Authors: Arthur C. Clarke
“—how will they get us out?”
Skipper of twenty-seat dust-cruiser and Commodore of Space stared at each other in
silence, as their minds circled the same problem. Then, cutting across the low murmur
of conversation, they heard a very English voice call out: “I say, Miss—this is the
first decent cup of tea I’ve drunk on the Moon. I thought no one could make it here;
The Commodore chuckled quietly.
“He ought to thank
, not the stewardess,” he said, pointing to the pressure gauge.
Pat smiled rather wanly in return. That was true enough; now that he had put up the
cabin pressure, water must be boiling at nearly its normal, sea-level temperature
back on Earth. At last they could have some hot drinks—not the usual tepid ones. But
it did seem a somewhat extravagant way to make tea, not unlike the reputed Chinese
method of roasting pig by burning down the entire house.
“Our big problem,” said the Commodore (and Pat did not in the least resent that ‘our’),
“is to maintain morale. I think it’s important, therefore, for you to give a pep-talk
about the search procedure that must be starting now. But don’t be
optimistic; you mustn’t give the impression that someone will be knocking on the
door inside half an hour. That might make it difficult if—well, if we have to wait
“It won’t take me long to describe the
organisation,” said Pat. “And, frankly, it wasn’t planned to deal with a situation
like this. When a ship’s down on the Moon, it can be spotted very quickly from one
of the satellites—either Lagrange II above Earthside, or Lagrange I over Farside.
But I doubt if they can help us now; as I said, we’ve probably gone down without leaving
“That’s hard to believe. When a ship sinks on Earth, it always leaves
behind—bubbles, oil-slicks, floating wreckage.”
“None of those apply to us. And I can’t think of any way we could send something up
to the surface—however far away that is.”
“So we just have to sit and wait.”
“Yes,” agreed Pat. He glanced at the oxygen reserve indicator. “And there’s one thing
we can be sure of—we can only wait a week.”
Fifty thousand kilometres above the Moon, Tom Lawson laid down the last of his photographs.
He had gone over every square millimetre of the prints with a magnifying glass; their
quality was excellent—the electronic image intensifier, millions of times more sensitive
than the human eye, had revealed details clearly, as it was already daylight down
there on the faintly glimmering plain. He had even spotted one of the tiny dust-skis—or,
more accurately, the long shadow it cast in the Earthlight. Yet there was no trace
; the Sea was as smooth and unruffled as it had been before the coming of Man. And
as it would be, in all probability, ages after he had gone.
Tom hated to admit defeat, even in matters far less important than this. He believed
that all problems could be solved if they were tackled in the right way, with the
right equipment. This was a challenge to his scientific ingenuity; the fact that there
were many lives involved was immaterial. Dr. Tom Lawson had no great use for human
beings, but he did respect the Universe. This was a private fight between him and
He considered the situation with a coldly critical intelligence. Now, how would the
great Holmes have tackled the problem? (It was characteristic of Tom that one of the
few men he really admired had never existed.) He had eliminated the open Sea, so that
left only one possibility. The dust-cruiser must have come to grief along the coast
or near the mountains, probably in the region known as—he checked the charts—Crater
Lake. That made good sense; an accident was much more likely here than out on the
smooth, unobstructed plain.
He looked at the photographs again, this time concentrating on the mountains. At once,
he ran into a new difficulty. There were scores of isolated crags and boulders along
the edge of the Sea—any one of which might be the missing cruiser. Worse still, there
were many areas that he could not survey at all, because his view was blocked by the
mountains themselves. From his vantage point, the Sea of Thirst was far around the
curve of the Moon and his view of it was badly foreshortened. Crater Lake itself,
for instance, was completely invisible to him, hidden by its mountain walls. That
area could only be investigated by the dust-skis, working at ground level; even Tom
Lawson’s godlike eminence was useless here.
He had better call Earthside and give them his interim report.
“Lawson, Lagrange II,” he said, when Communications had put him through. “I’ve searched
the Sea of Thirst—there’s nothing in the open plain. Your boat must have gone aground
near the edge.”
“Thank you,” said an unhappy voice. “You’re quite sure of that?”
