Monday, April 19, 2010

"The Moon Woman" by Minna Irving, part 3

This is the third and final installment of "The Moon Woman", an early science fiction story by the poet Minna Irving that appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. This represents the first appearance by this story since its original publication over eighty years ago.

The story so far:
Professor James Holloway Hicks has perfected a suspended animation serum, but he is unable to find a human subject to test it on, so he decides to test it on himself. With the help of his friend Dr. Horace Blinkman, Hicks places himself in suspended animation for a year. Blinkman, however, is deep in debt, and Hicks has made Blinkman the heir to his considerable fortune. Blinkman give into temptation, and injects Hicks with the entire supply of the serum, ensuring that Hicks will remain in suspended animation for decades . . .

The Awakening

In the dew of the early morning a young woman alighted in the cedar grove surrounding the ruined mausoleum where Professor James Holloway Hicks had lain for two hundred years. Her bare white feet were thrust into sandals of snowy leather, her superb form was clothed only in a scant garment of thin white silk that only reached to her dimpled knees and left her arms and shoulders uncovered. Her glorious golden hair was confined by a fillet of silver studded with turquoises, and anklets and armlets of the same jeweled metal tinkled and clinked musically as she walked or rather glided forward.

Suspended from a thick gold chain about her neck dangled a cylinder about two inches long and of a dull green substance. From her shoulder-blades extended broad wings of a glittering, semi-transparent, membraneous material, and these beautiful wings she folded as her feet touched the ground -- apparently without volition just as a bird folds its pinions when it alights, but really by touching a small protruberance set in a belt of white leather that crossed her full bosom.

She looked around her, and her eyes caught the gleam of marble through the trees. Stooping, she touched the backs of her sandals and immediately a pair of little wheels sprang out under the soles; on these she rolled smoothly and rapidly toward the crumbling tomb. Rain had stained its purity, sun and wind had cracked and crumbled the cement that held the marble blocks together; many of the columns had fallen and were buried in weeds and débris, and the walls were half submerged in a rising tide of soil, only the upper half of the bronze door remaining above the ground.

"It is a temple of the dead," she exclaimed delightedly, "and none are supposed to be in existence now. Oh, what a find! Grandfather must come here tomorrow and explore it. He may find some priceless relic of the old, old barbaric times, or new material for his film on 'Ancient Customs of a Wingless World'."

Her curiosity was aroused and she circled the ruined mausoleum slowly on her wheeled sandals, looking for a crack or a peep-hole in the walls, but solid marble confronted her. Determined to find some fissure through which she could see the interior, she spread her majestic white wings and rose above the roof, where she hung poised in the sunlight, gazing down upon the fragments of the iron grill-work still adhering to the leaden frame. The sheet of glass beneath it had long ago dropped and been shattered on the bronze canopy below.

The winged woman had a good view of the inside of the mausoleum through the broken skylight, and she studied the bronze canopy-top with increasing interest, trying to conjecture what it could conceal.

Resolving to find out and reap the glory of a first discovery, she alighted on the roof and removed the fragments of iron still projecting around the edges of the opening. The air that arose from within was cool and sweet. She measured with her eye the distance from the roof to the flat top of the canopy beneath. She could not make use of her wings in squeezing through the narrow skylight, and the canopy appeared to be as solid as the marble walls. Seizing the sides of the aperature, she fearlessly lowered herself though it until she hung by her hands, then let herself drop.

When 150 pounds of solid, healthy womanhood struck the top of the canopy exactly in the middle, the metallic supports snapped like so many pipe-stems and the whole structure heeled over like a full-rigged ship in a squall, and spilled her on the floor, where she sat half stunned by the fall and afraid to move.

The floor was deep with fine gray dust mingled with shreds of black near the great sarcophagus. The canopy had toppled to one side clear of the bronze coffin, which now stood fully revealed. All around her on the floor were little reddish heaps of rust like gouts of dry blood where the metallic fringes had fallen. She had discovered the sarcophagus had no lid and was so frightened at the thought of the horrible unknown dead thing within it, that she was about to unfold her wings and try to scramble out through the roof again when a sound broke the profound stillness and robbed her of strength to stir.

