Authors: Arthur C. Clarke
“Isn’t it somewhere down there,” he said, in his most casual tone of voice, “that
the boat-load of tourists has just been lost?”
“Yes,” said Tom, after a considerable delay.
“I don’t know my way about the Moon. Any idea where they’re supposed to be?”
Even the most unco-operative of men, Spenser had long ago discovered, could seldom
resist giving information if you made it seem that they were doing you a favour, and
gave them a chance of airing their superior knowledge. The trick worked in nine cases
out often; it worked now with Tom Lawson.
“They’re down there,” he said, pointing to the centre of the screen. “Those are the
Mountains of Inaccessibility—that’s the Sea of Thirst all round them.”
Spenser stared, in entirely unsimulated awe, at the sharply-etched blacks and whites
of the mountains towards which they were falling. He hoped the pilot—human or electronic—knew
his job; the ship seemed to be coming in very fast. Then he realised that they were
drifting towards the flatter territory on the left of the picture; the mountains and
the curious grey area surrounding them, were sliding away from the centre of the screen.
“Port Roris,” Tom volunteered unexpectedly, pointing to a barely visible black mark
on the far left. “That’s where we’re landing.”
“Well, I’d hate to come down in those mountains,” said Spenser, determined to keep
the conversation on target. “They’ll never find the poor devils, if they’re lost in
that wilderness. Anyway, aren’t they supposed to be buried under an avalanche?”
Tom gave a superior laugh.
to be,” he said.
“Why—isn’t that true?”
A little belatedly, Tom remembered his instructions.
“Can’t tell you anything more,” he replied in that same smug, cock-sure voice.
Spenser dropped the subject; he had already learned enough to convince him of one
Clavius City would have to wait; he had better hang on at Port Roris for a while.
He was even more certain of this, when his envious eyes saw Dr. Tom Lawson cleared
through Quarantine, Customs, Immigration and Exchange Control in three minutes flat.
Had any eavesdropper been listening to the sounds inside
, he would have been very puzzled. The cabin was reverberating unmelodiously to the
sound of twenty-one voices, in almost as many keys, singing “Happy Birthday to You.”
When the din had subsided, Commodore Hansteen called out: “Anyone else besides Mrs.
Williams just remembered that it’s his or her birthday? We know, of course, that some
ladies like to keep it quiet when they reach a certain age—”
There were no volunteers, but David McKenzie raised his voice above the general laughter.
“There’s a funny thing about birthdays—I used to win bets at parties with it. Knowing
that there are three hundred and sixty-five days in the year—how large a group of
people would you think was needed before you had a fifty-fifty chance that two of
them shared the same birthday?”
After a brief pause while the audience considered the question, someone answered:
“Why, half of three hundred and sixty-five, I suppose. Say a hundred and eighty.”
“That’s the obvious answer—and it’s completely wrong. If you have a group of more
than twenty-four people, the odds are better than even that two of them have the same
“That’s ridiculous! Twenty-four days out of three sixty-five
give those odds.”
“Sorry—it does. And if there are more than forty people, nine times out often two
of them will have the same birthday. There’s a sporting chance that it might work
with the twenty-two of us. What about trying it, Commodore?”
“Very well—I’ll go round the room, and ask each one of you for his date of birth.”
“Oh, no,” protested McKenzie. “People cheat, if you do it that way. The dates must
be written down, so that nobody knows anyone else’s birthday.”
An almost blank page from one of the tourist guides was sacrificed for this purpose,
and torn up into twenty-two slips. When they were collected and read, to everyone’s
astonishment and McKenzie’s gratification—it turned out that both Pat Harris and Robert
Bryant had been born on May 23.
“Pure luck!” said a sceptic, thus igniting a brisk mathematical argument among half
a dozen of the male passengers. The ladies were quite uninterested; either because
they did not care for mathematics, or preferred to ignore birthdays.
When the Commodore decided that this had gone on long enough, he rapped for attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” he called. “Let’s get on with the next item on our programme.
