Author: Caleb Coy
Lieutenant Elizabeth Rodriquez gazed at the lunar surface, her heart thrumming. Floodlights lit up the expanse of the moon’s far side, a barren ocean floor. Her crew-mates, Commander Harrington and Dr. Crowe, shared the silence, emptiness, and a simple two-fold mission.
Set up a radio telescope. Collect a sample from the sphere’s largest crater.
The chamber opened with a hiss. In her descent, Elizabeth could hear only her own breathing and the digital whirring of her life support and data-gathering hardware. Her booted feet touched the snow-like ground.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” she announced. The Chinese proverb she’d selected was a clear nod to Armstrong. The endeavor felt so small, and the other scientific chatter rang through everyone’s helmets like any routine.
But she was the thirteenth to ever set foot here. Joined by the fourteenth and fifteenth. A privilege.
“How’s the fairway?” asked mission command over the comms, their signal bouncing live from earth to a satellite to the module.
“We’ll need a sand driver,” Harrington joked.
“I see something,” said Crowe, faintly nervous.
Elizabeth turned her shoulder light in the direction of Ali’s. Emerging from the horizon of shadow just beyond the reach of light, advanced a scurry of violet. Things. They kicked up the ashy pillar of dust. Dozens, maybe more. Tall legs, dark as wine, stilts with nothing atop them, their movements like arachnids, synchronized in some frenzy. Toward her. Her team.
“The hell?” said David.
It was impossible. Life. Heretofore unknown. Swarming upon these visitors now. No time to turn and run.
Had it not been for the screaming, they would not have heard a single step in the soundless vacuum.
Elizabeth had no words. She knew in an instant, beyond panic, the meaning of this closing curtain. Defeat welled up in her. The creatures were quickly upon them as any predator knew to do its will upon prey.
“It can’t,” she said, before the swarm overtook them. Six, maybe seven feet tall, with hundreds of black eyes, they struck with their limbs and knocked Elizabeth to the ground. The other two bodies fell beside her. A pair of fangs hovered over her helmet, then clamped down.
The first sound of contact, and it was like a tennis ball hitting a window. Again, the mouth struck the helmet. The mandibles felt strong, but the material of their suits was stronger.
Crowe was shrieking.
“Can’t move,” cried Harrington.
Any other words were lost in the gasping grunts of distress, the sound of teeth striking Teflon and polycarbonate. Try to rise, and a hungry head pushed them down.
This would not be their salvation. If the suits held, so would the endurance of these arachnoids with limbs like stalks of lavender. As her helmet jostled back and forth against the dust, she knew she would not be devoured. She would be starved of oxygen in less than a solar day.
A thousand steps they never heard coming. There was no cosmic order to this.
She knew then what her training and her life commitment expected of her. With all the breath that remained, about fourteen hours under duress, she and her team would give a testimony. As their helpless bodies rocked under teeth and tarsus, they would use their dwindling time to theorize, to analyze, to report. Anything else was futile.
To die in this lunar maria, to be the first to perish at the hands of an extra terrestrial, to survive enough to give a full account of the inexplicable. Her one final leap.