“Absolutely. I can see your dust-skis, and they’re only a quarter the size of
“Anything visible along the edge of the Sea?”
“There’s too much small-scale detail to make a search possible; I can see fifty—oh,
a hundred—objects that might be the right size. As soon as the sun rises I’ll be able
to examine them more closely. But it’s night down there now, remember.”
“We appreciate your help: let us know if you find anything else.”
Down in Clavius City, the Tourist Commissioner heard Lawson’s report with resignation.
That settled it; the next-of-kin had better be notified. It was unwise, if not impossible,
to maintain secrecy any longer.
He turned to the Traffic Control officer and asked: “Is that passenger list in yet?”
“Just coming over the Telefax from Port Roris. Here you are.” As he handed over the
flimsy sheet he said inquisitively: “Anyone important aboard?”
tourists are important,” said the Commissioner coldly, without looking up. Then,
in almost the same breath, he added. “Oh, my God!”
“What’s the matter?”
“Commodore Hansteen’s aboard.”
? I didn’t know he was on the Moon.”
“We’ve kept it quiet. We thought it was a good idea to have him on the Tourist Board,
now that he’s retired. He wanted to have a look around,
, before he made up his mind.”
There was a shocked silence as the two men considered the irony of the situation.
Here was one of the greatest heroes of space—lost as an ordinary tourist in some stupid
accident in Earth’s back-yard, the Moon….
“That may be very bad luck for the Commodore,” said the Traffic Controller at last.
“But it’s good luck for the passengers—if they’re still alive.”
“They’ll need all the luck they can get, now the Observatory can’t help us,” said
He was right on the first point, but wrong on the second. Dr. Tom Lawson still had
a few tricks up his sleeve.
And so did Father Vincent Ferraro, S. J., a scientist of a very different kind. It
was a pity that he and Tom Lawson were never to meet; the resulting fireworks would
have been quite interesting. Father Ferraro believed in God and Man; Dr. Lawson believed
The priest had started his scientific career as a geophysicist, then switched worlds
and became a selenophysicist—though that was a name he used only in his more pedantic
moments. No man alive had a greater knowledge of the Moon’s interior, gleaned from
batteries of instruments strategically placed over the entire surface of the satellite.
Those instruments had just produced some rather interesting results. At 19 hours 35
minutes 47 seconds G.M.T., there had been a major quake in the general area of the
Bay of Rainbows; that was a little surprising, for the area was an unusually stable
one, even for the tranquil Moon. Father Ferraro set his computers to work pin-pointing
the focus of the disturbance, and also instructed them to search for any other anomalous
instrument readings. He left them at this task while he went to lunch, and it was
here that his colleagues told him about the missing
No electronic computer can match the human brain at associating apparently irrelevant
facts. Father Ferraro only had time for one spoonful of soup before he had put two
and two together and had arrived at a perfectly reasonable but disastrously misleading
“—and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the position,” concluded Commodore Hansteen.
“We’re in no immediate danger, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that we’ll be located
quite soon. Until then, we have to make the best of it.”
He paused, and swiftly scanned the upturned, anxious faces. Already he had noted the
possible trouble spots—that little man with the nervous tic, the acidulous, prune-faced
lady who kept twisting her handkerchief in knots. Maybe they’d neutralise each other,
if he could get them to sit together….
“Captain Harris and I—he’s the boss, I’m only acting as his adviser—have worked out
a plan of action. Food will be simple and rationed, but will be adequate, especially
as you won’t be engaged in any physical activity. We would like to ask some of the
ladies to help Miss Wilkins—she’ll have a lot of extra work, and could do with some
assistance. Our biggest problem, frankly, is going to be boredom. By the way, did
anyone bring any books?”
There was much scrabbling in handbags and baskets. The total haul consisted of assorted
lunar guides—including six copies of the official handbook; a current best-seller
The Orange and the Apple
, whose unlikely theme was a romance between Nell Gywnn and Sir Isaac Newton; a Harvard
Press edition of
, with scholarly annotations by a professor of English; an introduction of the logical
positivism of Auguste Comte; and a week-old copy of the
New York Times
, Earth edition. It was not much of a library, but with careful rationing it would
help to pass the hours that lay ahead.
