:


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     © Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
     © Translated from Russian by Leonid Kolesnikov
     SF compilation "DESTINATION: AMALTHEIA"
     FOREIGN LANGUAGES PUBLISHING HOUSE MOSCOW
     Original: "  "
     OCR: http://home.freeuk.com/russica2
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     Arkady and Boris Strugatsky,  authors of "Destination; Amaltheia", have
already several collections of SF stories to their credit. Arkady Strugatsky
(b. 1925) is a linguist and  translator specialising in Japanese.  Boris (b.
1933)  is  an astronomer and  works at  the computer laboratory  of  Pulkovo
Observatory. The  title  story  of  this  volume is their  second  novelette
appearing after "The  Country of the Purple Clouds"  -about  explorations on
Venus, First Prize winner in a best SF book competition.

     

     


     

     

     Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. .. . Hydrogen phantoms, the strangest
and most enigmatic objects in the solar system. Enormous masses of  hydrogen
and helium  tinged  by methane and ammonia.  What is their  structure?  What
makes them rotate at such a frantic .speed? What is  their source of energy?
We  observe titanic changes on their surface. We see strips of clouds streak
along,  broken now  and then by giant whirls, streamers of gases erupt  into
space  in  flaring bursts.  What  forces are behind  these outer  phenomena?
Thermonuclear   reactions?  But   these   giants   have   sub-zero   surface
temperatures: -216F on Jupiter  and even lower  on the others. What is then
the mechanism of these primaries?  Perhaps it is some physical  principle we
don't know yet and even do not so far dare to guess at....


     PROLOGUE

     J-STATIQN, AMALTHEIA

     The chief of  J-Station  enjoys the  sight of rising Jupiter while  the
nutrition engineer bewails the shortage of canned food.

     Amaltheia  makes one  full  rotation  on its axis in about  thirty-five
hours. But it takes  only twelve hours  to complete its orbit round Jupiter.
That is why the enormous shapeless hump of Jupiter rears in close view every
thirteen and a half hours. And that is a spectacular sight. But to see it at
all you have to take a  lift to  the spectrolite-domed top floor.  When your
eyes  get accustomed to  the  darkness outside  you begin  to  make  out  an
ice-bound plain receding to the serrated mountain  range on the horizon. The
sky is  black and studded with bright unblinking stars. These shed  a  faint
light on the plain, the mountain range a pitch-black gap in the  starry sky.
But  if you look long enough  you will make  out the jagged  tops. Sometimes
Ganymede's  mottled  crescent  or  Callisto's  silver  disc-or  more  rarely
both-will come out and hang above the range. Then  on the plain grey fingers
of shade stretch  from end to end across the gleaming ice.  And when the Sun
is a small ball of blinding fire above the horizon the plain turns blue, the
shadows black and every crack or hump stands out in stark relief. Coal-black
spots on  the spacefield look 'like big  freshly-frozen puddles and you feel
like  running  over that thin  crust of  ice  to  hear it crunch  under your
magnetic boots and see it fan out in dark wrinkles.
     But that is not yet really spectacular. All  that  can be seen in other
places  besides Amaltheia. It's  when  Jupiter rises that  the sight becomes
really  spectacular.  And  it's  really  spectacular  only  when  seen  from
Amaltheia-especially when Jupiter rises in pursuit of the Sun. It all starts
with a greenish-brown glow-Jovian exosphere- gaining in intensity behind the
rugged peaks. As it grows brighter it extinguishes one by one the stars that
the  Sun has  not been able to  obscure  and  spreads across the  black sky,
slowly closing in  on the Sun itself,  which it suddenly engulfs. That is  a
moment  not to miss. That is a moment  when, as  if at a flourish of a magic
wand, the greenish-brown glow turns instantaneously blood red. You tense for
it and yet it  always catches  you unprepared.  The  Sun turns  red  and the
ice-bound  plain turns red and  the small  dome  of the radio-beacon  starts
sending  off  blood-red reflections. Even the shadow the  mountaintops throw
turns pink. By and by the red darkens, turns brownish and then, at last, the
enormous brown  hump  of Jupiter rolls  into view over the rugged peaks. The
Sun is  still visible and red,  red-hot as molten  metal, like a round  disc
against a brownish-red backdrop. For some obscure  reason this  brownish red
is classed as  an unattractive colour. People who are  of  this opinion must
never  have  watched Jupiter rise in pursuit of the Sun, never have seen the
brownish-red  glow  across  half  the  sky  with  the   clear-cut  red  disc
superimposed  on  it. Then  the disc disappears. Only Jupiter remains, huge,
brown, shaggy.  It has  taken its  time  crawling  over the  horizon  as  if
swelling,  and now fills a full quarter of the sky. Black and green belts of
ammonia cloud  criss-cross the planet. That too is beautiful.  Unfortunately
you can seldom watch the sight till that  stage. There  is work to be  done.
When you  are on observation duty you  see the sight in toto, of course, but
then you don't look for beauty....
     The  head of  J-Station looked  at  his  watch. The Jupiter-rise  today
promised  to be as spectacular as ever but it was time he went below to  his
office  to  do  some  hard  thinking.  In  the  shadow  of  the  cliffs  the
trellis-work skeleton of the  Big  Antenna  stirred and began unfolding. The
radio  astronomers  were  about  to start  observations.  The  hungry  radio
astronomers.
     The  chief threw a  final  glance at  the brownish-red brumous  dome of
Jupiter swelling over the range and thought he would  like some day to catch
all  the  four  big satellites  above the horizon with Jupiter in the  first
quarter,  half orange, half brownish red. Then it occurred  to  him  he  had
never seen Jupiter setting.  That must be quite a sight  too-the  exospheric
glow  dying  out  and  the stars  flickering  up one  after another  in  the
darkening  sky  like  diamond  needles against  black  velvet.  But  usually
Jupiter-set is the peak of the working day.
     The chief  entered  the  lift and dropped down to the bottom floor. The
station was  fairly big  and occupied several tiers hacked through the solid
ice and encased  in plastic metal. Fifty-three people manned it. Fifty-three
hungry men and women.
     The chief  glanced into the recreation rooms as he went along but found
them empty save for  the spherical swimming pool where someone was splashing
about, the room echoing to the sound. The chief went on stepping unhurriedly
in his heavy magnetic boots.  There was next to no gravity on  Amaltheia and
that was highly inconvenient. People got accustomed to it, of course, but at
first they  all felt  hydrogen-filled and  any moment likely to burst out of
their magnetic footgear. Sleeping  in particular had cost them  all a lot of
getting accustomed to.
     Two astrophysicists, hair wet after a shower, overtook  him, said hullo
and  passed on to the  lifts. Something was wrong with the magnetic soles of
one  of them, for  he was dancing and swaying awkwardly  as he tried to keep
pace with the other. The chief turned into  the canteen, where about fifteen
people were still having their breakfast.
     Uncle Hoak, the station's nutrition engineer, was  himself  serving the
breakfasts  on  a  trolley.  He was  gloomy.  Not that  he  was  of a  sunny
disposition ordinarily. But today he was  definitely  gloomy. As a matter of
fact so had he been the day before and the day before that-indeed ever since
that  unfortunate day when the  radio message about the  food  disaster came
from  Callisto. J-Station's  foodstores on  Callisto had  been invaded  by a
fungus. That had  happened before, but this time  the  stores were destroyed
completely, to the last biscuit, and so were the chlorella plantations.
     Life was hard on Callisto, for  no  means of  keeping the fungus out of
the  quarters had yet  been found. It was a remarkable fungus. It penetrated
any wall  and demolished  any kind of food.  It  just gobbled up  chlorella.
Sometimes  it attacked men but it was not  dangerous. At first  people  were
afraid  of  it  and  the bravest  flinched discovering  on  their  hands the
characteristic  grey-coloured  slimy   film.  But  there  was  no   pain  or
after-effects. Some even claimed the fungus was a good tonic.
     "Hey, Uncle Hoak," somebody shouted. "Are we going to have biscuits for
dinner as well?"
     The  chief did not  notice  who  it  was, for  everyone in  the canteen
immediately turned their faces to Uncle Hoak and stopped eating. Nice  young
faces, deeply tanned almost all of them. And already drawn a little.  Or was
he imagining things?
     "You will have soup for dinner," said Uncle Hoak.
     "Ripping," somebody said, and again the chief didn't notice who.
     He  sat  down at the nearest  table.  Hoak  wheeled  up the trolley and
deposited a  breakfast on  the table-two biscuits on a  plate, half a bar of
chocolate and a squeeze  bottle of tea. He did it in his usual smart way but
the thick white  biscuits jumped up all the same and  hung above the  table.
The bottle stood firm  however, held in place by a magnetic  rim  round  the
bottom. The  chief caught one  of the biscuits, took a  bite and touched the
bottle. The tea was cold.
     "Soup," said Hoak. He was speaking  in a  low voice-just for the chief.
"You can imagine what kind of soup.  And they think I'm going  to serve them
chicken broth." He  pushed the  trolley away and sat down at 'the  table. He
watched  the trolley  run  down the aisle slower  and slower.  "Incidentally
they're still enjoying chicken broth on Callisto."
     "I don't think so," the chief said absent-mindedly.
     "But  they  are,"  said Hoak.  "I  gave  them  one hundred and  seventy
cans-more than half of our iron rations."
     "And we've finished what was left?" "Yes, of course."
     "Well,  they  must have finished theirs too,"  the chief said, munching
his biscuit. "They've got twice as many people as we have."
     I don't  believe you. Uncle Hoak,  he  thought. I know  you,  nutrition
engineer. You surely have another two dozen or so cans tucked away somewhere
for the sick and just in case.
     Hoak sighed and said, "Your tea's gone cold? Let me refill...."
     "No, thank you."
     "Chlorella's still not taking on Callisto," Hoak said and again sighed.
"They've radioed again, asking for another twenty pounds  of culture. Sent a
rocket for it, they said."
     "Well, we must give it to them."
     "That's all right," said Hoak. "But who will give us any? As if I had a
hundred tons... it takes time to grow. But I'm spoiling your appetite."
     "Never mind," said the chief. He had no appetite anyway.
     "Enough  of  this!"  someone  said.  The  chief  looked up and saw  the
embarrassed face  of  Zoya  Ivanova. Next to  her sat the  nuclear physicist
Kozlov. They always sat together.
     "Enough, d'you hear!" Kozlov said hotly.
     Zoya flushed and lowered her head. She was visibly disconcerted to find
herself the centre of general attention.
     "You  slipped  your  biscuit  on to  my  plate yesterday," said Kozlov.
"Today you're up to it again."
     Zoya was silent and on the verge of tears.
     "Don't yell at her, you baboon!" Potapov bawled from the far end of the
canteen. "Zoya dear, why d'you have to feed that brute? You'd do much better
giving it to me. I'd eat it. And I wouldn't yell at you."
     "No,  really," Kozlov said in a  calmer voice. "She needs  more  than a
healthy fellow like me."
     "Stop it, Valya," Zoya said without raising her head.
     "Can I have some more tea, Uncle Hoak?" somebody asked.
     Hoak got up. Potapov bawled out again:
     "Hey, Gregor, care for a game after the knock-off?"
     "I don't mind."
     "You'll get licked again, Vadim," a voice said.
     "The theory of probability's on my side!"
     Potapov bawled.
     There was general laughter.  "The law of high magnitudes is on mine!" A
face crumpled with sleep looked in through the door.
     "Potapov here? Vadim, there's a storm on Jupe!"
     "You don't say so," Potapov said, jumping up.
     The face disappeared, then popped into view again:
     "Get my biscuits for me, will you."
     "Hoak won't give us them," Potapov answered  the retreating  figure and
glanced at Uncle Hoak.
     "Why  not?" said Hoak. "Konstantin Stetsenko, half a pound of  biscuits
and two ounces of chocolate. He's entitled to it."
     The chief rose, wiping his mouth with a paper serviette. Kozlov said:
     "Comrade chief, any news of the Tahmasib?"
     All  present  fell   silent  and  turned  their  faces  to  the  chief.
Deeply-tanned young faces, already drawn a little. The chief replied:
     "No news."
     He walked slowly down the aisle and to his office. The trouble was that
the  "fungus  invasion" that had  struck Callisto was highly inopportune. It
wasn't  starvation yet. But  if Bykov did not arrive with the food.... Bykov
was  somewhere not  far away,  in fact he had already  been  located but had
ceased reporting since and  had not  been heard for sixty hours now. We must
cut  the rations again, thought the chief. Anything could  happen and  their
base on Mars was a long way off. Anything could happen here. Spaceships from
Earth  and  from Mars  had disappeared before.  It doesn't happen often, not
oftener than the fungus invasions. But it's bad  enough  that it does happen
at all. It's a nuisance.


