For Adam Niswander, a truly inspiring voyager!!!!!!!!!!!
“When the configuration-revealed unbinds the seals on the New Day, with the coming whorl of Black Dawn, as it embraces The Imperium That Could Not Be Seen, the stars serving the desires of Taurus, carrying Doom’s sign, will sing! And the face of the Moon will be transmogrified, as it was foretold by King Hastur through the Hyadian Pool in the days before the curse of His yellow blood was made manifest through Josephus, his prodigal son and the King in Yellow for all time, in all worlds the tatters of his corpus were allowed to touch.
When the Yellow Sign is drawn upon the Moon, all the creatures of the deeps that crawl upon their bellies or swim or walk shall rise to the dance, as beasts and the fowls of the air do bay for blood and cry out for exiled comforts. And Man, pretender to the surface of the Earth, fear-driven insect of nothing at the Beginning and End, holding only his eyeless psalms, will be but a scarlet stain upon the changing face of Earth’s green hills.”
—Philip of Navarre, The Zhou Texts
READING MAGNET… RECOGNIZED. MEADE PROFESSOR ALEXANDER J. CHAIRMAN THEORETICAL PHYSICS MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY ACCESS GRANTED ACCESS GRANTED ACCESS GRANTED…
ON DUTY: STARBIRD MISSION-CONTROL WING 23:12HRS… 23:13…
The main room of Miskatonic University Observatory’s new Mission Control wing flickered so badly it felt like it was always raining during an eclipse. In that cramped, sawdust-and-plaster lockdown that seemed a hasty afterthought, twenty tele-visor screens ringed the room, with audio-telephone switches and lavaliere microphones everywhere between each.
Some screens merely showed what could only be described as a continuous storm of ‘snow’; some, at any given time, very much not, as the Big Day drew nearer and nearer. The great Westinghouse computing-engines which gave them life popped and echoed within forests of vacuum-tubes behind cold-iron icebox walls, and lit the room an absinthe Christmas in yellows and reds and greens signifying Zero-One, On-Off, endlessly permuted.
As Above, so Below, as Within so Without: Surrounding every screen were drawers worth of toggles and buttons, more than most civilians could even comprehend. All the work-stations from Tracking to Thermodynamics and back had their own specific color. There was no more guesswork in that room than there was dust, though plenty of excited chatter rang the walls at all hours.
Nothing like this had ever been done before, and the press wasn’t getting anywhere near this except when they were sanctioned to. Not yet. Not yet. When the RCA-Victor (for Dr. Tesla would allow no Edison product on the grounds) sound-projection horns above each work-station tinnily signaled not shift change, but Apogee, Approach… Splashdown…
On that holy day, then the skies could rain ticker-tape. Just now, the chicken-wired windows in the Mission Control wing were battened against such weather. And no photographers, either. They wouldn’t know how to shoot this:
:warm. a dainty breeze. blue’s ardor above the lacy drape of green trees
:a summer departure
:after the song-smooth climb into sky’s weathermaker mountains, all its instruments to quest…
:in the glass starship—searchlight, star-ward, Starbird
:in the BLACK
(gleaming, freezing, all its balanced systems and the ardent, laboring eyes (lodged in inquiring) behind them)
(ready to be introduced to beguile, undergo the beauty of Awakening, to receive fact and data…or shadows if need be, hoping for grandeur)
:AWAKE ZION I AWAKE. Test message. STARBIRD transmitting. POWERING ON SUB-MINDS ONE THROUGH
SEVEN.IRA-A2 ISHMAEL-ISHMAEL APPARATUS-2. OFF LINE OFF LINE OFF LINE
awake we are awake we
:AHAB-ONE. VERIFYING INTACT MEMORY PLEASEWAIT PLEASEWAIT PLEASEWAIT
Dawn. Dawndawndawn at dawning rim of
:sky. the sky clicks in our guts. The sun warms our Mind
:Mind. Separates into. Brains. One through seven,
children of the first Ishmael probe
:We go to find Ishmael-Prime, our absent brother,
lend him our hands, our hands, all our hands
as he Prime needs them. If,
we have more. More hands.
:In the cold, the dark, the vast beast-whistle and Down,
the litany warms every interchangeable part:
We go because this is Just.
We go to find out what happened
We go to pick our sibling up,
and run it out of there.
We go in the name of those who made us,
To throw down our bodies like army ants
Between the Makers who left their mark,
And the Unknown.
Into the cold and soundless
scream and the black we go, we go
Toward the Ishmael probe that waits
in the secret narration of the stain. The stain.
:Going to see the Stain.
The ‘threshing-floor of the new Millennium’, (as Dr. Marcus fulsomely described the place to Whipple Phillips, when the great industrial tycoon came down from Niagara Falls to tour what The Investors had wrought) looked more like the bridge of a ship, or the observation-deck of a busy factory floor.
But here, they looked out, not down, and listened. Here, the bridge of the ship was on Earth, while the ship itself was merely an elaborate set-piece, blown beyond Mother Earth’s gravity-well with the massive liquid-oxygen engines that made the Serbian cry when they were wheeled from the specially-built foundry floor of the Barks & Sons factory in Schenectady by double teams of oxen, straining the traces of this new thing not even their drovers understood.
Straining toward the skies of this new age of the world. Here, what men on Earth called clockworks were beaten down smaller even than the Swiss level at the Norris Locomotive Works, into a radio-controlled system of toggles and buses to rival the automata of any World’s Fair, in one tiny ship!
Every function of the Starbird had a check, a balance, a fail-safe. Every one of these, and the whole clear-glass firecracker in general, could be shut off manually from Earth. Dr. Tesla insisted on it. It was the only way he would lend his hand to the project, though he claimed to not have sufficient English to explain why.
The fuel-tanks had to be built on site, to affix directly to the craft. Westinghouse wired it, and the Mohawk Company nearly bowed out of the project coughing up all that glass. Tesla insisted that Control remain at Miskatonic due to the superior quality of the observatory. To him, it was all just Math.
But he treated his ‘borrowed minds’ as though they were ensouled, behind the golden-yellow tinted triple panes of their brass diving-bell heads. Therein, only the single iris of each of Tesla’s photographer crony, old Muybridge’s “special” cameras; red-lined diagnostic dials and differently-labeled lights glared in place of eyes, above fabulously complicated and only tangentially humanoid bodies whose parts could be interchanged on the Lunar surface during the mission.
It was Tesla, too, who used a very simple process with nickel and cadmium to “re-circulate” the power supplies of every one of the “IRA,” or Intelligent Robot Automata. Half the power loss could be drawn back into the batteries by this direct-current setup. This also carved mass from the rocket in great chunks when the ad hoc Design Committee found out how many galvanic batteries could be left behind on Earth as a result of the Serbian’s foresight and frugality.
A larger, also-DC model was employed in Pip-7’s guts to power Tesla’s “particle detector”, which was busily measuring a previously undiscovered sort of ionizing energy that Dr. Tesla called “cosmic radiation” after his colleague Henri Becquerel’s research. (Tesla crowing about this ‘new form of energy from outside the solar system’ did nothing to make the doomsayers in the press stop yapping like yard mutts that couldn’t see past the ends of their own leashes, the Professor thought sourly.)
But even Tesla couldn’t make those screens stop flickering. It wasn’t just the flicker in that room, but having to do ten men’s work from this station; a whole fleet of men, Navy sailors with better heads for math, order, routine and round-the-clock. The only round-the-clock brass appointed to Control was Captain Castaigne.
