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Authors: Arthur C. Clarke

Dolphin Island

BOOK: Dolphin Island
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Dolphin Island

Arthur C. Clarke

Copyright

Dolphin Island
Copyright © 1963 by Arthur C. Clarke
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2012 by RosettaBooks, LLC.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or
by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval
systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who
may quote brief passages in a review.

Electronic edition published 2012 by RosettaBooks, LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795325120

Chapter 1

Johnny Clinton was sleeping when the hovership raced down the valley, floating along
the old turnpike on its cushion of air. The whistling roar in the night did not disturb
him, for he had heard it almost all his life. To any boy of the twenty-first century,
it was a sound of magic, telling of far-off countries and strange cargoes carried
in the first ships that could travel with equal ease across land and sea.

No, the familiar roar of the air jets could not awaken him, though it might haunt
his dreams. But now it had suddenly stopped, here in the middle of Transcontinental
Thruway 21. That was enough to make Johnny sit up in bed, rubbing his eyes and straining
his ears into the night. What could have happened? Had one of the great landliners
really
halted here, four hundred miles from the nearest terminus?

Well, there was one way to find out. For a moment he hesitated, not wishing to face
the winter cold. Then he plucked up his courage, wrapped a blanket around his shoulders,
quietly eased up the window, and stepped out onto the balcony.

It was a beautiful, crisp night, with an almost full Moon lighting up every detail
of the sleeping landscape. Johnny could not see the turnpike from the southern side
of the house, but the balcony ran completely around the old-fashioned building, and
it took him only seconds to tiptoe around to the northern face. He was especially
careful to be quiet when passing the bedrooms of his aunt and cousins; he knew what
would happen if he woke
them
.

But the house slept soundly beneath the winter Moon, and none of his unsympathetic
relatives stirred as Johnny tiptoed past their windows. Then he forgot all about them,
for he saw that he had not been dreaming.

The hovership had left the wide lane of the turnpike and, with lights blazing, lay
on flat ground a few hundred yards to the side of the Thruway. Johnny guessed that
it was a freighter, not a passenger liner, for there was only one observation deck,
and that ran for only part of the vessel’s five hundred feet of length. The ship looked,
Johnny could not help thinking, exactly like a giant flatiron—except that instead
of a handle running lengthwise, there was a streamlined bridge crosswise, a third
of the distance back from the bows. Above the bridge a red beacon was flashing on
and off, warning any other craft that might come this way.

She must be in some kind of trouble, thought Johnny. I wonder how long she’ll be here?
Time for me to run down and have a good look at her? He had never seen a hovership
at close quarters—at least, not one at rest. You didn’t see much when they roared
past at three hundred miles an hour.

It did not take him long to make up his mind. Ten minutes later, hurriedly dressed
in his warmest clothes, he was quietly unbolting the back door. As he stepped out
into the freezing night, he never dreamed that he was leaving the house for the last
time. And even if he had known, he would not have been sorry.

Chapter 2

The closer Johnny approached it, the more enormous the hovership appeared. Yet it
was not one of the giants like the hundred-thousand-ton oil or grain carriers that
sometimes went whistling through the valley; it probably grossed only fifteen or twenty
thousand tons. Across its bows it bore the words SANTA ANNA, BRASILIA in somewhat
faded lettering. Even in the moonlight, Johnny had the distinct impression that the
whole ship could do with a new coat of paint and a general cleanup. If the engines
were in the same state as the patched and shabby hull, that would explain this unscheduled
halt.

There was not the slightest sign of life as Johnny circumnavigated the stranded monster.
But this did not surprise him; freighters were largely automatic, and one this size
was probably run by less than a dozen men. If his theory was correct, they would all
be gathered in the engine room, trying to find what was wrong.

Now that she was no longer supported by her jets, the
Santa Anna
rested on the huge flat-bottomed buoyancy chambers that served to keep her afloat
if she came down on the sea. They ran the full length of the hull, and as Johnny walked
along them, they loomed above him like overhanging walls. In several places it was
possible to scale those walls, for there were steps and handholds recessed into the
hull, leading to entrance hatches about twenty feet from the ground.

Johnny looked thoughtfully at these openings. Of course, they were probably locked;
but what would happen if he
did
go aboard? With any luck, he might have a good look around before the crew caught
him and threw him out. It was the chance of a lifetime, and he’d never forgive himself
if he missed it….

He did not hesitate any longer, but started to climb the nearest ladder. About fifteen
feet from the ground he had second thoughts, and paused for a moment.

It was too late; the decision was made for him. Without any warning, the great curving
wall to which he was clinging like a fly began to vibrate. A roaring howl, as of a
thousand tornadoes, shattered the peaceful night. Looking downward, Johnny could see
dirt, stones, tufts of grass, being blasted outward from beneath the ship as the
Santa Anna
hoisted herself laboriously into the air. He could not go back; the jets would blow
him away like a feather in a gale. The only escape was upward—and he had better get
aboard before the ship started to move. What would happen if the hatch was locked
he dared not imagine.