     CHAPTER ONE

     THE CARGO PHOTON ROCKET "TAHMASIB"

     1. The spaceship approaches Jupiter while  her captain has  a  row with
the navigator and takes sporamin.

     Alexei  Petrovich Bykov, captain  of the cargo photon rocket  Tahmasib,
emerged from his  cabin and carefully closed the  door behind him. His  hair
was wet  and  well brushed. The captain had just had his shower. As a matter
of fact he'd  had two showers-one of water  and one  of  ions-but  he  still
wanted to  sleep so badly that  his eyes would not stay open. Over the  last
three days and nights he had not slept for more than five hours in  all. The
flight was not proving easy.
     The  gangway was  bare  and  light. Bykov  headed for the control room,
making  an effort not to shuffle, shaking off the stupor of a short nap he'd
just had.  His way lay through  the mess. Its door stood open and through it
Bykov   thought   he  heard   quarrelsome  voices.  They  belonged  to   the
planetologists  Dauge  and  Yurkovsky  and sounded  strained  and  unusually
muffled.  Up  to something  again, those two,  thought Bykov. No peace  from
them.  It's not easy  for me to give them a ticking  off either.  After all,
they're my friends  and  jolly  glad to be all together on this flight, It's
not go often we get the chance.
     Bykov stepped  into the mess  room  and  stopped  dead, his foot on the
coaming. The bookcase was open,  the books  lying in an untidy  heap on  the
floor.  The  table-cloth  was  awry.  Sticking  from  under  the  sofa  were
Yurkovsky's long legs  sheathed  in  grey drainpipes. The  legs were jerking
excitedly.
     "She's not here, I tell you," said Dauge. He himself was not in sight.
     "You  go on looking for her," Yurkovsky's muffled  voice was heard. "No
backing out now."
     "What's going on here?" Bykov enquired sternly.
     "Ah, here he is," Dauge  said, crawling  out  from under the table. His
face was  pleasurably  animated,  his jacket  and the collar  of  his  shirt
unbuttoned. Yurkovsky backed on all fours from under the sofa.
     ''"What's the matter?" said Bykov.
     "Where's my Varya?" Yurkovsky asked, getting up. He was angry.
     "The monster!" Dauge exclaimed.
     "You loafers," said Bykov.
     "It's him,"  Dauge said  in  a tragic voice.  "Just look at  his  face,
Vladimir! The butcher!"
     "I'm quite serious, Alexei," said Yurkovsky. "Where's my Varya?"
     "I'll  tell you  what, planetologists," said  Bykov.  "Enough  of  your
monkey tricks."
     He thrust his jaw at them and strode across to  the control room. Dauge
said after him:
     "He's burnt Varya in the reactor."
     Bykov banged the hatch shut behind him.
     It was  quiet in the control room. In  his usual  place at the computer
sat the navigator,  Mikhail Antonovich Krutikov,  his double chin propped on
his  plump fist. The computer was  clicking faintly, staring away  with  its
neon  pilot lamps. Mikhail  Antonovich raised  his  kind little eyes to  the
captain and asked:
     "Had a good sleep, Alexei old chap?"
     "Yes," said Bykov.
     "I've   received  bearing   signals  from   Amaltheia,"  said   Mikhail
Antonovich. "They're waiting for us. Oh, how they're waiting for us," and he
shook his head. "They're on rations: half a pound of biscuits and two ounces
of  chocolate. Just imagine.  And a plate of chlorella broth. That's another
three-quarters of a pound. And such unpalatable stuff...."
     You should be  there,  fatty, thought Bykov. You'd  slim  down fast. He
threw  a stern glance at the navigator  but couldn't keep it up and grinned.
Mikhail Antonovich,  his thick lips  pouted worriedly, was examining a chart
traced on light-blue paper.
     "Here,  Alexei,"  he said. "I've  compiled the finish-programme. Please
check it."
     There was no  point usually in checking  course programmes drawn up  by
Mikhail Antonovich. He was  still the fattest and most experienced navigator
in the space fleet.
     "I'll  check it later,"  said  Bykov.  He yawned drowsily, cupping  his
mouth with a hand. "Feed it into the cyber-navigator, will you."
     "I have," Mikhail Antonovich said guiltily.
     "Oh," said Bykov. "Good. Where're we now?"
     "In an  hour's  time  we begin  the finish  part of it,"  said  Mikhail
Antonovich. "We'll  pass over Jupiter's north pole," he pronounced the  word
"Jupiter"  with visible  relish,  "at a distance of two diameters, about one
hundred and eighty thousand miles. Then for the last spiral. We may consider
we're already there, old chap."
     "You calculated the distance from Jupiter's centre?"
     "Yes."
     "When we begin the finish, report the distance from the exosphere every
quarter of an hour."
     "O.K."
     Bykov yawned again, rubbed his sore, sleepy  eyes vexedly and passed on
to the  alarm system panel.  Everything was  in order there.  The propulsion
plant operated normally, the plasma was injected as  required, the tuning of
the  magnetic  traps  was  kept  very tight. The  magnetic  traps  were  the
responsibility of Engineer Ivan Zhilin. Good for you, Zhilin, thought Bykov.
First-class tuning for a raw hand.
     Bykov  halted  and tried, by slightly changing the course, to break the
tuning. It held. The  white spot behind the  translucent plastic  would  not
even waver. Good  for you, Zhilin, Bykov  thought again. He  went  round the
bulging bulkhead-the photon reactor casing. At the reflector control combine
stood Zhilin,  his pencil between his teeth. He was leaning over the control
panel, his hands on its edge, tap-dancing almost imperceptibly, his powerful
shoulder-blades moving on his bent back.
     "Hello, Vanya," said Bykov.
     "Hello,  Alexei  Petrovich,"  Zhilin said, whirling  round.  The pencil
slipped from  his  teeth and  he  caught it smartly in mid  air.  Zhilin was
twenty-three years old, just out of the High School of Cosmogation.
     "How's the reflector?" asked Bykov.
     "The reflector's  in order,"  said  Zhilin, but Bykov leaned  over  the
control panel  all  the same  and  pulled  at  the  hard,  blue tape of  the
recorder.
     The reflector, or the sail, as it is also called, is the  principal and
most  fragile part  of a photon rocket. It is a  gigantic parabolic  mirror,
coated with  five layers of superhard mesosubstance. Every  second thousands
of portions of the deuterium-cum-tritium plasma explode at the focus of  the
parabola and are transformed into radiation. The pallid lilac flame hits the
surface  of  the  reflector  and  creates   thrust.  As  this  goes  on  the
mesosubstance   is  subjected  to  tremendous  changes  in  temperature  and
gradually burns away,  layer by layer. Besides,  the reflector is eaten away
by  meteoric  corrosion.  And if,  when the  propulsion  unit  was  on,  the
reflector were to collapse at  the base where it is joined by the thick tube
of the photon reactor, the ship would  go in one silent flash. To avoid this
the reflectors of photon ships are replaced after every hundred astronomical
units  of  flight.  And this  also is  why  a  control  system is constantly
checking on the working layer all over the reflector's surface.
     "Well," Bykov said, examining the tape. "The first layer's burnt away."
     Zhilin didn't say anything.
     "Mikhail," Bykov called out  to the navigator.  "Did you know the first
layer was burnt out?"
     "Yes," the navigator said. "It can't be helped. We're doing on oversun,
aren't we."
     An "oversun", or a "leap over the Sun", is resorted to rarely, in cases
of emergency  like this, when the J-Stations  were struck by hunger.  In  an
oversun the Sun is between  the start-planet  and the finish-planet-which is
highly unadvantageous from the  point of view of "direct cosmogation". In an
oversun the  photon propulsion unit  operates  at  extreme  conditions,  the
ship's  speed is of  the order  of  four thousand miles per  second and  the
instrumentation starts showing  the  effects of non-classic mechanics, which
we still do not know enough about. The crew has  to make do with very little
sleep, plasma and reflector consumption is enormous and on top of it all the
ship  as a  rule approaches the finish-planet from one of  the  poles, which
makes landing tricky.
     "Yes," said Bykov. "An oversun, that's just it."
     He went back  to where  the navigator  sat  and looked  at  the  plasma
consumption dial.
     "Give me a copy of the finish-programme, Misha," he said.
     "Just a second," said the navigator.
     He  was  having a  busy  time  of it.  Sheets of  light-blue paper were
scattered on the desk in front of  him, a semi-automatic computer attachment
was whirring in an undertone. Bykov  sank down in a  chair and half-shut his
eyes.  Vaguely  he  saw Mikhail  Antonovich reach  a hand out  to the  panel
without taking his eyes off his notes and quickly  run his fingers along the
keys. His hand looked like a large white spider. The computer  gave a louder
whirr, then switched off with a flicker of the stop lamp.
     "What was it you wanted?" the navigator asked, still deep in his notes.
     "The finish-programme," Bykov said, opening his eyes with an effort.
     A  tabulator tracing  snaked  out  of  the  output  device and  Mikhail
Antonovich snatched at it with both hands.
     "Half a sec," he said  hurriedly. Bykov's ears  rang  and yellow lights
danced in front of his eyes. His head sank on to his chest.
     "Alexei,"  said the navigator. He  reached across  his desk and  tapped
Bykov on the shoulder. "Here's the programme."
     Bykov started,  jerked up his head and looked around. Then he  took the
sheets of figures.
     "Hm,  hm," he said,  the skin moving in waves on his forehead. "Well. A
theta-algorithm again..." and he stared sleepily at the notes.
     "Why don't you take some sporamin?" said the navigator.
     "Wait," said Bykov. "Wait. What's this? Are you crazy, navigator?"
     Mikhail Antonovich  jumped  up, ran  round  the  desk  and  leaned over
Bykov's shoulder.
     "Where, where?" he asked.
     "Where do you think  you're going  anyway?"  Bykov  enquired  bitingly.
"D'you think you're going to the Seventh Testing Grounds?"
     "But what's the matter?" the navigator asked.
     "Or do you think they've built a tritium generator for your private use
on Amaltheia?"
     "If you mean the  propellent," said Mikhail Antonovich, "there's enough
of it for three such programmes. ..."
     Bykov was wide awake now.
     "I'm touching down on Amaltheia," he  said.  "Then I'm making  a  round
trip with  the  planetologists inside  the exosphere. And then I go back  to
Earth. Which means another oversun!"
     "Wait," said Mikhail Antonovich. "Just a moment...."
     "And here you're drawing up a crazy programme: for me as  though  there
were stores of propellent waiting for us."
     The door  was  pushed  ajar.  Bykov  turned to  look. Dauge's head  was
squeezed into the crack. The eyes swept round the control room and his voice
implored:
     "I say, boys, isn't Varya here?"
     "Get out!" Bykov snarled.
     The head vanished. The door was closed carefully.
     "The  loafers," said  Bykov.  "Listen  here,  navigator. I'll  get  the
propellent for the return oversun by melting down your gammon." ,
     "Don't shout," Mikhail Antonovich said indignantly. He thought a moment
and added, red-faced, "Damn it."
     A silence descended. Mikhail Antonovich  returned to his place and they
sat glowering at each other across the desk.
     "The  leap  into  the  exosphere  is calculated. The  return oversun is
nearly finished," he placed a  pudgy hand on the heap of papers on the desk.
"But if you've got cold feet we can easily refuel on Antimars...."
     That  was the  cosmogators'  name for an  artificial planet that  moved
almost in the Martian orbit on the other side of the Sun. It was just a huge
store of propellent, a fully automated refuelling station.
     "And  I don't see  why you should bawl at me," said Mikhail Antonovich.
The word "bawl" he  said in  a whisper. Mikhail Antonovich was cooling down.
So was Bykov.
     "All  right,"  he  said.  "Sorry,  Misha."  Mikhail  Antonovich  smiled
readily. "I shouldn't have gone off the deep end 'like that," said Bykov.
     "Oh,  it's  all  right,  old  fellow,"  Mikhail Antonovich  was  saying
hurriedly.  "Nothing to bother about. ... Just look what a perfect spiral it
will make.  From the  vertical," his hands followed his thoughts,  "into the
plane of Amaltheia's orbit just above the exosphere and then a free-coasting
path to the  rendezvous. At the  rendezvous the relative velocity will  be a
mere thirteen  feet per second. The maximum G-load  will be  only twenty-two
per  cent and  weightlessness will  only  last thirty to forty  minutes. And
there should only be a slight margin of error."
     "It  should  be slight  because it's a theta-algorithm," said Bykov. He
wanted to say something pleasant to the navigator: it was Mikhail Antonovich
who had first developed and used the theta-algorithm.
     Mikhail  Antonovich   uttered  a   vague  sound.   He   was  pleasantly
embarrassed.  Bykov  finished looking through the programme,  nodded several
times and, putting the sheets aside, rubbed his eyes with his huge  freckled
fists.
     "Tell you frankly," he said, "I've had a rotten sleep."
     "Take  some  sporamin,  Alexei," Mikhail  Antonovich said persuasively.
"Look at  me-I take a  tablet  every two  hours and don't feel like sleep at
all. So does Vanya. Why should you torture yourself?"
     "Hate the stuff," said Bykov. He grunted, jumped up and paced the room.
"Look here, Misha," he said. "What's happening on board my ship anyway?"
     "What do you mean?" the navigator asked.
     "Those planetologists," Bykov explained.
     From behind the casing Zhilin said:
     "Varya's disappeared."
     "You don't  say so,"  Bykov said. "Good  riddance."  He  paced the room
again. "The loafers," he said. "Middle-aged kids."
     "Don't be too hard on them, old chap," said the navigator.
     "You  know," Bykov said  as he sank back into his  chair, "you know the
worst  that  can  happen  to  you  in  flight is  passengers. And  the worst
passengers are your old  friends.  I guess  I'll have  some of that sporamin
after all, Misha."
     Hastily,  Mikhail  Antonovich  pulled  a small  box  out of his trouser
pocket. Bykov watched him do it with sleepy eyes. .
     "Give me two tablets," said he.



