By Earthlight - novelonlinefull.com
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The giant walls of Albategnius the center of the moon's visible disk towered bleakly up around ... everywhere ... lifelessness, just broken rock ... no water to erode. No voices, no faces, no life anywhere.
Just Barlow. Barlow and a rocket.
And the stars and somewhere, the earth in the sky, sharp as molten steel in the eyes. The rocket watched him and listened. This was a target rocket. 240,000 miles away in the New Mexico blockhouse, they were watching through the rocket's eyes, feeling through the rocket's mechanical nervous system. The rocket carried instruments to test out flight calculations, controls, conditions on the moon. It carried self-operating information about the range of temperatures, radiation, gravitational influences and other conditions to be encountered on the journey and here on the moon's surface. It wouldn't return; only the results of its sensory apparatus were returning now and would keep on returning until the rocket's power ran out.
The rocket was equipped with every kind of instrument--trackers, telemeters, and it was sending back sound and sight like a human eye and ear. Radar stations, television stations, G.E. wagons down there receiving information from the rocket....
The instructions told Barlow exactly where to stand so the television-eyes could pick up his image. He found himself leaning in using the kit, getting the radio apparatus out of his suit connected properly.
He was starting, making gestures, while the terrible fear of loneliness and isolation, his Achilles Heel, made the alien surroundings reel and slip and tremble as though at any moment he was going to crumble, fail, surrender.
The bleeding from his nose and ears had stopped. No pain; that wasn't the trouble. It was being alone, the idea of dying alone....
The bulbous suit carried him over the terrain. Clouds of pumice-dust drifted. He felt like an infant walking, his feet threatening to fold under him. The rocket seemed to be drawing him back toward it. It seemed warm and friendly as he walked the required distance away from it. On Earth they were seeing him now--a man on the moon where there should be no men. He would explain it to them; that was his job. To give them an explanation that would frighten them, freeze the inevitable war-drift for six months more. So the Brotherhood could act--the Brotherhood only needed time.
But what about Barlow? Sure, everybody had to die, but no one should have to die the way Barlow is being asked to. He couldn't do it!
But he stood there, and the rocket transmitted his image and his words back to the blockhouse at White Sands, New Mexico. He said what the instructions told him to.
"We've been observing you; we saw the rocket coming in. You think you're the first to send a rocket here, but you're not. We've been here quite a while. Long enough to have set up a small colony. We've built a city near a uranium mine. There are large processing works, rocket installations and living quarters. There are atomic warhead rockets too...."
He stopped. His legs were weak, so much pressure for such light gravity....
... rockets on the moon's dark side, out of your reach. But we can reach you. The world is just a target rotating beneath us. We have unlimited deposits of uranium and other radioactive metals; you are completely helpless. Any further attempts to come to the moon will meet with destruction. We will enforce peace if we can. Any indication down there of any power planning to start a war, and we'll send our own atomic warhead rockets down.
"We are primarily scientists and technicians. The annihilation of civilization would have been inevitable anyway, so we've nothing to lose by this last attempt to maintain peace by the only means left--by force. We'll bomb any power that attempts to launch atom bombs, or begins any form of military aggression. And remember--no more rockets to the moon!
"And who are we? WE are not America, Russia, France, Britain, Yugoslavia, China, j.a.pan, Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Texas, or any South American country. We are no country at all. We are of ALL countries. We are here to protect all countries from every other country, and we will try to do this by force if necessary. Remember--no more rockets to the moon. We will atom-bomb any nation attempting any form of military aggression."
The Brotherhood was very old, the outgrowth of an ancient Eastern philosophical cult of non-resistance and peace. With six months more, the Brotherhood could win the peace, maybe forever. If the speech just made frightened the Americans enough, they wouldn't try anything. The only other powers that might start a war within six months were Russia, China, Yugoslavia. And they were too uncertain as to whether or not America had already reached the moon. Who controlled the Moon controlled Earth. They had been afraid for some time that perhaps America had already gotten to the moon. Mutual fear of retaliation had postponed the last war this long.
The Brotherhood knew social-psychology. They figured this would work.
Barlow felt himself backing away from the rocket. They were watching him, the rocket's eyes and ears. Taking his voice and image back to earth, back to voices and laughter and music and sound and warmth and women ... with a sob, he twisted away from the rocket, turned, fell to his thighs in thick pumice-dust, kept on struggling through lazy streaming dust ribbons and he didn't look back. He was watched; he mustn't look back at the rocket again.
Meteors exploded soundlessly on the beds of lava and seas of dust, shooting up thick motionless sprays that seemed almost solid. Above him, like splintered steel, stretched the thousands of feet of crater wall. He reached the sharp wall of rock, managed to get around it and out of sight of the rocket. He fell. He lay there, his suit blending with the cold and airless landscape.
He screamed. He clawed his way up, started back again, back toward the rocket. h.e.l.l with the Brotherhood. He was for Hal Barlow. Just for Hal Barlow. He'd tell the truth. It wouldn't be long then. They'd send other rockets up then. This was for Hal Barlow. The isolation pressed in, pressed him faster, throwing him crazily over the dust toward the rocket. Then they'd know the truth, send up other rockets, ... not this way, with no more sounds, voices, any moving thing. No way for a man to die....
It wasn't death; it was the way of dying. No one should die this way--so alone. Especially Barlow, who feared loneliness more than anything else.
He fell. One foot slid into a crack filled with pumice dust fine as powder. He hooked the big steel hooks on the ends of his arms at the rock, and clung there, his helmet barely pushing up through the dust.
He struggled for a while, desperately with his mind filling with visions of the rocket. He wanted to live now, make up for all the living he'd missed for so long.
He looked around, still struggling. Light gravity, little weight, but he was so weak now, and still the rocket wasn't in sight. He crawled on his stomach, dragging the bulbous suit over the rock. He could get around the rock. He had to. Out of sight, but so near, was the warm human rocket.
He ran into the rock and collapsed with a long wet sigh. He gasped.
Pain throbbed damply over his chest. He moved ... just enough to turn over on his back. He slid up a little so that he was sitting there staring at the frigid, barren, naked emptiness of utter silence and desolation. What had the man said? "_No man is alone who has learned the secret of oneness with the world...?_"
He thought about the Brotherhood, seriously now, for the first time.
Many men before him had died for it. An entirely new approach to society and the individual. Working from the inside out, there would be more than a mere deflection of evil. There would be suppression at the source, in the individual will.
An end of national idolatry that threatened the existence of civilization. Man was superhuman in power and glory, subhuman in morality. After the spiritual revolution, never again the monstrous evils arising when remote abstractions like "nation" and "state" are regarded as realities more concrete and significant than human beings.
And no man is an island unto himself....
He looked up. He saw the Earth then.
It shone down upon him through the Lunar night, twenty times brighter than moonlight. He felt warmth. There were faces in the shadows, hopeful women's faces and the eager innocent faces of children who had not yet learned hopelessness and hate. They might never learn it now.
He grinned. It was funny, you had to get so far away to look back and see all the people on earth as one, one face, one heart--one world--it looked like one world from here.
It wasn't cold as Barlow lay there and looked up at the bright shining disk. He closed his eyes. The Earthlight seemed to warm him, as the sunlight had once warmed him, long ago in childhood, on a lazy summer afternoon.