I’m pleased to say that the Entertainment Committee, consisting of Mr. Schuster and
Professor Jaya-er, Professor J.—has come up with an idea that should give us some
amusement. They suggest that we set up a court and cross-examine everybody here in
turn. The object of the court is to find an answer to this question—why did we come
to the Moon in the first place? Of course, some people may not want to be examined—for
all I know, half of you may be on the run from the police, or your wives. You’re at
liberty to refuse to give evidence, but don’t blame us if we draw the worst possible
conclusions if you do. Well, what do you think of the idea?”
It was received with fair enthusiasm in some quarters, and ironic groans of disapproval
in others, but as there was no determined opposition the Commodore went ahead. Almost
automatically, he was elected President of the Court; equally automatic was Irving
Schuster’s appointment as General Counsel.
The front-right pair of seats had been reversed so that it faced towards the rear
of the cruiser; this would serve as the bench, shared by President and Counsel alike.
When everyone had settled down, and the Clerk of the Court (
Pat Harris) had called for order, the President made a brief address.
“We are not yet engaged in criminal proceedings,” he said, keeping his face straight
with some difficulty. “This is purely a court of enquiry. If any witness feels that
he is being intimidated by my learned colleague, he can appeal to the Court. Will
the Clerk call the first witness?”
the first witness?” said the Clerk, reasonably enough.
It took ten minutes of discussion between the Court, learned counsel and argumentative
members of the public to settle this important point. Finally it was decided to have
a ballot, and the first name to be produced was David Barrett’s.
Smiling slightly, the witness came forward and took his stand in the narrow space
before the bench.
Irving Schuster, looking and feeling none too legal in vest and underpants, cleared
his throat impressively.
“Your name is David Barrett?”
“That is correct.”
“Agricultural engineer, retired.”
“Mr. Barrett—will you tell this court exactly why you have come to the Moon.”
“I was curious to see what it was like here and I had the time and money.”
Irving Schuster looked at Barrett obliquely through his thick glasses; he had always
found this to have an unsettling effect on witnesses. To wear spectacles was almost
a sign of eccentricity in this age, but doctors and lawyers—especially the older ones—still
patronised them; indeed, they had come to symbolise the legal and medical professions.
“‘You were curious to see what it was like,’” Schuster quoted. “That’s no explanation.
were you curious?”
“I am afraid that question is so vaguely worded that I cannot answer it. Why does
one do anything?”
Commodore Hansteen relaxed with a smile of pleasure. This was just what he wanted—to
get the passengers arguing and talking freely about something that would be of mutual
interest to them all, but would arouse no passions or controversy. (It might do that,
of course, but it was up to him to keep order in Court.)
“I admit,” continued Counsel, “that my question might have been more specific. I will
try to reframe it.”
He thought for a moment, shuffling his notes. They consisted merely of sheets from
one of the tourist guides; he had scribbled a few lines of questioning in the margins,
but they were really for effect and reassurance. He had never liked to stand up in
court without something in his hand; there were times when a few seconds of imaginary
consultation were priceless.
“Would it fair to say that you were attracted by the moon’s scenic beauties?”
“Yes, that was part of the attraction. I had seen the tourist literature and movies,
of course, and wondered if the reality would live up to it.”
“And has it done so?”
“I would say,” was the dry answer, “that it has exceeded my expectations.”
There was general laughter from the rest of the company. Commodore Hansteen rapped
loudly on the back of his seat.
“Order!” he called. “If there are any disturbances, I shall have to clear the Court!”
This, as he had intended, started a much louder round of laughter, which he let run
its natural course. When the mirth had died down, Schuster continued in his most “Where
were you on the night of the twenty-second?” tone of voice:
“This is very interesting, Mr. Barrett. You have come all the way to the Moon, at
considerable expense, to look at the view. Tell me—have you ever seen the Grand Canyon?”
“No; have you?”
“Your Honour!” appealed Schuster. “The witness is being unresponsive.”
