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Authors: Arthur C. Clarke

2061: Odyssey Three

BOOK: 2061: Odyssey Three
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2061: Odissey Three
2061: Odissey Three

2061: Odissey Three

2061: Odissey Three
I

THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN

2061: Odissey Three
1
2061: Odissey Three
The Frozen Years

‘For a man of seventy, you’re in extremely good shape,’ remarked Dr Glazunov, looking up from the Medcom’s final print-out. ‘I’d have put you down as not more than sixty-five.’

‘Happy to hear it, Oleg. Especially as I’m a hundred and three - as you know perfectly well.’

‘Here we go again! Anyone would think you’ve never read Professor Rudenko’s book.’

‘Dear old Katerina! We’d planned a get-together on her hundredth birthday. I was so sorry she never made it - that’s what comes of spending too much time on Earth.’

‘Ironic, since she was the one who coined that famous slogan “Gravity is the bringer of old age.”‘

Dr Heywood Floyd stared thoughtfully at the ever-changing panorama of the beautiful planet, only six thousand kilometres away, on which he could never walk again. It was even more ironic that, through the most stupid accident of his life, he was still in excellent health when virtually all his old friends were dead.

He had been back on Earth only a week when, despite all the warnings and his own determination that nothing of the sort would ever happen to him, he had stepped off that second-storey balcony. (Yes, he had been celebrating: but he had earned it - he was a hero on the new world to which Leonov had returned.) The multiple fractures had led to complications, which could best be handled in the Pasteur Space Hospital.

That had been in 2015. And now - he could not really believe it, but there was the calendar on the wall - it was 2061.

For Heywood Floyd, the biological clock had not merely been slowed down by the one-sixth Earth gravity of the hospital; twice in his life it had actually been reversed. It was now generally believed - though some authorities disputed it - that hibernation did more than merely stop the ageing process; it encouraged rejuvenation. Floyd had actually become younger on his voyage to Jupiter and back.

‘So you really think it’s safe for me to go?’

‘Nothing in this Universe is safe, Heywood. All I can say is that there are no physiological objections. After all, your environment will be virtually the same aboard Universe as it is here. She may not have quite the standard of - ah - superlative medical expertise we can provide at Pasteur, but Dr Mahindran is a good man. If there’s any problem he can’t cope with, he can put you into hibernation again, and ship you back to us, COD.’

It was the verdict that Floyd had hoped for, yet somehow his pleasure was alloyed with sadness. He would be away for weeks from his home of almost half a century, and the new friends of his later years. And although Universe was a luxury liner compared with the primitive Leonov (now hovering high above Farside as one of the main exhibits at the Lagrange Museum) there was still some element of risk in any extended space voyage. Especially like the pioneering one on which he was now preparing to embark.

Yet that, perhaps, was exactly what he was seeking - even at a hundred and three (or, according to the complex geriatric accounting of the late Professor Katerina Rudenko, a hale and hearty sixty-five.) During the last decade, he had become aware of an increasing restlessness and a vague dissatisfaction with a life that was too comfortable and well-ordered.

Despite all the exciting projects now in progress around the Solar System - the Mars Renewal, the establishment of the Mercury Base, the Greening of Ganymede - there had been no goal on which he could really focus his interests and his still considerable energies. Two centuries ago, one of the first poets of the Scientific Era had summed up his feelings perfectly, speaking through the lips of Odysseus/Ulysses:

Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one of me

Little remains; but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things: and vile it were

For some three suns to store and hoard myself,

And this grey spirit yearning in desire

To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

‘Three suns’, indeed! It was more than forty:

Ulysses would have been ashamed of him. But the next verse - which he knew so well - was even more appropriate:

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

‘To seek, to find…’ Well, now he knew what he was going to seek, and to find - because he knew exactly where it would be. Short of some catastrophic accident, there was no way in which it could possibly elude him.

It was not a goal he had ever consciously had in mind, and even now he was not quite sure why it had become so suddenly dominant. He would have thought himself immune to the fever which was once again infecting mankind - for the second time in his life! - but perhaps he was mistaken. Or it could have been that the unexpected invitation to join the short list of distinguished guests aboard Universe had fired his imagination, and awakened an enthusiasm he had not even known he possessed.

There was another possibility. After all these years, he could still remember what an anticlimax the 1985/6 encounter had been to the general public. Now was a chance - the last for him, and the first for humanity - to more than make up for any previous disappointment.

