B: Door On The Moon
THE DOOR ON THE MOON
By Mark Cantrell
Copyright (C) August 1993
OUT beyond the galactic hub, where the great spiral arms tapered out, a
red moon silently orbited its motherworld. Beyond this moon, the
tranquillity of space was broken by the immense bulk of an Imperial
This was no ordinary ship; this was the Emperor's flagship itself, the
hull breached in places, terrible fires raging on its internal air.
Occasionally these tongues of fire exploded into space in incandescent
prominences of broiling gas.
A silent explosion blossomed ahead of the fleeing vessel; a warning to
heave to. At that speed it would take the Imperial vessel twenty
minutes to comply, but her commander had no intention of doing so.
Instead, the vessel desperately changed course and veered towards the
The pursuing vessel moved to intercept its stricken prey. Itself an
Imperial warship, it bore the Imperial Crest, but over this was
scrawled the rough insignia of the revolutionary provisional government
that had caused the Emperor to flee his domain.
Now this last vestige of Imperial authority fled as its vassal worlds
arose to throw off the shackles of colonial rule. To the very edge of
the Empire they had fled, to the system where the Emperor's last loyal
forces waited to receive him for a last desperate stand.
The pursuing craft opened fire once more. They struck one of the
flagship's main propulsion shafts. A blinding light erupted from the
outlet. A tremendous explosion that ejected flame and debris followed
it. Further explosions tore through the vessel's stern. Close to the
moon's surface now, it became subject to its gravitational forces. As
it was hugged to death in the moon's embrace, it became clear why it
The surface was a sea of molten lava, flowing beneath a thin and
translucent skin of cooled rock. The flagship flopped tiredly into the
sea of heat, its impact sending gouts of liquid fire into the lunar
heavens. Somehow the ship avoided breaking into fragments and finally
ended its tortured demise with its prow resting against an island of
solid rock. Lacking such support, the stern sank into the bubbling
As the displaced rock cooled and fell back, the flagship was buried
from view. Entombed for decades, centuries, then millennia...
THE landing craft completed its final approach and ignited its motors
to control its descent. It came to land near a large outcrop of rock
that bulged above the crater-pocked plains of lunar dust.
Minutes passed. Then a hatch opened on the flimsy vessel's side. A
bulky-clothed figure stepped clumsily onto the short ladder and began
to descend. As its feet touched dust, the figure uttered a few
well-rehearsed words for the benefit of posterity.
A second figure joined the first. Together they planted a flag in the
alien soil, and allowed it to unfurl along its supporting spar. Another
utterance of ritual, and the claiming was complete.
Once the ceremony was over, the figures relaxed and took a few moments
to savour the first footsteps on their moon. The first to touch its
cold surface, rather than gaze up at its shiny brilliance in silent
One of the two reached for a camera, and began to sweep its cold eye
across the lunar surface. As the eye gazed at the outcrop, he paused
and adjusted the zoom. Something caught his eye, and he lowered the
camera with a trembling arm.
"Over there!" his cracked voice buzzed over the radio.
The second astronaut followed his dumbfounded comrade. Together they
moved towards the outcrop, both feeling the same sense of foreboding as
they neared their goal.
Before them, partially uncovered was something that should not have
been there. Glinting in the sunlight was a metal door. There was a
recess in the wall, close to the door, and the astronaut cleared away
the dust before taking hold of the lever. He pulled, and felt a
powerful resistance, but finally the lever moved with a grinding
Air rushed from the door's seals as it opened a crack. Only a crack,
though, since the door was still blocked by tons of rock and dust. The
shudder of long-disused mechanisms dislodged rock further up. This now
began to topple onto the astronauts. Quickly, they fled to the safety
of the lander.
Once more the door was left to its solitude, but deep inside long
dormant machinery began to stir. Ancient computers returned to life and
began their preparations...
THE steady chugging of the air processors filled the temporary dome as
figures and machines gathered around the mysterious outcrop. The task
was nearly complete; the door -- long kept secret but today hailed as
the greatest archaeological discovery ever made -- was almost
While the work progressed, Dr Teale pondered the mystery of the
discovery. As she did so, she gazed down at the plaque marking the spot
where the astronauts had erected their flag more than a century
previously. Outside the dome, the lower half of their landing craft had
been raised to stand on a plinth of carved moonrock.
A shout from the foreman interrupted her thoughts and she wandered over
to the dig. "Well, that's it," he said. "The door's clear."
It was clear from the way he spoke that there was something more on his
mind. "What's wrong now?" Teale asked.
"The lads have had enough. They've opened your hole and now they want
to quit. This place makes them uneasy."
