Barker was scrambling up a tilting plane of glittering blue-black, toward where two faces of coarse dull brown thudded together repeatedly. Curtains of green and white swirled around Hawks. He broke into a run, as shafts of crystal transparency opened through the folds of green and white, with flickering red light dimly visible at their far ends and blue, green, yellow heaving upward underfoot.
Hawks ran with his arms pressed to his sides. He came to where he had seen Barker dive forward, rolling over as he skittered to the side along the running stream of yielding, leaflike pale fringes. As he dove, he passed over a twisted body in a type of armor that had been discarded.
Barker’s white armor suddenly bloomed with frost which scaled off as he ran and lay in Hawks’ way like molds of the equipment, in a heap of previous sleeves, legs, and torsos, to which Hawks’ armor added its own as he passed.
Hawks followed Barker down the spiraling funnel whose walls smeared them with light gray powder which fell from their armor slowly, in long, delicate strands, as they swung themselves out to pass Rogan’s body, which lay half out of sight in a heap of glazed semicircles like a shipment of broken saucers that had been discarded.
Barker held up his hand, and they stopped at the edge of the field of crosshatched planes, standing together, looking into each other’s faces below the overhang of the polished tongue of blue-black metal which jutted out above them, rusted a coarse dull brown where an earlier Barker had once crawled out on it and now lay sprawled with one white sleeve dangling, a scrap of green surfacing clutched in the convulsively jammed pincers of his tool cluster. Barker looked up at it, back at Hawks, and winked. Then be took hold of one of the crystalline, transparent projections jutting out from the flickering red wall and swung himself out toward the next one, passing out of sight around the bend where blue, green, yellow light could be seen streaming.
Hawks’ armored feet pattered at the empty air as he followed around the corner. He went hand-over-band, carefully keeping his’ body strained upward to keep his shoulders above the level of his hands as he moved sideward along the high, scalloped coaming of pale yellow, each half-curved leaf yielding waxily to his weight and twisting down almost to where his pincers lost their grip on the surface, which their needle points could not penetrate. He had to cross his arms and shift his weight from each scallop to the next before it had time to drop him, and as he moved along he had to twist his body to avoid the spring-back of each halfsaucer from which his grip had been discarded. Down below lay a tangle of broken armor; twisted sleeves and legs and torsos.
Hawks came, eventually, to where Barker lay on his back, resting. He began to sit down beside him, lowering himself awkwardly. Suddenly he threw a glance at his wrist, where the miniaturized gyrocompass pointed at lunar north. He twisted his body, trying to regain his balance, and finally stood panting, on one foot like a water bird, while Barker steadied him. Overhead, orange traceries flickered through a glassy red mass shaped like a giant rat’s head, and then reluctantly subsided.
They walked along an enormous, featureless plain of panchromatic grays and blacks, following a particular line of footprints among a fan of individual tracks. All of them ended in a huddle of white armor except for this one, on which Barker would stop, now and then, just short of his own corpse each time, and step to one side, or simply wait a bit, or shuffle by to the side. Each time he did so, the plain would suddenly flicker back into color from Hawks’ point of view. Each time he followed Barker’s lead, the color would die, and his suit would thrum with a banging, wooden sound.
At the end of the plain was a wall. Hawks looked at his wrist watch. Their elapsed time inside the formation was four minutes, fifty-one seconds. The wall shimmered and bubbled from their feet up into the black sky with its fans of violet light. Flowers of frost rose up out of the plain where their shadows fell, standing highest where they were farthest from the edges and so least in contact with the light. The frost formed humped, crude white copies of their armor, and, as Hawks and Barker moved against the wall, it lay for one moment open and exposed, then burst silently from steam pressure, each outflying fragment of discard trailing a long, delicate strand of steam as it ate itself up and the entire explosion reluctantly subsided.
Barker struck the wall with a sharp rock-hammer, and a glittering blue-black cube of its substance sprang away from it, exposing a coarse brown flat surface. Barker tapped lightly, and it changed color to a glittering white alive with twisting green threads. The facing of the wall turned crystalline and transparent, and disappeared. They stood on the lip of a lake of smoking red fire. On its shore, halfburied, the white paint sooted yellow, charred and molten so that it had run like a cheap crockery glaze, lay Barker’s armor. Hawks looked at his wrist watch. Their elapsed time inside the formation was six minutes, thirty-eight seconds. He turned and looked back. On the open, panchromatic plain lay a featureless cube of metal, glittering blue-black. Barker turned back, picked it up, and threw it down on the ground. A coarse brown wall rose up into the air between them and the plain, and behind them the fire snuffed out. Where Barker’s burnt armor had been was a heap of crystals at the edge of a square, perhaps a hundred meters to one side, of lapis lazuli.
