In the silence of the airless moon all Commander Dick Gordon could hear was his own ragged breathing. Between each breath his visor would mist momentarily. The novelty of the low gravity had long passed, as he bounded across the barren wastes of the lunar landscape. He had already fallen over twice, the last time his visor had narrowly missed some jagged rocks. He had since endeavoured to take care; one crack or a tear in his suit and he would suffer the horrific fate that befell Carr, the pilot of the LSM. He had no choice but to keep following the tracks of the rover leading north away from his landing site and the crashed half buried ship.
He realised that he was panting. He had to control his breathing; he would be using his oxygen up too quickly, he glanced at his oxygen gauge, three hours’ worth remaining. He had contemplated returning to the wreck of the ship, but thought better of it. There had been a breathable atmosphere in the mausoleum chamber that he had triggered. Returning there it would be a refuge, then a prison, until eventually it would be a tomb and he would join the mysterious woman there in deathly repose. Despite his exertions he felt a shiver of fear run the length of his spine.
Who was that woman and why was she in a crashed craft on the moon? She was a terrestrial; she looked human in every way. At least he had the crystal with him. He had looked in it but for a moment and yet had spent two hours lost in the images it relayed into his brain. It was some form of data storage device that interfaced with the brain directly through his eyes. He had been immersed in its visions. But what it told him made no sense. Humanity had once been a race of star-farers in the distant past? Mars had once been green? It was impossible, all of it. Impossible? What of the woman? What of the ship? What of the unknown presence which had harassed previous Apollo missions and attempted to shoot down his own Eagle lander? The ones who had killed Carr? Now he knew why Vice President Ford had been so on edge prior to the pre-flight quarantine.
The tracks wound up a slope, obviously the rover had struggled for grip in the thick lunar dust. Now was a chance to make some progress, he bounded at the slope and took giant strides bouncing upward. He felt the sweat cling to his back as in pushed himself on, as the slope grew steeper. As he crested the ridge he was on all fours crawling up. Any semblance of self-control was lost as he climbed, sobbing and panic filled; he was never going to see the earth again, never feel the wind rain upon his face.
Just when he was at his lowest, hope returned anew, there was the rover parked on the summit, but also came a wave of fear as he saw who the driver was. Stood still, with his back to him, his sightless eyes looking northward, was Carr.
Gordon stood in fear and shock; he had decided to leave Carr on the moon, meaning to bury him on his return journey to the lander. Ideally he would have taken his dead comrade home but the body had swollen to twice its normal size when Carr had been killed by the vacuum. Gordon and his colleague, Vance, in the Command Module would never have been able to get him through the docking hatch joining the LSM and the CSM. He had put Carr’s helmet on and lowered the man’s glare visor to spare himself looking at the man’s ever staring eyes. Yet now he stood, facing the sun, his oxygen umbilicus hanging uselessly behind him, like some grotesque shop front dummy.
“Ger Gerald?” Gordon stuttered, half whispering into his mouthpiece.
Horribly, he heard the earphones crackle into life. “You were warned,” grated the voice similar to Gerald Carr’s yet not; speaking through swollen and frozen flesh. “Your race must pay the price, the debt is still unpaid.”
“The price?” Gordon asked. That which once was Carr stayed still, his back turned to him.
“Long ago you walked amid the stars, as gods you thought of yourselves, conquerors and overlords; humanities’ web trapped many. How the galaxy suffered under your tyranny, lifeforms and cultures eradicated as you sought to mold the galaxy to your image. The Great League was formed, the war was terrible. Countless numbers died as ships burnt around a myriad of stars. You were chased back to your home planets, yet still, in your arrogance, you refused to yield. Two planets were rendered uninhabitable, only at the last, your cities reduced to rubble, your race almost eradicated, did your empress accept terms. You were a handful, grubbing an existence out of the dirt; would be gods now brutish and bestial. Your Empress, Pandora, was permitted to seek exile beyond the edge of space, yet others in the League took exception and she was shot from the skies as she left your world, to crash on this rock. We have kept watch ever since, lest you dig yourselves from the dirt and look to the stars again. You should not have come here, you were warned.”