Back in the twentieth century, only flybys had been possible. This time, there would be an actual landing, as pioneering in its way as Armstrong’s and Aldrin’s first steps on the Moon.

Dr Heywood Floyd, veteran of the 2010-15 mission to Jupiter, let his imagination fly outwards to the ghostly visitor once again returning from the deeps of space, gaining speed second by second as it prepared to round the Sun. And between the orbits of Earth and Venus the most famous of all comets would meet the still uncompleted space-liner Universe, on her maiden flight.

The exact point of rendezvous was not yet settled, but his decision was already made.

‘Halley - here I come…’ whispered Heywood Floyd.

2061: Odissey Three
2
2061: Odissey Three
First Sight

It is not true that one must leave Earth to appreciate the full splendour of the heavens. Not even in space is the starry sky more glorious than when viewed from a high mountain, on a perfectly clear night, far from any source of artificial illumination. Even though the stars appear brighter beyond the atmosphere, the eye cannot really appreciate the difference; and the overwhelming spectacle of half the celestial sphere at a single glance is something that no observation window can provide.

But Heywood Floyd was more than content with his private view of the Universe, especially during the times when the residential zone was on the shadow side of the slowly revolving space hospital. Then there would be nothing in his rectangular field of view but stars, planets, nebulae - and occasionally, drowning out all else, the unblinking glare of Lucifer, new rival to the Sun.

About ten minutes before the beginning of his artificial night, he would switch off all the cabin lights - even the red emergency standby - so that he could become completely dark-adapted. A little late in life for a space engineer, he had learned the pleasures of naked-eye astronomy, and could now identify virtually any constellation, even if he could glimpse only a small portion of it.

Almost every ‘night’ that May, as the comet was passing inside the orbit of Mars, he had checked its location on the star charts. Although it was an easy object with a good pair of binoculars, Floyd had stubbornly resisted their aid; he was playing a little game, seeing how well his ageing eyes would respond to the challenge. Though two astronomers on Mauna Kea already claimed to have observed the comet visually, no-one believed them, and similar assertions from other residents of Pasteur had been treated with even greater scepticism.

But tonight, a magnitude of at least six was predicted; he might be in luck. He traced the line from Gamma to Epsilon, and stared towards the apex of an imaginary equilateral triangle set upon it - almost as if he could focus his vision across the Solar System by a sheer effort of will.

And there it was! - just as he had first seen it, seventy-six years ago, inconspicuous but unmistakable. If he had not known exactly where to look, he would not even have noticed it, or would have dismissed it as some distant nebula.

To his naked eye it was merely a tiny, perfectly circular blob of mist; strain as he would, he was unable to detect any trace of a tail. But the small flotilla of probes that had been escorting the comet for months had already recorded the first outbursts of dust and gas that would soon create a glowing plume across the stars, pointing directly away from its creator, the Sun,

Like everyone else, Heywood Floyd had watched the transformation of the cold, dark - no, almost black - nucleus as it entered the inner Solar System. After seventy years of deepfreeze, the complex mixture of water, ammonia and other ices was beginning to thaw and bubble. A flying mountain, roughly the shape - and size - of the island of Manhattan was turning on a cosmic spit every fifty-three hours; as the heat of the Sun seeped through the insulating crust, the vaporizing gases were making Halley’s Comet behave like a leaking steam-boiler. Jets of water vapour, mixed with dust and a witch’s brew of organic chemicals, were bursting out from half a dozen small craters; the largest - about the size of a football field - erupted regularly about two hours after local dawn. It looked exactly like a terrestrial geyser, and had been promptly christened ‘Old Faithful’.

Already, he had fantasies of standing on the rim of that crater, waiting for the Sun to rise above the dark, contorted landscape which he already knew well through the images from space. True, the contract said nothing about passengers - as opposed to crew and scientific personnel - going outside the ship when it landed on Halley.

On the other hand, there was also nothing in the small print that specifically forbade it.

They’ll have a job to stop me, thought Heywood Floyd. I’m sure I can still handle a spacesuit. And if I’m wrong…

He remembered reading that a visitor to the Taj Mahal had once remarked: ‘I’d die tomorrow for a monument like this.’

He would gladly settle for Halley’s Comet.

2061: Odissey Three
3
2061: Odissey Three
Re-entry

Even apart from that embarrassing accident, the return to Earth had not been easy.