Barker stepped out on it. A section of the square tilted, and the crystals at its edge slid out across it in a glittering fan. Barker walked down carefully among them, until he was at the other edge of the section, steadying it with his weight. Hawks climbed up onto the slope and walked down to join him. Barker pointed. Through the crack between the section and the remainder of the square, they could see men from the observation team, peering blindly in at them. Hawks looked at his wrist watch. Their elapsed time inside the formation was six minutes, thirty-nine seconds. Lying heaped and barely visible between them and the observation team was Barker. The crystals on their section were sliding off into the crack and falling in long, delicate strands of snow upon the dimly-seen armor.
Barker clambered up onto the lazuli square. Hawks followed him, and the section righted itself behind them. They walked out for several meters, and Barker stopped. His face was strained. His eyes were shining with exhilaration. He glanced sideward at Hawks, and his expression grew wary.
Hawks looked pointedly down at his wrist watch. Barker licked his lips, then turned and began to run in a broadening spiral, his boots scuffing up heaps of crystals, at each of which he ducked his head as waves of red, green, yellow light dyed his armor. Hawks followed him, the lazuli cracking out in great radiations of icy fractures that crisscrossed into a network under his feet as he ran around and around.
The lazuli turned steel-blue and transparent, and then was gone, leaving only the net of fractures, on which Barker and Hawks ran, while below them lay the snowed armor and the observing team standing oblivious a few inches from it, and the stars and jagged horizon of the Moon behind them, a broken face against which the arc of the sky was fitted.
Their elapsed time inside the formation was nine minutes, nineteen seconds. Barker stopped again, his feet and pincers hooked in the network, hanging motionless, looking back over his shoulder as Hawks came up. Barker’s eyes were desperate. He was breathing in gasps, his mouth working. Hawks clambered to a stop beside him.
The net of fractures began to break into dagger-pointed shards, falling away, leaving great rotten gaps through which swirled clouds of steel-gray, smoky particles which formed knife-sharp layers and hung in the great open space above the footing to which Hawks and Barker clung, and whose fringes whirled up and across to interlock the layers into a grid of stony, cleavage-planed crosshatchings which advanced toward them.
Barker suddenly closed his eyes, shook his head violently in its casque, blinked, and, with a tearful grimace, began to climb up the net, holding his left arm pressed against his side, clutching above him for a new handhold with his right as soon as his weight was off each toehold which his left foot discarded.
When Hawks and Barker emerged at the rim of the net, beside the drifted armor which lay under its crust of broken dagger-points, their elapsed time inside the formation was nine minutes, forty-two seconds. Barker faced the observing team through the wall, and stepped out onto the open Moon. Hawks followed him. They stood looking at each other through their faceplates, the formation directly behind them.
Barker looked at it. “It doesn’t look as if it knows what we’ve done,” he said over the radiotelephone circuit.
Hawks cast a glance behind him. “Did you expect it to?” he shrugged. He turned to the men of the observer team who were standing, waiting, in their moonsuits, their faces patient behind the transparent plastic bubbles of their helmets.
“Did you gentlemen see anything new happen while we were in there?”
The oldest man on the team, a gray-faced, drawn individual whose steel-rimmed spectacles were fastened to an elastic headband, shook his head. “No.” His voice came distorted through his throat microphone. “The formation shows no outward sign of discriminating between one individual and another, or of reacting in any special way to the presence of more than one individual. That is, I suppose, assuming all its internal strictures are adhered to.”
Hawks nodded. “That was my impression, too.” He turned toward Barker. “That very likely means we can now begin sending technical teams into it. I think you’ve done your job, Al. I really think you have. Well, let’s come along with these gentlemen, here, for a while. We might as well give them our verbal reports, just in case Hawks and Barker L had lost contact with us before we came out.” He began to walk along the footpath toward the observation bunker, and the others fell in behind him.