01 Feb I know why we never returned to the Moon
My grandfather was a combat pilot. Even though he always felt distant I liked him. When I grew older, I realized that he was always aware, always looking for any signs of danger. Shell shock, PTSD, it has many names. My mother told me that he didn’t use to be like that, that he changed when he came back from Vietnam.
My grandpa’s profession was likely the reason why I was obsessed with space, astronauts, planes and pilots. We used to talk about it when we were together. He was a really skilled and high-ranking officer in the army, and he knew some people, even a couple of really well-known astronauts. When I once asked him, if he met anyone who went to the moon, he simply replied:
“Don’t ever talk to me about the Moon, boy. It’s a dark and evil place.”
He died back in 2004 from natural causes.
About two months ago, we decided to renovate my grandparents’ old house. While clearing out the attic. I found an old metallic box. In the box, there was a number of things which as I assumed belonged to my grandfather. There was a military medal, a stack of papers and an old picture of my grandfather and two other men I didn’t recognize. My grandpa looked around 40, so I assume that the picture was taken in the 70s. All of them were wearing space suits, and the scene was a typical backdrop used by NASA, but the logo was missing. Only a blank monochrome background. The mission patch was titled Dawnbreaker. I didn’t understand anything. My grandfather was an astronaut? Why did he never tell anyone about this? Dawnbreaker? I never heard about such mission. It must have been covered up really well. But why?
I found the answers in the papers on the bottom of the box. I’ll rewrite the literal contents below, but I warn you that many people might find it very disturbing.
My dear family,
If you ever find this, I must confess something. In 1972, I wasn’t in Vietnam. I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone, but if you have found this, it probably doesn’t matter anymore. Back in 1965, me and a handful of other pilots were selected for a non-public team of astronauts, who would participate in covert missions in space for our government. We wouldn’t get the glory and fame of regular astronauts, but our country needed us, and so we were there.
In early 1972, we were told that for an unspecified period of time, our country had a secret satellite orbiting the Moon. They never told us what it did, or why it was there, just that a few weeks prior, it had crashed to the surface on the dark side of the Moon for unknown reasons and that the data it carried was crucial. The government needed to recover it, and thus was sending me and two other astronauts to reclaim the satellite’s memory module. The equipment of the planned Apollo 18 mission was essentially transferred to us. From what we’d been told, the Apollo team was furious. They had a reason to be after all. It seemed that whoever we’ve been under was much more powerful than NASA. The whole mission was top-secret obviously.
I was officially deployed to Vietnam, while in reality we underwent extensive training for the mission. After a couple of months, we found ourselves standing on the launch pad in front of this behemoth of a rocket, that would take us to the Moon. I was the mission commander, while Lt. Carver was the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) pilot and Lt. Ackermann was the Command/Service Module (CSM) pilot.
The flight to the Moon took roughly three days. After arriving, we made a couple of orbits around it. Each time we flew behind the horizon created by the Moon itself, I felt a bit of helplessness when our communication to the whole world went dark, as the signal got obscured by the spherical mass of rock and dust below us. The dark side of the Moon was nothing like the light side, which we see on almost a daily basis. Instead of smooth grey fields and tranquil lunar seas, it was completely covered in dark, deep craters and holes, like as if it was being slowly eaten away by the universe itself. It was finally decided to begin the descent to the surface. Me and Carver exchanged wishes of good luck with Ackermann and in the Lunar Module named Charon we separated from the CSM named Trinity.
After we announced “Charon has touched down,” our response wasn’t cheers and applause, but just mere “This is Trinity, congratulations Charon! I’ll relay the news on the other side. Be safe out there pals.”
Just like that we became cut off from the rest of the world. Ackermann was our only link. While he was above the light side, he could communicate with ground command, and while above the dark side he could communicate with us. Never both at once. Even though the CSM’s orbital period was roughly two hours, we would be in touch for only about 35 minutes each orbit.