The first shock had come soon after revival, when Dr Rudenko had woken him from his long sleep. Walter Curnow was hovering beside her, and even in his semi-conscious state he could tell that something was wrong; their pleasure at seeing him awake was a little too exaggerated, and failed to conceal a sense of strain. Not until he was fully recovered did they let him know that Dr Chandra was no longer with them.

Somewhere beyond Mars, so imperceptibly that the monitors could not pinpoint the time, he had simply ceased to live. His body, set adrift in space, had continued unchecked along Leonov’s orbit, and had long since been consumed by the fires of the Sun.

The cause of death was totally unknown, but Max Brailovsky expressed a view that, highly unscientific though it was, not even Surgeon-Commander Katerina Rudenko attempted to refute.

‘He couldn’t live without Hal.’

Walter Curnow, of all people, added another thought.

‘I wonder how Hal will take it?’ he asked. ‘Something out there must be monitoring all our broadcasts. Sooner or later, he’ll know.’

And now Curnow was gone too - so were they all except little Zenia. He had not seen her for twenty years, but her card arrived punctually every Christmas. The last one was still pinned above his desk; it showed a troika laden with gifts speeding through the snows of a Russian winter, watched by extremely hungry-looking wolves.

Forty-five years! Sometimes it seemed only yesterday that Leonov had returned to Earth orbit, and the applause of all mankind. Yet it had been a curiously subdued applause, respectful but lacking genuine enthusiasm. The mission to Jupiter had been altogether too much of a success; it had opened a Pandora’s box, the full contents of which had yet to be disclosed.

When the black monolith known as Tycho Magnetic Anomaly One had been excavated on the Moon, only a handful of men knew of its existence. Not until after Discovery’s ill-fated voyage to Jupiter did the world learn that, four million years ago, another intelligence had passed through the Solar System, and left its calling card. The news was a revelation - but not a surprise; something of the sort had been expected for decades.

And it had all happened long before the human race existed. Although some mysterious accident had befallen Discovery out round Jupiter, there was no real evidence that it involved anything more than a shipboard malfunction. Although the philosophical consequences of TMA 1 were profound, for all practical purposes mankind was still alone in the Universe.

Now that was no longer true. Only light minutes away - a mere stone’s throw in the Cosmos - was an intelligence that could create a star, and, for its own inscrutable purpose, destroy a planet a thousand times the size of Earth. Even more ominous was the fact that it had shown awareness of mankind, through the last message that Discovery had beamed back from the moons of Jupiter just before the fiery birth of Lucifer had destroyed it:

ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS - EXCEPT EUROPA.

ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE.

The brilliant new star, which had banished night except for the few months in each year when it was passing behind the Sun, had brought both hope and fear to mankind. Fear - because the Unknown, especially when it appeared linked with omnipotence - could not fail to rouse such primeval emotions. Hope - because of the transformation it had wrought in global politics.

It had often been said that the only thing that could unite mankind was a threat from space. Whether Lucifer was a threat, no-one knew; but it was certainly a challenge. And that, as it turned out, was enough.

Heywood Floyd had watched the geopolitical changes from his vantage point on Pasteur, almost as if he was an alien observer himself. At first, he had no intention of remaining in space, once his recovery was complete. To the baffled annoyance of his doctors, that took an altogether unreasonable length of time.

Looking back from the tranquillity of later years, Floyd knew exactly why his bones refused to mend.

He simply did not wish to return to Earth: there was nothing for him, down on the dazzling blue and white globe that filled his sky. There were times when he could well understand how Chandra might have lost the will to live.

It was pure chance that he had not been with his first wife on that flight to Europe. Now Marion was part of another life, that might have belonged to someone else, and their two daughters were amiable strangers with families of their own.

But he had lost Caroline through his own actions, even though he had no real choice in the matter. She had never understood (had he really done so himself?) why he had left the beautiful home they had made together, to exile himself for years in the cold wastes far from the Sun.

Though he had known, even before the mission was half over, that Caroline would not wait, he had hoped desperately that Chris would forgive him. But even this consolation had been denied; his son had been without a father for too long. By the time that Floyd returned, he had found another, in the man who had taken his place in Caroline’s life. The estrangement was complete; he thought he would never get over it, but of course he did - after a fashion.