"What on earth for? This is an archaeological dig -- there's nothing to
The foreman grunted his disbelief. "Maybe, maybe not. But there's many
folk who've reported strange vibrations in the ground and many of the
lads say they've heard noises from inside this thing."
"Of course they did. If you were more than 10,000 years old your joints
would creak too."
The foreman refused to be convinced. Teale watched him go, feeling her
annoyance simmer like one of those underground tremors. Then the
foreman spun on his heel and waggled a finger at her. "Nothing but
trouble will come of this. That thing should not have been
THE next day the team ventured inside the mysterious structure. The air
reeked of decay and ten millennia of stagnation, forcing them to wear
oxygen masks. The light of their lamps revealed little but a grilled
floor and ribbed walls covered in pipes. Some of these were broken and
covered in a putrid ooze. Others were shedding a tangle of tarnished
and broken wires. They came across no inscriptions in this dank tunnel,
only the filth that seemed to cover everything.
Teale held back, running her torch beam over the ribbed walls. It was
no more than a mundane passage, built of metals way beyond their
technology. For years it had been the subject of debate and speculation
about the secrets it had hoarded since before the dawn of civilisation.
Teale knew it would generate more questions than answers, but that was
the way of archaeology; provided that is that the technologists and
industrialists already queuing up for a slice of the pie would allow
them to ponder its secrets.
A voice from up ahead interrupted her thoughts. She turned her light in
the direction of the voice and saw Merrick, Weller, Treaves and Kendle
in the small sphere of light. She hurried to catch them up as they
began to shuffle down the tunnel once again.
Finally, they came to a t-junction. Teale reached into a pocket for a
lump of chalk and managed to scrawl an 'X' on the wall. Merrick, the
dedicated scientist that he was, pulled a coin from his pocket. It came
down heads and they turned right up the sloping passage.
Debris caught their feet, making progress difficult. Apart from this
ruination, there seemed nothing of interest. They began to feel that
the relic contained nothing but rampant decay.
"Shit!" Treaves cried out suddenly. He had almost fallen down a chasm
torn into the floor of the passage.
As they pondered the gash, Kendle gazed across to the other side.
"Look," she said, her voice filled with excitement. "There's a door on
the other side. I think it's open."
The others peered into the gloom. There was indeed a door. Looking
closer, they noticed that something held the door ajar. Something
grisly; an emaciated, rotten leg.
The chasm wasn't the obstacle they first thought. Several heavy girders
had fallen across the chasm, close to the wall, and so bridged the gap.
It looked precarious, but within the bounds of possibility. Teale went
first. As an anthropologist she was eager to examine the corpse.
Weller came up behind her, the others following him. As they got half
way across they heard the debris rattling. Then they felt the
vibrations shuddering through the structure.
"What is it?" Kendle yelled. "A moonquake?"
"It can't be. Not in this region."
"Maybe this thing is slowly collapsing," Merrick said.
Whatever, the relic didn't appear to be falling apart just then, so
they cautiously pressed on. Weller parted a curtain of wires, looking
for the more secure hold of a pipe. As he did so, he suddenly
A corpse, half decayed and mummified fell out of the tangle of cables
and struck Weller, its loose arms flopping round him as though eager to
hug someone after millennia in the darkness. Weller screamed as he
stared into its gaping mouth and stepped back. As he fell, he snatched
wildly at anything that could save him, only managing to dislodge Teale
from her own precarious perch. Both toppled into the darkness.
At the bottom of the slope, Teale picked herself up and groaned. Weller
vomited by the wall. The corpse had fallen to bits and covered him in
Shouts echoed from above.
"We're okay," Teale shouted back. She tried to climb back up, but the
slope of debris was too steep and it shifted under her weight.
"We can't get up. You'll have to go back for help."
The reply was too distorted by the echoes, but she heard a rattling
from above and ducked as several air bottles bounced down the slope. A
message had been scrawled on one: 'spare oxygen. Stay there, we'll get
"You all right?" she asked Weller.
He nodded and then wiped his mouth. "The others gone for help?"
Teale nodded but said nothing as she listened to the rest of the team's
careful departure. As the sounds diminished they slowly became aware of
another noise, low and far off.
"It sounds like ... machines," Weller said.
"Can't be. What could be working after so long?"
"I don't like this. I don't think we should wait, we should try to get
"I suppose so. I guess they'll be a staircase somewhere nearby."
The two archaeologists set off into the darkness, but it wasn't long
before Teale realised that they were lost. As they wandered aimlessly,
the walls changed. They no longer had pipes and conduits running along
them and on some they now found alien inscriptions.
