the black. “You’re good, come on.”
Patryk lobbed his bag after her. “You want the other half of your money, or no?”
“You see this,” she replied, “you’ll want to pay me triple.”
“We’ll see about that. I don’t even know what ‘this’ is.”
“Something Selenite. All I’ll say.”
“I should hope so.”
Patryk inched slowly through the claustrophobic mouth to avoid tripping on the rugged floor. The squeeze lasted longer than he expected, cutting deep into the hillside, but finally he emerged into a wider, tubular cavern.
Waceera was waiting for him. She shined her light over smooth, obsidian walls cut in wavy, undulating segments as if by a colossal earthworm. Twisting nautilus patterns adorned every surface, half-obscured by ageless dust, and the stone-strewn regolith was disturbed by a mess of bootprints - presumably left by her previous sojourn into that hidden corridor.
“This way,” she ordered, cutting a path through darkness that seemed to retreat with reluctance, begrudged to give up for even a moment the realm where it had ruled unchallenged for millennia. The tunnel split and split again, bifurcating like the channels of a subterranean river, which it may have been - Patryk was no geologist. He doubted, though, that a river could cut such bizarre passages as these.
They trudged through winding tunnels for what felt like ages. Patryk tried to determine if the designs on the tunnel walls were artificial or if they’d been formed by some mysterious natural process. If they were ‘moonman’ made, they were a find all on their own.
With a yelp, Waceera came to a sudden stop, and Patryk almost fell over trying to keep from colliding with her. They were on the precipice of a yawning chasm, nearly invisible in the dark.
“Close one,” his chaperone muttered, shining her light over the edge.
“Thank God for you.” Patryk exhaled. “I never would've seen it!”
“I thought the drop-off was further down. Didn’t expect it yet.”
Patryk edged forward. The abyss didn’t appear to have a bottom. “We must be making good time. This is your second time around.”
“Makes sense.” Waceera assented. She set her bag down and pulled out her spelunking gear. “We’ll need these.”
“Have you explored this whole thing?” he asked as she strapped on her climbing harness, then got busy helping him with his.
“No. Only been down once, didn’t stay long.”
“But you seem to know it pretty well."
Waceera directed her
flashlight at the floor behind them. “Following my tracks,” she said.
“Footprints last. Also helpful for finding your way back.”
“Right, right.” Patryk cast his light on the double sets of prints. “And how did you find it in the first place? It’s pretty out of the way.”
“Accident. I was prospecting.”
“For what? Gold?”
Waceera chuckled. “Titanium.”
“Ah. And you haven't brought anyone else here?”
“Just you. My friends are ‘superstitious.’”
“Well, I don't think they'd need to worry. This is certainly an odd little maze, but nothing pins it as Selenite. If I hadn’t just paid you half of my discretionary budget, I’d bet it really is a lava tube.”
“It’s money well spent, friend. Just a bit further now.”
They rappelled together into the pit, Patryk taking it slowly, and he was surprised to discover it wasn’t nearly as deep as he expected. The dusty onyx floor was less than a hundred yards down. When they reached it they paused to replenish their oxygen, dumping their expended air canisters beneath their hanging ropes.
The geometric swirls which had until now twisted incongruously on every surface converged here to flow into a single, confined passage that burrowed further into darkness. It was this way that Waceera led.
“How far down are we, you think?” Patryk asked.
“A couple kilometers, maybe more.”
“Gonna be difficult to collect artifacts this far down. If there are any.”
“You’ll figure it.” Waceera held her flashlight ahead of her. The polished hall ended abruptly with an embankment of grey Lunar rock, rent through the center by a narrow fissure not unlike the one through which they’d first come. “After you,” she gestured as Patryk shuffled through the shadowy cleft.
Emerging, he was confronted with a large, cephalopoidal eye.
Surrounding him on all sides were hundreds of stark, white monoliths, twice his height and shining like bleached bone in the light of his flash, each possessing the same carven, inhuman eye. An army of cyclopic pillars, arrayed in formations that faded into the inky recesses of their spacious, rocky cavity. Nautilus whirls were drawn into the timeless dust of the floor, circling the statues in an ancient, ethereal dance.
“Incredible,” Patryk breathed. He walked amidst the forest of columns, shining his light over their alabaster surfaces inscribed with thousands of churning, intricate fractals that hurt his head and seemed to imbue the statues with a sort of illusory life.
“Worth the wait, eh?” said Waceera.
“I’ll say,” Patryk said, laying his hand on the nearest monolith. Even gloved he felt the chill of its touch, as if it were rendered in dry ice. “How many are there?”
“Don’t know. Didn’t count them.”
“I wonder what they are.” Patryk wandered through the forest of stone sentries, trying to approximate the minimum number of laborers necessary to make off with these treasures. The fewer people involved, the less likely they would be to tip off the law, but they would need to be adept at delving on the Moon.
“Hey, Waceera,” he looked around. She had fallen some distance behind him, judging by the bobbing point of her light.
“Yeah,” she replied. As her voice clicked off, Patryk thought it was tainted by faint interference.
“Forget your friends. You know any people with tight lips and empty pockets who aren’t afraid of the man in the moon?"
