(Try to imagine the music in "2001," playing in the background as you read... think, think, hear it, hear it... -- better yet, if you have a CD or MP3 of the music...! Okay, now start reading... :-)
The hairy ape looked at the strange black rock, and then the bone, then at the rock again. The ape tossed the bleached bone high into the air...
... A white spaceship sailed calmly and silently through space, heading towards the Moon. Known as an "Eagle," it soon passed by a large, double-wheeled space station which was slowly rotating to provide its own artificial gravity.
The Eagle had its more complex, more energy-intensive way of providing artificial gravity, evident by the way the single passenger's cup of coffee remained well-behaved. John Koenig sat quietly, perhaps thinking about the reasons he was going to the Moon.
Just barely on the near side of the Moon, with Earth only a few degrees above the horizon at Longomontanus Crater, astronauts did the slow dance of walking under lunar gravity, waving devices around and taking readings from the large, squat, metal cones that were scattered in this area. A sign proclaimed this area as "Nuclear Waste Disposal Area One."
A few hundred kilometers away -- but central to all the Disposal areas -- was a small installation called Clavius Base. There, a man and a woman were watching the activity on monitors. They looked at each other and shrugged, apparently not finding what they expected, then prepared to leave this small outpost.
Thousands of kilometers away, in the northern lunar hemisphere, above a much larger installation, the Eagle ship, bathed in the glow of earthlight, gracefully slide out of the sky, lightly touching its hard feet to the cold surface of a orange cross, which was the top of a landing pad, itself on top of the almost uniformly grey rocks of the pitted lunar surface.
A naked arm of metal protruded from the side and touched the spaceship, and the descendent of apes crossed from the realm of ship to the realm of outpost and then briefly exchanged words with another such nearly-hairless, clothed ape who was headed in the opposite direction.
It was Moonbase Alpha, September 9, 1999.
It had been a few hours after Cmdr. Koenig had arrived on Alpha to replace Cmdr. Gorski that two other people returned to the big moonbase from the much smaller and incomplete Clavius base. He met with these two people on their arrival: a female medical officer named Helena Russell, and a senior male scientist named Victor Bergman. He was told they had been to Area One, and there was no radiation leakage could be found.
They took the commander to another place within the base, walking through the expansive, brightly light corridors that were clean and pristine -- the model of working efficiency. The legs of their simple, mostly grey, efficiently-designed clothing made an ever-so-slight whisper of sound as they entered a room. This one was totally filled with the sights and sounds of technology at work -- technology that was trying to repair broken lives. But these people were dying, and the man looked in shock at the men whom neither human or machine could save.
Not much later, he was in another room full of technology, one that also bound by either strong walls or by clear windows that looked out on the Moon and the inky, mysterious space beyond. It looked like a decision-making place, and in a moment, it sounded like one as Koenig declared, "Emergency Condition Alpha One."
Another Eagle ship soon left Earth, headed through space towards the Moon.
At Tycho Crater, just outside a second area filled with many times more metal cones than the first, a few of the people and machines from Clavius Base were digging. A new storage pipe was needed for more nuclear waste. Suddenly, the digger hit something hard, the sensation of impact traveling through the digging apparatus to be felt by the person.
A few hours later, they had dug out something unusual.
A slim ship silently sailed space. A man named Heywood Floyd was looking at some papers and jotting a few notes, then drifting off to sleep. His pen slipped free and floated around the cabin. A woman entered and began walking, slowly and deliberately making sure her slippered feet gripped the carpeted floor -- the two materials binding together to provide artificial attachment. She retrieved the pen and put it in the man's pocket.
The ship slowly started to rotate along its long axis, to match the spin of the double-wheeled station floating in space. With the aid of computer screens and other tools, they docked, allowing Floyd to move from ship to station, where he was to meet with several other people first, in private.
"There are now two critical situations: the illnesses threatening members of the Jupiter mission who are training at Alpha, even as Discovery One is being built in Earth orbit; and the unusual discovery at Area Two, near Clavius Base."
"You are going to which?" Heywood's friend Elena asked.
"Clavius. Simmonds is heading to Alpha right now."
"Is that not excessive?" Dr. Andrei Smyslov asked. "Is not Alpha already the primary facility?"
Another of Floyd's colleagues, Dr. Ralph Halvorsen, spoke: "As you all know, Clavius is being constructed to more closely deal with the nuclear waste, as Alpha is becoming a premier research and training facility. Now, with Clavius only partially built, Alpha still has the bulk of the nuclear responsibilities."
