The Finding of Haldgren
Chapter 5: And I've Brought You to This!
The master pilot, when he stepped forth upon that weird globe which was the Moon, found himself plunged into a spectral world. Even from within the air-tight suit, through whose helmet-glass he peered, he sensed, as he had not when inside the ship, the vast desolation, the frozen emptiness of this rocky waste.
His suit of woven metal was lined throughout with heavy fabric of insuline fibers, that strange product brought from the jungle heat of the upper Amazon to keep out the bitter cold of this frozen world. His ship was felted with the same material between its double walls; without it there would have been no resisting the cold of these interstellar reaches.
But, despite the padding within his suit, he felt the numbing cold of this dead world strike through. And the bleak and frigid barrenness that met his gaze was so implacably hostile to any living thing as to bring a shudder of more than physical cold.
No warming sun, as yet, reflected from the rocks. About him was the blackness of a fire-formed lithosphere, whose lighter veining and occasional ashy fields were made ghostly in the earthlight.
One slow, all-seeing glance at this!--one moment of wondering amazement when he tilted his head far back that he might look up to the mouth of the crater and see, in a dead-black sky, the great crescent of earth--a vast, incredible moon peeping over the serrate edge. Then, as if the interval of time since leaving the ship had been measured in hours instead of brief seconds, he remembered the flashing lights that had signaled from below.
His first step carried him, slipping and sprawling awkwardly, across a rocky slope white with the rime of carbon dioxide frost. He came to his feet and turned once to wave toward the ship where he knew Spud O’Malley must be watching from a lookout. Then, moving cautiously, to learn the gage of his own strength in this world of diminished weights, he started down.
Rough going, Chet found; the wall of this great throat had not hardened without showing signs of its tortured coughing. But Chet learned to judge distance, and he found that a fifty-foot chasm was a trifle to be crossed in one leap; huge boulders, whose molten sides had frozen as they ran and dripped, could be surmounted by the spring of his leg muscles that could throw him incredibly through the air. And always he went downward toward the place where the lights had flashed.
They came once more. He had descended a thousand feet, he was estimating, when the black igneous rocks blazed blindingly with a reflected light like that of a thousand suns.
Another hundred feet below, down a precipitous slope, was a broad table of rock. He saw it in the instant before he threw one metal-clad arm across the eye-piece of his helmet to shut out the glare. And he saw, in that fraction of a second, a moving figure, another like himself, clad in an armored suit whose curves and fine-woven mesh caught the light in a million of sparkling flames.
It was Haldgren, he told himself; and there was something that came chokingly into his throat at the thought. That lonely figure--one tiny dot of life on a bleak and lifeless stage! It was pitiful, this undying effort to signal, to let his own world know that he still lived.
Chet did not put it into coherent words, but there was an overwhelming emotion that was part pity and part pride. He was suddenly glad and thankful to belong to a race of men who could carry on like this--who never said die. And, as the glare winked out, he threw himself recklessly down that last slope and brought up in a huddle at the feet of the one who had started back in affright. There was one metal-cased hand that went in a helpless gesture to the throat; the figure, all silvery white in the dim Earth-glow, staggered back against a wall of rock; only by inches did it miss a fall from the precipice edge where the rock platform ended.
From the floor, where his fall had flung him in awkward posture, Chet saw this; saw it and marveled vaguely. What picture he had formed of Haldgren--what he had expected of him--he could not have told. Certainly it was not this slenderly youthful figure, nor this reaction that was more of fright than startled amazement. And the voice! Surely he had heard an involuntary, half-stifled scream!
He came slowly to his feet. And he was wondering now if his deductions had been wrong. He had been to sure that the sender of those messages was an Earth-man; he had been so certain of finding Haldgren.
Slowly he crossed the table of rock toward the waiting figure; gently he extended his hands, palms upward, in a gesture of peaceful promise. Whoever, whatever this was--this Moon-being who had signaled and in doing so had happened upon the letters that had a definite meaning of Earth--Chet knew he must not frighten him. One outstretched hand touched the metal that cased an arm; moved upward to the headpiece, as close-fitting as his own; tilted it that the light of Earth might shine within and show him what manner of being he had found.
And Chet, who had seen strange creatures on that Dark Moon where he and Harkness had explored, was prepared, despite the suit so like his own, to see some weird being of this newer world. But for what the soft light of that distant Earth disclosed he was entirely unprepared.
Eyes, blue and lovely as an azure sea but wide with terror and dismay; eyes that showed plainly a consternation of unbelief that changed slowly, as the blue eyes stared into Chet’s gray ones, until they were suddenly misty with tears; and the figure sagged and would have dropped at his feet had he not caught it in his arms.
He heard his own voice exclaiming in wonderment: “A girl! One of our own kind! Out here! On the Moon!”
And another voice, sweetly tremulous, replied:
“Oh, it’s true--it’s true! You have come! You read my call! Oh, I hardly dared hope--”
Then the thrilling ecstasy of happiness in the voice gave place to accents of dismay as some horror of fear swept in upon her.
“And I’ve brought you to this! You will be lost! Quick! Climb for your life! I will come after. Quick! Quick!”
There was agony in the voice now, and the figure wrenched itself from Chet’s arms to point one slender hand upward in frantic urging, while yet the head turned that the eyes might look backward as if some danger threatened from below.
“I’ve got a ship,” Chet assured her. “God knows who you are or how you got here, but it’s all right now. We’ll leave.”
He had regained his grip upon one of those slender hands and was preparing to swing her up to the top of an incredibly high rock. Her scream checked him and sent his one free hand to the detonite pistol at his waist.