“Could be I do.” The static was definitely noticeable now, as if the mass of columns were blocking her signal.
“I’m getting some interference on my end.” At once, the beacon of Waceera’s flashlight went out, as if smothered.
“Hey,” Patryk said, "I lost you.”
No answer. He waved his light around. “Waceera, I can’t see you. Did your bulb go out?"
There was a thump, then, an ultrasonic pulse in a place with no sound. Then, a few moments later, another, and another. He felt them in his chest. A rhythm. He glanced around, his light creating long, split shadows that obscured more than they revealed. It occurred to him that something might have befallen his guide, that perhaps her suit had failed her suddenly or some other disaster had overtaken her. The thought of being alone in that sunless Tartarus made him shiver, and he hurried back, casting his beam back and forth and calling over the radio.
After a while of clumsy bounding, he thought that he must surely have found her already, yet nothing, apart from the numberless columns, surrounded him. Their crescent pupils watched him closely. His mind began to play tricks, the dark was full of skittering shadows and stalking things that stood his hair on end, and all the while the thrumming pulse continued. Perspiration collected on his brow. Training his light on the furrowed ground, he remembered Waceera’s advice about footprints. He found his own trail and started to follow it back, hoping that she would appear. Then, fearing he'd overlooked her prone body, he turned around retrace his steps yet again.
For a split second, the circle of his light passed over something that made his heart stop. His beam snapped to it. A pale, monstrously elongated figure was rushing toward him.
Reason left him. His boots pushed hard against the soft regolith, kicking up clouds of dust and nearly sending him tumbling around the monoliths even as they seemed to fence him in. The creature leaped after him, closer each time he looked, and as it gained the drumbeat pounding grew faster and louder to match it. When he came at last to the fissure he dashed through it to the place where he and Waceera had rappelled into the abyss.
The ropes were hanging where they left them. Propelled onward by the nightmare at his heels, he flew up the cliff face hand over hand, his Earthly strength carrying him in the Lunar gravity. He climbed over the precipice and stumbled headlong into the labyrinthine passages, where the geometric swirls that adorned the walls churned like writhing serpents, and the very corridors themselves seemed to have shifted and changed. He quickly became lost.
His own harried, gasping breaths were drowned by the hellish thumping which pounded at his skull. His pursuer would soon have him.
Finally he came again upon a set of double boot prints and began to follow them backwards, half-delirious, along the path he prayed would take him up into the blinding Lunar day. He scrambled down the half-familiar tunnels, the thing barreling after him, then he turned a corner and let out a short, desperate sob. A great, white monolith had appeared in the narrow cavern exit, barring the way. The thumping reached a fever pitch.
Its gaze held cold contempt as he was grabbed from behind. He swung his bag blindly, striking the demon as it tangled him in ghostly, crooked fingers. He had an impression of an ovoid eye with a crescent pupil, and then there was a rock in his hand and he was striking at it. Its skeletal tendrils threatened to draw him in but he struck again and again, swinging with the strength of animal terror. Then it was beneath him and he kept swinging, holding it down, aiming for the eye, feeling it crunch under his hand. He rained blows on it. He screamed. He showed it no mercy. He only relented when he finally realized it had gone completely limp.
Patryk sat back, his ragged breaths wracking his lungs, the adrenaline making him tremble. For a while he did nothing but curse, cry, and thank every god he'd ever heard of on a dozen planets. The thumping had stopped. The monolith that blocked his way was gone. The cavern was utterly still.
After a while he noticed that the rock in his hand was flecked with red crystals.
The twisted body beneath him seemed somehow diminished. He stared at it. Gradually, new details came into focus.
A flickering flashlight, a ruptured air tank, a faded decal of a scorpion on a shattered bright-yellow helmet. Frozen blood coating it all like a morning frost.
He was found, some time later, by one of the archeologists stationed nearby. He’d overheard Patryk and Waceera’s earlier discussion on the surface and, in suspicion, set out to investigate. He was alarmed to find Patryk wandering aimlessly outside of the cave mouth, clutching a bloody rock.
In Utulivu, Patryk was charged with the murder of Waceera Mwangi, a member of the Lunar citizenry. He insisted on his innocence, but his story was met with skepticism, especially after a thorough exploration of the cavern revealed a perfectly natural lava tube, completely lacking Selenite artifacts. An inspection of his suit however, identified half a dozen tiny dust-born leaks. It became the position of the courts that, even if Patryk told the truth, it was a truth tainted by hypoxia. In compensation for his wealth, no bail was set for his sentence.
Some months later, Doctor Karim Oliveira of the University of Clavius was leading an archaeological expedition among the ruins of Farside. She and a team of students were excitedly pouring over an as-yet uncovered foundation which, in previous surveys of the ruins, had been overlooked as a natural formation. They found several relics which were unknown to Selenology, among them never-before-seen tools, artistic pieces, and other items of mysterious purpose. Additionally, nearly missed among the profusion, they unearthed the fractured remains of what might have been a structural support or idol. Its worn pieces still retained the remnants of swirling geometric sigils across their surfaces, and one fragment in particular bore an image of a single, crescent-pupilled eye.