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Sunrise On The Moon







From: The First Men In The Moon

As we saw it first it was the wildest and most desolate of scenes. We were
in an enormous amphitheatre, a vast circular plain, the floor of the giant
crater. Its cliff-like walls closed us in on every side. From the westward
the light of the unseen sun fell upon them, reaching to the very foot of
the cliff, and showed a disordered escarpment of drab and grayish rock,
lined here and there with banks and crevices of snow. This was perhaps a
dozen miles away, but at first no intervening atmosphere diminished in the
slightest the minutely detailed brilliancy with which these things glared
at us. They stood out clear and dazzling against a background of starry
blackness that seemed to our earthly eyes rather a gloriously spangled
velvet curtain than the spaciousness of the sky.

The eastward cliff was at first merely a starless selvedge to the starry
dome. No rosy flush, no creeping pallor, announced the commencing day.
Only the Corona, the Zodiacal light, a huge cone-shaped, luminous haze,
pointing up towards the splendour of the morning star, warned us of the
imminent nearness of the sun.

Whatever light was about us was reflected by the westward cliffs. It
showed a huge undulating plain, cold and gray, a gray that deepened
eastward into the absolute raven darkness of the cliff shadow. Innumerable
rounded gray summits, ghostly hummocks, billows of snowy substance,
stretching crest beyond crest into the remote obscurity, gave us our first
inkling of the distance of the crater wall. These hummocks looked like
snow. At the time I thought they were snow. But they were not--they were
mounds and masses of frozen air.

So it was at first; and then, sudden, swift, and amazing, came the lunar
day.

The sunlight had crept down the cliff, it touched the drifted masses at
its base and incontinently came striding with seven-leagued boots towards
us. The distant cliff seemed to shift and quiver, and at the touch of the
dawn a reek of gray vapour poured upward from the crater floor, whirls and
puffs and drifting wraiths of gray, thicker and broader and denser, until
at last the whole westward plain was steaming like a wet handkerchief held
before the fire, and the westward cliffs were no more than refracted glare
beyond.

"It is air," said Cavor. "It must be air--or it would not rise like
this--at the mere touch of a sun-beam. And at this pace...."

He peered upwards. "Look!" he said.

"What?" I asked.

"In the sky. Already. On the blackness--a little touch of blue. See! The
stars seem larger. And the little ones and all those dim nebulosities we
saw in empty space--they are hidden!"

Swiftly, steadily, the day approached us. Gray summit after gray summit
was overtaken by the blaze, and turned to a smoking white intensity. At
last there was nothing to the west of us but a bank of surging fog, the
tumultuous advance and ascent of cloudy haze. The distant cliff had
receded farther and farther, had loomed and changed through the whirl,
and foundered and vanished at last in its confusion.

Nearer came that steaming advance, nearer and nearer, coming as fast as
the shadow of a cloud before the south-west wind. About us rose a thin
anticipatory haze.

Cavor gripped my arm. "What?" I said.

"Look! The sunrise! The sun!"

He turned me about and pointed to the brow of the eastward cliff, looming
above the haze about us, scarce lighter than the darkness of the sky. But
now its line was marked by strange reddish shapes, tongues of vermilion
flame that writhed and danced. I fancied it must be spirals of vapour that
had caught the light and made this crest of fiery tongues against the sky,
but indeed it was the solar prominences I saw, a crown of fire about the
sun that is forever hidden from earthly eyes by our atmospheric veil.

And then--the sun!

Steadily, inevitably came a brilliant line, came a thin edge of
intolerable effulgence that took a circular shape, became a bow, became a
blazing sceptre, and hurled a shaft of heat at us as though it was a
spear.

It seemed verily to stab my eyes! I cried aloud and turned about blinded,
groping for my blanket beneath the bale.