     2. The planetologists look for Varya  while  the radio astronomer finds
what a hippo is.

     "He told me to get  out," Dauge said,  returning  to Yurkovsky's cabin.
His host was standing on  a  chair in the middle of the cabin,  feeling with
his hands the soft mat ceiling. The remains  of a squashed  sugar cake  were
scattered on the floor.  "It  means he's got her," said Yurkovsky. He jumped
off  the  chair,  brushed  white  crumbs  off  his  knees   and  called  out
plaintively:
     "Varya, my love,  where're you?" "Have you tried sitting on a chair all
of a sudden?" asked Dauge. He went up to the sofa and let himself drop on it
rod-like, his arms pressed to his sides.
     "You'll kill her!" Yurkovsky cried.  . "She's not here," Dauge informed
him and settled more comfortably,.. hoisting his feet on to the back  of the
sofa. "This is .just what you must do  to all  the  sofas and  chairs in the
place. Varya likes them soft."
     Yurkovsky dragged his chair nearer to the wall.
     "No," he said. "When flying she likes to climb on ceilings and walls. I
ought to make a round of the ship and try all the ceilings."
     "Good  Lord,"  Dauge   sighed.   "What   won't  enter   a   browned-off
planetologist's head." He  sat up, glanced at Yurkovsky out  of the tail  of
his eye and whispered ominously: "I'm certain it's Alexei. He's always hated
her."
     Yurkovsky looked at Dauge closely.
     "Yes," Dauge went on. "He always  has. And you know it. What did she do
to him? She was always so nice and quiet...."
     "You're a booby,  Grigory,"  said Yurkovsky.  "You're being  funny, but
I'll be really sorry if she's gone."
     He  sat down  and propped his elbows on his  knees  and his chin on his
balled fists.  His  high  balding forehead  became  furrowed  and his  black
eyebrows tragically arched.
     "Come, come," said Dauge. "She can't disappear from aboard  a ship, can
she? She'll turn up."
     "Turn  up,"  said  Yurkovsky. "It's  time  for  her to  eat.  She never
asks-she'd sooner starve."
     "She won't starve herself to death, don't you fear," said Dauge.
     "She's not had a bite for twelve days  now-ever  since the  start. It's
bad for her."
     "When she  wants some  grub she'll  come," Dauge  said with conviction.
"That is common to all forms of life."
     Yurkovsky shook his head.
     "Not she, she won't, Grisha," he said.
     He got  up and started  feeling the ceiling again, inch  by inch. There
was a knock on the door. Then it slid softly aside  and in the doorway stood
short ebony-haired Charles Mollard, the radio astronomer.
     "Come in?" said Mollard.
     "That's right," said Dauge.
     Mollard waved his arms.
     "Mais  -  non," he  exclaimed, smiling happily.  He  was always smiling
happily. "Non come in. I wanted to say: may I come in?"
     "Certainly,"  Yurkovsky said  from  up his chair.  "Certainly you  may,
Charles. Why not?"
     Mollard  walked  in,  slid  the  door  shut and  craned  his neck  with
curiosity.
     "Voldemar," he said, rolling his r's exquisitely. "You learn to walk on
the ceiling?"
     "Out, madame," Dauge  said  in his  execrable accent. "I  mean  to  say
monsieur, of course. Fact is il cherche la Varya."
     "No, no," Mollard ejaculated-and waved his arms again. "Not this.  Only
Russian. I speak only Russian, do I not?"
     Yurkovsky got down from his chair.
     "Charles, have you seen my Varya?"
     Mollard shook a finger at him.
     "You joke,"  he said. "You joke for  twelve days."  He  sat on the sofa
next  to Dauge. "What  is Varya? I heard about Varya many times,  you search
for her today but I saw her not one  time. Eh?" He looked at Dauge. "Is it a
bird? Or a cat? Or ... er....."
     "Hippo?" said Dauge.
     "What is a hippo?" Mollard enquired.
     "C'est a kind of I'hirondelle," said Dauge. "A swallow."
     "0, I'hirondelle! exclaimed Mollard. "Hippo?"
     "Ja," said Dauge. "Naturlich:'
     "Non, non," said Mollard.  "Only  Russian!" and he turned to Yurkovsky.
"Gregoire says truth?"
     "Gregoire says rubbish," Yurkovsky said angrily. "Plain rubbish."
     Mollard looked at him attentively.
     "You are upset, Voldemar," he said. "Can I help?"
     "I don't see how,  Charles.  One must  search-feel everything  with the
hands as I do...."
     "Why feel?" Mollard  was surprised.  "You tell  me  how  she  looks.  I
search."
     "That's just it," said Yurkovsky. "I wish I knew what she looks like."
     Mollard leaned back on the sofa and covered his eyes with his hand.
     "Je  ne comprends pas,"  he said plaintively. "I do not understand. You
don't know what she looks like? Or I don't understand Russian?"
     "It's like this, Charles," said Yurkovsky. "She doesn't always look the
same.  When  she's on the ceiling she's like  the ceiling, when she's on the
sofa she's like the sofa. ..."
     "And  when she's  on Gregoire she's like Gregoire," said  Mollard. "You
always joke."
     "He  says  the  truth," Dauge  interfered.  "Varya  constantly  changes
colour. Mimicry it's called. She's jolly good at mimicry."
     "Mimicry with swallows?" Mollard asked bitterly.
     There was a knock at the door again.
     "Come in!" Mollard cried happily.
     Entered Zhilin, large, ruddy-cheeked and diffident.
     "Sorry to barge in like  this, Vladimir Sergeyevich," he began, leaning
forward somewhat.
     "O!" Mollard exclaimed, with  a flash  of his  white teeth. He was very
fond of the engineer. "Le petit ingenieur! How's life? Good?"
     "Good," said Zhilin.
     "How's girls? Good?"
     "Good," said Zhilin. It had become routine for him. "Bon"
     "Excellent   pronunciation,"   Dauge   said  enviously.  "Incidentally,
Charles, why do you always ask Vanya about girls?"
     "I like girls," Mollard said  earnestly. "And I always like to know how
they are."
     "Bon," said Dauge. "Je vous comprends."
     "Vladimir Sergeyevich," Zhilin began again. "The captain  sent  me., In
forty minutes we'll be at perijovian, on the edge of the exosphere."
     Yurkovsky jumped up.
     "Splendid," he said.
     "If you're, going to observe I'm at your disposal."
     "Thanks,  Vanya,"  said  Yurkovsky.  Then he turned  to  Dauge.  "Well,
Grigory, strike up the march!"
     "Watch out, Jupe," said Dauge.
     "Les hirondelles, les hirondelles," sang Mollard.
     "And  I shall  go and make dinner.  I'm on  duty today and I shall make
soup. Do you like soup, Vanya?"
     Zhilin had no time  to answer  because  at  that moment the ship veered
sharply  and he was thrown  through the door, only  saved  from  a  fall  by
catching hold of the  jamb at the last second. Yurkovsky  stumbled over  the
stretched-out feet of Mollard lolling on  the sofa, and fell on Dauge. Dauge
grunted.
     "Oh," said Yurkovsky. "That was a meteorite!"
     "Get off me," said Dauge.