Alden Castaigne was U.S. Army Cavalry, hand-picked and commissioned by a Rear Admiral for his ability to talk to Tesla’s scientists out in Colorado as much as his expertise on long-range ballistics and telegraphy from his own service in the Pacific.
Good civilian liaison, and Meade understood the wisdom of this rather circuitous choice. The problem with giving the execution of any project to scientists, Meade long put forth to his fellows, was that scientists don’t know how to work. He should have added that he didn’t either. He was tired, and he wanted to go home. But this objective was bigger than just one man.
He was half in his cups. What the hell was he doing here? This was a busy laboratorium. The Serbian himself was supervising here night and day, around the clock, pausing only to call all the men together for a big meal where Nobody Talked About Work. He couldn’t be here. He had to get bright. He was…
Oh, he was so sad since Martha. The work was all that kept him up and stargazing, since she was no longer going to come back up the front walk. He was here working. He’d just nodded off down in Control One, below the main room where the radio-men worked. He was still in the flicker-palace.
Then he remembered what he was doing. What he’d dreamed. And it scared him clear-headed. Meade had dreamed of blood on the moon, but not… blood. Not exactly.
Professor Meade wondered if any of the Germans, or the Russians, or any of those tiresome new “psycho-analysis” quacks had yet studied the effects of sitting in front of flickering lights for a long time. The wash of raw post-Impressionist light like wet paint, the thunderstorm of static and image from the long, tightly-packed wall of tele-visor screens, control meters, levers, and dials made the sanity ripple and the head begin to hurt. Should they care to chatter about “unconscious material” and “symptom formation”, a few hours staring at Tesla’s flashing wall should inspire a paper or two.
Glancing at Stewart’s weird old cahier again, he wondered if the Gallic prophets had been speaking in metaphor, when they described this “Yellow Stain” that Stewart and Adams swore was the harbinger of the true Anti-Christ. That made his tired, whiskey-fuzzed brain think of the other kind of flicker-palace, and that interesting film by the French where les frères Lumière made Jules Verne into a kind of puppet show, and stuck a rocket in the Moon’s eye.
Meade’s brain raced on, webbing thought to thought as he woke all the way. No one had come and shaken him. Two of the ten or so young assistants on duty that shift were watching the screens, talking to each other in low tones, doing homework and munching crackers.
One of them was dipping the crackers in his coffee. The other was smoking a cigarette and remembering to tap his ashes in the ash tray (a rarity, amongst graduate students.) The blond one’s name was Owen. Royal Navy ROTC or whatever they called it. Limey exchange-student in dress blues. The other wasn’t even a proper assistant, just an observer. That great fat boy, who styled himself a Scientifiction writer. Mr. Fort. Still, he liked to get his hands dirty.
It wouldn’t do to sell Charles Fort short, their Esteemed Steamed Department Chairman would have said. The bellowing Brooklynite had been more than instrumental in addressing the House committee, and President William Jennings Bryan on the necessity of looking beyond the surly bonds of Earth, in an age when most politicians had barely gotten their heads around the wireless telegraph. But in that department, their young writer on his “ride-along” met and exceeded every expectation.
“Stay, and let Salvation damn you,” Charles Fort addressed Congress, “Or straddle an aural beam and paddle from Rigel to Betelgeuse. We stand at the very entrance to the desert of space exploration, my fellow Americans, and God alone knows what the answer to anything is. But perhaps it is that the stars are very close indeed. Perhaps we will reach these new Promised Lands.”
In two weeks, the former garage bay of Miskatonic Observatory had become Control, and the Radio Room, the Tracking Studio with its thick asbestos ice-house walls to damp extraneous sound, and every such office and intercollated facility whose plate-glass door-fronts were continually being turpentined and repainted.
Chaos Without mirrored Within. No one could gag the Free Press. Every Hollow-Earther, Flat-Earther and crackpot of all denominations that New England could cough from every termite-ridden edifice howled as one at the bill for this new venture, but Miskatonic was Providence. The Marsh family fortune could soak three such ‘Spacing-Programmes’, perhaps one day even with a monkey or a person in the craft if the tests went well.
They thought, Meade appended sourly. Perhaps pigs would whistle. Perhaps the stars weren’t meant to be seen, and whatever up there that wanted to see us could stay the hell away.
Flickerrrrr… Day in, night out… Like he couldn’t blink any more, and he’d go bug-eyed, there in the half-light, and spastic. Merciful Fate, what this room did to a fellow. No wonder Stewart geeked out in here so much, like some old wet-brain at the carney biting the heads off anything that got close in the dark.
Meade made a scoffing noise in his throat. They weren’t so different. He was just a theorist; Stewart was a… Literalist, that was all. Out of classroom reflex, Meade covered his mouth with the back of his hand to squelch the unprofessorial snort.
Where the hell was Stewart, anyway? He was here. He’d been in hours ago, all aflutter and atwitter about something. Impatiently, Meade flipped pages in the cahier. “This,” SIGNUM CROCUS, the page read in weird, spiky calligraphy that almost looked backward.
Below it was a pen-and-ink line drawing that almost resembled a block print or a woodcut. The lines and angles kept changing as he squinted. A hawk, piercing a rabbit’s skull with one talon. A scorpion poised to strike. A crooked cross, rather like the Sanskrit symbol of the same type but with the points facing the other way… A death’s head in a perfect circle.
A death’s head in a perfect circle. That part reminded him of something else. Something so familiar Meade’s tired brain kept shooting right past it. He remembered the day Stewart showed it to him…
Stewart was staring at him with those hungry green eyes that suddenly went dark. “I didn’t expect you to understand. They’ll peg me for an alarmist, and I don’t have tenure yet. Got to keep this to myself, but…”
A ghost of the twinkle returned to his eyes, but it was a sad and terrifying thing now, a thing that sat and watched in the darkness as trains wrecked and stars fell, and whispered I Told You So. “This new millennium we’re sweeping onto the threshing-floor just now may not be all that bright, old friend, but it’s sure as H— going to be colorful…”
“You know,” Wilfred Owen looked up from Monitor Three, “That Professor Stewart says the heathens believed you shouldn’t go messing about wi’the Moon. Said there was a great worm, the Ourobouros, curled up within it, and in the Last Times…”
Across the room, the great closh and clang and clack of the typer stopped in mid-report. The hammy hands sounded restless, drumming on the desk wanting more to do. “Stewart,” came that gruff Teddy Roosevelt voice, “That g–d—- Diabolist. Screen door on a submersible around here, if you ask me. Teats on a boar hog. Send him back to Greenwich Village with Blavatsky’s followers and the rest of the kookaboos and kadodies, where he belongs…”
Owen snorted. “That’s you, then, Charlie. Just go on and float through life, mate. Oh… look, This Just In.”
He rolled his chair several workstations over. In its glass bubble, Wireless A was going off. The big one. The transmission would repeat. ‘A’ was the whole module (as he’d learned from his senior fellows to call the glass rocketship, the Starbird.) ‘A’ meant the little tin sailors on their Pequod were beginning to stir all the way.
The little matroshky, the copper-jacketed living ikebana, were beginning to disentangle. The Mind of the Starbird was beginning to separate into the Platonic clay, the component parts, the tiny eyes of a glass god two storeys tall…
Right on schedule. Wireless Telegraph Operator Wilfred Owen, late of His Majesty’s Navy, put the cans on his ears and picked up his pencil again. When he did, his eyes lit like a little boy’s at Christmastime, the way everyone’s eyes did on the Sherlock Expedition when they thought no one else was looking.