He was in luck. There was a handle, folded flush with the surface of the metal door,
which opened inward to reveal a dimly lit corridor. A moment later, heaving a great
sigh of relief, Johnny was safely inside the
Santa Anna
. As he closed the door, the scream of the jets died to a muffled thunder—and at the
same moment, he felt the ship beginning to move. He was on his way to an unknown destination.

For the first few minutes, he was scared; then he realized that there was nothing
to worry about. He had only to find his way to the bridge, explain what had happened,
and he’d be dropped off at the next stop. The police would get him home in a few hours.

Home
. But he had no home; there was no place where he really belonged. Twelve years ago,
when he was only four, both his parents had been killed in an air crash; ever since
then he had lived with his mother’s sister. Aunt Martha had a family of her own, and
she had not been very pleased at the addition. It had not been so bad while plump,
cheerful Uncle James was alive, but now that he was gone, it had become more and more
obvious to Johnny that he was a stranger in the house.

So why should he go back—at least, before he had to do so? This was a chance that
would never come again, and the more he thought about it, the more it seemed to Johnny
that Fate had taken charge of his affairs. Opportunity beckoned, and he would follow
where it led.

His first problem would be to find somewhere to hide. That should not be difficult,
in a vessel as large as this; but unfortunately he had no idea of the
Santa Anna
’s layout, and unless he was careful, he might blunder into one of the crew. Perhaps
the best policy would be to look for the cargo section, for no one would be likely
to go there while the ship was on the move.

Feeling very much like a burglar, Johnny began to explore, and was soon completely
lost. He seemed to wander for miles, along dimly lit corridors and passageways, up
spiral stairs and down vertical ladders, past hatches and doors bearing mysterious
names. Once he ventured to open one of these, when he found the sign “Main Engines”
too much to resist. Very slowly, he pushed the metal door ajar and found himself looking
down into a huge chamber almost filled with turbines and compressors. Great air ducts,
thicker than a man, led from the ceiling and out through the floor, and the sound
of a hundred hurricanes shrieked in his ears. The wall on the far side of the engine
room was covered with instruments and controls, and three men were examining these
with such attention that Johnny felt quite safe in spying on them. In any case, they
were more than fifty feet away from him, and would hardly notice a door that had been
opened a couple of inches.

They were obviously holding a conference—mostly by signs, since it was impossible
to talk in this uproar. Johnny soon realized that it was more of an argument than
a conference, for there was much violent gesticulation, pointing to meters, and shrugging
of shoulders. Finally, one of the men threw up his arms as if to say, “I wash my hands
of the whole business,” and stalked out of the engine room. The
Santa Anna
, Johnny decided, was not a happy ship.

He found his hiding place a few minutes later. It was a small storage room, about
twenty feet square, crammed with freight and baggage. When Johnny saw that every item
was addressed to places in Australia, he knew that he would be safe until he was a
long, long way from home. There would be no reason for anyone to come here until the
ship had crossed the Pacific and was on the other side of the world.

Johnny clawed a small space among the crates and parcels, and sat down with a sigh
of relief, resting his back against a large packing case labeled “Bundaberg Chemical
Pty.” He wondered what “Pty.” stood for, and still hadn’t hit upon “Proprietary” when
excitement and exhaustion caught up with him, and he fell asleep on the hard metal
floor.

When he awoke, the ship was at rest; he could tell this immediately because of the
silence and the absence of all vibration. Johnny looked at his watch and saw that
he had been aboard for five hours. In that time—assuming that she had made no other
unscheduled stops—the
Santa Anna
could easily have traveled a thousand miles. Probably she had reached one of the
great inland ports along the Pacific coast, and would be heading out to sea as soon
as she had finished loading cargo.

If he was caught now, Johnny realized, his adventure would soon be ended. He had better
stay where he was until the ship was on the move again, far out over the ocean. She
would certainly not turn back to discharge a sixteen-year-old stowaway.

But he was hungry and thirsty; sooner or later he would have to get some food and
water. The
Santa Anna
might be waiting here for days, and in that case he’d be starved out of his hiding
place….

He decided not to think about eating, though that was difficult because it was now
his breakfast time. Great adventurers and explorers, Johnny told himself firmly, had
suffered far worse hardships than this.

Luckily, the
Santa Anna
remained only an hour at this unknown port of call. Then, to his great relief, Johnny
felt the floor start to vibrate and heard the distant shrilling of the jets. There
was an unmistakable lifting sensation as the ship heaved herself off the ground, then
a surge as she moved forward. In two hours, thought Johnny, he should be well out
at sea—if his calculations had been correct and this was indeed the last stop on land.

He waited out the two hours as patiently as he could, then decided it was safe to
give himself up. Feeling just a little nervous, he set off in search of the crew—and,
he hoped, of something to eat.

But it was not as easy to surrender as he had expected; if the
Santa Anna
had appeared large from the outside, from the inside she seemed absolutely enormous.
He was getting hungrier and hungrier—and had still seen no signs of life.

He did, however, find something that cheered him considerably. This was a small porthole,
which gave him his first view of the outside world. It was not a very good view, but
it was quite enough. As far as he could see, there was a gray, choppy expanse of waves.
There was no sign of land—nothing but empty water, racing by beneath him at a tremendous
speed.

BOOK: Dolphin Island
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