16 Apr The Darkness of Farside
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"The Darkness of Farside"Written by
Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
My name is Jim McGraw. I was the Command Module Pilot of Apollo 19. Contrary to popular belief, there were at least two more missions to the moon that were kept secret from the public. I flew to the moon in June of 1973 under the command of Commander Thomas Caird. Our friend, Steve Willis, was the flight’s Lunar Module Pilot.
The goal of our flight was to be the first manned landing on the lunar farside. You see, word has it that the Department of Defense received information that the Russians were going to land in the Fermi Crater, so we made up our minds to beat them by landing in the Tsiolkovsky Crater, directly to the east of Fermi.
Now, as the CMP, I have a boring yet crucial job in the mission. My purpose is to stay in orbit of the moon while Tom and Steve explore on the surface below. Whenever I swing back to the lunar nearside, I’ll report to earth on their progress, as we will be out of direct line of sight with mission control while on the other side.
Apollo 19 blasted off from Cape Canaveral on June 16, 1973, and made its Trans-Orbital Injection after orbiting the earth twice. Four days on the 20th, we entered lunar orbit. Tom and Steve flew down through the tunnel that connected the Command Module and the Lunar Module, sealed off both compartments, and separated.
After I checked the LM over through the triangular CM window, they began to make their descent. The procedure went rather smoothly, exactly as we predicted in the Sims. I watched eagerly as the LM slowly fell to the lunar surface. Soon, my friends were out of sight.
As they silently fell to the moon, I heard the excitement in their voices. The closer they got, the more tense they sounded. Eventually, I heard on the radio a loud Whuuuuuump!
“Touch!” Tom yelled.
“Engine shut-down,” Steve calmly announced.
For a brief moment, all was dead quiet. Then, when they realized what they had accomplished, I heard my two friends burst out laughing. They had successfully landed on the moon!
Within an hour, they had completed their EVA checklist and I gave Tom a ‘go’ for the first spacewalk of our mission. No time was wasted in opening the hatch. As Tom got closer to the surface while descending the ladder, he was silent. Soon, he reached the footpad of the LM, and stepped off onto the moon. Still, no sound was uttered. No poetic phrase, nothing.
Anxiously, I awaited his report. Honestly, anything would have been fine to hear, anything at all. Finally, Tom said my name. “Jim, do you copy?”
“Yeah Tom, what is it?”
“I’m down,” he said, not quite believing it himself.
Wide-eyed, I stared at the last bit of Tsiolkovsky as it disappeared over the horizon. I laughed and clapped my hands. “Bravo, Tom! How’s the weather down there?”
He chuckled a bit. “Clear skies, no clouds, bright sunlight everywhere.”
Within ten minutes, I passed back over to the nearside, out of communication with Steve and Tom. Last report I heard, Steve was coming down the ladder and was going to do some exploring with Tom in the Lunar Rover. After the planting of the flag, of course.
Within moments, I had reestablished communication with Houston Mission Control and reported the progress of our mission thus far. Over the radio, I heard the thunderous claps of the 50 men monitoring our flight. Gus, our mission’s designated CAPCOM, congratulated me.
“Be sure to tell us of what they find on your next swing around!” Gus said to me.
“That’s about all I can do up here,” I sighed.
Seconds later, I flew from the nearside night into the bright daytime of farside. “What’s the word, guys?” I asked eagerly.
There was nothing but silence for a few moments. Then, Steve said something. “Jim?”
“We’ve found something.”
“Well, what is it?”
There was a pause. “We’ve stumbled across Apollo 18.”
Apollo 18, reported to have crash-landed back in February in the Tycho Crater on the nearside of the moon, with the loss of its CMDR and LMP. The CMP attempted to return to earth, but the heat shield separated upon reentry. If the LM had crashed on the other side, what was it doing here in Tsiolkovsky?
“You guys sure it’s 18?”
“Pretty damn sure, we went inside to exam-”
“Inside?” I cried. “You mean it isn’t crashed, it came down intact?”
Perfectly fine, but the two pilots are missing. Their rover tracks lead somewhere deep into the crater. I think we’ll follow them,” Tom said.
It took me awhile to process this bombshell. When my craft returned to the nearside, I didn’t know how to explain this find to Houston.
“What’s the news from Tom and Steve?” Gus asked.
After contemplating what to say, I finally decided to be truthful. “They found 18.”
Silence greeted this. A while later he came back on. “You’re serious?”
“Oh c’mon, Gus, don’t play games with me! You must’ve known about this! How in hell is something that’s supposed to have crashed in Tycho located on the opposite side of the moon?”
Another pause. Then, “It’s probably just a failed satellite, Jim, that crashed. One of those early Canaveral jobs-”
I cut him off. “Don’t give me some bull excuse from the DOD, it was a LM! They are vastly different from any sort of satellite. Now talk!” I angrily demanded.
Radio cutoff was coming up in a few seconds. Right before I lost communication, Gus mumbled “I don’t know what to tell you, Jim.”
Daylight flooded the capsule as I drifted back to the farside. “Tom, Steve, what’s your status, over?” I said into the mic, obviously irritated.