     3.  The  engineer  pays  tribute  to  the  heroes  while the  navigator
discovers Varya.

     The   small  observation   bay   was   crammed  chock-full   with   the
planetologists' equipment.  Dauge was  squatting  in front  of a big shining
apparatus which looked like an ancient television  camera. It was called the
exospheric spectrograph. The planetologists placed great hopes in it. It was
brand-new-straight off  assembly line-and  worked  synchronous with  a  bomb
release, whose mat-black hatch took up half the space in the bay. Next to it
the flat cases  of bomb-probes lay stacked  in  light  metal racks, gleaming
dully. Each case housed  twenty bomb-probes  and weighed ninety  pounds. The
original  idea was that  the cases  should be  fed in automatically. But the
Tahmasib, being  a cargo rocket, was not fitted out for extensive  research,
and no place had  been available for an automatic feeder. So the release was
serviced by Zhilin.
     Yurkovsky ordered:
     "Load her!"
     Zhilin slid  the  hatch open,  took the nearest case, lilted it with an
effort and placed it into the rectangular slit of the  loading chamber.  The
case slid noiselessly into place. Zhilin closed the breech and said:
     "Ready."
     "So am I-," said Dauge.
     "Mikhail," Yurkovsky called into the mike. "How soon?"
     "In half  an hour," they  heard the navigator's  husky  voice. The ship
veered again. The floor seemed to fall from under their feet.
     "Another meteorite," said Yurkovsky. "The third."
     "Rather thick," said Dauge.
     Yurkovsky said into the mike:
     "Mikhail, many micrometeorites?"
     "Plenty, old chap," said Mikhail Antonovich.
     His voice sounded worried.  "Thirty  per cent above  mean  density  and
still thickening...."
     "Misha,"  said  Yurkovsky. "Make checkings  more  often, there's a good
chap."
     "I'm  doing  three a  minute as it  is," replied the navigator. He said
something  aside.  Then  they heard  Bykov's  voice rumble in  answer:  "All
right."
     "Vladimir," the navigator called. "I'm switching to ten per minute."
     "Thanks, Misha," said Yurkovsky.
     The ship veered again.
     "I  say, Vladimir,"  Dauge  said  in an undertone.  "This is no  longer
trivial."
     Zhilin,  too,  was thinking  it  wasn't  trivial. He couldn't  remember
reading  anywhere in  textbooks  or  in  space  charts  anything about  high
meteoric  density in Jupiter's  immediate  vicinity. But then few people had
been in Jupiter's immediate vicinity, and most of those who had, hadn't come
back to report. For this meant storming Jupiter, not just skirting it.
     Zhilin perched on the plate of the hatch and glanced at his watch. Only
twenty  minutes to  the perijovian.  In twenty minutes Dauge  would fire the
first stick. The explosion of a stick of bomb-probes was a marvellous sight,
he said.  The  year  before he'd studied the atmosphere of  Uranus with just
such  bomb-probes. Zhilin turned to look at Dauge. He was squatting in front
of  the  spectrograph,  his   hands   on  the  turn-lever,  lean,   swarthy,
sharp-nosed, with  a  scar on  his left  cheek. He would crane his long neck
every now and then, looking into  the eyepiece of the viewer first  with one
eye,  then with  the  other, and  every time an orange  spot of light  would
flicker across his face. Then Zhilin looked at Yurkovsky.  He was  standing,
his face close to the periscope, shifting impatiently from foot to foot. The
many-faceted egg of the mike dangled from his neck on a dark tape. Dauge and
Yurkovsky, the well-known planetologists....
     Just a month back it was that Chen Run, deputy chief of the High School
of Cosmogation, had summoned graduate Ivan Zhilin.
     Chen Kun was known as  Iron Chen among space  flyers. He was past fifty
but looked  quite  young  in his navy-blue jacket with  turn-down collar. He
would have  been quite  handsome, too,  but  for the pinkish-grey patches on
forehead and  chin-reminders of an old ray stroke.  He told Zhilin  that the
Third Department of the State Committee for Space Flights was in urgent need
of  a  good  relief  engineer and that  the  School Council  had decided  to
recommend  him,  graduate  Zhilin  (at  this graduate  Zhilin  tingled  with
excitement: all those five  years he'd  been fearing they would  send him on
lunar  routes on  probation).  Chen Kun  said  it was  a great  honour for a
graduate to  be given as his first assignment a job  on board a  ship flying
oversun  to  Jupiter  (graduate  Zhilin nearly  jumped  with  joy), carrying
provisions  for  a  J-Station  on  Amaltheia,   Jupiter's  fifth  satellite.
Amaltheia was facing hunger, said Chen Kun.
     "What's more," said Iron Chen,  "you will  have  as your  commander the
renowned space flyer, Alexei Petrovich  Bykov-also a graduate of our School.
With him and  senior  navigator Mikhail Antonovich  Krutikov-a  man  of vast
experience, you will go through a first-rate practical school and I must say
I am very glad for you."
     That Grigory Dauge and Vladimir Yurkovsky were going  too Zhilin learnt
later, already on  the  Mirza-Charle spacedrome.  What  names! Yurkovsky and
Dauge, Bykov  and  Krutikov, Bogdan Spitsin and Anatoly  Yermakov. Since his
childhood he had known the legend, beautiful yet frightening, that  had been
woven round the names of that  handful of men who had conquered a formidable
planet  for  mankind.  He  thought  of them  now,  of  the  men  who  on  an
antediluvian Hius-a photon tub  with a single layer of mesosubstance  on the
reflector-pierced  the  Venusian  atmosphere  and  in  the primordial  black
sand-wastes  discovered  a  uranium  Golconda-  the  spot  where  a  mammoth
meteorite of anti-substance had hit the planet.
     Zhilin knew other remarkable spacemen of course. For instance, the test
flyer Vasily Lyakhov who had lectured  on the theory of photon propulsion to
the third- and  fourth-year  students. He organised a three-month  practical
course on  Spu-20 for  last-year students. Space  flyers  called Spu-20  the
Starlet, and Zhilin found it fascinating. The first ram photon engines  were
tested there; robot  scouts  were  sent from there into the zone of absolute
free fall; the first astroship Hius-Lightning was being built there. One day
Lyakhov took the students into a hangar. In it  was a photon robot refueller
which had  just  returned from  a six-month wandering in  the AFF zone.  The
robot had travelled away from the Sun to  a  distance of one light-month. It
was a huge ungainly job of a surprising turquoise-green colour. The sheeting
fell away in pieces when they touched it. It just crumbled away as dry bread
would.  But  its  controls  were  in  working  order,  or  it wouldn't  have
returned-like three scouts out of  the nineteen sent out into the AFF  zone.
The  students wanted to know what had happened to the robot but Lyakhov said
he didn't  know. "At great distances from the Sun there's something we still
don't know anything about," he said. And  his thoughts turned to the men who
in a few years' time  would steer the  Hius-Lightning to that  region  where
there was something about which we didn't know anything.
     Funny, thought  Zhilin, I already  have quite  a few things to remember
myself.  Take  that time, for instance,  on a  practice flight in a geodesic
rocket when  the engine  cut dead  and I plopped  down with my  rocket  in a
state-farm field  near  Novoyeniseisk.  I  wandered  among the automatic  HF
ploughs for hours until  by the evening  I came across a remote control man.
That  night we lay  in his  tent watching the lights on the ploughs traverse
the dark field, and when a plough  chugged by, whiffs of ozone wafted to us.
The man plied me with local wine and chafed me and, I still think I left him
unconvinced that space flyers do not  drink.  In the  morning a tractor-haul
came  for  the rocket.  Iron  Chen gave me a rocket,  too,  for  failing  to
catapult....
     Or  my  diploma  Spu-16 Earth-Giphei  Moon flight when  a member of the
examination panel tried to confuse us by yelling the input data in a panicky
voice:  "Asteroid, third  magnitude,  on the  starboard!  Rate  of enclosure
twenty-two!" and  the like.  There were  six of us and we were all sick  and
tired  of  the chap, though Jan, the monitor,  tried  to persuade  us people
should  be forgiven  their small  weaknesses.  We  agreed  in principle  but
couldn't forgive that particular weakness. We all thought  it was a clueless
flight  and  none of us  felt any fear  when suddenly the ship  went  into a
terrific  bank under 4 G's. We  scrambled into  the  control room, where the
member of the  panel  was  pretending the overgravity  had  killed  him, and
righted  her.  Then  the  man opened one eye  and said,  "Good  show,  space
flyers," and we forgave  him all  his weaknesses there and  then. Before him
nobody had called us that  in earnest, except our mothers  and girl friends,
but when saying, "My dear space flyer," they had a look as though they  were
about to burst into tears.
     At  that moment the  Tahmasib was shaken  with such a force that Zhilin
fell backwards, knocking his head against the bomb-rack.
     "Damn," said Yurkovsky. "It may be untrivial but if the ship's going to
yaw like that we won't
     get much work done."
     "No," said Dauge, his hand pressed to his right eye, "indeed we won't."
     Apparently there were more and more large meteorites straight ahead and
the  cyber-navigator, on  orders from the overworked meteorite  finders, was
jerking the ship crazily out of their paths.
     "Surely not a swarm?" Yurkovsky said, clutching at the periscope frame.
"Poor Varya, she doesn't like being shaken."
     "Why didn't you leave her behind then?" Dauge said viciously. His right
eye was swelling visibly; he fingered it, muttering something in Lettish. He
was no longer squatting,  but half-lying on the floor,  his  legs spread for
better balance.
     Zhilin  stood  upright,  gripping  with  each  hand the breech  and the
bomb-rack  for  support. Suddenly the floor  fell from under  his feet, then
rushed  up,  hitting  his  heels  painfully. Dauge  groaned.  Zhilin's  legs
buckled. Bykov's hoarse bass roared on the intercom:
     "Engineer  Zhilin  to  control room!  Passengers  take  shelter in  the
acceleration absorbers!"
     Zhilin raced, rolling, to the door. Behind his back Dauge said:
     "Why in the absorbers?"
     "Nothing  doing," said Yurkovsky. Something metallic rattled across the
floor. Zhilin dashed into the gangway. There was adventure coming.
     The ship was being tossed about like flotsam on choppy seas. Zhilin ran
along the gangway in a  forced zigzag, thinking;  That one's past, and that,
and  that too, they'll all go past.... Then there was a sharp hissing behind
him,  incredibly loud.  He backed  against the  wall and spun round.  In the
empty gangway ten paces away there was a dense cloud of white vapour exactly
like that which is observed  when a bottle of liquid helium bursts open. The
hissing soon  stopped. The air was icy-cold. "Hit  us,  the bastard," Zhilin
said and tore himself from the wall. The white cloud crept after him, slowly
settling.
     It was very cold in the  control room, and Zhilin  saw rainbow-coloured
hoarfrost on the walls and the  floor. Mikhail Antonovich, his neck  purple,
sat at the computer, reading a tape. Bykov was not in sight.
     "Another hit?" the navigator called in a thin voice.
     "Where  the dickens is that  engineer?"  Bykov boomed  from  behind the
casing.
     "Here," said Zhilin.
     He ran across the  control room, which  was  slippery  with  hoarfrost.
Bykov popped out to meet him, his red hair standing on end.
     "To the reflector control," he said.
     "Aye, aye," said Zhilin. "Navigator, any gaps?"
     "No. Same density all round. Bad luck...." "Cut off the reflector. I'll
try to get through on the emergency engines."
     Mikhail  Antonovich swivelled  hurriedly in  his  chair to  the control
panel behind him. He put his hand on the keyboard and said:
     "Perhaps we could-"
     He  did  not  finish.  Terror  distorted his face. The  panel with  the
keyboard bent, then straightened again  and slid  noiselessly to the  floor.
Zhilin heard him scream and ran in confusion from behind  the casing. On the
wall,  clutching  .at  the soft  panelling,  sat Varya, Yurkovsky's  pet,  a
five-foot-long Martian  lizard. The exact replica  of the  control panel was
already  fading off her  body,  but on her horrible triangular muzzle, a red
hold lamp was still flickering, on and off. Mikhail Antonovich stared at the
patterned monster, sobbing and holding his hand to his heart.
     "Shoo!" Zhilin yelled; Varya darted aside and disappeared.
     "I'll kill her," Bykov growled. "Zhilin, to your station, damn it."
     Just as Zhilin was turning the Tahmasib was hit real hard.