We landed on a flat plane inside a huge crater. Contrary to what some people believe, the sun shines at the dark side of the Moon the same way as the light side. The amount of light depends on the lunar phase. It was still shining daylight in the place where we landed, but we knew that it would go dark in a few days. I felt excited and curious about what awaits us in this alien world.
We waited for about an hour and a half to get the command’s reply from Ackermann and spent the time by preparing our suits.
“Command sends their congratulations. You’re to proceed with the recovery.”
Everything was dead silent as I stepped on the surface of the Moon. I tried to think of something excessively inspiring to say, but that those times were already over. With Carver, we assembled the rover and after planting our flag next to our spacecraft, we drove off. As we drove across the surface, I saw what I though was a flash, like a glare reflected by something metallic in the far distance. Since it was fairly common to see flashes of light because of an interesting physical phenomenon caused by the space radiation interacting with our eyes, I didn’t give it much thought and soon forgot about it.
After driving for a couple of hours, we reached the satellite – or what was left of it. We immediately noticed that something wasn’t right. There were dozens of footprints around the probe, leading to a set of two tracks, dragging out into the distance.
“What the hell is this?!” asked Carver in disbelief.
“I don’t know, but it seems that somebody got what we came for before us,” I replied.
Both the tracks and the footprints were different than ours. Whoever took the data wasn’t here under the American flag. As I expected, we didn’t find the data box. We found the part where it was supposed to be, but it was missing. Luckily for us, we were just in contact with Ackermann, so we reached out to him to describe our findings.
“This doesn’t make any sense. Who would take it? Russians? They don’t even have a lunar program! Even if somebody took it, how could we not be aware of that? How can the Russians land on the Moon without us noticing?” he responded.
“As far as we know, the Russians have no idea that we are here, you know,” said Carver over the radio.
“We’re going to follow the trail” I cut off their conversation.
“Are you guys sure about this?” asked Ackermann.
“Hell, I’m not sure about this. We’re clearly missing something here. But I’ll do as you say, cap,” responded Carver.
“Yes. If whatever was on that probe was so important for two countries to send people here to retrieve it, we have to find out what happened to it,” I replied.
“Copy that Charon. I’ll relay your whereabouts to command as soon as I can. Be careful out there.”
Our oxygen was about at half capacity now, but we moved on with hopes of solving this mystery.
It wasn’t long until I saw something in the distance. As we got closer, I realized that that it was a spacecraft. Its design was different than ours and it was decorated with a flag of the Soviet Union. I couldn’t explain why, but I felt that something was really odd about the spacecraft. If there really was Russians with us on the Moon, they would have picked up our comms long ago, so there wasn’t a point in hiding.
“To the unidentified Soviet lander, this is the crew of Dawnbreaker, please respond. We know you’re here, we have you in sight.”
We attempted to contact them several times again in both Russian and English, but always received only silence in response. We got closer and I realized why I found the spacecraft odd before. It looked like it had been there for a while. We didn’t see much of the interior through the small windows, which had been covered with something from the inside.
“Our air is running low and I don’t like this Miller. We should really head back now.” said Carver with clear uneasiness in his voice.
“I know, but we have to find out what’s going on here.”
It took some time until we figured out a way to open the airlock. No one was home. The inside was a mess. The interior was splattered with brownish-red fluid, presumably contents of one of the many opened food packages lying on the floor. Or was it …? No. I quickly pushed that thought out of my head.
It was a two-seater craft. There was a small amount of leftover supplies and samples, but no signs of the satellite’s black box. There was a space suit hanged on the wall near the airlock. Two occupants, and one space suit with a clearly missing name tag. We both quickly realized that the other one must still be out there somewhere – along with its occupant. At this point, we were really low on oxygen, so we rushed to get back to our spacecraft. As we reached Charon with the last bits of oxygen in our suits, I realized something.
“Tell me, Carver, was it just me or did we not pass the wreckage on our way back?” I asked.
