When he spoke again it was to confess, "After all, they are more human than we had a right to expect. I suppose--"
He stopped irritatingly.
"I suppose, anyhow--on any planet where there is an intelligent animal--it will carry its brain case upward, and have hands, and walk erect."
Presently he broke away in another direction.
"We are some way in," he said. "I mean--perhaps a couple of thousand feet or more."
"It's cooler. And our voices are so much louder. That faded quality--it has altogether gone. And the feeling in one's ears and throat."
I had not noted that, but I did now.
"The air is denser. We must be some depths--a mile even, we may be--inside the moon."
"We never thought of a world inside the moon."
"How could we?"
"We might have done. Only one gets into habits of mind."
He thought for a time.
"Now," he said, "it seems such an obvious thing."
"Of course! The moon must be enormously cavernous, with an atmosphere within, and at the centre of its caverns a sea.
"One knew that the moon had a lower specific gravity than the earth, one knew that it had little air or water outside, one knew, too, that it was sister planet to the earth, and that it was unaccountable that it should be different in composition. The inference that it was hollowed out was as clear as day. And yet one never saw it as a fact. Kepler, of course--"
His voice had the interest now of a man who has discerned a pretty sequence of reasoning.
"Yes," he said, "Kepler with his sub-volvani was right after all."
"I wish you had taken the trouble to find that out before we came," I said.
He answered nothing, buzzing to himself softly, as he pursued his thoughts. My temper was going.
"What do you think has become of the sphere, anyhow?" I asked.
"Lost," he said, like a man who answers an uninteresting question.
"Among those plants?"
"Unless they find it."
"How can I tell?"
"Cavor," I said, with a sort of hysterical bitterness, "things look bright for my Company..."
He made no answer.
"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "Just think of all the trouble we took to get into this pickle! What did we come for? What are we after? What was the moon to us or we to the moon? We wanted too much, we tried too much. We ought to have started the little things first. It was you proposed the moon! Those Cavorite spring blinds! I am certain we could have worked them for terrestrial purposes. Certain! Did you really understand what I proposed? A steel cylinder--"
"Rubbish!" said Cavor.
We ceased to converse.
For a time Cavor kept up a broken monologue without much help from me.
"If they find it," he began, "if they find it ... what will they do with it? Well, that's a question. It may be that's _the_ question. They won't understand it, anyhow. If they understood that sort of thing they would have come long since to the earth. Would they? Why shouldn't they? But they would have sent something--they couldn't keep their hands off such a possibility. No! But they will examine it. Clearly they are intelligent and inquisitive. They will examine it--get inside it--trifle with the studs. Off! ... That would mean the moon for us for all the rest of our lives. Strange creatures, strange knowledge...."
"As for strange knowledge--" said I, and language failed me.
"Look here, Bedford," said Cavor, "you came on this expedition of your own free will."
"You said to me, 'Call it prospecting'."
"There's always risks in prospecting."
"Especially when you do it unarmed and without thinking out every possibility."
"I was so taken up with the sphere. The thing rushed on us, and carried us away."
"Rushed on _me_, you mean."
"Rushed on me just as much. How was I to know when I set to work on molecular physics that the business would bring me here--of all places?"
"It's this accursed science," I cried. "It's the very Devil. The medieval priests and persecutors were right and the Moderns are all wrong. You tamper with it--and it offers you gifts. And directly you take them it knocks you to pieces in some unexpected way. Old passions and new weapons--now it upsets your religion, now it upsets your social ideas, now it whirls you off to desolation and misery!"
"Anyhow, it's no use your quarrelling with me now. These creatures--these Selenites, or whatever we choose to call them--have got us tied hand and foot. Whatever temper you choose to go through with it in, you will have to go through with it.... We have experiences before us that will need all our coolness."
He paused as if he required my assent. But I sat sulking. "Confound your science!" I said.
"The problem is communication. Gestures, I fear, will be different. Pointing, for example. No creatures but men and monkeys point."
That was too obviously wrong for me. "Pretty nearly every animal," I cried, "points with its eyes or nose."