Those individual sets of eyes sometimes lit with wonder, and sometimes Fear. They were men of Science, and though they didn’t talk about it at faculty teas or when the drum was being beaten for a new wing or piece of expensive equipment, most of them but Stewart were staunch Atheists. The pummeling they were taking in the media for messing about in God’s natural order was secondary to their own fear of the unknown, which they all brushed away into provable things, under the rug and gone.
Out of sight wasn’t out of mind, though. In all their dreams, as the Moon landing drew near, Terror and Doubt stirred and walked with no deactivation-codes, like Gog and Magog in the Bible. The New Millennium drew near, and no one truly knew if St. John of Patmos was right or not, if the End of Days was just something folks believed… or something that would prove itself. There was a prophecy in every age, yet humankind endured.
But not even Miskatonic had prophesied this. Not as a unified body. It bothered him that that warmly-polite and affable Army Captain Castaigne was now more often than not replaced by several snarking Annapolis lieutenants in dress blues who liked to stare at every monitor over everyone’s shoulder.
More and more of that crowd wore side-arms, and quite a few of them talked behind their oddly soft hands about something called “The Imperial Dynasty”. The professor was almost sure they were making fun of Bryan’s presidency, but he didn’t like it. It sounded foreign. Too foreign, by half…
Moon Voyage: The Sherlock Expedition. Day 54.
Deniston, Michael Terrence, Astronomy Chair, Miskatonic University
We have nearly broken our backs launching Niko’s “borrowed minds” to Heaven on a tinny wireless-telegraph string of maths roughly the tensile strength of a single strand of baling-wire. With them travel our deepest hopes and lurking fears; me in full accord with those expressed by Doctor Kostova’s brace of applied sciences and Professor Ulysses Adams’ unholy, yet unquestionable, black philosophies.
Ishmael. It all goes back to Ishmael-Prime. That d—– dog that refuses to bark now. The one we sent up first.
D— Adams’ uncompromising drives and their overpowering logic. Logic? Fact—a flux of foreign data in the sky. Fact—invitations to new dimensions. D—ing, d—able fact. All in proportion, all intermixed, and examination and reexamination could not crack his theoretical. Adams and his often overly-dramatic attitudes and arrow to the heart, Truth. D— him.
Things are tense. All twenty of my graduate students working this project sleep in dormitories here in the building. When the Starbird threw off her secondary lifter-rockets and continued to ascend, you could have heard the cheering in Kingsport! Anna Moreno, one of my top researchers, is about three months with child, and she wept outright. Truth be told, so did half the men, including me!
But those moments pale in comparison to the uncertainty ahead. The train of One D—-ed Thing After Another has been nearly intolerable for any man of Science. Even the more trustworthy of little mechanical IRA-probes like to go on holiday when they like and spontaneously return to life, and a thousand more issues, this day. But I am made of sterner stuff than they.
I am. Try to be…
Until lately. It is the discoloration in my telescope. That which is no discoloration in the lens, but a discoloration of note in the lowest region of Mare Nubium. Once more, this night, it has changed shape. The students have stoked the boiler below stairs, and the radiators now clank and hiss, but there is still a chill I cannot shake.
The discoloration has changed shape, and it is now changing location as well. In plain fact, it is moving.
Ishmael-Prime, the rocket-probe that remained but landed too far away, cheeps and charts out its movements in strings of Morse that the tiny tele-visorscreen furthest to my right charts in turn in harsh, bright color out of Space. In the past week, that anomaly has grown twenty-seven percent. I have no idea how to even write of the dark lines moving across Luna’s face, within the bounds of the yellowish ‘sea’.
I feel like a Neanderthal-man, watching a comet tumble down the sky, wishing he knew where to point the nameless fear of… Phenomenon, which we all feel, know, to be fraught with both blasphemies and dire revelations, moving left to right, from the blackest deeps of the dark side, and ever downward in my mad imaginings of yet-to-be…
East! From Mare Imbrium in a southeasterly direction past Mare Insularum to the lunar escarpment, Rupes Altai!! ! Headed toward the Crater Piccolomini…
The Phenomenon that Professor Ulysses Adams gazes upon, a Titan who bestrides the room like Charles Fort in a better-cut suit, like Santa Claus and Zeus rolled into one bespectacled juggernaut. Hands bristled into fists, Adams cocks his head and loudly holds forth,
“And the stars of Heaven fell unto the earth, and the heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and every bondman, and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and rocks of the mountains; and said, Fall on us, and hide us from the Wrath which has come.”
His audience, R. Edward Stewart, looking like a bald-headed Lucifer in a dirty, yellowing white shirt with no cufflinks knows the passage. Stewart is only slightly moved by Adams’ oratory. “Just look at this, too. ‘When the configuration-revealed unbinds the seals on the New Day, with the coming whorl of Black Dawn, as it embraces The Imperium That Could Not Be Seen, the stars serving the desires of Taurus, carrying Doom’s sign, will sing! And the face of the Moon will be made over.”
And the fear is in his eyes, too. The fear that infests their hearts.
Vice-Chancellor Nathan Maddock Talbot was also titular Assistant Chair of the Sherlock Expedition, and Dr. Marcus’ hatchet-man when he couldn’t be found (which was about one-third of any given day). He now stood in the doorway, tapping his foot, looking as impatient as only a tenured polymath genius can look when the tributary begins to appear unsanitary and there is no paddle to be found.
There came a weary sigh. “A well is a deep subject, Doctor Talbot, and this one has only been plumbed. There’s little doubt regarding this, now.”
Barely glancing up from his journal, Professor Deniston wearily set his pencil-stub down and turned to face his ivy-covered superior, trying to wish he cared anything about the calendar of their thousand petty ideological tempests at the moment. Talbot was Professor of Chemistry, and Professor of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry, and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Yet Deniston marveled for the thousandth time that Talbot could dress so much like a hobo at work and get away with it, but said nothing. That, too, barely registered on his own inner dials as anything but a split-second blip. Not tonight. Not now.
Instead, Professor Deniston handed his immediate boss the sheet of numbers on graph-paper that trembled in his good left hand. The Doctor apparently read very quickly. Glancing down his patrician nose through filthy spectacles, he began nodding in agreement.
“Little doubt indeed, old friend.” He was starting to look as spooked as Deniston felt, the junior Professor noted with renewed wonderment. “Whatever this phenomenon is, it is spreading. When The Owl–”
Deniston spared him a withering look. “The Starbird.” Doctor Talbot went on impatiently, restless in his cheap, rumpled suit and brown waistcoat tinged the color of pipe ash, “Though the great glass firecracker more surely resembles an owl the more I look at it, with that beak at the front and the two round windows, the Starbird is going to make land-fall on the Moon in precisely twenty-two days. Then non-stationary Intelligent Robot Automata One through Seven begin the actual surface exploration. As we’ve been over. Do we…”
Talbot fidgeted with his wide black tie. “I’m worried. No matter who’s in charge, do we know how much danger this voyage is in? Can we run numbers for that?”
Both men looked at the televisor at the same time. Deniston looked in the direction of the firmament. “There will be water if God wills it,” he replied, in a voice that managed to sound calm.
Talbot smiled indulgently, sliding his hand into the deep flap pocket of his suit jacket. His lucky charm was still there. He wasn’t sure it held any real occult power, or even where the writing on it came from, but the chunk of platinum with the dancing mermaid-critters on it, the one he, as a boy, found near Owls Head Lighthouse in Maine, was indeed good-fortune bearing.
It felt like it was getting hotter, somehow. He hadn’t noticed it until a few days immediately prior. Like his old lucky piece from parts unknown was generating its own specific heat…Warning him of something, in a language he had no gift to read…
“Meade says it’s some kind of a gate. That when the cameras employed certain polarized filters, the way he programmed them to by accident, he could see some sort of monolithic shape that doesn’t appear to be stationary. Could, before Ishmael-Prime went dark. Said it gave him odd megrims, and dreams. Not that we haven’t all had the dreams.”