And with that incandescence came a sound, the first sound that had reached
us from without since we left the earth, a hissing and rustling, the
stormy trailing of the aerial garment of the advancing day. And with the
coming of the sound and the light the sphere lurched, and blinded and
dazzled we staggered helplessly against each other. It lurched again, and
the hissing grew louder. I had shut my eyes perforce, I was making clumsy
efforts to cover my head with my blanket, and this second lurch sent me
helplessly off my feet. I fell against the bale, and opening my eyes had a
momentary glimpse of the air just outside our glass. It was running--it
was boiling--like snow into which a white-hot rod is thrust. What had
been solid air had suddenly at the touch of the sun become a paste, a
mud, a slushy liquefaction, that hissed and bubbled into gas.

There came a still more violent whirl of the sphere and we had clutched
one another. In another moment we were spun about again. Round we went and
over, and then I was on all fours. The lunar dawn had hold of us. It meant
to show us little men what the moon could do with us.

I caught a second glimpse of things without, puffs of vapour, half liquid
slush, excavated, sliding, falling, sliding. We dropped into darkness. I
went down with Cavor's knees in my chest. Then he seemed to fly away from
me, and for a moment I lay with all the breath out of my body staring
upward. A toppling crag of the melting stuff had splashed over us, buried
us, and now it thinned and boiled off us. I saw the bubbles dancing on the
glass above. I heard Cavor exclaiming feebly.

Then some huge landslip in the thawing air had caught us, and spluttering
expostulation, we began to roll down a slope, rolling faster and faster,
leaping crevasses and rebounding from banks, faster and faster, westward
into the white-hot boiling tumult of the lunar day.

Clutching at one another we spun about, pitched this way and that, our
bale of packages leaping at us, pounding at us. We collided, we gripped,
we were torn asunder--our heads met, and the whole universe burst into
fiery darts and stars! On the earth we should have smashed one another a
dozen times, but on the moon, luckily for us, our weight was only
one-sixth of what it is terrestrially, and we fell very mercifully. I
recall a sensation of utter sickness, a feeling as if my brain were upside
down within my skull, and then--

Something was at work upon my face, some thin feelers worried my ears.
Then I discovered the brilliance of the landscape around was mitigated by
blue spectacles. Cavor bent over me, and I saw his face upside down, his
eyes also protected by tinted goggles. His breath came irregularly, and
his lip was bleeding from a bruise. "Better?" he said, wiping the blood
with the back of his hand.

Everything seemed swaying for a space, but that was simply my giddiness. I
perceived that he had closed some of the shutters in the outer sphere to
save me--from the direct blaze of the sun. I was aware that everything
about us was very brilliant.

"Lord!" I gasped. "But this--"

I craned my neck to see. I perceived there was a blinding glare outside,
an utter change from the gloomy darkness of our first impressions. "Have I
been insensible long?" I asked.

"I don't know--the chronometer is broken. Some little time.... My dear
chap! I have been afraid..."

I lay for a space taking this in. I saw his face still bore evidences of
emotion. For a while I said nothing. I passed an inquisitive hand over my
contusions, and surveyed his face for similar damages. The back of my
right hand had suffered most, and was skinless and raw. My forehead was
bruised and had bled. He handed me a little measure with some of the
restorative--I forget the name of it--he had brought with us. After a
time I felt a little better. I began to stretch my limbs carefully. Soon
I could talk.

"It wouldn't have done," I said, as though there had been no interval.

"No! it wouldn't."

He thought, his hands hanging over his knees. He peered through the glass
and then stared at me.

"Good Lord!" he said. "No!"

"What has happened?" I asked after a pause. "Have we jumped to the
tropics?"

"It was as I expected. This air has evaporated--if it is air. At any
rate, it has evaporated, and the surface of the moon is showing. We are
lying on a bank of earthy rock. Here and there bare soil is exposed. A
queer sort of soil!"

It occurred to him that it was unnecessary to explain. He assisted me into
a sitting position, and I could see with my own eyes.





Next: A Lunar Morning

Previous: The Landing On The Moon



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