Cavor meditated over that. "Yes," he said at last, "and we don't. There's such differences--such differences!"
"One might.... But how can I tell? There is speech. The sounds they make, a sort of fluting and piping. I don't see how we are to imitate that. Is it their speech, that sort of thing? They may have different senses, different means of communication. Of course they are minds and we are minds; there must be something in common. Who knows how far we may not get to an understanding?"
"The things are outside us," I said. "They're more different from us than the strangest animals on earth. They are a different clay. What is the good of talking like this?"
Cavor thought. "I don't see that. Where there are minds they will have something similar--even though they have been evolved on different planets. Of course if it was a question of instincts, if we or they are no more than animals--"
"Well, are they? They're much more like ants on their hind legs than human beings, and who ever got to any sort of understanding with ants?"
"But these machines and clothing! No, I don't hold with you, Bedford. The difference is wide--"
"The resemblance must bridge it. I remember reading once a paper by the late Professor Galton on the possibility of communication between the planets. Unhappily, at that time it did not seem probable that that would be of any material benefit to me, and I fear I did not give it the attention I should have done--in view of this state of affairs. Yet.... Now, let me see!
"His idea was to begin with those broad truths that must underlie all conceivable mental existences and establish a basis on those. The great principles of geometry, to begin with. He proposed to take some leading proposition of Euclid's, and show by construction that its truth was known to us, to demonstrate, for example, that the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal, and that if the equal sides be produced the angles on the other side of the base are equal also, or that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the two other sides. By demonstrating our knowledge of these things we should demonstrate our possession of a reasonable intelligence.... Now, suppose I ... I might draw the geometrical figure with a wet finger, or even trace it in the air...."
He fell silent. I sat meditating his words. For a time his wild hope of communication, of interpretation, with these weird beings held me. Then that angry despair that was a part of my exhaustion and physical misery resumed its sway. I perceived with a sudden novel vividness the extraordinary folly of everything I had ever done. "Ass!" I said; "oh, ass, unutterable ass.... I seem to exist only to go about doing preposterous things. Why did we ever leave the thing? ... Hopping about looking for patents and concessions in the craters of the moon!... If only we had had the sense to fasten a handkerchief to a stick to show where we had left the sphere!"
I subsided, fuming.
"It is clear," meditated Cavor, "they are intelligent. One can hypothecate certain things. As they have not killed us at once, they must have ideas of mercy. Mercy! at any rate of restraint. Possibly of intercourse. They may meet us. And this apartment and the glimpses we had of its guardian. These fetters! A high degree of intelligence..."
"I wish to heaven," cried I, "I'd thought even twice! Plunge after plunge. First one fluky start and then another. It was my confidence in you! Why didn't I stick to my play? That was what I was equal to. That was my world and the life I was made for. I could have finished that play. I'm certain ... it was a good play. I had the scenario as good as done. Then.... Conceive it! leaping to the moon! Practically--I've thrown my life away! That old woman in the inn near Canterbury had better sense."
I looked up, and stopped in mid-sentence. The darkness had given place to that bluish light again. The door was opening, and several noiseless Selenites were coming into the chamber. I became quite still, staring at their grotesque faces.
Then suddenly my sense of disagreeable strangeness changed to interest. I perceived that the foremost and second carried bowls. One elemental need at least our minds could understand in common. They were bowls of some metal that, like our fetters, looked dark in that bluish light; and each contained a number of whitish fragments. All the cloudy pain and misery that oppressed me rushed together and took the shape of hunger. I eyed these bowls wolfishly, and, though it returned to me in dreams, at that time it seemed a small matter that at the end of the arms that lowered one towards me were not hands, but a sort of flap and thumb, like the end of an elephant's trunk. The stuff in the bowl was loose in texture, and whitish brown in colour--rather like lumps of some cold souffle, and it smelt faintly like mushrooms. From a partially divided carcass of a mooncalf that we presently saw, I am inclined to believe it must have been mooncalf flesh.
