Read Big Book of Science Fiction Online
Authors: Groff Conklin
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Anthologies, #made by MadMaxAU
|Big Book of Science Fiction|
|Tags:||Anthologies, Science Fiction, made by MadMaxAU|
A collection of SF stories edited by Groff Conklin. Contains stories by Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, Murray Leinster, Lester del Rey, Frederic Brown, Fletcher Pratt, Ray Bradbury, John D. MacDonald, Fritz Leiber Jr, and C. M. Kornbluth.
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Big Book of Science
Ed by Groff Conklin
by MadMaxAU eBooks
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Clifford D. Simak:
Lester del Rey:
THE WINGS OF NIGHT
THE ROGER BACON
John D. MacDonald:
Fritz Leiber, Jr.:
C. M. Kornbluth:
THING WE LEARN
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by Clifford D. Simak
men, two by two, had gone into the howling maelstrom that was Jupiter and had
not returned. They had walked into the keening gale—or rather, they had loped,
bellies low against the ground, wet sides gleaming in the rain.
For they did not go in the shape
Now the fifth man stood before
the desk of Kent Fowler, head of Dome No. 3, Jovian Survey Commission.
Under Fowler’s desk, old Towser
scratched a flea, then settled down to sleep again.
Harold Allen, Fowler saw with a
sudden pang, was young— too young. He had the easy confidence of youth, the
straight back and straight eyes, the face of one who never had known fear. And
that was strange. For men in the domes of Jupiter did know fear—fear and
humility. It was hard for Man to reconcile his puny self with the mighty forces
of the monstrous planet.
“You understand,” said Fowler, “that
you need not do this. You understand that you need not go.”
It was formula, of course. The
other four had been told the same thing, but they had gone. This fifth one,
Fowler knew, would go too. But suddenly he felt a dull hope stir within him
that Allen wouldn’t go.
“When do I start?” asked Allen.
There was a time when Fowler
might have taken quiet pride in that answer, but not now. He frowned briefly.
“Within the hour,” he said.
Allen stood waiting, quietly.
“Four other men have gone out and
have not returned,” said Fowler. “You know that, of course. We want you to
return. We don’t want you going off on any heroic rescue expedition. The main
thing, the only thing, is that you come back, that you prove man can live in a
Jovian form. Go to the first survey stake, no farther, then come back. Don’t
take any chances. Don’t investigate anything. Just come back.”
Allen nodded. “I understand all
“Miss Stanley will operate the
converter,” Fowler went on. “You need have no fear on that particular point.
The other men were converted without mishap. They left the converter in
apparently perfect condition. You will be in thoroughly competent hands. Miss
Stanley is the best qualified conversion operator in the Solar System. She had
had experience on most of the other planets. That is why she’s here.”
Allen grinned at the woman and
Fowler saw something flicker across Miss Stanley’s face—something that might
have been pity, or rage—or just plain fear. But it was gone again and she was
smiling back at the youth who stood before the desk. Smiling in that prim,
schoolteacherish way she had of smiling, almost as if she hated herself for
“I shall be looking forward,”
said Allen, “to my conversion.”
And the way he said it, he made
it all a joke, a vast, ironic joke.
But it was no joke.
It was serious business, deadly
serious. Upon these tests, Fowler knew, depended the fate of men on Jupiter. If
the tests succeeded, the resources of the giant planet would be thrown open.
Man would take over Jupiter as he already had taken over the other smaller
planets. And if they failed—
If they failed, Man would
continue to be chained and hampered by the terrific pressure, the greater force
of gravity, the weird chemistry of the planet. He would continue to be shut
within the domes, unable to set actual foot upon the planet, unable to see it
with direct, unaided vision, forced to rely upon the awkward tractors and the
televisor, forced to work with clumsy tools and mechanisms or through the
medium of robots that themselves were clumsy.
For Man, unprotected and in his
natural form, would be blotted out by Jupiter’s terrific pressure of fifteen
thousand pounds per square inch, pressure that made Terrestrial sea bottoms
seem a vacuum by comparison.
Even the strongest metal Earthmen
could devise couldn’t exist under pressure such as that, under the pressure and
the alkaline rains that forever swept the planet. It grew brittle and flaky,
crumbling like clay, or it ran away in little streams and puddles of ammonia
salts, Only by stepping up the toughness and strength of that metal, by
increasing its electronic tension, could it be made to withstand the weight of
thousands of miles of swirling, choking gases that made up the atmosphere. And
even when that was done, everything had to be coated with tough quartz to keep
away the rain— the bitter rain that was liquid ammonia.
Fowler sat listening to the
engines in the sub-floor of the dome. Engines that ran on endlessly, the dome
never quiet of them. They had to run and keep on running. For if they stopped,
the power flowing into the metal walls of the dome would stop, the electronic
tension would ease up and that would be the end of everything.
Towser roused himself under
Fowler’s desk and scratched another flea, his leg thumping hard against the
“Is there anything else?” asked
Fowler shook his head. “Perhaps
there’s something you want to do,” he said. “Perhaps you—”
He had meant to say write a
letter and he was glad he caught himself quick enough so he didn’t say it.
Allen looked at his watch. “I’ll
be there on time,” he said. He swung around and headed for the door.
Fowler knew Miss Stanley was
watching him and he didn’t want to turn and meet her eyes. He fumbled with a
sheaf of papers on the desk before him.
“How long are you going to keep
this up?” asked Miss Stanley and she bit off each word with a vicious snap.
He swung around in his chair and
faced her then. Her lips were drawn into a straight, thin line, her hair seemed
skinned back from her forehead tighter than ever, giving her face that queer,
almost startling death-mask quality.
He tried to make his voice cool
and level. “As long as there’s any need of it,” he said. “As long as there’s
“You’re going to keep on
sentencing them to death,” she said. “You’re going to keep marching them out
face to face with Jupiter. You’re going to sit in here safe and comfortable and
send them out to die.”
“There is no room for
sentimentality, Miss Stanley,” Fowler said, trying to keep the note of anger
from his voice. “You know as well as I do why we’re doing this. You realize
that Man in his own form simply cannot cope with Jupiter. The only answer is to
turn men into the sort of things that can cope with it. We’ve done it on the
“If a few men die, but we finally
succeed, the price is small. Through the ages men have thrown away their lives
on foolish things, for foolish reasons. Why should we hesitate, then, at a
little death in a thing as great as this?”
Miss Stanley sat stiff and
straight, hands folded in her lap, the lights shining on her graying hair and
Fowler, watching her, tried to imagine what she might feel, what she might be
thinking. He wasn’t exactly afraid of her, but he didn’t feel quite comfortable
when she was around. Those sharp blue eyes saw too much, her hands looked far
too competent. She should be somebody’s Aunt sitting in a rocking chair with
her knitting needles. But she wasn’t. She was the top-notch conversion unit
operator in the Solar System and she didn’t like the way he was doing things.