The two professors shared a look. “Gates are, have to be, fixed structures. Aren’t they?” Talbot asked out of nowhere. Deniston startled involuntarily, but spoke into the sudden jump.
“Everyone says so, but why can’t the whole of it be a portal?”At that, he reached for his own pipe. “Or a base-camp?”
Talbot sighed again, less heavily this time. “Meade’s theory, if we can even call it that, it seems to me, is based in madness. He’d been drinking and had a vision. Bah. Hardly scientific. We need to gather facts. Our findings demand hard data.”
Deniston nodded. “I agree, but—”
Dr. Talbot was utterly adamant in his uncertainty. “Let’s wait until we’re there, and see.”
“PIP-SEVEN. REPORTING. PIP-SEVEN REPORTING. STOP. ARRIVED ON MOON SURFACE. ARRIVED ON MOON SURFACE. STOP. ALL EQUIPMENT FUNCTIONING PROPERLY.”
Michael Deniston almost smiled. Their luck, and science, was holding. “Do you have any readings on atmospheric conditions, Pip-7?” he asked, releasing the contact button on the audio-phone just in front of him. “There is no trace of an atmosphere, or any of its elements, here. This phenomenon cannot be the result of atmospheric conditions.”
Looking at Pip-7 in the view-screen of the monitoring board, Doctor Deniston asked, “How far are you from the nearest crater?” He wished they’d come up with a way to view the high-resolution transmissions from the IRAs in color, the same way they could on a stationary camera. When cornered about such things, Dr. Marcus always said that until the new technology could be improved, Something was Better than Nothing, and they were lucky to have what they did, in their day and age.
“Without surveying it I would estimate a few hundred feet.”
“I’d like photographic transmissions of the crater’s interior as soon as possible. Send Stubb-4 in to document it straight away and send his photographs upon his return. Is Starbuck-6 ready to begin surface sampling?”
“Stubb-4 is leaving the flyer with the equipment right now.”
“Marcus wants Ishmael-A2 and Ahab to begin simultaneously broadcasting whatever you acquire immediately. Do have the Seismic Reader with you as well?”
“Yes, Doctor Deniston.”
“Great. Thank you…”
Into the Crater of Death roll the seven IRAs. They begin finding far-flung pieces of Ishmael-Prime almost immediately, and Control buzzes like a wet henhouse. But the noise means little to the borrowed minds, who simply adjust channels and tune it out.
Ahab-1 is first to exit when the hatch swings slowly, carefully open on its oiled tracks. Ahab’s rolling, wild blue eye flickers on. Camera operational. Testing his array of tools… Ahab’s arm swings up, forward…
CLICK. The Savigny-commissioned electric saw of finest surgical steel begins to zip on its small belt and pin, soundless without atmosphere, five whirling fingers that can cut together or separately. The zinc contact points for all its possible hands to attach gleam dull yellow in the piercing, untwinkling light of the stars.
Ahab-1 is far ahead of the pack, conning the outermost edge of the Stain, primed to work inward. Several operations he is computing now actively searching for the Ishmael-probe to whom his own guts are slaved, and the virtually indestructible magnetic recorder hopefully left over from Ishmael-Prime.
The wild blue rolling eye ticks and ticks, recording the gradual shift in soil hue as Ahab approaches the Yellow Zone. Ahab’s larger, deeper functions remain unhinted…
Far behind him, Daggoo-3 resembles a child’s toy wagon with a lid, the belts that turn its wheels thick and toothy in their tread. (A brace of spare, ready blades and diamond drill-bits protrude in rubberized tie-down cords on the lid, a bit like hair.)
Queequeg-2’s hands are made of larger assemblies of blades and gears, ten to a finger, with two thick belts apiece to turn them, eight in number, arm arms of various lengths. There is an entrenching tool that can catch soil-samples, and limited chromatographic and spectrographic instrument arrays.
Queequeg’s single eye is red, and wraps around its flush-riveted copper head almost three hundred and sixty degrees. Like Daggoo, very one of Queequeg’s magnetic memory-drivers are slaved to Ahab’s own. He follows Ahab like a toy dog on a string. Being a beta to Ahab’s alpha slows the unit down unendurably, but it moves at a steadier pace than most of its fellows.
Into the Crater of Death roll the seven IRAs. On the cameras below at Miskatonic, they resemble children venturing out onto the newfallen snow of the Mare Nubium, at the edge of the Alphonsus Crater, several days’ roll from the place in Crater Ptolemais wherein it looks like some Titan might have begun trying to write His name.
Behind the vanguard, Flask-5, a stout keg-shaped kingpost of a robot, telescopes the arcs of all four of its arms out wider, wider, wire and gold foil and lens after lens. Flask scoops and guts and butchers every number, inch and twinkle of information on their strange train.
Into the Crater of Death roll the seven IRAs. All of them move in one long, continuous track, each one laying its treads into the line of the other. Pip-7, tail-end Charlie in the crew, is rolling empty, its big flat bed tilted back, the crane in the middle of its body wound and hooked shut, its simple round and whirring Tesla robot arms and head bolted centaur-like above the front two of its six tread-belted wheels. Pip’s camera resembles Queequeg’s in that it is constantly in motion.
Into the Crater of Death roll the seven IRAs….
The flurry of incoming information from deployed apparatus and testing devices the IRAs were using was keeping the Miskatonic control team active. Yet, few faces (appearing ill in the green glow cast by the many screens in the mission control room, sleep-deprived and subsisting on coffee, tea, and biscuits) complained.
Fort alone kept the room laughing at his stupid jokes, which were making it impossible for the Dean to filter what Tesla was actually telling him, and on up and down the Sisyphean chain of faeces that invariably rolled downhill…
Ahab had scooted on ahead to ‘the anomaly’ to sample the soil on the immediate border. A full shift complement, five in number, of Deniston’s young astronomers (including the one in a family way, he could never remember her name) were busily doing spectrograph and chromatography read-backs on the results. Other than a change in coloration, and different trace elements here and there, there was no observable variation. So far.
Through their seated, chattering, transcribing ranks, Deniston milled like a delighted father in the waiting room of a Maternity ward. All this new technology was performing well, and holding up. That alone was cause for celebration.
But Dr. Tesla wasn’t smiling. He’d slept three hours, his usual, yet still looked agitated, pacing the whole main control room like a wild-haired preacher in a nice but ill-fitting suit.
“Ira…,” he was saying into his own specially modulated audiophone that he carried with him in a small satchel, “How did we call him… Starbuck? Yes, clever. The Starbuck, like the sailor, he is, how you say, built to barest essentials with few luxury features,” here a ghost of a smile flickered through Tesla’s eyes like heat-lightning, “He is… more sensitized, you see, to conditions in the environment. He is design to notice details on the ground the others may miss. He is second fail-safe. He is design to be, as we discuss.”
He’d clearly been through this before, not taking very many breaths through the seismograph needle of his neat pencil-line moustache. “And, you see here, for six pages of the ticker-tape, he… it, excuse me, it, says DANGER. DANGER in between every transmission.” The tape itself was in his big rawboned hands.
Then big, harried-looking Ulysses Adams was tapping Tesla on the shoulder to ask him if he could please make some sense out of what was happening on Monitor Fifteen, nothing but random strings of numbers over and over in a permutation that hadn’t happened before.