My hands were so tightly chained that I could barely contrive to reach the bowl; but when they saw the effort I made, two of them dexterously released one of the turns about my wrist. Their tentacle hands were soft and cold to my skin. I immediately seized a mouthful of the food. It had the same laxness in texture that all organic structures seem to have upon the moon; it tasted rather like a gauffre or a damp meringue, but in no way was it disagreeable. I took two other mouthfuls. "I wanted--foo'!" said I, tearing off a still larger piece....
For a time we ate with an utter absence of self-consciousness. We ate and presently drank like tramps in a soup kitchen. Never before nor since have I been hungry to the ravenous pitch, and save that I have had this very experience I could never have believed that, a quarter of a million of miles out of our proper world, in utter perplexity of soul, surrounded, watched, touched by beings more grotesque and inhuman than the worst creations of a nightmare, it would be possible for me to eat in utter forgetfulness of all these things. They stood about us watching us, and ever and again making a slight elusive twittering that stood the suppose, in the stead of speech. I did not even shiver at their touch. And when the first zeal of my feeding was over, I could note that Cavor, too, had been eating with the same shameless abandon.
Experiments in intercourse When at last we had made an end of eating, the Selenites linked our hands closely together again, and then untwisted the chains about our feet and rebound them, so as to give us a limited freedom of movement. Then they unfastened the chains about our waists. To do all this they had to handle us freely, and ever and again one of their queer heads came down close to my face, or a soft tentacle-hand touched my head or neck. I don't remember that I was afraid then or repelled by their proximity. I think that our incurable anthropomorphism made us imagine there were human heads inside their masks. The skin, like everything else, looked bluish, but that was on account of the light; and it was hard and shiny, quite in the beetle-wing fashion, not soft, or moist, or hairy, as a vertebrated animal's would be. Along the crest of the head was a low ridge of whitish spines running from back to front, and a much larger ridge curved on either side over the eyes. The Selenite who untied me used his mouth to help his hands.
"They seem to be releasing us," said Cavor. "Remember we are on the moon! Make no sudden movements!"
"Are you going to try that geometry?"
"If I get a chance. But, of course, they may make an advance first."
We remained passive, and the Selenites, having finished their arrangements, stood back from us, and seemed to be looking at us. I say seemed to be, because as their eyes were at the side and not in front, one had the same difficulty in determining the direction in which they were looking as one has in the case of a hen or a fish. They conversed with one another in their reedy tones, that seemed to me impossible to imitate or define. The door behind us opened wider, and, glancing over my shoulder, I saw a vague large space beyond, in which quite a little crowd of Selenites were standing. They seemed a curiously miscellaneous rabble.
"Do they want us to imitate those sounds?" I asked Cavor.
"I don't think so," he said.
"It seems to me that they are trying to make us understand something."
"I can't make anything of their gestures. Do you notice this one, who is worrying with his head like a man with an uncomfortable collar?"
"Let us shake our heads at him."
We did that, and finding it ineffectual, attempted an imitation of the Selenites' movements. That seemed to interest them. At any rate they all set up the same movement. But as that seemed to lead to nothing, we desisted at last and so did they, and fell into a piping argument among themselves. Then one of them, shorter and very much thicker than the others, and with a particularly wide mouth, squatted down suddenly beside Cavor, and put his hands and feet in the same posture as Cavor's were bound, and then by a dexterous movement stood up.
"Cavor," I shouted, "they want us to get up!"
He stared open-mouthed. "That's it!" he said.
And with much heaving and grunting, because our hands were tied together, we contrived to struggle to our feet. The Selenites made way for our elephantine heavings, and seemed to twitter more volubly. As soon as we were on our feet the thick-set Selenite came and patted each of our faces with his tentacles, and walked towards the open doorway. That also was plain enough, and we followed him. We saw that four of the Selenites standing in the doorway were much taller than the others, and clothed in the same manner as those we had seen in the crater, namely, with spiked round helmets and cylindrical body-cases, and that each of the four carried a goad with spike and guard made of that same dull-looking metal as the bowls. These four closed about us, one on either side of each of us, as we emerged from our chamber into the cavern from which the light had come.