Hansteen looked severely at Mr. Barrett, who did not seem in the least abashed.
are not conducting this enquiry, Mr. Barrett. Your job is to answer questions, not
to ask them.”
“I beg the Court’s pardon, my Lord,” replied the witness.
“Er—am I ‘My Lord’?” said Hansteen uncertainly, turning to Schuster. “I thought I
was ‘Your Honour’.”
The lawyer gave the matter several seconds of solemn thought.
“I suggest—Your Honour—that each witness uses the procedure to which he is accustomed
in his country. As long as due deference is shown to the court, that would seem to
Schuster turned to his witness once more.
“I would like to know, Mr. Barrett, why you found it necessary to visit the Moon while
there was so much of Earth that you hadn’t seen. Can you give us any valid reason
for this illogical behaviour?”
It was a good question, just the sort that would interest everyone, and Barrett was
now making a serious attempt to answer it.
“I’ve seen a fair amount of Earth,” he said slowly, in his precise English accent—almost
as great a rarity now as Shuster’s spectacles. “I’ve stayed at the Hotel Everest,
been to both Poles, even gone to the bottom of the Calypso Deep. So I know something
about our planet; let’s say it had lost its capacity to surprise me. The Moon, on
the other hand, was completely new—a whole world less than twenty-four hours away.
I couldn’t resist the novelty.”
Hansteen listened to the slow and careful analysis with only half his mind; he was
unobtrusively examining the audience while Barrett spoke. By now he had formed a good
’s crew and passengers, and had decided who could be relied upon—and who would give
trouble, if conditions became bad.
The key man, of course, was Captain Harris. The commodore knew his type well; he had
met it so often in space—and more often still at much training establishments as Astrotech.
(Whenever he made a speech there, it was to a front row of freshly scrubbed and barbered
Pat Harrises.) Pat was a competent but unambitious youngster with mechanical interests
who had been lucky enough to find a job that suited him perfectly, and which made
no greater demands upon him than care and courtesy. (Attractive lady passengers, Hansteen
was quite certain, would have no complaints on the latter score.) He would be loyal,
conscientious and unimaginative, would do his duty as he saw it, and in the end would
die gamely without making a fuss. That was a virtue not possessed by many far abler
men, and it was one they would need badly aboard the cruiser, if they were still here
five days from now.
Miss Wilkins, the stewardess, was almost as important as the captain in the scheme
of things; she was certainly not the stereotyped space-hostess image, all vapid charm
and frozen smile. She was, Hansteen had already decided, a young lady of character
and considerable education—but so, for that matter, were many space-hostesses he had
Yes, he was lucky with the crew; and what about the passengers? They were considerably
above average, of course; otherwise they would not have been on the Moon in the first
place. There was an impressive reservoir of brains and talent here inside
, but the irony of the situation was that neither brains nor talent could help them
now. What was needed was character, fortitude—or in a blunter word, bravery.
Few men in this age ever knew the need for physical bravery. From birth to death,
they never came face to face with danger. The men and women aboard
had no training for what lay ahead, and he could not keep them occupied much longer
with games and amusements.
Some time in the next twelve hours, he calculated, the first cracks would appear.
By then it would be obvious that something was holding up the search parties, and
that if they found the cruiser at all, the discovery might be too late.
Commodore Hansteen glanced swiftly round the cabin. Apart from their scanty clothing
and slightly unkempt appearance, all these twenty-one men and women were still rational,
self-controlled members of society.
Which, he wondered, would be the first to go?
Dr. Tom Lawson, so Chief Engineer Lawrence had decided, was an exception to the old
saying, “To know all is to forgive all.” The knowledge that the astronomer has passed
a loveless, institutionalised childhood and had escaped from his origins by prodigies
of pure intellect, at the cost of all other human qualities helped one to understand
him—but not to like him. It was singular bad luck, thought Lawrence, that he was the
only scientist within three hundred thousand kilometres who happened to have an infra-red
detector, and knew how to use it.