Then it was lunchtime, and when they got back the whole room was clustered around the Relief Assistant left to Camera Four. Stubb’s head-mounted unit. Stubb was approaching the so-called Yellow Zone. The reaction was unanimous, though the Dean was still not in attendance.
:Glowing, glowing without smoke,
from the tiny alcohol heater whose vent-pipe juts out of its faceplate like
a pipe, the bright device that saves its tubes and lights from Outside,
crests the last low hill between Alphonsus and
Ptolemais, triple-jacketed in steel, cow-catcher
a last addition.
Stubb trundles bravely on.
10-4. ALL WELL SO FAR. GROUP MAY APPROACH, Stubb blips
back in quick Morse-reflex to the other IRAs,
like the leader of a flock
of geese, wheeling them all
into a turn, as though
it is slouching toward
a dinner, and its fellow
Earth, are all no
more than the
rest of the
No more than Dinner. As though Earth people
wouldn’t throw themselves
slit their own
throats, at the
of any of this news
that couldn’t be
kept under wraps.
The journals of the Imperial Dynasty
of America are yellow, yellow
yellow, in this age. The stain
will out, out
“Oh my Heavens, Deniston, look at the vapors coming off that water. There’s no atmosphere. The … the surface of Stubb’s … well, carriage, and chassis, for want of a better… He’s covered in the stuff! Looks like sulfur, or something. Get everyone in here right now…”
AMEND AMEND AMEND: APPROACH WITH EXTREME CAUTION, STARBUCK FIRST QUEEQUEG SECOND. PROTECT AHAB. PROTECT MISSION. EYES UP. GROUP EYES UP. SCAN IMMEDIATELY.
: (a wash of static between Earth and Moon, Miskatonic and mecha, captains and crew…)
:On ten of twenty screens,
the yellow waters surge and lap across the Moon.
There is a great disturbance in the Sherlock Expedition,
as though the finest minds Science had to offer
gasped as one, then suddenly began to
bark at the same time.
The new Dean’s office door is locked, and dram
of Dutch courage will do little long-term
He volunteered the lance, to pierce this
infection, tilt this windmill, & now
the real Appropriations meeting
will be reconciled, the true
Final Exam. For their sins,
his, the world…
The whiskey is warm. The office is dark.
The knocks will come.
At the yellow-colored sea,
Now stands a monolith, a piece
of monumental architecture worthy
of Stewart’s most far-flung theories
on pre-human races, a monolith
which, ipso facto, no known
H.Sapiens Sapiens hands
The Dean says Sh’ma, kolenu… in the dark, begins
The wilderness cries out to his ancestors’ God
against the thing on that far shore, the stain
he can’t explain away
:I am Stubb. I did not know I was Stubb until
:sentience, sense, the light
from the Yellow Stone
down in there in that yellow water
:monolith, moving gate, wanting to move
more, calling out to the yellow
dust on my skin, my metal
The yellow glimmering coming off the water offers a lantern to the IRA’s data-processing stream. Stubb-4 is moving from the school of verity to another point, one bequeathing traces of incalculable, one the lessons and lexicographers did not fit him with.
Glass-smooth… Still water… Deeps enough to house the immensities of Leviathan.
With his jeweler-cut crystal eyes, Stubb-4 looks for effects. Its metallic foot toes a pebble forward. An inch. And then, as if tugged by an unseen attractor beyond the waterline, a few more.
Ripples come to mind.
He, the seeker clutching hopeful dice, takes it up and considers tapping the deep with the small portion of Luna . . .
Measures its weight.
With no oh-ye-ho, casts it, no skim on surface, to navigate.
Unshored. Full sail—
Touches water with no loud. Ripples . . . Ribbed . . . Off to encounter outbound . . . and downward.
Is there an unexpected world below, a world exercising its own affairs and complexes of problematic and historical, perhaps a haven of specific perceptions among some unseen population, which will greet it as an invitation, the robot wonders.
And he waits.
Crosstalk IRA-voices chatter in his head and fall silent.
“Stubb-4? Reply. Daggoo-3 please reply. This is Miskatonic Control—”
A distant expression flickers within him. There were spring birds in bushes when he was manufactured, activated; they were laced with odd tones like this, little things, wanting, questioning… They were pretty little birds, yellow and black, they fluttered, darted and larked, but he couldn’t grasp the labors of their comments.
Ripples quiet . . . Stillness . . .
And from the deeps, without raising a ripple, the unaccountable rises. Twenty cubits wide, three thick. Yellow. Polished-silver radiant.
“A FINELY-WROUGHT… CONSTRUCTION. THE LIGHTS ARE ON.”
Floating bridge, gateway?
A yellow monolith. Without variance or flaw, touched by no mar. Two cubits tall it breaks the surface of the sea. Then, slowly up as if on unseen wings, seven. To a span of forty full cubits. Floating twenty cubits above the glass-flat surface of the sea. Below it, yellow vapor tendrils in a slow ballet of snake-knots. Twining. Seeking some code of inner.
From the monolith one shimmering tendril quietly stretches out . . . Forward to Stubb’s faceplate. Fine particles within the strand glitter and spark, slide along invisible courses . . .
The vividness of sense inundation.
A strange broken waltz, the low frequencies sounding like an old woman weeping in a dead meadow, the high register molten-tones a demonstorm, fills his receptors. “THE FAR CALL… HIS BREATH.” . . . and he begins, puppet-slow, Frankenstein-stiff, to dance. G1 to F3 . . . F3 to E5 . . . tilt . . . and spin . . . around . . . and around—
Daggoo crests the crater’s rim, observes Stubb. “Control, I can now see Stubb.”
Doctor Deniston’s voice comes back cold, harsh, metallic and inhuman, “Is he operational? Stubb is not sending, nor has he responded.”
“He is dancing.”
“Moving rhythmically. Dancing, muttering, as you can hear, about a new Piper, the tatterdemalion King whose subtle fingers have opened his way to Earth through the Imperial Dynasty of America.”
(At that, there is excited telephonic chatter from the Navy men on the radios in Control, quickly switching to another frequency…)
“Niko, you better come look at this. Stubb is utterly off his teat.”
“What means this teat? Let me see. Where is?”
It took Tesla three seconds to go through the roof. But when he looked back at his good friend, his colleague who designed Miskatonic Planetarium and suffered all Ed Stewart’s abuses of it gamely, his gentle mathematician friend with the thick glasses and mop of whitening hair, bugging about the eyes and baring his teeth, panting like a hound, blurted, “The King, the King, Doctor Tesla, you do not understand! He returns!”
Niko’s face never changed expression. “People say this for two thousand years! Hold it together, Deniston!” Without a word more, he slapped Professor Deniston broadside.
Deniston recovered his wits.
“What happened, Dr. Tesla?”
“You were babbling the same returning king utterances as the robots.”
“I was what?”
CONTROL: IN HIS PUPPET-DANCE, STUBB-FOUR LUMBERS AS A BESET FRANKENSTEIN. I AM RECEIVING A VERY WEAK TRANSMISSION FROM HIM.
“Daggoo-3, this is Mission Control. We are not receiving transmissions from Stubb-4. What are you receiving? We must know! Transmit what you are receiving from him.”
TRANSMITTING FROM SOURCE NOW.
:O’er the roiling cloud-waves,
proud, brave KNIGHTS,
fitted by the yellow armorers
in Carcosa’s fortress-womb
scarred under the battlements of villainous, and ever-rebellious,
bearing the terrible and magnificent ram,
wild-whip battle-mass of yellow pennons and sabers gleaming!
:and knight, captains and lieutenants, each astride—
meteor squadrons en masse
—darting out—sudden, swift swoop and blazed with lightning,
flying out like stormlight from an All-seeing sun
:Yellow swords to graze—
yellow lances with portentous appetites, aimed at the insanity of life…RIDING!