     J-STATION, AMALTHEIA

     The water-carriers talk  about hunger while the nutrition  engineer  is
ashamed of his cuisine.

     After supper Uncle Hoak entered the rest-room and said, without looking
at anyone:
     "I need some water. Any volunteers?"
     "Yes," said Kozlov.
     Potapov looked up from the chess-board and also said yes.
     "Why, yes," said Kostya Stetsenko.
     "May I come too?" Zoya Ivanova asked in a thin voice.
     "You may," Uncle Hoak said, staring at the ceiling. "So I'll be waiting
for you."
     "How much water do you need?" asked Kozlov.
     "Not much," said Uncle Hoak. "About ten tons."
     "Right-o," said Kozlov. "We're going straight away."
     Uncle Hoak went out.
     "I'll go with you," said Gregor.
     "You  better  stay  behind  and  think over your  next  move,"  Potapov
advised. "It's your turn. You always take half an hour over every move."
     "Never mind," said Gregor. "I'H have time enough to think."
     "Galya, will you go with us?" asked Stetsenko.
     Galya was reclining in  a chair in front of the  magnetovideophone. She
lazily responded:
     "I don't mind."
     She stood up and stretched luxuriously. She was twenty-eight years old,
tall, dark  and handsome. The most  beautiful woman of  the station. Half of
the  boys were  in love  with  her. She was in charge  of the  astrometrical
observatory.
     "Come on," Kozlov said,  buckling on his magnetic boots and  making for
the door.
     They first called at the,  stores  for fur jackets, electric saws and a
self-propelled platform which was to take them  to  the Ice Grotto. That was
the name  by  which the place where the station got water for  all its needs
was  known.  Amaltheia-a  somewhat  flattened  sphere  with  a  diameter  of
eighty-two  miles-is  completely  composed of ice. It is ordinary water ice,
the same as on the  Earth, only its surface is sprinkled  with meteoric dust
and  fragments of rock and iron.  There was no lack of explanations  of this
ice planet's origin. Some people with little knowledge of cosmogony believed
that  it  was the water  envelope  of some  planet which had  neared Jupiter
closer  than  was  good  for  it and got  it torn off its back;  others were
inclined to explain the  fifth  satellite as a result of the condensation of
water crystals;  still  others claimed that  Amaltheia did not belong to our
galaxy at all, but had wandered out of interstellar  space and been captured
by Jupiter. But  anyway,  an unlimited  store  of water ice, theirs  for the
hacking, came in very handy to the station's personnel.
     The platform ran the  length of the bottom tier and stopped in front of
the  wide  gate of the Ice Grotto. Gregor jumped  down, went up  to the gate
and, screwing his eyes short-sightedly, searched for the button lock.
     "Lower, lower, you blind owl," said Potapov.
     Gregor  pressed  the  button and the gate slid  open. The platform  ran
inside. The place did look like an ice grotto, a tunnel hacked in solid ice.
It  was lit by three gas-filled tubes, whose  light was reflected  sparkling
from   the  walls  and   ceiling,   the   whole  giving  the  effect  of   a
many-chandeliered ball-room.
     There was no magnetic floor, which made walking difficult, and  it  was
intensely cold.
     "Ice," said Galya, looking round her. "Just like back on the Earth."
     Zoya shivered, pulling her fur jacket tighter round her.
     "Looks like Antarctica to me," she muttered.
     "I've been to Antarctica,"  Gregor declared, "Where haven't you  been!"
said Potapov. "You've been everywhere."
     "Come on,  boys, let's start," Kozlov ordered. The boys  took the saws,
went to the  far wall  and started sawing blocks of ice. The saws  went into
the ice like  hot knives into butter. Ice sawdust sparkled in 'the air. Zoya
and Galya came closer.
     "Let me have a go," Zoya asked, looking at Kozlov's bent back.
     "No," he said without glancing back. "It'll hurt your eyes."
     "Just like snow back on the Earth," Galya said, placing her hand in the
stream of ice dust.
     "Plenty  of that  stuff  anywhere,"  said  Potapov. "Take  Ganymede-any
amount  of snow  there."  "I've been to Ganymede,"  Gregor  declared. "You'd
drive  anyone mad,"  said Potapov. He switched off his saw and pushed a cube
of ice weighing at least a ton away from the wall. "There you are."
     "Cut it in pieces," advised Stetsenko. " ' "' "No, don't," said Kozlov.
He, too, switched off his saw. "On the contrary," and he gave his huge block
of ice  a strong  push so that it  glided slowly  towards the exit. "On  the
contrary--it's easier for Hoak when the blocks are large."
     "Ice," said Galya. "Just like on the Earth. I think I'll be coming here
often after work now."
     "Are you missing the Earth  very much?" Zoya asked timidly. She was ten
years younger, worked as assistant at the astrometrical observatory and felt
shy in front of her chief.
     "Yes," said Galya.  "Missing the Earth in a general way, Zoya  darling,
but  above  all longing to sit on grass, stroll in a park, go to a dance....
Not  our airy  exercises but an ordinary waltz. And to drink out of ordinary
glasses  instead  of  those  stupid  squeezies. And  wear a dress instead of
trousers, I'm missing an ordinary skirt terribly."
     "So am I," said Potapov.
     "Nothing like a bit of skirt," said Kozlov.
     "You wits," said Galya.
     She picked  up a piece of ice  and  threw it at Potapov. Potapov jumped
out of its way, hit the ceiling and bounced back on Stetsenko.
     "Easy there," Stetsenko said angrily. "Or you'll get sawn in two."
     "Looks like enough," said Kozlov. He had just heaved off a third block.
"Load up, boys."
     They loaded the ice  on to the platform, then Potapov seized Galya with
one  arm and Zoya with the other and without warning tossed both on  top  of
the neat pile of ice  blocks. Zoya  gave  a little  shriek  and clutched  at
Galya. Galya laughed.
     "Come on,"  Potapov  yelled. "There'll be a bonus  from Hoak-a plate of
chlorella soup each."
     "I won't be the one to turn it down," Kozlov muttered.
     "You've never turned a plate of soup down yet,"  said Stetsenko. "Still
less now when we're hungry.. . ." The platform rolled out of  the Ice Grotto
and Gregor closed the gate.
     "Hungry, did  you say?" Zoya contributed from high  up  the ice  mound.
"Why,  I read a  book  about the war with the fascists the other day- people
were really hungry then. In Leningrad when it was besieged."
     "I've been to Leningrad," declared Gregor.
     "We  get chocolate," Zoya went on, "and they were issued five ounces of
bread a day. And what bread! Sawdust-half of it."
     "Not sawdust, really," said Stetsenko.
     "But it was."
     "Chocolate or  no chocolate," said Kozlov, "we'll  be in a tight fix if
the Tahmasib doesn't arrive."
     He was carrying his electric saw on his shoulder-like a rifle.
     "But she will," Galya  said with conviction. She jumped  down  from the
platform and Stetsenko hastened to catch her. "Thanks, Kostya. She certainly
will, boys."
     "Still I think  we  should  suggest to the  chief  he cut  the  rations
again," said Kozlov. "At least for the men."
     "What nonsense," said Zoya. "I've read women endure hunger much  better
than men."
     They walked behind the slowly moving platform.
     "Women do," said Potapov. "But not kids."
     "Isn't he witty," said Zoya.
     "No,  really, boys,  I  mean it," said  Kozlov.  "If  Bykov isn't  here
tomorrow we ought to drum up everybody and suggest cutting the rations."
     "Well," said Stetsenko. "I don't think anyone's going to object."
     "I won't," declared Gregor.
     "That's good," said Potapov. "I  was just thinking  what was to be done
if you did."
     "Greetings  to  the  water-carriers,"   Astrophysicist  Nikolsky  said,
passing by.
     Galya said angrily:
     "Shame on you,  Kozlov,  and on all of you. I don't  understand how you
can worry  about  your  bellies so blatantly-as if the Tahmasib were a robot
with not a man on board."
     Even Potapov flushed and was stumped for a reply. The rest of their way
to the galley they  covered  in silence. Uncle Hoak was sitting  gloomily at
the huge ion exchanger they  used to  purify the water. The platform stopped
at the entrance.
     "Unload  it," Uncle  Hoak said, looking at  the floor. It was unusually
quiet, and cool, and odourless in the galley, which was more than Uncle Hoak
could bear.
     In silence  the blocks of ice were unloaded and thrust into the jaws of
the water-purifier.
     "Thanks," Uncle Hoak said, still not looking up.
     "You're welcome, Uncle Hoak," said Kozlov. "Come on, boys."
     In silence  they headed for the store and in  silence they went back to
the  rest-room. Galya  picked up a book  and settled  down into her chair in
front  of  the magnetovideophone. Stetsenko  hovered  irresolutely near  by,
glanced at Kozlov and Zoya who sat at  their  table again (Zoya was studying
by correspondence at  a  power institute and Kozlov  was helping her),  then
heaved a sigh and shuffled away to his room. Potapov said to Gregor:
     "Come on now-it's your move."

