Ten minutes later formalities had been exchanged, and everyone was seated. Caldwell regarded the Englishman in silence for a few seconds, lips pursed, bushy brows gnarled in a knot across his forehead. He leaned forward and interlaced his fingers on the desk in front of him.
"About three weeks ago, I attended a meeting at one of our Lunar survey bases, Copernicus Three," he said. "A lot of excavation and survey work is going on in that area, much of it in connection with new construction programs. The meeting was attended by scientists from Earth and from some of the bases up there, some people from the engineering side, and certain members of the uniformed branches of the Space Arm. It was called following some strange discoveries up there-discoveries that make even less sense now than they did to begin with."
He paused to look from one to the other. Hunt and Gray returned the look without speaking. Caldwell resumed: "A team from one of the survey units was mapping out possible sites for clearance radars. They were operating in a remote sector, well away from the main area being leveled. . . ."
As he spoke, Caldwell began operating a panel recessed into his desk. With a nod he indicated the far wall, which consisted of a battery of display screens. One of them came to life to show the title sheet of a file marked obliquely with the word RESTRICTED in red. This disappeared to be replaced by a contour map of a rugged, broken stretch of terrain. A slowly pulsing cursor appeared in the center of the picture and moved to a point where the contours indicated the junction of a steep-sided cleft valley with a wider gorge. The cleft was narrow, ascending in a curve.
"This map shows the area in question," the director commented. "You can see a minor cleft joining the main fault running down to the left. The survey crew left their vehicle at this point and proceeded up the cleft on foot, looking for a way to the top of the large rock mass tagged 'five sixty.' The cursor moved between the minor sets of contours, tracing the path taken by the UN team. Hunt and Gray watched it negotiate the bend and then approach the side of the cleft to touch it at a point where the contours merged into a single heavy line. "Here, the side was a sheer cliff about sixty feet high. That was where they came across the first thing that was unusual-a hole in the base of the rock wall. The sergeant leading the group described it as being like a cave. Does that strike you as odd?"
Hunt raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "Caves don't grow on moons."
The screen now showed a photo view of the area, apparently taken from the spot at which the survey vehicle had been parked. They recognized the break in the wall of the gorge where the cleft joined it. The cleft was higher up than had been obvious from the map and was reached by a ramp of loose rubble. In the background was a squat rock tower with a flattened top-presumably the one marked 560 on the map. Caldwell allowed them some time to reconcile the picture with the map before bringing up the next frame. It showed a view taken higher up, this time looking into the mouth of the cleft. A series of shots followed, progressing up past the bend. "These are stills from a movie record. I won't bother with the whole set," Caldwell said. The final frame showed a hole in the rock about five feet across.
"Holes like this aren't unknown on the Moon," Caldwell told his visitors. "But they are rare enough to prompt our people into taking a closer look. The inside was a mess. There had been a rock fall-maybe several; not much room, just a heap of rubble and dust . . . at first sight, anyway." A new picture on the screen confirmed the statement. "But when they got to probing around some more, they came across something really unusual. Underneath they found a body-dead."
The picture changed to another view of the interior, taken from the same angle as the previous one. This time, however, the subject was the top half of a human figure, apparently at the stage of being half uncovered. It was clad in a space suit which, under the layer of gray-white dust, appeared to be bright red. The helmet seemed intact, but it was impossible to make out any details of the face behind the visor because of the reflected camera light. Caldwell allowed time for them to study the picture and reflect on these facts before speaking again.
"That is the body. I'll answer some of the more obvious questions before you ask. First, no, we don't know who he is-or was-, so we call him Charlie. Second, no, we don't know for sure what killed him. Third, no, we don't know where he came from." Caldwell caught the puzzled look on Hunt's face and raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
"Accidents can happen, and it's not always easy to say what caused them-I'll buy that," Hunt said. "But not to know who he is? . . . I mean, he must have carried some kind of ID and be from one of the bases up there. Someone must have noticed he was missing."
For the first time, a flicker of a smile brushed across Caldwell's face. "Of course we checked with all the bases, Dr. Hunt. Results negative. But that was just the beginning. You see, when they got him back to the labs for a more thorough check, a number of peculiarities began to emerge which the experts couldn't explain-and believe me, we've had enough brains in on this. Even after we brought him back here, the situation didn't get any better. In fact, the more we find out, the worse it gets."
"Back here? . . . You mean . . ."
"Oh, yes. Charlie has been shipped back to Earth. He's over at the Westwood Biological Institute right now-a few miles from here. We'll go and have a look at him later today."
Silence reigned as Hunt and Gray digested the succession of new facts. "Maybe somebody bumped him off for some reason," Gray offered at last.
"No, Mr. Gray. You can forget anything like that." Caldwell paused. "Let me say that from what little we do know so far, we can state one or two things with certainty. First, Charlie did not come from any of the bases established to date on Luna. Furthermore-" his voice slowed ominously-"he did not originate from any nation of the world as we know it today. In fact, it is by no means certain that he originated from this planet at all."
His eyes traveled from Hunt to Gray and back again, taking in their incredulous stares. Absolute silence enveloped the room. A suspense almost audible tore at their nerves.
Caldwell's finger stabbed at the panel.
The face leaped out at them from the screen in grotesque close-up, skull-like, the skin shriveled and darkened like ancient parchment and stretched back over the bones to uncover two rows of grinning teeth. Nothing remained of the eyes but a pair of empty pits, staring sightlessly out through dry, leathery lids. Caldwell's voice, now a whisper, hissed through the fragile air.
"You see, gentlemen, Charlie died over fifty thousand years ago!"