The King’s Calvary, jaws set to CATCH,
from His fort
to the Feeding Season!
:Heads, bitten at His Feast, will roll!
:down and ‘round.
:All fall down!
With no fare thee well…
All the pawns—
:I HEAR THE VOICE!
Mission Control, thick with sweat and splintered anticipating, edgy and the low-toned yammerings of confusion radiating.Deniston and Tesla, listening, watching, staring worryingly at each other, jaws agape. Unhappy.
Deniston: “Can you detect the slightest vestige of sense in any of that?”
Tesla: “As a planter of advanced ideas, I seek and appraise Science and truth, leaving careless gibberish and agitated ramblings to Freud’s gaze and deliberations, or to the judgments of pulpit and press. I am not in the least bit conversant in the rituals, discussion, and foundations of mental incapacity.”
Deniston: “Derangement? In a robot?”
Tesla shrugs. “Corruption.”
—HE WILL BE THERE! HE WILL BE THERE!—
The rightness of the Winter Lantern shines with Carcosa’s eddying clouds of dimness!
It strikes as the blackling bell
the keen-compass thrust
:He,triumphant’s higher and higher,
RISEN from the place of the dead roads to the Arch Uppermost,
will cause the scalloped crests of the ninety-three currents of the River of Night’s Dreaming
to flow with roiling fleetness.
:I HEAR THE VOICE!
: All, artists, plow men, sorcerers, learned men and barbers,
will forgo consent when they hear Him beckon…
:The lights are out.
The living and those past the art of burial, each, at the unveiling,
come to accept their role in The King’s play.
THERE ARE NO QUESTIONS . . .
:If you could see the tail of the plow . . .
The Yellow Monolith hovers above the shore. IRA-receivers pick up a monotonous, tuneless piping sound that seems to be everywhere. To this frozen lunar music, Stubb continues to waltz drunkenly back and forth, nearly upending himself several times, then rolling forward in a series of delighted cartwheels as he disassembles the rest of Pip-7, who is still screaming, his anthropomorphic upper body covered in its own patina of yellow dust.
HAIL TO THE KING, Stubb transmits, and then begins pulling the wires from the Tesla Electric Battery in another IRA’s back. Niko screams. Camera Four tele-screens go utterly dark.
(Below, moving with the swiftness and efficiency of a robot himself, Dr. Tesla begins pulling out organ-stop switches for what he calls Series Three Security Protocol. But when all the other IRAs begin to approach Stubb, they, too, turn on each other…)
Flask-5 looks at the slowly-pulsing monolith, and bowing slightly, states, “INSTRUCTION RECEIVED. I WILL COMPLETE MY MISSION.” Terrible and swift, the heavy-drill at the end of Flask-5’s lower right arm is a fierce-fanged tiger, boring into the faceplate of Queequeg-2.
Around him is a river of terrible duels.
Dr. Tesla scowls as he keeps attempting to shut down the IRA’s, to no avail. “They do not and will not respond… What has taken them?”
Deniston reflects his scowl and shakes his head in utter disbelief.
Starbuck-6 has taken apart Daggoo-3’s head, and removed many of the silver-dollar-sized gears and wheels, and several levers. He has spread and arranged them around the ground between his legs and is using them as chess pieces. “Ride forth, Knight. The pale Queen awaits!”
Deploys knight f1-g3-e2-d4. “Artists, plow men, sorcerers, learned men, bishops and barbers—with a snip-snip here and a snip-snip there—your hare won’t cut it—All and each and every, will forgo consent when they hear Him beckon. THE LAW IS FOR ALL.’
“FOR ALL.” Knocks over two pawns. “Leave none standing, Good knight! Watch your watch!”
A yellowish haze fills his faceplate as he, eyeing the Queen, begins to sing. “Farewell and adieu to you, Sweet Camilla of Carcosa. Farewell and adieu, to thee, Sweet soon-to-be Queen… in far, cold Carcosa.’
“Do you like being this new color, my diadem-crowned Queen?” And Starbuck-6 laughs…
“Gods and monsters! Starbuck is mad, stark raving—Tesla, how can our constructs hallucinate and become deranged? How in the name of God can that happen?”
“Some thing has rewritten or corrupted their protocols.”
Pointing at the view-screen, Deniston nearly shouts, “I can see that.”
Michael Deniston rubbed his eyes. Headless brought it all back. The beginning, Marcus’ journal, the carnage he saw—
Clacking. Ticking. Hiss and static… Riotous music never charted by any pencil or strings…
Irreducible fact. I am Doctor Stephen Marcus. I was appointed Dean of Miskatonic University by vox populi, and I will find out why there is a yellow stain on the Moon.
All these irreducible facts in my journals I thumb through now, marking, dog-earing, circling, annotating. Fact. I just set my coffee on 1899. D— it. The year we first saw the stain on the Moon.
It is a great thing we have done, pointing this mighty glass phonograph-needle at the Moon. I only wish that the circumstances necessitating it could have been more peaceful, or that we had some real stratagem if matters go truly awry.
We saw the yellow stain first. My school. My university. We must do right by this, and rectify it. We must be at the forefront of Knowledge itself, to give our Commander-in-Chief and his minions in khaki only the ammunition necessary to fix the actual problem…
But I fool no one, save myself.
Our own Professor Stewart was the first to note the yellow stain on the Moon. He was teaching several graduate students the methods the Egyptian astronomers used to determine distance over land, a simple demonstration with sticks and stones tromping about in the moonlit fen and bracken which surround our fair campus. Until they saw what they couldn’t explain, and he came to roust me out.
“Dean Marcus,” the gaunt and sober death’s-head in his round glasses and Van Dyck whiskers addressed me calmly and respectfully, standing at my front door with a galvanic lantern and a worried line in the middle of his scholarly forehead, that fateful night, “My five top journeyman anthropologists and I would like to present something for which we have no explanation…”
The coffee stains the year, on my page. Yellow…Small at first, then spreading clear to President-elect William Jennings Bryan’s first act in office: The appointment of the ‘Investigation’ that placed the Navy here at my university around the clock, in ‘advisory’ capacity. Never in the ivied bowers of Academia have I seen any ‘advisor’ carry a side-arm, no matter how politely they may converse!
I agree with Rear Admiral Hoover and the rest of those swarms of Navy officers, that we must quiet the lunatic fringe about this matter. Every End Is Nigh ranter, Temperance beldame and Starry Wisdom throwback in the outlying hamlets of Providence has shrieked, in their turn, about the Moon’s “eye”, as the Hearst papers fan the flames by persistently referring to it, rather than name it in popular parlance with the color of old Hearst’s own journalistic style, ha!
My dear colleagues Stewart and Adams seem to be thriving upon this crisis. I fear it will shake my sanity, and may have already done. But I organized this Mission, as the Navy rightly call it, and I will see it through. I watched our IRA robots built, and oversaw every aspect of their construction, as well as that of the Starbird…I have not slept properly in over a year.
I am proud of this for some reason. That boggles my own perceptual equipment.
I remember helping Dr. Tesla’s assistant, Dr. Bill Hammer (whom Niko stole from the Edison Works at twice the salary, I hear, good for him!) test every part of IRA-A2 Ishmael in the ‘field’, as it were, for crashes, heat and cold, total vacuum conditions, and everything else for which we could replicate both sufficient circumstances and Mathematics.
Though the probe is stationary, I must credit Bill for commissioning Herren Zeiss and Ikon to patent those long-range lenses which can rotate three hundred and sixty degrees. No matter what our Doubting Thomases in Research and Development said, the mother probing device is anything but ‘crippled.’