     CHAPTER TWO

     MEN ABOVE THE ABYSS

     1. The captain breaks bad news while the engineer is being brave.

     Apparently a  large meteorite had  hit the reflector, at once  breaking
the symmetry  of  thrust  distribution on the  surface of the paraboloid and
sending the Tahmasib into a frenzied spin. In the control room Captain Bykov
alone did not lose consciousness.  To be sure he had knocked  his head  hard
against  something, then his side, and been  completely winded for a  while,
but he  had managed to retain his hold  on the chair against which the first
shock had hurled him and he had been clutching, crawling, reaching out until
at last  he reached the control  panel. All  was revolving round  him at  an
incredible  speed. Zhilin dropped from somewhere up above and flew past him,
his  arms and  legs thrust out, with not  a bone whole, it  seemed to Bykov.
Then he bent his head over the panel  and, taking a careful  aim, jabbed his
finger at the key he wanted.
     The cyber-navigator fired the emergency hydrogen engines and Bykov felt
another jerk as if he were in a train stopped  at full speed-only  much more
violent. He'd been bracing against the impact for all he was worth and so he
was not  pitched out of his seat. But for a moment all went dark in front of
his eyes, and his mouth was full of chipped-off tooth  enamel. The  Tahmasib
righted herself out. Then he steered her straight  through the cloud of rock
and iron gravel. Blue flashes churned on the screen of the forward  scanner.
There were many of them, far,  far too many,  but the  ship no longer yawed:
the  meteorite  device  was switched off  and the cyber held a true  course.
Above the noise in his ears Bykov heard hissing sounds several times and was
enveloped by icy vapours,  but he only  drew in his head and bent lower over
the control panel. Once  something  burst behind him, scattering  fragments.
Presently there  were fewer  flashes on the screen, then none.  The meteoric
attack was over.
     Bykov glanced at the course plotter. The Tahmasib was falling. She  was
falling  through Jupiter's exosphere in a  narrowing spiral at a speed which
was much  slower than  the  orbital. She'd  lost  speed during  the meteoric
attack. A  ship always loses  her speed in such cases  through  changing her
course.   This  is  what  happens  during  the   routine  Jupiter-Mars   and
Jupiter-Earth flights which  take ships through the asteroid belt. But there
it's   not  dangerous.  Here,  over  Jupe,  loss  of  speed  spells  certain
destruction. The  ship will be burnt up in the denser layers of  the monster
planet's  atmosphere. That's what happened to  Paul Danget ten years before.
And if she doesn't  burn up she will fall into the hydrogen abyss from which
there is no return.  That's what probably happened  to  Sergei  Petrushevsky
early this year.
     Only a photon engine could effect a pull-away. Quite mechanically Bykov
pressed the ribbed key of the starter. But  not a single lamp flashed on the
control  panel.  The reflector was damaged and the auto-emergency device had
blocked an unreasonable order. This is the end, thought Bykov. He turned the
ship in a tidy manoeuvre and switched the emergency engines to full blast. A
load of 5  G's pressed him into the chair. That was the only  thing he could
do in the circumstances: reduce  the speed of  fall to a  minimum to prevent
her  from  burning  up. For thirty seconds  he sat immobile, staring at  his
hands, which appeared  increasingly dropsical with overload. Then he cut the
fuel and the overload was gone. The emergency engines would go on braking-as
long as there was fuel.  But there wasn't much. There had never  been a case
of  emergency engines saving  anyone over Jupiter.  Over  Mars,  Mercury  or
Earth, possibly. But never over that monster.
     Bykov heaved himself up and looked beyond the panel. On the floor among
plastic fragments lay the navigator, stomach up, looking like a man drowned.
     "Misha," Bykov called in a whisper. "You all right, Misha?"
     There was a  scraping sound  and Zhilin crawled on all fours from under
the reactor casing. He, too, seemed to be in a bad way. He stared dazedly at
the captain,  the  navigator and  the ceiling, then  sat up and crossed  his
legs.
     Bykov clambered out  of his seat and sank on  his haunches  beside  the
navigator,  bending his knees with an effort. He  touched the man's shoulder
and called again:
     "You all right, Misha?"
     The navigator winced and, without opening his eyes, licked his lips.
     "Alexei, old chap," he said in a weak voice.
     "Any pain?" Bykov asked and started feeling all over the navigator.
     "Ugh!" the navigator said and opened his eyes wide.
     "And here?"
     "U-ugh!" the navigator said in a painful voice.
     "And here?"
     "Oh, stop it," the navigator said and sat up, propping himself with his
hands. His head lolled to his shoulder. "Where's Ivan?" he asked.
     Bykov looked round but couldn't see Zhilin.
     "Ivan," Bykov called softly.
     "I'm here," Zhilin  responded from  behind the casing.  They  heard him
drop something and swear under his breath.
     "Ivan's all right," Bykov told the navigator.
     "That's  good," Mikhail Antonovich said  and, clutching  the  captain's
shoulder, got up.
     "How do you feel, Misha?" asked Bykov. "In condition?"
     "In  condition," the  navigator  said uncertainly, Still clutching him.
"Looks like I am."
     He looked at Bykov with an air of surprise and said:
     "What a cat of nine lives man is, eh? Still alive. ..."
     "Hm,"  Bykov said vaguely. "Still alive. Look,  Mikhail..." he said and
paused. "Things're  bad with  us.  We're falling,  old  man.  If you  are in
condition, sit down to it and do  a little  computing- see how things stand.
The  computer seems  intact," he threw a  glance at the machine. "But  you'd
better see for yourself."
     Mikhail Antonovich's eyes became round.
     "Falling?" he said. "Are we? Falling. On Jupiter?"
     Bykov nodded.
     "Well, well, well,"  said  Mikhail Antonovich. "Just imagine that! O.K.
Just a second. I'll be at it in a second."
     He stood for a while, wincing and jerking his  head, then let go of the
captain  and,  clutching  at the  edge  of the control panel, hobbled to his
place.
     "I'll do the computing," he mumbled. "Right away."
     Bykov watched  him sink into his chair, his hand  pressed to  his side,
then  settle more comfortably, grunting and sighing. The  chair was bent and
sagged to one side. When quite comfortable, Mikhail Antonovich shot his eyes
at Bykov and said in alarm:
     "But you've braked, old chap, haven't you?"
     Bykov nodded and  went to  Zhilin over the  scattered  debris crunching
underfoot.  On the ceiling he noticed a  black spot  and  another one  right
where  a wall joined it. They were meteoric holes filled in  with  synthetic
resin. Large drops of condensed water trembled round the spots.
     Zhilin was  sitting cross-legged  in  front  of the  reflector  control
combine. Its casing  was  split in  two, its  innards  looking anything  but
encouraging.
     "How're things?" Bykov asked, though he could see for himself.
     Zhilin raised a swollen face.
     "Don't know  all  the  details  yet," he said.  "But  it's  smashed all
right."
     Bykov squatted by his side.
     "One meteoric hit," said Zhilin.  "And twice I barged  into this," with
his finger he pointed but it was obvious  where he meant anyway. "Feet first
at the very beginning and head first at the very end."
     "I see," said  Bykov.  "No apparatus could have stood that, of  course.
Rig up the spare. And another thing-we're falling."
     "I heard you first time, Alexei Petrovich," said Zhilin.
     "Come  to that," Bykov  said  musingly, "what's the  use  of  a control
combine if the reflector's smashed."
     "But what if it isn't?" said Zhilin.
     Bykov smiled at him wryly.
     "That merry-go-round," he  said,  "can have either of two explanations.
Either for some  reason the plasma burning  point jumped out of focus  or  a
large piece of the reflector broke off.  I think it's the  reflector because
nobody could have shifted the burning point. But you go on all the same- rig
up the spare set."
     He rose and threw back his head to examine the ceiling.
     "Must patch  up the  holes  better,"  he  said.  "Pressure's high  down
there-might force the resin out. Well, I'll see to it."
     He turned to go but halted and said:
     "Not afraid, are you, youngster?"
     "No," said Zhilin.
     "Good. Carry  on," said  Bykov.  "I'll  make a  round of  her and  then
there're passengers to be hauled out of the acceleration absorbers."
     Zhilin didn't say anything. He watched the captain's broad stooped back
out of sight and then suddenly at arm's length saw Varya. She stood upright,
her prominent eyes winking slowly. She  was white-specked blue  all over and
the bosses on her muzzle  stuck  out in a terrifying manner. That  meant she
was very much annoyed and  feeling  unwell. Zhilin had once seen her in that
state before.  That had been a month ago on the Mirza-Charle spacedrome when
Yurkovsky harangued them  on the amazing adaptability of Martian lizards and
to prove it dipped Varya into a tank of boiling water.
     Varya opened her huge grey Jaws in a spasm and then snapped them shut.
     "Well, how  about you?" Zhilin said softly. A  heavy  drop tore off the
ceiling and smack! hit  the  burst combine  casing.  Zhilin looked up.  High
pressure  down  there.  Yes, he thought, tens  and hundreds of  thousands of
atmospheres. The resin stoppers would certainly get forced out.
     Varya stirred and opened her jaws again. Zhilin rummaged in his pocket,
found a biscuit and tossed it into the yawning mouth. Varya swallowed slowly
and stared away glassily. Zhilin sighed.
     "You poor beast," he said softly.