We did not get our impression of that cavern all at once. Our attention was taken up by the movements and attitudes of the Selenites immediately about us, and by the necessity of controlling our motion, lest we should startle and alarm them and ourselves by some excessive stride. In front of us was the short, thick-set being who had solved the problem of asking us to get up, moving with gestures that seemed, almost all of them, intelligible to us, inviting us to follow him. His spout-like face turned from one of us to the other with a quickness that was clearly interrogative. For a time, I say, we were taken up with these things.
But at last the great place that formed a background to our movements asserted itself. It became apparent that the source of much, at least, of the tumult of sounds which had filled our ears ever since we had recovered from the stupefaction of the fungus was a vast mass of machinery in active movement, whose flying and whirling parts were visible indistinctly over the heads and between the bodies of the Selenites who walked about us. And not only did the web of sounds that filled the air proceed from this mechanism, but also the peculiar blue light that irradiated the whole place. We had taken it as a natural thing that a subterranean cavern should be artificially lit, and even now, though the fact was patent to my eyes, I did not really grasp its import until presently the darkness came. The meaning and structure of this huge apparatus we saw I cannot explain, because we neither of us learnt what it was for or how it worked. One after another, big shafts of metal flung out and up from its centre, their heads travelling in what seemed to me to be a parabolic path; each dropped a sort of dangling arm as it rose towards the apex of its flight and plunged down into a vertical cylinder, forcing this down before it. About it moved the shapes of tenders, little figures that seemed vaguely different from the beings about us. As each of the three dangling arms of the machine plunged down, there was a clank and then a roaring, and out of the top of the vertical cylinder came pouring this incandescent substance that lit the place, and ran over as milk runs over a boiling pot, and dripped luminously into a tank of light below. It was a cold blue light, a sort of phosphorescent glow but infinitely brighter, and from the tanks into which it fell it ran in conduits athwart the cavern.
Thud, thud, thud, thud, came the sweeping arms of this unintelligible apparatus, and the light substance hissed and poured. At first the thing seemed only reasonably large and near to us, and then I saw how exceedingly little the Selenites upon it seemed, and I realised the full immensity of cavern and machine. I looked from this tremendous affair to the faces of the Selenites with a new respect. I stopped, and Cavor stopped, and stared at this thunderous engine.
"But this is stupendous!" I said. "What can it be for?"
Cavor's blue-lit face was full of an intelligent respect. "I can't dream! Surely these beings-- Men could not make a thing like that! Look at those arms, are they on connecting rods?"
The thick-set Selenite had gone some paces unheeded. He came back and stood between us and the great machine. I avoided seeing him, because I guessed somehow that his idea was to beckon us onward. He walked away in the direction he wished us to go, and turned and came back, and flicked our faces to attract our attention.
Cavor and I looked at one another.
"Cannot we show him we are interested in the machine?" I said.
"Yes," said Cavor. "We'll try that." He turned to our guide and smiled, and pointed to the machine, and pointed again, and then to his head, and then to the machine. By some defect of reasoning he seemed to imagine that broken English might help these gestures. "Me look 'im," he said, "me think 'im very much. Yes."
His behaviour seemed to check the Selenites in their desire for our progress for a moment. They faced one another, their queer heads moved, the twittering voices came quick and liquid. Then one of them, a lean, tall creature, with a sort of mantle added to the puttee in which the others were dressed, twisted his elephant trunk of a hand about Cavor's waist, and pulled him gently to follow our guide, who again went on ahead. Cavor resisted. "We may just as well begin explaining ourselves now. They may think we are new animals, a new sort of mooncalf perhaps! It is most important that we should show an intelligent interest from the outset."
He began to shake his head violently. "No, no," he said, "me not come on one minute. Me look at 'im."
"Isn't there some geometrical point you might bring in apropos of that affair?" I suggested, as the Selenites conferred again.
"Possibly a parabolic--" he began.
He yelled loudly, and leaped six feet or more!
One of the four armed moon-men had pricked him with a goad!