It was a long, fluttering sigh.

She closed her eyes in helpless terror.

When after at least ten minutes of absolute silence she ventured to open them again, a large white hand was dangling over the side of the sarcophagus.

She sat staring at it, mute, paralyzed, waiting for the dead to rise and destroy her for having dared to invade the sanctity of the tomb. Then a dark head appeared and a pair of broad shoulders, and a man sat up and looked stupidly around him.

His eyes wandered slowly round the bare, windowless walls, and rested on the beautiful intruder. He spoke in a thick, hoarse whisper, articulating the words with difficulty like a child first learning to talk:

"Who are you?"

Though trembling with fear, she understood him at once and answered timidly by clearly:

"I am Rosaria. Please don't hurt me."

The man continued to gaze at her for some time in silence, evidently pondering deeply over some problem he could not grasp, but when she made a motion to rise, he spoke again, hurriedly but in a clearer voice than at first:

"Don't, I beg of you. Remain where you are, my dear young lady, I am -- er -- not -- er exactly presentable."

* * *

Somehow his tones sounded more natural now, and she sank back to her sitting posture on the dusty floor obediently, but wondering, fearful that this "dead" man was half bones and so objected to being seen in a skeleton state. She was too amazed at this weird tête-à-tête to be frightened now.

The truth was that a quick downward glance had revealed to the professor the scandalous fact that he was clothed only in a layer of dust and a few tattered shreds of his silk undergarments. It was a most embarrassing situation to say the least, but probably it did more to shock his dormant senses into their normal activity than anything else could have done.

Professor Hicks was a very modest man.

The fair Rosaria was next to break the silence:

"You are dead, are you not?" she asked gravely. "But I never knew that the dead could speak. This must be why we disperse them, so they cannot talk to us and bother us about their affairs."

"Dead!" cried the professor, his voice still a trifle husky, but growing stronger every minute as the returning flood of life swept through his veins. "I am not dead, I'm very much alive. I have not the faintest idea who you are or why you are here, but, no doubt, you can tell me why Dr. Blinkman and Mr. Lecky are not here at my awakening. Perhaps I have recovered consciousness too soon -- or have I been longer than I expected to be? My robe must have been destroyed by moths -- something I should certainly have guarded against."

The winged woman heard him through attentively, and at once grasped his meaning. "I do not know your friends," she declared, "but evidently you have overslept yourself. Why did you come to a place like this to sleep, an old-time temple of the dead, probably the only one left on earth; our dead have been dispersed now for many generations."

Professor Hicks gasped, and in his agitation almost forgot his nudity and came near to leaping out of the sarcophagus.

"Generations!" he almost shrieked. "Good Heavens, girl! How long have I been here? What year is this?"

"This," said Rosaria, "is the 10th of June, 3014."

For five minutes the professor remained actually dumb with amazement. Then his voice rang out in a hoarse cry of mingled astonishment and triumph:

"The serum! The serum! It is more powerful than I thought. I can bridge centuries for the human race. I can make man almost immortal. Animation has been suspended in me for two hundred years."

He suddenly realized that he was hungry; two hundred years is a pretty long time between meals for a full-grown man. He felt for the metal box of tabloids that had been placed at his feet. The hinges were gone from the lid, which had fallen off, and the tabloids were merely pinches of powder. He picked up the bottle of champagne, struck off the neck on the side of the sarcophagus, and drank thirstily. The wine was flat and sour, but it moistened his dry throat and parched tongue most acceptably.

Something heavy and cold fell against his naked side; it was the key to the door of the mausoleum.

"Now my dear Miss Rosaria," he said, "I am placed in a very peculiar position, which I will be able to explain to your entire satisfaction when I am a little stronger. Can you not procure me some clothes and something to eat so that I can leave this terrible place? Here is the key to the door."

He lifted the great key and threw it at her feet.