     2.  The planetologists  keep guilty  silence while the radio astronomer
sings a song about swallows

     As soon as  the Tahmasib stopped somersaulting Dauge disengaged himself
from the breech and  pulled  the unconscious Yurkovsky  from  under  bits of
smashed  equipment.  He  hadn't stopped  to  see what  was smashed and  what
wasn't, but noticed that plenty was, that the bomb-rack was all bent and the
control  panel of the radiotelescope buried under bomb-cases.  It was hot in
the bay and there was a pungent smell of something burnt.
     He had got off fairly lightly. The moment the ship was hit  he clutched
bulldog-like at  the breech until blood seeped under his nails and was worse
off only  by a splitting headache  now. Yurkovsky's  face  was ashen and his
lids  lilac. Dauge blew into his  face, shook him by the shoulders,  slapped
his cheeks.  Yurkovsky's head was  lolling  and he showed no signs of coming
to. Then Dauge dragged him to  the  sick bay. In the gangway it was terribly
cold, with  hoarfrost sparkling on  the walls. Dauge put Yurkovsky's head in
his  lap, scraped  a  little hoarfrost  off a wall  and  pressed  it to  his
temples. That was where the step-up  in  acceleration  found him.  Dauge lay
flat, but  felt so bad that he turned  on  his stomach  and  rubbed his face
against the hoarfrosted  floor. After  the acceleration was off Dauge  lay a
little longer, then  struggled up and, seizing Yurkovsky under the arm-pits,
dragged him, backing, farther. But he soon realised he  wouldn't make it  to
the sick bay,  so he dragged Yurkovsky into the mess room and on to  a sofa,
and plopped down at  his side,  grunting and  catching breath. Yurkovsky was
wheezing horribly.
     Having  recovered a little, Dauge  got up and went to the sideboard. He
took  a jug of  water and  drank  from it. Water trickled  down his chin and
throat  and he found it most pleasant. Then he went  back to  Yurkovsky  and
sprinkled  his  face.  He  put  the  jug down on  the floor  and  unbuttoned
Yurkovsky's jacket.  There  was  a  strange pattern of winding lines running
across /his chest from shoulder to shoulder. The pattern looked like a bunch
of  seaweeds-purplish  against  the  sun-tanned  skin.  For some time  Dauge
stared, understanding nothing, then  all of a  sudden it struck him that  it
was the mark of a violent electric shock. Apparently Yurkovsky had fallen on
some bare contacts under high voltage. Dauge ran to the sick bay.
     He had  made four injections altogether before Yurkovsky at last opened
his eyes. They were dull and glassy but Dauge was overjoyed.
     "You gave me quite a turn,  Vladimir," he  said with relief. "I thought
things were really bad. Well, can you get up now?"
     Yurkovsky moved his lips, opened his mouth and wheezed again. His  eyes
assumed meaning, his brows pressed together.
     "There, there, don't move," said Dauge. "You'd better stay on your back
for a while."
     He turned  and saw Charles Mollard in  the  doorway.  He  was  swaying,
steadying himself against the jamb. His face was red and swollen, and he was
dripping wet  and festooned all over with  something  white  and  worm-like.
Dauge even fancied  that he was steaming. For a few minutes Mollard did  not
say a word,  shifting his sad eyes from  Dauge to Yurkovsky and back,  while
the  planetologists stared  in  confusion  at  him.  Yurkovsky  even stopped
wheezing. Presently  Mollard  swayed  forward, stepped  over the coaming and
went straight  to the nearest chair. He looked wet and miserable and when he
sat down a tasty smell of boiled meat filled the room. Dauge sniffed.
     "Soup?" he enquired.
     "Oui, monsieur," Mollard confirmed sadly. "Vermicelli soup."
     "And how's the soup? Good?" asked Dauge.
     "Good," said Mollard and started picking vermicelli off himself.
     "I like soup very much," Dauge explained. "And I always ask how it is."
     Mollard sighed and smiled.
     "No more soup,"  he said. "It  was very hot  soup. But the water was no
longer boiling."
     "Good  God,"  said Dauge,  who  couldn't  help bursting  into laughter.
Mollard laughed with him.
     "Yes," he shouted. "It was very  funny but not comfortable and the soup
is all gone."
     Yurkovsky wheezed. His  face contorted and flushed purple. Dauge looked
at him with alarm.
     "Voldemar knocked badly?" asked Mollard.
     Craning his neck he glanced at Yurkovsky with mixed fear and curiosity.
     "Voldemar  had  an  electric  shock,"  said  Dauge.  He  was  no longer
grinning.
     "But what happened?" said Mollard. "It was so uncomfortable...."
     Yurkovsky  stopped  wheezing,  sat  up and, baring  his teeth horribly,
began searching in his breast pocket.
     "What's up, Vladimir?" Dauge asked, at a loss.
     "Voldemar can't speak," Mollard said softly.
     Yurkovsky  nodded rapidly, got his  fountain-pen and pad out  and began
writing, his head jerking.
     "Don't upset yourself so, Vladimir," Dauge mumbled. "It'll be all right
in no time."
     "Yes," Mollard confirmed.  "I  had  the same  experience.  It  was high
voltage and I was all right very soon."
     Yurkovsky gave the pad to Dauge, lay back and shut his eyes.
     "  'Can't  speak',"  Dauge  made  out with  difficulty.  "Don't  worry,
Vladimir, it'll pass." Yurkovsky jerked impatiently. "Well, just  a  moment.
'What about Alexei and the pilots? And the ship?' "
     "I don't know," Dauge said in confusion and glanced towards the control
room. "Hell, I forgot everything."
     Yurkovsky jerked his head and also looked at the door.
     "I'll find out," said Mollard. "I'll find out everything."
     He  rose from his chair, but at  that moment the manhole to the control
room was  opened  and  in  strode  Captain Bykov,  huge, dishevelled, with a
violently purple nose and a black  right eye. He measured  them all with his
small, irate eyes, went up to the table, put his fists on it and asked:
     "Why are the passengers not in their acceleration absorbers?"
     It  was  said  very  quietly,  but in a tone  that instantly wiped  off
Mollard's happy  smile.  A tense silence descended.  Dauge  smiled  a  small
awkward smile and looked aside,  and Yurkovsky again  shut his eyes.  Things
look bad, thought Yurkovsky. He knew his Bykov.
     "When are we going to have discipline on board this ship?" Bykov said.
     The passengers were silent.
     "You kids," Bykov  said  in disgust  and sat  down.  "It's  a madhouse.
What's happened to you, Monsieur Mollard?" he asked in a tired voice.
     "It's  the soup," Mollard  said readily.  "I'll go  and clean myself at
once."
     "Wait a minute, Monsieur Mollard," said Bykov.
     "Where ... where are we?" Yurkovsky wheezed out.
     "We're falling," Bykov said briefly.
     Yurkovsky started and sat up.
     "Where ... where to?" he asked.
     "Into Jupiter," said Bykov.  He was not looking at  the planetologists.
He was  looking  at  Mollard. He felt sorry for him.  It  was his first real
space flight and he was eagerly expected at Amaltheia as a first-class radio
astronomer.
     "Oh." said Mollard. "Into Jupiter?"
     "That's  right,"  Bykov  said  and  paused,  feeling the  bump  on  his
forehead.  "The reflector's smashed. Its  control is smashed  too. There are
eighteen holes in the ship."
     "Are we going to burn up?" Dauge asked quickly.
     "Don't know-Mikhail's figuring it out. It's possible we aren't."
     He fell silent. Mollard said:
     "I'll go and clean myself."
     "Wait  a minute, Charles," said Bykov. "I wonder whether  I made myself
sufficiently clear, Comrades? We are falling into Jupiter."
     "We understand," said Dauge.
     "We'll  be  falling into Jupiter all  our  lives," said Mollard.  Bykov
glanced at him sharply sideways.
     "Well said," said Yurkovsky.
     "C'est un mot," said Mollard. He  was smiling happily. "May I ... may I
go and clean myself nevertheless?"
     "Yes, go," Bykov said slowly.
     Mollard went out. They all watched him go. Then they heard him start up
a song in the gangway, in a weak but pleasant voice.
     "What is he singing?" asked Bykov. Mollard had never sung before.
     Dauge listened and then translated:
     " 'Two swallows kiss each other outside the window of my spaceship.  In
the  void.  How  did  they  get there? They love each  other dearly and they
ripped  it there to admire the stars. Tra-la-la.  But what do you care?'  Or
something like that."
     "Tra-la-la," Bykov said musingly. "Damn good!"
     "You  tr-tr-translate  m-m-masterfully,"  said  Yurkovsky.  "Ripped  it
there. P-p-piece of art."
     Bykov threw an astonished glance at him.
     "What's that, Vladimir?" he asked. "What's happened to you?"
     "St-st-stutterer for the r-r-rest of my life," Yurkovsky replied with a
crooked smile.
     "He's had an electric shock," Dauge said quietly.
     Bykov pursed his lips.
     "Well, cheer up," he said. "We've been through worse scrapes."
     But he knew they'd never  had  it so  bad  before -neither he  nor  the
planetologists.  Through the  half-open  manhole  came Mikhail  Antonovich's
voice:
     "I'm ready, Alexei."
     "Come in here," said Bykov.
     Mikhail Antonovich,  fat and scratched,  rolled into the mess room. The
upper portion of his body was stripped bare and glistening with sweat.
     "Br, isn't it  cold?" he said, clasping his fat chest  with  his  pudgy
hands. "But it's terribly hot in there."
     "Fire away, Mikhail," Bykov said impatiently.
     "But what's happened to Vladimir?" the  navigator asked in a frightened
voice.
     "Come on," said Bykov. "He's had an electric shock."
     "And where's Charles," the navigator asked, sitting down.
     "Charles is alive  and  kicking," Bykov said, hardly  able  to  control
himself. "So's everybody. Come on, out with it."
     "Thank  God,"  said the navigator.  "Well,  boys.  I've done  a  little
computing and  here's what  it  adds up  to. The Tahmasib  is falling and we
haven't enough fuel to pull her out."
     "Clear as noonday," Yurkovsky said almost without stuttering.
     "Not  enough  fuel. The  photon reactor could do that but it  seems the
reflector is smashed. But we  have enough fuel for braking. So I've drawn up
a  programme.  We're not going to burn up provided  the generally-recognised
theory of Jupiter's structure is correct."
     Dauge  wanted to  say  there  was  no  generally-recognised  theory  of
Jupiter's structure and never had been, but desisted.
     "We're  already braking quite well," went  on Mikhail Antonovich. "So I
believe  we'll have a  safe fall.  Beyond that nothing  can be done,  boys."
Mikhail Antonovich  smiled guiltily.  "Unless,  of  course,  we  repair  the
reflector."
     "There are no  repair  stations on Jupiter,"  Bykov said  in a croaking
voice.  "Any  theory  on  Jupiter will tell you  that."  He wanted  them  to
understand. To understand right and thoroughly. It still  seemed to him they
didn't.
     "Which theory do you take as generally recognised?" asked Dauge.
     Mikhail Antonovich shrugged a plump shoulder.
     "Kangren's theory," he said.
     Bykov looked at the planetologists in expectation.
     "Well," said Dauge. "Might as well take Kangren's."
     Yurkovsky was staring at the ceiling.
     "Look here, planetologists," Bykov tackled them. "What's waiting for us
down there? Can you tell us that, experts?"
     "Why, of course," said Dauge. "We'll tell you that pretty soon."
     "When?" Bykov said, brightening.
     "When we are down there," Dauge said and grinned.
     "Planetologists!" said Bykov. "Some experts!"
     "It could be calculated," Yurkovsky said, still staring at the ceiling.
He spoke slowly, almost  without  a  stutter. "Let Mikhail calculate at what
depth the ship will stop falling and hang in balance."
     "That's interesting," said Mikhail Antonovich.
     "According to Kangren, pressure inside Jupiter is increasing fast. What
you should calculate, Mikhail, is the eventual depth of immersion, pressure,
pull of gravity."
     "Yes," said  Dauge. "What will the pressure be? Perhaps  we'll just  be
flattened."
     "Hardly," Bykov growled. "We can bear two hundred thousand atmospheres.
And the photon reactor and the hydrogen engines even more."
     Yurkovsky sat up, crossing his legs.
     "Kangren's  theory is as  good as any," he said. "It will  give you the
order of magnitude." He  looked at the navigator. "We could do  it ourselves
but you've got the computer."
     "Of  course,"  said Mikhail  Antonovich. "What's there  to discuss?  Of
course I'll do it, boys."
     Bykov said:
     "Mikhail, get the programme for me, will you, and then feed it into the
cyber."
     "I've fed it in, Alexei old chap," the navigator said guiltily.
     "Aha," said Bykov. "Well, all right." He rose. "There you are. It's all
clear  now. We won't be crushed, of  course, but  neither  will we ever come
back. Let's face it. Well,  we're not  the first. An honest end to an honest
life. Zhilin and I are going to tinker a little with the reflector, but it's
so-" he  made a wry face and  twitched his  swollen  nose. "What will you be
doing?"
     "Observing," Yurkovsky said harshly. Dauge nodded.
     "Very good." Bykov threw a searching glance at them. "I want to ask you
something. Look after Mollard."
     "Yes, of  course," said  Mikhail Antonovich.  "He's  new to it and  ...
well, all sorts of things happen . .. you know."
     "All  right,  Alexei,"  Dauge said,  smiling  cheerfully. "Don't worry.
We'll look after him."
     "So that's that," said Bykov. "You, Misha, go to  the  control room and
do all the calculations that are needed, while  I hop  over to  the sick bay
for a  massage.  I've had  my  side knocked about rather badly." Leaving, he
heard Dauge say to Yurkovsky:
     "In a certain sense we've been lucky,  Vladimir,  we'll  see  something
nobody's seen before. Let's go and do the repairs."
     "Y-yes, c-come on," said Yurkovsky. Well,  you won't fool  me,  thought
Bykov. You  still don't  understand. You still have hope.  You think  Alexei
will  pull you  out  of  this hydrogen tomb  just  as  he pulled you out  of
Golconda's black sands and  rotten swamps.  That's what Dauge thinks anyhow.
But Alexei won't. Or will he?
     In the sick bay, breathing through nostrils extended with pain, Mollard
was  smearing himself with thick tannic  ointment.  His  face and arms  were
lobster-red and  shiny. Catching sight of Bykov he smiled amiably and struck
up his song  about the swallows. He was  almost calm now. Had he not started
his song  Bykov would have been sure  he  was really  calm. But  Mollard was
singing in  a voice  that  was  over-loud  and deliberate, hissing with pain
every now and then.


