In the Caves

An ancient lunar secret seeps to the surface

The moon loomed bright in the monitor, that filled an entire wall on the bridge of the Seskia craft. Over the last three hours it had increased in apparent size to fill the monitor in its entirety. In less than two hours, the craft would land at the Theses biosphere, situated in the Clavius crater near the 60th latitude, close to the moon’s southern polar region.

Colonel Laurent instructed his radio operator to again attempt to raise a response from Theses, and once more the reply was empty static. There had been no contact with the experimental biosphere, the first of its kind to be constructed away from Earth, for three weeks. Laurent and his team of marines, engineers and medical staff had been sent to investigate, prepared for the very worst. Theses had been staffed by two dozen men and women, and Laurent found it difficult to believe that if any of them still lived they would not have made it to a radio, or at least activated one of the emergency beacons. He ran possible scenarios through his mind. Disease, contamination, atmosphere breakdowns. Theses was the first time humans had attempted to live indefinitely in an extra-terrestial environment, manufacturing their own atmosphere and mining the alien landscape for resources, aiming ultimately at self-sufficiency. It had been a risky proposition right from the beginning.

As he watched the scarred, barren lunar landscape in the monitor, Laurent mused on one possible theory of the satellite’s mythical creation. A hunk of the earth broken off in some kind of cosmic catastrophe. And left to wither, circling the blue planet as a reminder of what the Earth might have been. Laurent found it difficult to believe that anyone could be alive in all that desolation.

He was wrong.

Three weeks earlier, Taylor drove the sojourner towards the sheer inner walls of the Clavius crater, the plastic pipeline being laid out in their wake from the wheel mounted on the rear of the vehicle. In the seat beside him, Jacobi peered through the mask of his protective suit into the screen of his terminal.

“Another couple of clicks North” he said to Taylor, his voice metallic through the radio speaker mounted on the suit. “I’m picking up loads of dihydrogen oxide right near the crater rim”.

Both men had been here since the biosphere had become operational six months ago. They both agreed their job at the station was the most vital of all; to search for water. Besides its obvious uses; drinking, washing, etc; water was primarily needed at Theses for hydroelectric power, the manufacture of oxygen and the maintenance of the biosphere’s own artificial atmosphere. Without any of these things, Theses would be simply uninhabitable.

Nearly thirty years ago, NASA had confirmed what had been speculated for decades. Huge deposits of ice did exist on the moon, albeit sometimes deep beneath the lunar surface. Subsequent manned and unmanned probes had failed to find any evidence of accompanying traces of life in the icy deposits, yet the presence of water indicated that it would indeed be possible to set up an almost self-sufficient base on the lunar surface. With the eventual advent of the Theses biosphere, the ideal of self-sufficiency began to fall victim to the moon’s barrenness. The moon had only minuscule mineral and ore deposits which proved expensive to mine and refine. Studies indicated that more lucrative hoards were likely to lie even deeper below the lunar surface, but it would take several years before the fledgling lunar community would be advanced enough to test the validity of this theory. In the meantime, millions of dollars were periodically being pumped into a base that was big on pure scientific research, but short on profit margins. And most people involved in the Theses project knew that the large scale public excitement which buoyed the venture would not last forever.

At least they had the ice, and thus could count on the basics of water, power and oxygen. The biosphere was situated purposely close to the polar region on the assumption that the newly discovered ice deposits would be more plentiful. And with the expertise of Theses staff like Taylor and Jacobi, this was proving to be the case. Usually they found they had to drill for the ice after detecting it with their sensitive equipment. Yet this was a laborious and time-consuming process, and they preferred to search out the caverns at the crater’s rim for easier access to the subterranean ice reserves.

In the great crater’s shadow Jacobi spotted a cluster of likely caves in the rim they now approached. He alerted Taylor to them and the sojourner headed towards their destination. Once there, Jacobi took another reading on his terminal and confirmed that there was a significant deposit of their bounty below the surface where the dark caverns seemed to lead.

Taylor unloaded the portable skip from the sojourner and began to assemble it, whilst Jacobi readied the synthetic pipeline to be attached to the smaller vehicle. Once the skip was ready and fully loaded with sensory and drilling equipment, the wheel holding the unwound portion of the pipeline was attached to its rear. All was in readiness, and Taylor climbed aboard and drove the skip into the largest of the lunar caves. Jacobi remained outside, assembling the pump that would convey the cave’s bounty back to the biosphere.

After about twenty minutes Taylor was deep inside the cave, and he communicated with Jacobi via their radios.

“I’m drilling now”, Taylor’s voice crackled out of Jacobi’s receiver. “ Sensors indicate the deposit is only a few yards down. You all ready with the pump?”

“When you are”, Jacobi replied, holding down the send button on his unit. After a few minutes, Taylor spoke again.

“I’ve hit it. Activating melting appendages now. Whoa, Jacky, looks like we’ve hit a big one here”. Jacobi smiled as he switched on the pump that would suck the melted ice through the hollow barrel of the drill into the pipeline. He listened contentedly to the sound of liquid rushing through the pipe, until Taylor’s startled voice blared through the radio, “Jesus! Drill bit must’ve blown. It’s pissing out all over me!” Jacobi could still hear the liquid flowing regularly through the pipeline, not missing a beat. Yet the sound of gurgling liquid from the radio was unmistakably. “Jacobi, something’s wrong. The stuff’s fucking yellow! And it’s all sticking to me like glue”.

