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Moonseed

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год

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‘Gone,’ Bran said simply. ‘Consumed, every morning. Like your fry-up breakfasts, Ted.’

Morag straightened her cap. ‘Sir, I think you’d be advised to come away from here.’

Bran spread his hands. ‘Why? Are we breaking the law?’

‘No. And I can’t compel you to move.’

‘Well, then.’

She pointed to the dust. ‘But it’s obviously not safe.’

‘We’ve never been safer. Not since the Romans came have we been so – close.’

Ted pulled a face at Morag. ‘I told you. Fruitcake.’

Bran-Hamish just laughed, and resumed his seat with the others.

Morag and Ted walked away.

‘Well,’ Ted said. ‘Now you’ve seen it. What are you going to do?’

Morag hesitated.

She’d never faced anything like this before, in her brief police career.

She’d had some emergency training, at police college and since joining the station, with the council’s emergency planning people. It had all been rather low-key, underfunded and routine. Britain was a small, stable island. Nothing much in the way of disasters ever happened.

Morag had not been trained to handle the unexpected.

‘I can’t see this is any kind of criminal matter. And this isn’t yet an emergency.’

‘It isn’t? Are you sure? What if it keeps growing?’ He eyed the horizon. ‘You know, cats are smart animals,’ he said. ‘Sensitive. Sometimes they react before the rest of us when something is going wrong.’ He hesitated. ‘I’ve not told Ruth, but I haven’t seen Willis for a couple of days either.’

‘Something going wrong? Like what?’

There was a sound like subdued thunder.

Morag and Ted exchanged a glance. Then they began to hurry back the way they had come, around the shoulder of the crag. The cultists came with them, running over the basalt outcrops in their thin slippers.

They came around the brow of the hill. They stopped perhaps a hundred yards from St Anthony’s Chapel.

The old ruin was sinking.

The single large section of upright wall, two storeys high, was tipping sideways, visibly, a ruined Pisa. But even as it did so its base was sinking into the softened ground. Its upper structure, never designed for such treatment, was crumbling; great blocks of sandstone were breaking free, and went clattering down the wall’s sloping face, making the dull thunderous noise she had heard. One of the lower wall remnants, she saw, had already all but disappeared, its upper edge sinking below the closing dust as she watched.

It was like watching some immense stone ship, holed, sink beneath the stony waves of this plug of lava.

Around them, the cultists were jumping up and down, whooping and shouting.

Morag shook her head. ‘What does it mean, Ted?’

‘I’ve no idea,’ Ted said grimly. ‘Ask these loonie buggers. I think it’s time you made a report, girlie.’

‘Yeah.’

She lifted her lapel radio to her lips.

10

Jane showed up in the lab, a little before noon. Mike actually escorted her into the clean room area. The staff had got the clean room procedures beefed up a little by now, and so Jane was wearing the regulation white bunny suit and cloth trilby, blue plastic overshoes.

‘Hi.’

Henry, with his hands inside a glove box, did a double take. ‘Oh. It’s you.’ He fumbled the petrological slide he was handling, and tried to pull his hands out of the arm-length rubber gloves; he fumbled that too.

Her face didn’t crack a smile. ‘Sorry. I’m disturbing you.’

‘No, no. That’s okay. I just didn’t recognize you.’ He studied her. ‘You look –’

‘Different? Not so threatening in this male scientist disguise?’ She wandered around the lab, passing between the stainless steel NASA glove boxes, the low fluorescent lights catching the wisps of hair that protruded from her hat. ‘I got Mike to sign me in for an hour. I wanted to see your world. I promise I won’t touch anything.’

‘If you do, you’ll be zapped by NASA laser beams.’

‘So these are Moon rocks.’

‘Yeah. Come see this.’ He led her to the centre of the room, where the largest single isolation tank stood, on four fat steel legs. She followed him, and they stood side by side, peering into the tank.

Standing this close to Geena, he remembered, there had always been the faint smell of deodorants, shampoo, perfume. The chemicals industry of the late twentieth century. But with Jane there was only the autumn-ash scent of her hair. Like Moon dust, he thought absently.

They’d been seeing each other, on and off, for a month now. Dinners. Walks, drives. A lot of gentle sparring as they picked at each other’s old wounds. Goodnight kisses like he used to get from his aunt.

Maybe he could detect the stirring of some kind of attraction in her, on a subconscious level. The way volcano junkies could sometimes sense the stirring of magma pockets far underground, before the most sensitive of seismometers showed a trace.

After all, she was here.

Or maybe that was all self-deluding bull. He had been disastrously and persistently wrong about Geena. After a month he still wasn’t sure.

The box contained a big, battered case made of aluminum. It was open. Inside the box was a series of dirty Teflon bags, some of them slit open.

Jane said, ‘What’s this?’

‘An Apollo Sample Return Container, in NASA-ese. A rock box, to you and me. This is one of the boxes Jays Malone and his buddy filled up on the lunar surface, with Moon rocks they put in those numbered Teflon bags. And it was left unopened in twenty-five years.’

‘You’re kidding.’

‘More than half the Moon rocks have never been touched. We had to sterilize the box, with ultraviolet light and acid, dried it with nitrogen, punctured it to let out whatever trace of lunar atmosphere was in there –’

‘Why? You can’t think there is any danger of contamination.’

‘Of us, by the rocks? Hell, no. But they planned for it back in the ’60s. They even sterilized the films the astronauts brought back from the Moon’s surface. No, now we’re more concerned with protecting the Moon rocks from us.’

Jane leaned forward and inspected the Moon samples, where they nestled in the slit-open bags. ‘I’m not sure what I was expecting,’ she said. ‘Something – primordial. More glamorous. This looks like –’

‘What?’

‘Like jacket potatoes that got left too long on the barbecue.’

He laughed. ‘The Moon is a dark world, Jane; it only looks bright in the sky for lack of competition.’

She pointed to an empty bag. It was numbered ‘86047’. ‘What happened to that one?’

‘That’s the most important rock in this box. The focus of the study. It’s lunar bedrock. Possibly …’

The work on the Moon rock was actually picking up quickly – although Henry hadn’t had much time for any real science yet, as so much of his time was being taken up with organizational stuff. He had to ensure the lab assigned the right facilities for the preliminary studies he wanted to run – emission spectrometry, X-ray crystallography, mass spectrometry, X-ray fluorescence and neutron activation. He wanted to push for a scanning tunnelling microscope study, but there was no STM here, and Dan McDiarmid made it clear exactly where the boundary of his budget lay, as if every STM in the world had been transported to the Moon itself.

It put Henry in his place, and he spent a lot of time fuming and fighting for turf.

But the work itself had soon gotten going well enough.
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