But Rosaria shook her head:

"The key is no use," she said, "the door is half underground now. You can escape the way that I entered, through that hole in the roof."

He glanced round at the walls which had enclosed him for two long centuries and shuddered:

"I cannot possibly go out in this condition, I must have something to wear, and I am terribly impatient to breathe the free air and walk on good old terra firma again."

Rosario sprang to her feet:

"I will go at once," she cried. "Do you wait here until my return. I will fly back within the hour."

As she stood up, she unfolded her white, glistening wings in such a way as to form a screen between herself and the shrinking man who was vainly trying to hide himself in the bottom of the bronze box. To the professor's amazement, she floated up to the roof like a bird or a gigantic butterfly. Seizing the edge of the opening in her strong white hands, she deftly furled her wings while Hicks stared, open-mouthed, and raising herself through the aperature, spread them quickly again and soared up, up against the blue sky, until he could see her no longer.

* * *

* * *

"The human race has developed wings like the angels since I retired from the world," mused the professor. "Many marvelous things must have happened while I slept."

He fairly trembled in his eagerness to leave the mausoleum and see for himself the progress the world had made.

He rose, stretched himself, clambered over the side of the sarcophagus and stood with his bare feet in the dust of centuries. He walked over and pressed the electric-light button near the door; the button fell off in his hand. He gazed overhead at the patch of blue sky and saw what he took to be a large bird pass swiftly across it; later he learned it was a man flying.

Soon after he heard something on the roof and darted behind the fallen canopy, which afforded an excellent screen. Rosaria appeared at the opening and dropped a bundle through it. The professor crawled out from beneath the canopy, grabbed it and scurried back to shelter. The bundle contained a garment of purple silk reaching to his ankles, a pair of white leather sandals with what looked like flat buttons at the heels and little folded fans under the soles, and two long ribbed contrivances attached to broad pieces of leather.

He could not imagine what they were intended for, and after pushing and pulling them, trying to shut them up and spread them open, he finally threw them aside in disgust and attired himself in the robe and sandals.

When he was dressed he shouted boldly: "Miss Rosaria! Miss Rosaria!"

There was a swish overhead and the winged woman knelt at the opening and looked in.

"I dropped on that broken thing over there when I came in. You see there is no room for me to my wings, the aperture is too small. I could use them going out because I could catch hold of the edge with one hand and fold them up with the other before I climbed through. But I can't, coming down. I'll have to hold on by both hands and drop. It is too far to the floor, so you must stand up in the box and catch me. Only be careful not to break my wings."

Wonderingly, the professor climbed back in his bronze coffin again, stood up to his full height and stretched out his arms. Fortunately, the roof was not very high and he could reach her ankles with his hands. So she rested her pretty sandaled feet on his palms to steady herself before she let go. The professor made a valiant effort to catch her, but staggered under her weight and both fell to the bottom of the sarcophagus. With that white and gold bundle of womanhood in his arms, the professor suddenly felt how silly all his crucibles and retorts and serums had been. He could not even remember the formula of the serum of suspended animation; it had served its glorious purpose, it had bridged the centuries between him and this super-girl, who was winged like an angel, and he felt that he was through with all that had been so important to him two hundred years ago.

For the first time in his two hundred and thirty-five years, the professor was in love.

Laughing, but not in the least embarrassed, the remarkable Rosaria disentangled herself from the professor's arms and sprang lightly out upon the floor.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, "where are your wings? Why didn't you put them on?"

"My wings?" said the bewildered professor feebly. "I have no wings, my dear Miss Rosaria. Nobody had wings in my time."

"No," she said calmly, "I don't suppose they were invented then. Eat your lunch and afterwards I will help you put them on."

From a silver box delicately enameled in colors hanging from her wrist by a slender chain, she produced a number of small vials bearing tiny labels, and filled with differently colored liquids.