“Listen,” was all Tom replied.
“He’s right, Jim,” Steve intervened. “Listen to the radio.”
Deciding to play along, I stopped talking and pressed my ear to the circular speaker on the control panel.
That’s when I first heard it.
There was an absence of static, replaced by a nearly inaudible whisper, along with some sort of mixture of sounds, ranging from clicking to crushing to smacking. The whisper portion of the sound hybrid was indecipherable in what it was trying to say. “What on earth is that God-awful noise?” I cried, shaking with fear.
“We’re not too sure, but it started twenty minutes after you lost communication with us,” Tom explained.
Nothing much else had happened when I was on the nearside. Ten minutes after I became aware of the noise, Steve said “The rover tracks seem to be going over to that crater over there.”
As they neared the edge of the crater, the noise increased drastically in volume, almost to a high pitched shrill. I covered my ears and gritted my teeth. “What’s happening?” I screamed.
The noise died down. “It’s as if the nearer we go to that craterlet, the louder the noise gets,” Tom said.
“Where is it from though? There’s no sound in a vacuum so it must be on the frequency.”
They had no answer for me.
Soon, I was back on the nearside. When Gus asked me for an update, I decided not to tell him about the noises. I told them that Tom and Steve were following the tracks of the previous astronauts and that was that. Within 40 minutes, I was back on the farside. But something was different this time.
Tsiolkovsky was black. Only Tsiolkovsky was black. All other craters were dowsed with the blazing light of the sun. For some reason, this massive crater was jet black, darker than the night sky. It was supposed to be noon-day on the surface there.
“It started as soon as you swung around to the nearside,” Tom explained. “We’ve been navigating back with the lights on our helmets. We had to give up on the search for the crew of 18.”
The noise was still there.
I looked down at the foreboding crater of night. It looked like a pit that led all the way to the deepest recesses of Hell. I struggled to see the pinprick of light against the dark that would be my friends. Nothing could be seen. It was like the darkness itself swallowed the light. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, not until it swung out of view over the horizon.
“What’s your status, 19?” Gus asked.
“Tsiolkovsky is enshrouded in darkness,” I said matter-of-factly. “Why?”
The tell-tale pause was back, then the bull excuse. “Maybe it’s some sort of light phenomenon? Like how the poles on earth experience night for six months?”
I switched off the radio.
Not long later, I was back on the farside. As soon as I entered range of communication with the ground crew, I heard heavy panting, as if somebody was running frantically. Something was definitely not right. “Tom, Steve, what’s the matter?” I yelled into the mic.
“Tom is dead!” Steve cried between gasps. “They got him!”
“They?” I creamed in terror, “Who are they?”
“Things, beings, eight feet high! They’re blacker than the night enshrouding me. These things rise up from the dust. They flipped the rover and got Tom.”
“Rise up from the dust?”
“Ascending from the ground to kill us! I’m on my way to 18’s LM, I’m a quarter of a mile away, I may make it!”
“You’re not making any sense!” I was crying by this point from confusion and fear. “What are they?!”
Before Steve had a chance to answer, he was screaming. I heard him yelling, pleading, begging whatever had a hold of him to leave him be. I listened as the thing tore his suit to shreds. As oxygen escaped, I could discern some sort of sickening crack, as well as the sound of ripping flesh. The last thing that came in from Steve was his last convulsive sob, followed by a pop. Then it was over.
I suddenly heard the strange noise, louder than ever, blaring through the radio. Instantly I switched it off, but the noise continued. I covered my ears until I was back on the nearside where it ceased.
Switching the radio back on, I screamed at Gus “They’re dead! Tom and Steve have died! Steve said some sort of things rose up from the dust to kill them! What were they?!”
This time, Gus replied. All he said was “It’s happening again…” After that, there was static. Mission control ended contact with me.
Then I realized they were going to leave me in orbit to die. That’s probably what happened to 18’s CMP. Either that, or they gave him the wrong reentry coordinates, causing him to burn up on purpose. They didn’t want word to get out about what’s been happening on the moon. Well, I resolved to try.
When I swung back around to the farside, the noise was back to a quiet whisper. Soon, I reached the optimal time to make a burn to send the ship home. I switched on the rocket.
I began to laugh hysterically. I came to the conclusion that, anticipating this would take place and not wanting to risk us spreading word of what happened, the NASA supplied us with insufficient fuel to get home. There was no hope of my returning to the earth.
This transpired two days ago. Since then, I’ve just been sitting here, contemplating what to do. Meanwhile, the voice has continued to speak to me. I don’t like it. The words make more sense now. They tell me bad things. I don’t know what’d worse, the static from nearside or the whispering voices of farside.
Rather than prolong this torture, I’ve decided to open the hatch without my suit on as soon as I finish writing this down. Hopefully, one day, it will be found. Before I do so though, I would like to issue this one last warning to the earth: do not return to Tsiolkovsky. In fact, do not return to the far side of the moon. All that one will get from here is death.
This is Jim McGraw, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 19, signing off for the last time.
Credit: Samuel Pomerantz