“Oh, fuck”, Jacobi muttered under his breath, turning off the pump to prevent anymore of the obviously contaminated liquid moving through the pipeline.

“Jacobi!” Taylor’s now-quavering voice crackled through the radio. “I thinking it’s burning through my suit. It’s acidic or something…it’s burning through my fucking suit! “

Jacobi grabbed the medical kit from the buggy and took off on foot towards the cave mouth, moving achingly slow in the heavy suit through the light gravity, Taylor’s frantic screams coming through his receiver. “It’s all over me…it’s fucking growing on me… “

Jacobi loped into the darkened mouth of the cave. Behind him, the liquid still somehow rushed freely through the pipeline without the aid of the pump, as if of its own volition.

Seskia made a successful landing and docking at the Theses biosphere, although the craft was completely unassisted by any ground controllers or crew. After opening the dock gates with the emergency security code issued to Colonel Laurent before leaving Earth, the rescue mission entered the biosphere to find no immediate signs of life.

Laurent marshalled his squad in the deserted docking bay. “Split into three teams and sweep the base” he ordered. “Germ suits are not be removed until further notice.”

Again utilising the security code, he opened the door to the base-proper and led his patrol down the deserted corridor, the only sound the occasional hum of pipes overhead.

The patrols found no signs of Theses’ inhabitants for some time. After about half an hour, Patrol 2 informed Laurent via radio they had found large amounts of dried blood and signs of a struggle in the mess hall. There was still, however, no Theses staffers to be seen.

“We did find something in the mess hall” Sergeant Floyd’s voice informed Laurent via his headset. “Looks like there’s been a big struggle; overturned furniture, a hell of a lot of blood. Judging by how its dried, looks at least a week old, perhaps longer. There’s something very strange about the blood, sir. Some sort of fungus or mould is growing on it.”

“Don’t touch anything until we can get forensics in there”.

“That’s affirmative”, she replied. “There’s drag marks as well, out into the corridor towards the east wing. Looks like the bodies have been dragged down there”. She paused, but Laurent did not speak. “Proceeding to the eastern wing, will keep you informed, sir”

Laurent made his way to the biosphere’s control room, intending to check the computer log for any indication of what had transpired in Theses.

“Do we know who he is?”, Laurent asked as he looked through the glass of the isolation chamber. The medical team stood behind him, peering over Laurent’s shoulders. A sweep by the forensic team had isolated the apparent contamination to the sealed mess hall and the isolation chamber in front of them, and Laurent had just given the order for germ suits to be removed.

“According to the I.D. chip all the staffers have in their heads, he’s Dean Jacobi. A geologist who’s work here mainly involved water refining and processing”, Sergeant Floyd replied. “His life signs are low but stable”. Colonel Laurent thought back to the computer log he had viewed two hours before. The last activity recorded three weeks ago was Jacobi’s sojourner returning to the docking bay after a routine water search at the crater’s rim. It was also noted that Jacobi’s partner, Warwick Taylor, had not returned in the vehicle with Jacobi. And then nothing.

Nothing, that is, except for what they had found in the pump room with the naked monstrosity that was once Dean Jacobi.

Floor, walls and ceiling splattered dark red with dried blood. Various cutting instruments; knives, fire axes, meat cleavers, electric saws; all scattered around the floor, all now horrifyingly blunt through use. And amongst the cutting tools, all that was left of the twenty-three other inhabitants of Theses. Matted clumps of hair, splinters of bone, hacked chunks of rotting flesh. Yet Jacobi himself was the most horrifying of all. His naked body was covered in large growths of yellowish mould, which seemed to mainly congregate around his orifices; ears, nose, anus and mouth. Indeed, preliminary examinations by the medical team seemed to indicate that the fungus spread inside of Jacobi’s various cavities. Patrol 2 had followed the blood trail to the pump room, where they found the blood spattered thing that was once Dean Jacobi stuffing the last of the mutilated remains of his companions into the main pump. Jacobi was shot with a tranquilliser dart and the patrol shut off the horrid churnings of the pump. Later, when Laurent visited the charnel pump room, he saw where Jacobi’s horrid cargo had been going.

To the caves from which Taylor did not return, through the very pipeline they had both laid three weeks prior.

Preliminary examinations of the shocking growth which infected Jacobi were not good. None of the doctors or forensic scientists had ever seen anything like it before. Some of them even talked excitedly, despite the horror of the whole scenario, of the possibility of it being the first alien life form discovered. But all further speculation was abated for the time as Jacobi began to rouse from the tranquilliser in his isolation chamber.

Sitting up on his bed, he smiled horribly at them through the glass with his fungus-infested mouth, and began croaking indecipherable sounds. The scientific team around him could not recognise it as any language familiar to them, and dismissed the croaking as the gibberish of a madman. Floyd held in a gasp, as she involuntarily visualised the fungus which grew down Jacobi’s throat, and had to fight the urge to turn away as her mouth became dry as she imagined it. Yet Laurent shuddered at the utterings, for if he listened close he thought he could recognise three words amongst the utterings that issued forth from that mould-encrusted throat.

“Ai, Ai! Y’ai ‘ng’ngah…in the caves…l’geb…n’gah n’ai…yog-sothoth…phaulenx yah…in the caves…Ai! Ai!…”

Floyd finally turned away from the unspeakable thing behind the glass. She bent under an nearby faucet, hoping to calm her nerves with some water, and turned on the tap. Above her, the water pipes thumped and gurgled thickly.

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