“Fuck. Don’t even mention it. It wasn’t there, that’s right.”
We shared our intriguing discovery with Ackermann later, and he was as surprised as was command when he informed them in turn. That night I took watch for the first four hours. It wasn’t really a night, since the sun was still shining, but for the sake of timekeeping, we referred to the time when we slept as night.
When it was finally my turn to sleep, I had a dream about following the flash that I saw the previous day. I walked on and on, until I found the same space suit from the Russian craft just lying there, in the dust. The limbs were twisted and contorted in gruesome ways, but it was clear that someone, or something was inside that suit. I approached and slowly began opening the sunshield that obscured the inside of the helmet. I looked in terror, as I saw the inside. It was my face, covered with brownish-red blood. In place of eyes, there were only two gaping holes.
The next day we started picking up something on an unused channel of our radio. It was a faint signal coming from somewhere in the crater. We tried to patch it to the speakers, but it didn’t make any sense. It was just a repeating sound resembling a person vocalizing the sound of a single letter or vowel but stretched to about 3 seconds followed by equally long pause. It was very distorted, and it clearly wasn’t a loop, since each sound was just slightly different than the previous one.
We ate, and once again prepared for moonwalk. It was darker than the other day. The sun was still shining, but it was steadily creeping its way under the horizon. We followed the source of the signal for about an hour when we found something lying in the dust in front of us. I tensed as I looked closer and found out what it was.
It was a space suit.
The same as the one in the Russian lander.
“Well, it looks like we found our missing friend.” Said Carver with disbelief.
I didn’t say anything. I simply jumped off the rover, and slowly, silently approached, the suit.
“What are you doing Miller?” continued Carver.
Just as I was about to open the sunshield with my shaking hands, the suit came alive and grabbed my hand. With the sound travelling through our suits, I heard a weak “Pomogite” – meaning help in Russian.
We carried him to our lander. The patch on his suit revealed his identity as “Tarkov”. He was in shock and hypoxic. I don’t know how long or why he was just lying there but he was lucky to be alive. For the next couple of hours, he fell in and out of consciousness. He eventually woke up. Our Russian was bad but luckily, he spoke English enough for us to understand each other. He didn’t remember why he was there, what had happened to him and his crew or what his mission was. When I looked out of the window, I realized that our flag was gone. There were no footprints, it looked like as if it simply vanished. At this point each one of us was really concerned, and we asked to terminate the mission. The command refused, explaining that the recovery of the satellite’s data was of paramount importance. We decided to continue our search tomorrow and went to sleep.
I again had the same nightmare as the day before. I woke up terrified and drenched in sweat. I saw Tarkov standing by the window and looking out. He then walked over to Carver, and just stood there, looking at him while he slept for about a minute or two. Silently, I asked him:
“Tarkov, what are you doing?”
but he just mumbled something like “them” or “when” and lied down. I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night, and I kept an eye on him, but nothing interesting happened.
The next day we found a picture or a map of the crater we were at in a pocket in Tarkov’s suit. There was a point a few miles from where we were that was marked with a cross. Tarkov didn’t know what was there, but I soon realized that it was right in the direction where I saw the flash on the first day. We had to check it out.
Me and Carver later took off and headed towards this mysterious target while Tarkov stayed in the Charon. In reality, our rover had enough power to carry all three of us, but I insisted that it didn’t, and that he should stay behind.
“I don’t trust this guy,” I said to Carver after I was sure that Tarkov was out of range of our short-range radio.
“We land on the moon. We don’t find the box and suddenly the probe is gone. Then we find a supposed-to-be-dead Russian who doesn’t remember when was the last time he took a shit. And now, we’re heading towards an inconspicuous place that was marked on his map he knows nothing about. You bet I don’t trust him. Hell I don’t trust a single step I take in that direction.” he replied.
“What are we going to do with him?” he asked later.
“I don’t know yet. But we can’t take him with us. Neither the LEM or CSM is built for an extra passenger. You know that,” I responded.