Rosaria enumerated the various edibles as she handed him these vials:

"Roast beef, wheat, chicken salad, cheese, potatoes, oranges, coffee and wine. These," she explained, "are extracts of the essences of the foods and drinks I have just named. By reducing them to the actual concentrated essences necessary to nourish the human system, we avoid taking waste matter into our stomachs. We have thus eliminated a great deal of unnecessary work and solved the servant trouble and expense that used to be such a great source of annoyance to our grandmothers. The kitchen range and sink have disappeared with the butler's pantry and the storeroom. There are no meat-markets, no grocery-stores, no dairies; everything we eat and drink is prepared by the government laboratories and sold in drug stores. A year's supply of food for a family of eight persons may be kept in a small cellerette."

By this time the professor had swallowed his lunch. While he felt sustained and wonderfully strengthened by the essences, at the same time it seemed too much like taking medicines to be enjoyable.

* * *

Rosaria now assisted the professor to strap on his wings with the broad leather belt, explaining as she did so, that they were controlled by a tiny spring on the breast which turned on or off at will the electrical current drawn from the body of the wearer, which also controlled the action of the wings. It was all so beautifully simple, the professor wondered why nobody had thought of it before the clumsy airplane of his time was invented. With a little practice and the help of his charming companion he was soon able to balance himself quite well in the air, though he could only rise a foot or so above the floor in the restricted space of the tomb. But when he attempted to catch the edge of the skylight opening and climb out, one of the wings collided violently with the roof because he forgot to touch the spring, and snap went a rib.

Poor Professor Hicks tumbled to the floor and pretty Rosaria wrung her hands in dismay.

"It is too bad," she cried. "It would have been so easy to go out that way. Now I will have to use my radiomatic and partly destroy your lovely temple."

She touched the small, dull-green cylinder that hung from her neck:

"All women carry them," she said, "for since everybody flies who can afford to buy, borrow, rent or steal a pair of wings, it is not safe for any woman to fly out alone without being able to protect herself. I hate to spoil your temple though."

"It is not a temple," exclaimed the professor hastily, "it is just a tomb, a place to put the dead in away from sight. There were much finer ones than this. Don't you be afraid to wreck it, I -- I hate it!" he jerked out disgustedly.

"Why," she asked suddenly, "did they keep you? Why didn't they disperse you? Or did you die long before our method of dissolving the dead into nothingness was adopted?"

"People were either entombed in the earth or in a crypt or mausoleum like this in my time, or were cremated," he replied. "I never heard of any other way of disposing of the deceased -- unless with quicklime, which was only used on the bodies of criminals."

"Oh!" said Rosaria, "how funny! It must have been dreadfully unhealthy to have a lot of dead people lying around."

"What do you do with them now?" inquired the professor.

"We disperse the remains," she answered. "The coroner turns a powerful X-ray upon a body and it vanishes, resolves into nothingness. It is so much cleaner -- and cheaper."

"Can you use that little gun of yours on the locks of these doors?" asked the professor, impatient to get out. Just then the marvelous X-ray did not interest nearly as much as the thought of freedom. The very idea of having spent two hundred years in the limited space of the marble chamber almost stifled him. He wanted to feel the cool winds of heaven on his brow, hear the songs of the birds, touch the green leaves once more. The serum did not interest him, now that he could look at Rosaria's exquisite profile.

"You can't get out of that door," said his fair deliverer. "It is closed and the earth is banked against it half way to the top. I will make an opening above the level of the ground as nearly as I can judge."

She lifted the little cylinder and pointed it straight at the marble wall.

Professor Hicks heard no report, saw no flash, but almost immediately a tiny bubble was traveling rapidly up the smooth surface, and as it moved, the marble melted beneath it until a fissure an inch wide appeared.

Rosaria still stood with the little cylinder extended as if taking aim. The bubble on the wall vanished when it had covered a foot and another bubble took its place, traveled the same distance and a third bubble continued the crack. This was succeeded by a fourth and a fifth until three sides of a square was formed. The direction taken by the bubbles was determined by the position from which they were aimed. With the sixth bubble the section of the wall tumbled inward, raising a great cloud of dust as it fell. Blue sky, green trees, and sunlit turf appeared through the opening, which was breast-high.