"I was in contact with Simmonds," Floyd said. "He is certain the astronauts on Alpha are suffering from an infection that Alpha's chief medical officer has failed to isolate. Koenig has declared ECA-1. We will declare a similar situation at Clavius, so we can isolate what has been found at Tycho. However, given we now have two situations, the WSC has concluded that it is best to keep the newest find as quiet as possible, including from Alpha, or news may spread to Earth before the general populace is ready and in a condition to hear it."
"Speaking of that, the people at Clavius have found something else interesting," Dr. Kalinan said, handing Floyd some paper, before resuming. "These were assembled from a series of magnetic scans. They only finished processing the raw data now. There is a huge magnetic anomaly that built up. It centers at Tycho, so it is being called Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One, or TMA-1."
"Area Two is very near that," Floyd said.
"Yes. The anomaly is centered on the new discovery, it seems. But it is so strong that much of the surrounding area on the Moon is in range, including other nuclear dumps."
"Could it have any effect on the dumps, or be caused by the dumps?"
"No, there is no way one can have an effect on the other. Besides, the TMA centers perfectly on what we found there, on the edge of Area Two. It's like a giant magnetic spring has been wound up."
"How did it go unnoticed so long?"
Dr. Smyslov jumped in, sounding rather pointed as he gave his theory. "A magnetic mapping satellite had been proposed, but it was shelved by Simmonds early last year. He said the development of the nuclear waste dumps took precedence."
After some remarkable treaties some years back, space had turned more from competition to cooperation, under the banner of the World Space Commission -- but it was still a very tense relationship. Heywood suddenly recalled that magnetic mapping satellite was to have been developed by the Soviet Union, which was increasingly complaining of being sidelined in space. That the newer Clavius Moonbase was currently exclusively staffed by U.S. and E.U. personnel, and Gorski had just been removed from Alpha Moonbase, was sure to stoke tensions with the U.S.S.R., which had been starting to make noise about wanting to build a base elsewhere on the Moon.
The meeting did not go on for much longer, and then Floyd prepared to leave for the Moon.
A bulbous ship was also headed to the Moon, though not to Alpha. It carried Floyd on the next leg of his journey, to Clavius Base. Not unlike the Eagle that carried Koenig before, this ship fell from the sky, also in a controlled fashion, the pilots using monitors to line itself up with the sole pad this small base had. It was not a large base yet: the landing pad and its hangar, command, a small medical center, some quarters, small power plant, and some other basics. It was for less than twenty people, though there were plans for continued -- rapid -- growth.
Soon, Floyd transferred aboard another ship, perhaps the "ancestor" of the Eagle ship that had just finished carrying Simmonds to Alpha. This one was an even smaller ship, which glided away from Clavius and over the lunar surface, passing over craters, mountains, and valleys on the way to Tycho Crater. The commander of Clavius base, along with most of the Clavius personnel, were on a foray to one of the nuclear areas -- a journey they knew they knew would become frequent once Clavius Base was complete. But the nuclear dump was not the true destination this time.
Several had been left behind on Clavius. Two of the base personnel who had struck and dug out something interesting had now fallen gravely ill. The doctor, one Ben Vincent, stayed behind, puzzling over their symptoms and hoping they could be taken to the better facilities at Moonbase Alpha. Also staying behind was a security officer named Tony Verdeschi, who had been temporarily posted to Clavius as a second-in-command but multi-purpose officer for the base. He sat, tapping his fingers, frustrated by the radio silences and quarantines that were blanketing everything on the Moon. It was stifling, and he had the feeling an ominous countdown was proceeding.
The little shuttle, carrying the other Clavians and Floyd, reached the center of the magnetic anomaly. The cones of the huge Area Two nuclear waste storage grounds were scattered about to the north, still hidden in the shadow of a sun that was only minutes from rising.
In spacesuits, they climbed out of their shuttle, and slowly bounce-walked to the edge of the relatively shallow, sloping pit that had been dug out.
... Eagles, lit up by the slowly rising sun, catching everyone's attention abruptly. They were all to the north, and too far away for the people on the ground to see what the ships were doing. Floyd was about to break radio silence to contact them to find out... but his eyes strayed to the bottom of the pit they had reached. His and the others' curiosity about the Eagles evaporated at the sight there....
A slab of the most jet-black material any of them had ever seen. Sitting at the bottom of a pit that had only just now been dug, it drove home the fact that it could not have been of human construction. They slowly, shyly approached and touched it. It was like a solid monolith of... something... perfectly smooth and perfectly black. It sat there, as if it had a purpose; but its unmoving, solid, unbroken perfection of stillness betrayed no sign of its function.