“I think we’ll form an Entertainments Committee to decide how we’ll use this material,
though I don’t know how it will deal with Monsieur Comte. Meanwhile, now that you
know what our situation is, are there any questions—any points you’d like Captain
Harris or myself to explain in more detail?”
“There’s one thing I’d like to ask, Sir,” said the English voice that had made the
complimentary remarks about the tea. “Is there the slightest chance that we’ll
up? I mean—if this stuff is like water, won’t we bob up sooner or later, like a cork?”
That floored the Commodore completely. He looked at Pat and said wryly: “That’s one
for you, Mr. Harris. Any comment?”
Pat shook his head.
“I’m afraid it won’t work. True, the air inside the hull must make us very buoyant,
but the resistance of this dust is enormous. We
float up eventually—in a few thousand years.”
The Englishman, it seemed, was not easily discouraged.
“I noticed that there was a space-suit in the airlock. Could anyone get out and
up? Then the search party will know where we are.”
Captain Harris stirred uneasily. He was the only one qualified to wear that suit,
which was purely for emergency use.
“I’m almost sure it’s impossible,” he answered. “I doubt if a man could move against
the resistance—and of course he’d be absolutely blind. How would he know which way
was up? And how would you close the outer door after him? Once the dust had flooded
in, there would be no way of clearing it. You certainly couldn’t pump it out again.”
He could have said more, but decided to leave it at that. They might yet be reduced
to such desperate expedients, if there was no sign of rescue by the end of the week.
But that was a nightmare that must be kept firmly at the back of his mind, for to
dwell too long upon it could only sap his courage.
“If there are no more questions,” said Hansteen, “I suggest we introduce ourselves.
Whether we like it or not, we have to get used to each other’s company, so let’s find
out who we are. I’ll go round the room and perhaps each of you in turn will give your
name, occupation and home-town. You first, sir.”
“Robert Bryan, civil engineer, retired—Kingston, Jamaica.”
“Irving Schuster, Attorney at Law, Chicago—and my wife, Myra.”
“Nihal Jayawardene, Professor of Zoology, University of Ceylon, Peradeniya.”
As the roll-call continued, Pat Harris once again found himself grateful for the one
piece of luck in this desperate situation. By character, training and experience Commodore
Hansteen was a born leader of men: already he was beginning to weld this random collection
of individuals into a unit, to build up that indefinable
esprit de corps
that transforms a mob into a team. These things he had learned while his little fleet—the
first ever to venture beyond the orbit of Neptune, almost three billion miles from
the Sun—had hung poised week upon week in the emptiness between the planets. Pat Harris,
who was thirty years younger and had never been away from the Earth-Moon system, felt
no resentment at the change of command that had tacitly taken place. It was nice of
the Commodore to say that he was still the boss, but he knew better.
“Duncan McKenzie, physicist, Mount Stromlo Observatory, Canberra.”
“Pierre Blanchard, cost accountant, Clavius City, Earthside.”
“Phyllis Morley, journalist, London.”
“Karl Johansen, nucleonics engineer, Tsiolkovski Base, Farside.”
That was the lot; quite a collection of talent, though not an unusual one, for the
people who came to the Moon always had something out of the ordinary—even if it was
only money. But all the skill and experience now locked up in
could not, so it seemed to Harris, do anything to help them in their present situation.
That was not quite true, as Commodore Hansteen was now about to prove. He knew, as
well as any man alive, that they would be fighting boredom as well as fear. They had
been thrown upon their own resources; in an age of universal entertainment and communications,
they had suddenly been cut off from the rest of the human race. Radio, TV, Telefax
newssheets, movies, telephone—all these things meant no more to them than to the people
of the Stone Age. They were like some ancient tribe gathered round the camp fire,
in a wilderness that held no other men. Even on the Pluto run, thought Commodore Hansteen,
they had never been as lonely as this. They had had a fine library and had been well
stocked with every possible form of canned entertainment, and could talk by tight
beam to the inner planets whenever they wished. But on
, there was not even a pack of cards….