His body had cunningly conspired with his unconscious desires. When at last he returned to Earth, after his protracted convalescence in Pasteur, he promptly developed such alarming symptoms - including something suspiciously like bone necrosis - that he was immediately rushed back to orbit. And there he had stayed, apart from a few excursions to the Moon, completely adapted to living in the zero to one-sixth gravity regime of the slowly rotating space hospital.

He was not a recluse - far from it. Even while he was convalescing, he was dictating reports, giving evidence to endless commissions, being interviewed by media representatives. He was a famous man, and enjoyed the experience - while it lasted. It helped to compensate for his inner wounds.

The first complete decade - 2020 to 2030 - seemed to have passed so swiftly that he now found it difficult to focus upon it. There were the usual crises, scandals, crimes, catastrophes - notably the Great Californian Earthquake, whose aftermath he had watched with fascinated horror through the station’s monitor screens. Under their greatest magnification, in favourable conditions, they could show individual human beings; but from his God’s-eye-view it had been impossible to identify with the scurrying dots fleeing from the burning cities. Only the ground cameras revealed the true horror.

During that decade, though the results would not be apparent until later, the political tectonic plates were moving as inexorably as the geological ones - yet in the opposite sense, as if time was running backwards. For in the beginning, the Earth had possessed the single supercontinent of Pangaea, which over the aeons had split asunder. So had the human species, into innumerable tribes and nations; now it was merging together, as the old linguistic and cultural divisions began to blur.

Although Lucifer had accelerated the process, it had begun decades earlier, when the coming of the jet age had triggered an explosion of global tourism. At almost the same time - it was not, of course, a coincidence - satellites and fibre optics had revolutionized communications. With the historic abolition of long-distance charges on 31 December 2000, every telephone call became a local one, and the human race greeted the new millennium by transforming itself into one huge, gossiping family.

Like most families, it was not always a peaceful one, but its disputes no longer threatened the entire planet. The second - and last - nuclear war saw the use in combat of no more bombs than the first: precisely two. And though the kilotonnage was greater, the casualties were far fewer, as both were used against sparsely populated oil installations. At that point the Big Three of China, the US and the USSR moved with commendable speed and wisdom, sealing off the battle zone until the surviving combatants had come to their senses.

By the decade of 2020-30, a major war between the Great Powers was as unthinkable as one between Canada and the United States had been in the century before. This was not due to any vast improvement in human nature, or indeed to any single factor except the normal preference of life over death. Much of the machinery of peace was not even consciously planned: before the politicians realized what had happened, they discovered that it was in place, and functioning well…

No statesman, no idealist of any persuasion invented the ‘Peace Hostage’ movement; the very name was not coined until well after someone had noticed that at any given moment there were a hundred thousand Russian tourists in the United States - and half a million Americans in the Soviet Union, most of them engaged in their traditional pastime of complaining about the plumbing. And perhaps even more to the point, both groups contained a disproportionately large number of highly non-expendable individuals - the sons and daughters of wealth, privilege and political power.

And even if one wished, it was no longer possible to plan a large-scale war. The Age of Transparency had dawned in the 1990s, when enterprising news media had started to launch photographic satellites with resolutions comparable to those that the military had possessed for three decades. The Pentagon and the Kremlin were furious; but they were no match for Reuters, Associated Press and the unsleeping, twenty-four-hours-a-day cameras of the Orbital News Service.

By 2060, even though the world had not been completely disarmed, it had been effectively pacified, and the fifty remaining nuclear weapons were all under international control. There was surprisingly little opposition when that popular monarch, Edward VIII, was elected the first Planetary President, only a dozen states dissenting. They ranged in size and importance from the still stubbornly neutral Swiss (whose restaurants and hotels nevertheless greeted the new bureaucracy with open arms) to the even more fanatically independent Malvinians, who now resisted all attempts by the exasperated British and Argentines to foist them off on each other.

The dismantling of the vast and wholly parasitic armaments industry had given an unprecedented - sometimes, indeed, unhealthy - boost to the world economy. No longer were vital raw materials and brilliant engineering talents swallowed up in a virtual black hole - or, even worse, turned to destruction. Instead, they could be used to repair the ravages and neglect of centuries, by rebuilding the world.

And building new ones. Now indeed mankind had found the ‘moral equivalent of war’, and a challenge that could absorb the surplus energies of the race - for as many millennia ahead as anyone dared to dream.

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