Abruptly, an Eagle ship sailed overhead, carrying what looked like a nuclear waste canister. The people on the ground all looked up, startled at this nonsensical sight. What were the Alphans doing? They clambered out of the pit and looked again at all the Eagle activity to the north. Now it seemed apparent they were all carrying nuclear waste canisters away from the dumps. Had they all gone insane?
The commander of Clavius base broke radio silence, trying to contact the Eagles. Before he even made contact, the ships all -- almost as one -- started flying towards the east, drawing Floyd's eyes to the now-risen sun. He glanced back at the pit, and saw the sun had started creeping down into it.
Voices were in his ear -- Alphans and Clavians finally talking to each other, frantically. But he ignored them, watching as sunlight crept further down into the pit.
What artificial lights did not affect, sunlight awakened. The monolith had sat, blocked from the light of the sun, for perhaps four million years. Now, under the light of this system's star, it came to life -- but not in any visible way...
A piercing shriek sounded through everyone's helmets. They gripped their helmets, trying futilely to block the noise. It sounded like a radio signal, but was actually the radio circuits within their helmets blowing themselves out.
Unknown by any of the humans, the Monolith was abruptly releasing all of the magnetic energy it had built up -- but the results were going awry.
The TMA's long-standing presence had -- despite the humans' ignorance -- been destabilizing two of the four nuclear dumps almost as soon as they had been built, building up over time until their disruptive interaction had started sickening, maddening, and then killing anyone who had been spending a degree of time flying near or walking within the dumps -- and then causing temperature and magnetic variations that had caused the Alphans to attempt redistributing the nuclear waste across a wider area.
Now, the magnetic spring that the monolith had built up over many millennia was being released within seconds -- a tremendous disturbance indeed. Something besides the humans' radios were affected.
A sudden flash of light to the north drew everyone's attention.
A ravening fireball grew out of multiple explosions, and in a moment of fury against the sudden magnetic disturbance of the Monolith releasing its magnetic energy so abruptly, it turned the whole area the purest white as container after container exploded tremendously, adding to sheer energy.
One Eagle was instantly destroyed, and the blast consumed another within moments. Floyd and the others scarcely had even a moment to contemplate anything before the blast hit them. As it did, Floyd closed his eyes, and cool blackness enveloped him.
Not far away, on Clavius, Verdeschi watched the monitors. They flashed for only the briefest of moments before being burnt out by the excessive light. He had a moment to mutter a single expletive before the whole structure started bucking wildly. Vincent, in another room, did not even have that luxury.
Much further away, the people on Alpha watched in horror as everything went terribly wrong, then reeled as the shock waves, sweeping across and through the Moon, hit them.
Pilot Alan Carter, in an Eagle high above, struggled to keep up as the whole moon suddenly started moving, accelerating -- breaking free of Earth.
Floyd opened his eyes, and found himself standing with the others, still at the top of the pit, in a gently lit-up area of the Moon that was otherwise covered with a dome of utter blackness. But the monolith itself was no longer black. It was still the same size and shape, but had an appearance he would never be able to describe.
He had no sensation of time, but something seemed to whisper into his mind that he had to leave. There was no voice, no sensation of presence; but he just suddenly knew. Floyd turned away from the Monolith, and realized everyone else was doing so as well. They saw the shuttle they had came here in. Without looking again at the indescribable slab of... whatever it was... they walked to their shuttle, boarded it, and skipping the usual safety checks -- weren't they dead anyway? -- fired it up and launched. For a length of time Floyd could not measure, they were in blackness. Then, in a blink, they were out in star-lit space. He took another breath, and realized he had been breathing all along. For some incomprehensible reason, the Monolith, whatever it was, had saved their lives. He had a feeling this was not the last time he'd see one of those alien objects.
For now, there were no words as they stared at a Moon that was flying away from them at incredible speeds.
It would seem strange for the explosion alone to push the Moon at as high of a speed as it left orbit: as powerful as it was, it should not have made the Moon move as much as it actually was. Perhaps the monolith had magnified everything.
Over the millennia, it had built up a store magnetic energy around itself. Maybe it had intended to use it to direct a radio signal at another target, to attract the attention of whatever intelligence might have arrived from the blue world, and point them at a new target. But perhaps the Monolith (or whatever creators it might have had) did not expect intelligence to build up excessively concentrated piles of nuclear waste so nearby. Instead of directing a radio signal burst in a certain direction, it instead directed the entire Moon that way. The explosion pushed one way, but the Monolith redirected it a little, keeping the Moon on the plane in which the planets revolved around their Sun.