"The radiomatic fires a bubble of radium gas," explained Rosaria, "and nothing can withstand it, neither stone nor steel, nor iron nor living flesh."

"I feel," said the professor irrelevantly as he gazed out into the world again, "like a ghost. I am two hundred and thirty-five years old and I feel like an infant in knowledge beside you."

Rosaria opened her violet eyes wide, and shook her shining head gravely.

"I am not wise," she said earnestly, "I only know the common things I see, but the world is full of very wise people -- those who know how to harness the winds and direct the stars, and make the sun obey. Disease is unknown and death rarely occurs, unless in accident or battle, until the mind becomes so weakened that it can no longer command the forces of the body."

"I suppose earth has changed greatly since my time," he sighed, "and all the governments of the various countries have also changed."

"There is only one government now over the entire world," said the winged girl. "In the summer of 1930 a projectile was fired from the earth to the moon, and it was successful in reaching it. It was then for the first time that the moon-people were sure that the earth was inhabited and therefore habitable. So they came to earth in a great cylindrical car -- at least some of them did, and finding earth so very far behind moon-times, and also that very large areas on its surface were unpopulated, the moon-people remained here, and sent for many more. Being so much wiser and so much farther advanced in civilization than the earth-people, they became rulers here, and by intermarriage soon improved the earth-races -- mentally, morally and physically."

* * *

The professor pondered over this astounding information a few minutes before he asked another question:

"Are you still able to travel from the earth to the moon and vice versa?"

"Oh, yes," answered Rosaria, "almost everybody who is anybody at all takes a trip to the moon once or twice a year, and the moon-people are frequent visitors here. This is also true of the nearer stars, but we have not yet found a way to withstand the long period of traveling in the intense cold in order to reach Jupiter."

"But you still speak the same language -- the good, plain English that was spoken over half the globe when I withdrew from active life to my long rest."

"That," said Rosaria, "is because English is so much more expressive and contains so many more words than the language of the moon-people, which is only founded on half the letters of the alphabet, and moreover is very difficult to pronounce properly, being a series of gutterals from the throat rather than the tongue."

"And animals?" queried the interested professor.

"There are very few, only the cow, the hog, the hen, and the dog have been allowed to survive, the three former because they are useful for food and fat, the latter for friendly companionship and protection while we sleep. The weavers make furs from silk and wool far more beautiful and durable than the finest pelts. Silk, too, is manufactured from vegetable matter, independent of the silkworm, which is now seen only in museums. So it is with ivory, leather, and gems; science has found out the secrets of nature and makes them far better and at less cost. But had we not better climb out of here while it is yet light?"

The professor gallantly knelt for Rosaria to mount upon his shoulders and she wriggled through the narrow opening without injury to her precious wings. Professor Hicks then scrambled out, aided by the lady's strong little hands. He stood looking round him at the green woods, the glimpse of the Hudson, but a few miles distant, and the azure heavens through which sped occasional specks he knew were men and women. But he looked longest at the ancient mausoleum which was yet younger than himself, and like himself had withstood the assaults of two hundred years. Then he turned and gazed spellbound at his lovely companion. He felt that the wonderful serum had fulfilled its mission, and that there was no need of it in this marvelous new world into which he had returned. Then and there he ceased to be the professor; he became simply James Holloway Hicks.

"And you?" he asked, "are you an earthwoman?"

"Not altogether," said the winged girl. "I was born of an earth-father and a moon-mother."

Strange flutterings assailed the heart of James Hicks, hitherto callous to female charms, and then happened the most surprising event of that surprising day.

He dropped gracefully on one knee at the feet of his enchanting rescuer and lifted her dainty hand to his lips:

"Miss Rosaria, are you married? If not, will you fly through life with me?"

* * *

The morning sun was streaming through the long windows of his study. Outside every branch and twig and bush was sheathed in ice and flashing like a million jewels. The professor turned his head and saw Dr. Blinkman smiling at him from the depths of an easy chair:

"I thought it wouldn't work on you," he said, "but you have had a good night's sleep, and at times you seemed to be dreaming."


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