They encountered many doors, but these proved to be locked, ruined
beyond opening, or simply dead ends. Teale felt her unease growing as
they went further into the bowels of the derelict. As they turned a
corner, they both stopped suddenly, shock taking their breath
A flickering light flashed from round the next bend. Then the light
flicked out and a heavy clunking noise echoed down the passage.
Something turned into the passage and approached them. Teale backed
into the wall while Weller tried to run until he stumbled. The creature
just ignored them and passed on by as though they didn't exist.
"It's a machine," Weller gasped.
"Let's go on before that thing comes back," Teale said.
Several more passages passed by, until they finally emerged at the
centre of five converging passages. A sixth entrance, to their right,
marked some kind of chamber. All the previous chambers they encountered
had been empty, but curiosity took them inside anyway.
Occupying the centre of the chamber was a circular bank of computers
all dark and dead. Hooked to the terminals was a huge shaft of some
opaque material, strange protuberances at regular intervals looked over
a particular section of the chamber. As for the walls, the ceiling,
even the floor, they contained nothing but small monitors. Thousands of
tiny screens blank and grey.
Idly, she approached the terminal and tapped at a few keys. She wasn't
surprised when nothing happened. She was about to suggest they leave,
when a pale glow emerged from all around them.
The screens had flickered into life. As her eyes grew accustomed to the
sudden alien glow, she gasped in shock and horror. The walls, the
ceiling, the floor were all lined with faces. Alien faces. Each one
framed within its own monitor screen.
A sharper light flared from the centre of the room, accompanied by an
electric crackle. The light dimmed, but only slightly, but still their
eyeballs felt seared. Beyond the glare, in the gloom of the corridor
beyond, they saw creatures outline in the glow. Bipedal. Armed.
"Welcome to the Pandora," one of the strange figures hissed. "Flagship
of the Empire. Bastion of Imperial Order, and currently the last refuge
of the Imperial Executive."
Terrified as she was, she was both fascinated and afraid to understand
the alien's speech. It was one of the ancient tongues, and she was a
fairly competent scholar in ancient languages. But no time to ponder
further as another voice boomed from behind.
"So, you have come at last," it said. "But what are you, alien?"
She turned, horrified at what she might see. The flat-faced head of an
alien stared at her. It hung suspended in air, a flickering
"Outpost personnel referred to them as 'imps', Lord. They are... were a
primitive race, barely at the stage of simple agriculture. It is not
obvious from their appearance, but they are an analogue of reptilian
lifeforms, endothermic and viviparous -- that is they bear
"Thank you, General Mortimer," the ghost head interrupted. "It seems we
have slept a long time."
"What the Hell are you?" Weller cried. "Certainly not from
Laughter echoed around the chamber. "Earth? You call your world Earth.
Creature, there is only one Earth. That is the capital of the Empire
and that lies many light years from here."
"I have had quite a chat with your colleagues," said the figure of
Mortimer. "Very interesting. They volunteered to help us once they
understood our problem. I am sure you will too."
"Your Gods have returned creatures. And we offer your world so much...
in return for relatively little."
"Our guests must be briefed for their tasks, Lord."
"Yes, take them away. They have much to prepare."
A hand gripped her arm and she was pulled backwards. For the first time
she saw the creature known as Mortimer. It bowed low before the
floating head and as it straightened awkwardly she saw its face for the
first time. She didn't know whether to scream or vomit.
Alien though the creature was, it was quite evidently a corpse. Nothing
else could look so dry and mouldered.
Weller and Teale were dragged away, flanked by the dead. They passed
through a labyrinth of mildewed passages. Chambers opened up on either
side, the hum of machinery emanating from within.
"Those images, are they... dead?" Teale asked at last.
"An interesting philosophical question," Mortimer replied. "Yes, I
suppose they are. At least organically. But their minds were preserved
before death. In that sense they are very much alive."
"But the smaller faces?"
"Dormant. What you saw were only status monitors. When our great quest
begins in earnest then they shall be reborn. Each of us has stored
tissue cultures from which new bodies will be grown, and then we shall
be free of these wasted shells."
"But you... these others... how?" Weller said.
Mortimer laughed. "What you see is a mere mobile interface. As a
high-ranking officer my mind was also stored. My seat of consciousness
resides within the computer. I control this shell from there. The
cybernetic implants allow mobility."
They walked in silence, until a shudder ran through the
"Is this thing breaking apart?" Weller cried.
"No. They are blasting down below. There is only one usable exit, but
that will not allow us to remove our serviceable equipment. Our
engineers are excavating a larger exit. Soon it will break the surface
and then we can leave this tomb."