“And I’m afraid he knows that too.” replied Carver.
The sun was setting. After driving for a while, we reached something, that puzzles me to this day. Right there, in front of us, was something I can only describe as a three-sided pyramid. It was about 10 feet tall and its surface was completely smooth and black as night.
“What in the world is this?” asked Carver with a shiver in his voice.
We walked around it and took pictures.
“What the fuck?!” I suddenly heard through my radio.
I turned around and saw Carver frozen in place, staring at something. There, in the remaining faint light, was a space suit about 20 feet away from us. I recognized the missing name patch and realized that it was the suit from the Russian spacecraft. It was standing upright, on its feet. The sunshield was open to reveal a sight that terrifies me to this day. It was empty. The suit was empty. But it was standing upright. I came back to my senses after I heard a crackling noise coming from my radio.
“….you….don’t….belong……here…..” it spoke in a low, deep, distorted voice. Then out of nowhere, I was blinded by an intense flash of light. When I recovered, the thing was gone.
“Carver? Are you alright?” I asked.
He was silent at first, and then replied:
“Man, fuck NASA, fuck the army, fuck the satellite, fuck this whole mission! I want to get out of here, NOW!”
Without any debate, we ran to the rover, and drove off back to Charon.
When we came back, the sun had already fallen below the horizon, and it was almost completely pitch black. The airlock was open and Tarkov was standing in front of the module in his suit. Damnit. In the rush, we completely forgot about him. I approached him and started:
“Listen, Tarkov, there is something you…” I stopped when I noticed that he was holding something behind his back, but it was too late.
He swung and struck me with a sharpened rod. I hit my head on the inside of my helmet and dazed fell to the ground. When the ringing in my ears stopped, I saw him and Carver fighting in the dust. I stood up and thrown myself into Tarkov, propelling us both a dozen feet away. Before I was able to stand up again, he was already on top of me. We struggled and just as he got grip on the lever that was used to release my helmet, I struck his head with a sharp rock. His visor cracked, and while his air was slowly escaping his suit, I picked myself up and grabbed the rod. It was already stained with blood. He lunged at me, but I stabbed him in the chest. He then fell on top of me, and when our helmets touched, he spoke as the last of his air was pulled out from his lungs:
“He is not your friend. Follow the voice”.
I picked myself up and walked over to Carver. I saw that his suit was punctured on the thigh, and brownish-red blood was being sucked out into the airless vacuum all around us. When I brought him inside the Charon, I realized that our first aid kit was gone. He was bleeding a lot, and I managed to slow it down, but I had to treat him properly. I was afraid, that if we took off, he would bleed out in zero gravity even faster.
“There was a medkit in the Russian thing, wasn’t it? he said.
“Yeah” I replied.
“Miller, you have to go and get it. Fuck. It’s not that far from here, is it?” said Carver.
“No, it’s not. Are you sure you can hold on until I get back?” I asked.
“Yeah, just go”.
So I went.
“Don’t die on me Carver. That’s an order.” I said before leaving.
As I said, it didn’t take long until I reached the Russian lander, but it felt like ages. Throughout the whole journey, I waited for something to jump out of the darkness around me. I wasn’t surprised when I saw that the suit that was previously hanged on the wall was now missing, but still, I felt a shiver run down my spine. I took their medkit and headed back as soon as I could. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Tarkov’s last words.
“He is not your friend. Follow the voice” I kept repeating inside my head.
I then switched the channel on my radio to the one we heard the incomprehensible noise on. It was still on. I realized that it was stronger in one particular direction.
“Follow the voice” I said to myself.
Was this the voice Tarkov meant? Who is not my friend? Tarkov? Carver? The Mission commander back at Earth? I had to find out. I drove off in the direction of the signal.
After driving for at least 15 minutes, I reached a small, crater about 30 feet in diameter. With my headlight on, I immediately saw that something was inside, but I couldn’t recognize it yet. I stepped over the edge and walked into the crater and switched my light to full intensity.