The G-force of acceleration lasted for a few minutes, then started calming enough for Alpha's artificial gravity to compensate.
The people on that base watched as they picked up a transmission from Mars, showing the Moon heading away from the Earth at a high speed. Main Computer could not provide a helpful answer to their dilemma, but the human commander of Moonbase Alpha decided that they would stay, reasoning a better chance of surviving on the Moon then dying scattered in space trying to return.
Clavius Base was left badly -- perhaps fatally -- damaged by the explosion that was much nearer to Clavius than to Alpha. Fortunately, it still acted as a still temporarily livable shelter. The two already-ill Clavians died, but the badly injured Verdeschi and Vincent survived along with one of the two construction engineers who had also stayed behind when all the others had left for Tycho. Verdeschi could only shake his head weakly, wondering what had happened, and hoping they could be rescued by someone. Even if they did, it would be a slow recovery, he realized as he slid from consciousness.
The Alphans watched the big screen as they sped towards Jupiter. The giant planet expanded on their viewscreen, and a woman reported they were going to pass very close to its large moon Io.
Minutes later, they saw something. A shadowy presence that had apparently gone unnoticed during the last robotic mission to Jupiter, a year before. It was not difficult to realize why: the object was far too difficult to discern on its own, even in orbit of Io. The only reason the Alphans were now seeing it was because the Moon was seemingly aimed directly at it.
A giant, flat, jet-black object expanded on the screen. It was truly monolithic, and edges whose lengths were in the proportion of 1:4:9, the squares of the first three whole numbers.
Just when everyone braced for impact with the miles-wide object, strange sights burst out around them. Someone cried out, "My God, it's full of stars!" Then colors appeared and slid by. It was as if the Moon was traveling through a tunnel many millions or billions of kilometers long.
Whatever the full purpose of this was, it did not seem intended for the Moon, for less than a minute later, it dropped out of the eerie, sliding tube of dancing lights.
They would soon find out that this strange trip had not merely been millions of kilometers, but hundreds of light-years -- and even that merely the beginning of what would be a magnificent and terrifying odyssey.
Touched by strange forces, the Moon would never be the same again. Though it would never see one of these Monoliths or its related gates again, the Moon and its surviving inhabitants would end up jumping between star systems, sometimes slipping through another kind of space warp, but mostly just traveling through space -- usually without benefits of an obvious "warp," but amazingly, faster than even light. It would slow down while approaching star systems, then build up speed again as it left -- like some sort of gravity equation gone mad, reversed and magnified. Even the Eagle ships would share in this, allowing travel proportional to whatever the Moon was doing. They would visit planets within star systems, or meet up with alien ships able to ply space at speeds that were also faster than light.
For now, they could only shake loose their shock and dress their wounds.
While there had been some quakes and tsunamis on Earth, the damage was miraculously much less than might have been expected. The people of Earth could only puzzle at the events -- what they knew of them.
The ones who knew more -- including the presence of the apparently alien "Monolith" -- still did not know much. Even Floyd and the others who had been with him at the Monolith now found it impossible to remember how they went from seeing the approaching blast to being in the shuttle, safely in space.
The mystery of what happened to the Moon plagued everyone. It had been blasted from Earth, had skittered across the solar system towards Jupiter, and had vanished there. Io's orbit had been somewhat affected, but not in the way expected of a flyby of a similarly-sized object. It had not crashed into Jupiter either. It was as if the Moon had simply disappeared right at the point of closest approach to Io. One moment, it was there in the telescopes; the next moment, it blinked out of existence.
Two years later, to find out what had happened to the Moon, and why it had flown so directly to the Jovian system, as if intentionally shot there, a huge ship called the Discovery -- already under construction in 1999 -- was on its way to Jupiter. Floyd was not going -- he was instead the mission director. The ship was helmed by Astronauts Poole and Bowman, trained after the loss of the prior intended crew in 1999, plus three sleepers who were the few who knew of the Monolith that had been discovered on the Moon before its Breakaway. Also on board was humanity's most advanced computer system, the HAL-9000....
And so, two great odysseys began out of one shocking incident.
With apologies to Stanley Kubrick, Gerry Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, George Bellak, anyone else involved with the of the actual "Space: 1999" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" productions, and probably just about everyone else too :-)
This not-for-profit amateur/fan publication is designed for entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to infringe upon the rights of any copyright holders of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Space: 1999.
First published June 1997, via the Online Alpha email list.
Later posted at the (Space: 1999 Metaforms) website.
W-02/20/08: minor updates.
A-01/01/11: moderate revisions, inc. "continuity" improvements.