I am getting reports from the Ishmael rocket as it approaches that the stain is no mere discoloration. These reports have not been shared with the rank and file. But we will all soon know. Oh, we will know…
It is water, and moves with all the element’s attendant properties. Water on the Moon! And it is spreading!
Its course has purpose…
They must be made to see.
Every day, I am deluged with callers, with mail, asking the Great Man of Science what I know, what to do, what we are doing about this matter. And I can tell them nothing. I give the appearance of telling them something, but cannot truly communicate what is, in fact, the Unknown…
Something is wrong.
Not long after that final entry had been written, Deniston remembered going to Dr. Marcus’ office. He had to find him, to share the next piece of upsetting data.
Even now, Deniston was still processing information, still processing the jimmied door of Dr. Marcus’ office, and what he found behind Dr. Marcus’ desk when he did. The cooling clay. The twenty-two caliber Derringer Dr. Marcus kept in his desk. The smell of cordite and that beautiful mind like oatmeal hell-to-breakfast all over the back wall.
Off with his head… D—! D—!
Michael Deniston rubs his eyes again. Windmills, bitterness, and bludgeons, are insects in his sour stomach.
Tesla whispers, “Are you watching this?”
Deniston hears himself answer back, “Yes, Niko. Yes, I am.”
On the viewscreen, some twenty meters off the ground and revolving at a snail’s pace, the Yellow Monolith’s pulsing luminosity quickens and streaks, creating seemingly-anomalous light patterns, and echoing the perplexing movements of illumination on its surface it now emits a persistent cycle of static-laced round tones, blips, and cacophonous shifts in pitch. The exotic frequencies and aural discharges, many harmonically ambiguous, repeat and never seem to resolve.
One maimed IRA bows to the monolith. “I serve the King.”
Another pushes him over, thrusts its remaining arm toward the monolith. “I AM THE KING’S SERVANT.”
“You are not worthy of the King. OFF WITH YOUR HEAD…”
From the base of the monolith, yellow tendrils stretch down, and as puppeteer’s manipulative tethers move the chattering corpses aside…
“What is that d— thing?” Deniston demands of Tesla.
“Something beyond science. Perhaps a holy instrument of God? But if there were a God, why would he place his instrument, if that’s what it is, on the moon? Man, if we truly are the sons of Adam and created by God, is here.”
Deniston: “Was only here. We are there now.”
Tesla: “But to what purpose? Here would be better, easier.”
“Is He angered by our science?”
Their queries and any opportunity for resolution are cut short by the blare of a transmission. A choir vibrating with thunders and drang, all the IRA’s (as one) broadcast.
HE WILL BE THERE
IN EVERY FIELD AND CLOUD AND WATERY POOL AND WIND
HIS FAVORS ARE SHARP
CLOSER IS THE SCENT AND ANNOUCEMENT
CLOSER IS HIS ORIGIN AND PURPOSE
GREEK AND EGYPTIAN KNEW IT
it took root in Dee’s cortex and he cried
HE WILL BE THERE
And Pip, sotto voce, adds, “He comes on the River of Night’s Dreaming. Its flow cannot be turned.”
With that the scenes on the tele-visor screens come to life again, change…
Deniston looks across the room at one of the robots’ programmers. How can they know of Dee, we never—This is…”
On the lantern beach of the Yellow Sea far-away from the tiny Earth resting in the sky, a violent danse macabre. War, without knives or guns, but all the fireworks no one can rehearse for are in it. War, without blood, but other lubricating fluids flow… All manner of pushing and shoving and even, here and there, and there, some head-butting. Shine turns to shatter as Pip, now etched and tattooed with a hundred Yellow Signs by the yellow tendrils, gashes Daggoo, springs and a few bronze and copper levers and nearly two dozen gears with mating teeth spill out. Design unwinds its metal-shelled ways. Stubb screeches at Queequeg as he kicks him, again and again and again… Four drill-bit fingers become crocodile-harpoons as they blind an eye built to elaborate…
An IRA locked-in-change, runs, vaults over a brother’s arm and another’s wheels, and with an aerialist’s fly-high stretch, jumps into the sea. Before under takes him, he shouts, “Coming, Pa.”
Done murmuring to the captured queen, Starbuck finishes his mock chess game and is rubbing yellow moon dust on his limbs and diving-bell head. When he is done anointing himself he pads around on hands and metal knees examining small moon rocks. “At last! At last. Here you are,” he said, snatching up a fist-sized rock which he is quick to place in the energy-recycling unit on his chest. He then rises and turns—
The waltz continues. One IRA plays croquet with the leg and head of one of its siblings.
Starbuck, no longer shiny after his anointing, hops on the upper body of a fallen brother, “I am Lewis Carroll. You can call me Lutwidge, or you can call me Sir Snark—should you care to see a baker, bellman-banker-beaver, boojumed, but I’ve never been Lew, or Louie, or LATE. Was. Was not. I am the March Hare. I am the Mad Hatter. Mad March, ONE. TWO, THREE, FOUR, but no Alice has come to tea time at my door… And I have worn my best top hat and dancing footwear for our tango of two.”
He whirls. Twirls three more times. Dips as if he has a lover in his arms, then walks to the decapitated head-unit of Ahab. Arm extended, he raises it before him, and faceplate-to-faceplate asks, “Did you know me well? Are you Tweedle-dee?”
No reply. Up it goes, spinning and tumbling, before he re-extends his telescoping arm, catches it and holds it before him again, asking, “Are you Tweedle-dum?” No reply. “Oh my, no friends. No friends.”
Starbuck’s man-crafted eyes note OFF head and non-computing head and a bits-and-pieces heap of uncompleted mission. “Woe unto me… I am the last.” Carting the hopelessness of all broken, Starbuck walks over and sat on the body of a fallen brother. “Where, oh where? Not there? And most certainly not there. Where has my little blue caterpillar gone?”
A few minutes later he re-scans what was delivered to aftermath, arms and drained and metal, fist and inches—no forward left in them, each and every, closed.
“There is no jolly old St. Nick and no wizard lives in Emerald Oz… I tire of this.” And with that, he snaps off his transmission antennae, tosses it at his feet, and flips a switch. And he too is OFF.
But he was not the last. Flask-5 remains. To Mission Control he roars: “THE CARNIVAL OF TIGERS NOW SLEEPS.”
The Yellow Monolith stops rotating and begins reshaping itself. Effervescing, the white-hot mass convulses and extends. Remake—extend, split. Regenerate. Remodel—sudden torrent visits sliding, bursting, a peak haloed in soaring hands. Now an inversion and a painbreath-quick series of apart, re and re until its three-limbed and scorpion-like shape. In its center, the sigil looks like an eye and the topmost appendage a question mark, or a ready-to-strike scorpion’s tail.
“THE EGYPTIANS KNEW. THEY KNEW.”
Deniston keys the microphone to inquire. “Flask, they knew what?”
Flask-5 extends his arm, points at the enormous Yellow Sign. “THAT.’
“‘THE EARTHBRED AND THEIR FATES ARE YOURS IN ALL THEIR STATIONS.’”
“What are you saying, Flask-5?” Deniston begs.
A bruising, varispeed energy barks from the brass and copper sound-projection horns in mission control. Part subsonic vibration/part white-noise/part cold shriek of banshee and beast, LOUD’s napalm of stone-fist and knife yells LOUDER. For three minutes boiled-alive ears and tightly-cupped hands try not to allow its rain. Teeth are gritted and as suddenly as it was introduced the din ceased. Overwhelmed and tortured by the searing traffic, a constellate-Prestissimo of sparks peal function from sequence as tubes to aid analytical processes explode. Voltage ends series, and smoke fills the air. All the monitors in Mission Control go black, all meters, minutes ago busy with their sweeps from left to right, stop their arcs.