As Mortimer finished speaking the vibrations returned with increased
violence. A roof support collapsed, catching Teale's captor and
crushing it to the deck. The rest of the cyber-corpses tumbled. They
both took their chance and ran down the passage in a desperate bid for
"I hope -- this -- shuddering -- keeps up -- for a -- while," Weller
said. It didn't. A few moments later the vibrations subsided. Then they
heard the shuffling sounds of pursuit.
Soon after that, they reached a junction. Teale looked around,
uncertain which way to go. As she pondered, Weller cried out in warning
just as a dangling section of pipe exploded. They hurried down the
nearest passage. Further shots exploded around them.
They turned a corner and halted in shock. The passage was littered with
the dead. Teale felt reluctant to enter, but another shot declared they
had no choice. They ran, leaping over the corpses
Almost at the end and they heard the shuffling sounds of pursuit. Then
Teale heard Weller cry out. She turned, and suppressed a cry of terror.
All around them, the corpses were moving. Crawling towards them, eyes
pinpoints of menacing red. Two grabbed hold of Weller.
A loose pipe was the only available weapon. She picked it up and ran
towards the three struggling figures. With a cry of fear and rage she
swiped the pipe in a wide arc that ended with an explosion of flesh and
metal components as the first corpse's head shattered under the
The corpse stumbled blindly and searched for its weapon. It found it,
fired and destroyed its companion with its blind shot.
Free, Weller ran behind Teale as the blind corpse hindered pursuit with
its wild shooting
Once they heard no more sounds of pursuit, they risked pausing for a
rest. Gratefully, they slid to the floor and it seemed liked hours
before the burning sensation seemed to ease in her chest.
"Come on," she eventually said to Weller. "Let's get out of
With obvious reluctance, Weller rose and followed her. The passage
seemed quiet as they hurried through the darkness. Then Weller called
out, his voice a harsh whisper in the oppressive quiet. Ahead of them,
a spiral staircase ascended into the gloom above. It was a welcome
sight; the chance to start going up and so closer to the way out.
Weller over took. As he reached out for the stair's handrail, Teale
noticed a sudden movement in a darker patch nearby. Horrified, she
realised it was the opening to another passageway. There was something
lurking in the gloom, and too late she shouted a warning.
A brief flash of light stung her eyes. A burning smell as Weller
toppled to the floor, his hard hat clattering across the debris. For
one moment she caught sight of her companion's face in the gleam of her
lamp, or rather the half charred ruin that it had become.
A second corpse scurried from the passage and raised its weapon. Teale
realised she was going to die. A flash. No pain. The explosion sounded
impossibly loud. Then she realised; the creature's ancient weapon had
exploded rather than discharge its energy into her frail body.
The first corpse too had been damaged by the blast. It flailed its
broken limbs and stared at her with red naked eyes. The urge to survive
propelled her forward. She leapt over the stricken corpse and raced up
Blissful solitude waited for her at the top. She didn't wait to see if
the pursuit would be renewed. She hurried through the maze, wandering
for what seemed like lonely days until she finally found signs of their
passage when she had been nothing but a member of an archaeological
Gratefully, her last reserves of strength waning, she followed their
chalk marks, until finally the way out to sanity and safety
"HEY!" she shouted as she staggered down the path leading from that
There was nobody about and the lights had been dimmed. Perhaps everyone
was asleep? Time had lost all meaning down in the depths of that
She walked towards the portacabins and wearily clambered up the steps.
It was dark inside, but in the dim light from a computer monitor she
saw a form slumped over a desk.
"Why didn't..." she began, grabbing the person's shoulder. The chair
swivelled round. Teale stepped back in shock. What should have been a
face was a charred hole.
Lights flickered on outside the cabin. The illumination streaming in
through the windows revealed another figure leaning against a table
strewn with geological survey maps. General Mortimer.
"We meet again," it said.
As she stepped back, she realised there was somebody behind her. She
turned and found herself face to face with Merrick. She almost cried in
relief until he roughly grabbed hold of her.
More of her colleagues appeared and helped Merrick to drag her
struggling body out of the cabin. She screamed as she saw the rest of
their students being herded into the wreck.
"I said your colleagues would help us, didn't I," Mortimer said.
"What have you done to them you freak!"
"The operation is quite painless. A simple implant and they are ours.
Take her away."
She screamed as they took her closer to the wreck. Four corpses emerged
from the dark depths and took her inside. She could only cry in terror
The last thing she saw as they dragged her inside was her homeworld: a
shining jewel of blues and greens blissfully unaware of what they had
"It's good to be back," Mortimer chuckled. Then the door closed with a
hollow boom, and she was lost in the dark.
Bradford, 2 August 1993