I stood there, paralyzed with raw terror for what felt like hours. There was a rectangular block of the same material as the pyramid in the center of the crater. A body was lying on top of it. Its limbs were contorted in the most twisted and gruesome way possible. His eyes were missing and in their place were only two gaping holes. It was Carver. There was a small box stuffed inside his mouth. It was the black box from the satellite. I took the box and ran out of there as fast as I could. Carver was dead. If Carver was dead, who was the Carver I left in the Charon? “He is not your friend” was the only thing I had on my mind the rest of the way back.
When I returned, Tarkov’s body was gone but Carver was still there, lying, bleeding. But it wasn’t Carver. What was that thing?
“Thank God you’re back, Miller” said Carver.
Not Carver. Carver was dead. Mutilated. Dead.
“Miller, are you alright?” continued not-Carver.
“Yeah, I’ve got the kit” I replied. He couldn’t know that I know.
It couldn’t know.
I treated his (its) wound and the bleeding finally stopped. I strapped him in (strapped it in) and then strapped myself in. I didn’t tell him (it) that I had found the blackbox.
I didn’t tell it that I found him.
With the engine roaring below us, the Charon split in half, and the crew compartment pushed us up, into the void while the legs stayed planted on the lunar dust eternally.
Now I already wrote on several occasions, that I had felt minutes pass as if they were hours. The ascent and rendezvous took only a bit more than a dozen of minutes. But those minutes felt like decades. I wanted to scream so loud that my lungs would break and I wanted to vomit. But I couldn’t because it would find out. I wanted to black out but I couldn’t. I had to save Ackermann. After several lifetimes, we finally docked with Ackermann and the Trinity. Throughout the whole ordeal, we kept him updated, but meeting him was different. He was scared. But I was scared even more. He didn’t know that Carver was not Carver. I did know.
I did unstrap first and pushed Ackermann out of the docking tunnel. I did kick Carver (not-Carver) right in the face when he followed. I did close the docking tunnel behind me.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING MILLER? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” shouted Ackermann and slammed me to the wall of the command module.
“DON’T OPEN IT, MIKE! IT’S NOT CARVER! That thing in the LEM is not Carver do you understand?!” I shouted back in pain.
Even though he was a battle-hardened soldier, Ackermann finally broke into tears. I floated past him over to the controls, and before I undocked the Charon, I glanced at the docking tunnel window one last time.
There it was. A thing with Carver’s face and body, but not Carver. Staring at us. But his eyes were completely smooth and black as night itself. He opened his mouth in a way that was simply not possible for a human, and let out a loud, disturbing screech that I wish I could forget so much.
In a heartbeat, it turned to dead silence, as the Charon detached from the CSM, and drifted into the void.
Me and Ackermann didn’t say a single word throughout the three-day journey back to Earth.
We were placed in quarantine for months after we came back home. Nobody ever explained to us what happened on that mission. I never learned what was on the blackbox. Honestly, I didn’t want to know, after all I experienced. But whatever was there was apparently enough to cancel all other missions to the Moon and beyond. They eventually released us and made it very clear that we’re never supposed to talk about it. I never saw Ackermann from that day on.
The only time I talked about him was when a pair of men in suits came to my home one day a couple of years after the mission.
“Captain Miller, have you been in touch with Lieutenant Ackermann lately?” one of them asked after we exchanged our greetings.
“No, I never spoke or heard from him since the mission. Did something happen?” I replied.
“I’m sorry to tell you, but Lieutenant Ackermann was found dead in a nearby forest yesterday.”
I had to sit down. I didn’t know him that well, but we spend a considerable amount of time together in training, and we lived through hell itself together, so it was more than enough for me to considered him a friend. Poor Mike.
“How did he die?” I asked.
“We don’t know yet. But he had multiple fractures on all of his limbs, and his eyes were gouged out.”