DEAD. All transmissions from the moon are dead.
Eyes heavenward. “Dear Lord.”
A herd stung and whipped by panic, the MU team rushes to the telescope and looks up at the moon. The face of the Man In the Moon has changed. It’s a yellow death mask. Darkside has become Earth-side.
The Moon has rotated. In the dark-side blackness of its new face is the Yellow Sign, blinking so large it can be seen with the naked eye. Deniston and Tesla, faces contoured by what madness brings, feel the advance of its arrows, their fingers tremble and drop memories of life. Through open windows, from all over the campus, the world is one big scream.
Looking out a window, Dr. Deniston sees a student he flunked last semester level a Colt revolver and shoot another student, another one is raping a screaming girl… Two others look to be sawing someone in half. President William Jennings Bryan’sdeployed Defense forces are massacring students.
And a billowing freshman lad, clad in only his ghillie brogues, is screaming a froth of crazed words, some of which Deniston had heard less than an hour ago from the battling IRA’s on the Moon…
Another student shouts up to him. “Riots and mayhem breaking out all over Arkham! RUN! Sounds like the whole town’s gone mad. It’s wounded. And… Mad!”
:Hong Kong. London.
:Berlin. And Hutchinson, Kansas and Deer Lodge, Montana, and in an inferno-incinerated cottage in Hucknall Torkard. LUNACY!
If Deniston could have seen it, he’d find lunacy convulsing in reasonable everywhere.
Riots! A spring storm, thunders clap, reaping brain and hearts.
Despair… hissing with vertigo.
throw their infants
and out windows, choke them,
nail them down to catch their shrieks
in golden cups,
them in hearths.
:crack—grand-trivial-emotional or true
:Abel, tooth and claw, kilt Cain
:Snippersnapper and wastrel turn feral
crosses their path
:On a hushed lane in Carlow, a soft-spoken Presbyterian minister beats a Catholic priest into a bloody, ropy untidiness with a blackthorn shillelagh, screaming NONE SHALL KNOW THE MINUTE, THE HOUR, until a gang of English labourers tear him to pieces and play foot-ball with his smiling head.
:Three thousand miles gone, in old New York, at the Eighty-Seventh Precinct, every man jack in every holding cell falls under the fire of service pistols held, by things once cops that shoot each other too. Their fire is accurate and continuous. Their hands are, after all, still trained.
:herdFEAR. Brownian movement. Neanderthalers into the sea.
:Rivers of rats flow in streets.
:Caged budgies ram themselves against the bars of their gilded cages.
And there is no lifeboat…
Trees, robust and green hours ago, drop their, now, yellow and brown leaves…
Jungle foliage is sacked by a bitter darkening of autumnal frost…
Everywhere: greyness… and—
Warning bells find ears. Grief-stricken shoulders rattle. In Salzburg, a boy attuned to dark poetics and the abnormal hallucinations of dementia praecox, the son of Tobias and Maria Trakl, sees the black warwings of winter night… and cries…
The new face of the Moon has changed all creatures. No longer gentle the tides roil. Oceanic waves and cold lake surge and boil. And ALL the creatures of the black deeps have now come to the surface, jumping, ROILING in the affray! And they rock and they rock, and roll in gestures wild, tear and bite each other—as if some new instinct has claimed anything that could calculate or intuit. Some insane death dance had overtaken everyone and everything…
Shark and spermwhale, giant squid and pike, are attacked by schools of tiny fish attack, schoolsthat were colorful or blue are now yellow, the identical yellow hue as the new face of the Moon. In the Serengeti a blackened sky of vultures descends on a small village. They tear at wall and roof, falling upon the hot blood cowering within…
The King’s sigil, His Yellow Sign, the new face of the Moon, is flashing. Yellow rays beam toward
and science stop.
:Steam engines and the intensities and habits of Faith
Pumps and pulleys and gears cease their motions.
A hellstar-caterwauling covers the Earth. Windows and plates and crystal and every form of breakable everywhere shatter…
In every forest, desert and field, bears and llama and beef creature are attacked by flocks of birds
:some ten and ten and ten thousand thick,
insects—beetle and ant and wasp shoulder to shoulder—mass
(rising, flying, CASCADE—SEIZURE, buzzing)
consume tiger and rhino and kangaroo, coyote and rattler,
And fear-driven, men tear men limb from limb…
Hitched to frenzy, many, with gun and blade, or in the case lower creatures without tools, leap from the heights of despair or drown themselves, put an end to their own life.
All is as the harsh mistress Luna commands…
Even the beams and particles and coronal-ejected cloud of electrons, ions, and atoms, of the sun are modified by her—HIS!—influence—
Still pinned to his bird’s-eye view of hell, Deniston, trembling with rage and other destabilizingemotions, is in tears.
Behind him, as if from nowhere, Captain Castaigne, now, touched by a gnawing “mental code” ticking in his cortex, rattles his saber.
“Major Alden Castaigne,” he croaks. “Knight of the Imperial Dynasty of America…”
Deniston listens to the saber rattle, turns to see Castaigne’s arm come up stiffly and jerkily. Like a robot, he has time to think. There comes the sound of a cold, ill wind that heralds a very long winter.
Exhausted and ruptured by the attrition of strange alterations, even the flow of his grief now frail, Michael Deniston understands there is no doorstep to farther along, no feel a whole lot better survives this landscape. Part of a line from Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, ‘. . . we are furiously carried . . .’, floods his mind as he raises his hand to wipe his cheek.
His troubled head rolls…
Joe Pulver is a writer and editor with two published novels to date, Nightmare’s Disciple (Chaosium 1999; intro Robert M. Price) and The Orphan Palace (Chomu Press 2011; intro Michael Cisco).He is currently editing 2 anthologies for Miskatonic River Press. A Season in Carcosaand The Grimscribe’s Puppets, both tribute anthologies will be released in 2012, and is also editing “Phantasmagorium” magazine, and Ed Morris’ series of “Crooked Man” novellas for Mercury Retrograde Press. He has two mixed genre collections out from Hippocampus Press, Blood Will Have Its Season (2009; intro S.T. Joshi) and SIN & ashes (2010; intro Laird Barron). His 3rd collection, Portraits of Ruins (intro Matt Cardin) will be released soon by Hippocampus. He’s written many short works that have appeared in magazines (including “Weird Fiction Review”, “Phantasmagorium”, “Strange Aeons”, “Crypt of Cthulhu”, “Nemonymous”) and anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Ross Lockhart’s Book of Cthulhu, and S. T. Joshi’s Black Wings (PS Publishing) and A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (upcoming from Centipede Press 2013) and many anthologies edited by Robert M. Price. His work has been praised by Thomas Ligotti, Ellen Datlow, Laird Barron, Michael Cisco, S.T. Joshi, and many other notable writers and editors. Joe was born, raised, and lived in upstate NY for 55 years. He currently lives in Berlin, Germany.
You can find Joe on the net at the following:
Edward Morris is a 2011 nominee for the Pushcart Prize in Literature, also nominated for the 2009 Rhysling and the 2005 BSFA. His short stories have sold in over a hundred markets worldwide, most recently to THE UNWRITTEN REVIEW, THE IMPERIAL YOUTH REVIEW, and a double-yolker of collaborations with Trent Zelazny, “Yesterday Man” and “City Song”, to be announced closer to time…
Story illustration by Dominic Black.
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