     3.  The engineer reminisces  while the  navigator advises  shutting off
memory.

     Zhilin was  repairing  the reflector control combine.  It was  hot  and
stuffy and he thought the ship's air conditioners  must have broken down but
he had no  time or wish to  see to them. At  first he  threw off his jacket,
then his overalls, and remained in shorts and shirt. Varya settled  promptly
on the discarded overalls and  soon was invisible, save  for her  shadow and
her prominent eyes, which flashed into presence sometimes.
     Zhilin  was  getting  out  of  the  torn  casing  plastic-metal printed
circuits, sounding the good ones,  putting aside those that were cracked and
replacing them by  spares. He  worked  steadily and unhurriedly as  during a
repairs test,  because  he had all the time  he needed and because anyway it
would probably be to no purpose. He  tried not to think  of anything and was
happy  he  remembered  the  general  scheme  quite  well,  enough  to  avoid
consulting the servicing volume more  than a  couple of times, and that he'd
been knocked about  not so  badly after all and there were only scratches on
his head.  Behind  the photon reactor  casing  the  computer buzzed, Mikhail
Antonovich  rustled  paper and hummed to  himself  something unmelodious. He
always hummed something to himself when working.
     I  wonder  what's  he doing  now, thought Zhilin. Or  perhaps he's just
trying to keep  his  mind busy. It's  great to be able to pick up work at  a
time like  this.  The  planetologists  are  also  working  now  most likely,
dropping bomb-probes. So I haven't seen  a stick of probes go off after all.
Or a lot of other things  either, for  that matter. They  say, for instance,
Jupe's a smashing sight  from Amaltheia.  And I always  wanted to go  on  an
astral trip or a pathfinder expedition to another planet to search for signs
of  beings from outer worlds. And then they said there were some  nice girls
on the J-stations and I wanted to meet them  to have something to brag about
to Perez Junto-he's been assigned to lunar routes and is happy about it too,
rum  sort  as  he  is.  Funny the way Mikhail Antonovich is  singing  out of
tune-as if on purpose. He's married and has two children, no, three, and the
eldest, a girl, is sixteen;  he's been promising to introduce me and winking
raffishly every time, but that is not to happen. Nor a lot of other things.
     Father will be  terribly upset-that's  bad. Just my rotten luck that it
should have happened on my first independent trip. It's a good thing she and
I have drifted apart, it suddenly occurred to him.  Altogether  easier. It's
much harder, say, for Mikhail Antonovich. Or for the  captain. The captain's
wife's beautiful and clever, likes a laugh, too. When she was seeing him off
she didn't seem  worried  at all, or perhaps she was,  but  didn't show  it,
though I  rather thought she  wasn't, being  used to it.  You  get  used  to
anything. I for one got used to  acceleration, though at first felt suicidal
and even expected they'd transfer  me to the  Ground  Control Department. It
was called  "joining  the girls", the Department  being mostly  female,  and
considered a disgrace. Nobody was quite sure why though, for the  girls were
good company and later worked at the various Spu's and stations and bases on
other planets, giving  a  very good account of themselves. Better than  boys
sometimes. Anyway, thought Zhilin, it's a  good  thing we've drifted  apart.
Just imagine what she'd be thinking now. And he stared  meaninglessly at the
cracked circuit he was holding in his hand.
     We kissed in the Bolshoi  Park  and  then on the embankment under  some
white statues, and then I saw  her home and we kissed  more  in the entrance
hall  of  her block of flats and people kept going  up and down all the time
despite the late hour. She was afraid her mother might appear any moment and
ask  her  what she thought she  was doing there and who that young man  was.
That was  in  summer, during  the  white nights.  Then I came for my  winter
vacation and we  met again, and  it was like that first time, only there was
snow  in the park and bare branches  stirred in the  grey low  sky. Her lips
were  soft  and warm and I  remember I told  her  I found  kissing more of a
winter occupation. Gusts  of wind  showered  snow on us until we  felt quite
frozen and ran for warmth and shelter to a cafe in the Street of Spacemen. I
remember how happy  we  were  to  find it empty. We settled at  a window and
watched the cars sweep by outside. I betted her I knew all the car makes and
lost:  a flash low-seated job pulled up at the kerb which I couldn't name. I
went outside to enquire and was told it was a Golden Dragon, the new Chinese
atom-powered car. The stake was three wishes for the winner. It seemed  then
that  it  would  be  like this  always,  in winter  and  in  summer,  on the
embankment  under the white  statues and  in  the  Bolshoi Park, and  in the
theatre where she looked breathtakingly beautiful in her  black dress with a
white  collar and was  nudging me  all the time so I wouldn't laugh so loud.
But one  day she didn't turn  up and I made  another date by videophone. And
she didn't come again, and she didn't answer my letters when I went  back to
the School. I still wouldn't  take it. I kept  sending her  long and foolish
letters,  though I didn't know at the time they were foolish. A year later I
saw her  in our club. She was with another girl and  didn't recognise me.  I
felt then life was over for me, but it wore off by  the end of my fifth year
and I  can't even understand why  I  should  be  remembering all  this  now.
Probably because it  doesn't matter any longer. Yes, I think I wouldn't want
to be reminiscing otherwise. ...
     The hatch clanged. Bykov's voice said:
     "How're things, Mikhail?"
     "Finishing the first spiral, Alexei. Dropped three hundred miles."
     "Well..." Zhilin heard somebody kick plastic fragments along the floor.
"And of course no communication with Amaltheia?"
     "The  receiver's  dead,"  said  Mikhail  Antonovich  and  sighed.  "The
transmitter's working but there are such radio storms here...."
     "What about your calculations?"
     "Almost finished. We'll drop something  in the  order  of four thousand
miles and then hang, it appears. Floating, as Vladimir says. The pressure'll
be terrific but not  big enough to  crush us-that's clear.  It  will be  big
enough, however, to make it  hard for us, with a load of  anything up to 2.5
G's."
     "Hm," said Bykov. For a while  he was silent, then said, "Have you  got
any idea?"
     "Pardon?"
     "I say, have you got any idea-how to get out of it?"
     "Why, no, old chap," the navigator said gently, almost  ingratiatingly.
"How could I. It's Jupiter.  Why, I have never even heard about anybody ever
... getting out of here."
     A  long silence  descended. Zhilin began  working  again,  quickly  and
noiselessly. Then Mikhail Antonovich said in a rush:
     "You  stop  thinking  about her, old chap. Much  better  not to, or you
start feeling so rotten, really...."
     "But I'm not,"  Bykov  said in  a  grating voice.  "And you'd  be  well
advised not to. Ivan!" he yelled.
     "Here," Zhilin called back and started working urgently. "Still at it?"
"Finishing soon," he said.
     He heard the  captain  coming across to him, kicking  plastic fragments
out of his path.
     "Litter everywhere," Bykov was muttering. "A real pigsty."  -He emerged
from behind the casing and squatted beside Zhilin.
     "I'm finishing," Zhilin repeated. "Taking  your  time  about it, aren't
you," Bykov growled.
     He grunted and  started emptying the  spare blocks out of the kit on to
the floor. Zhilin shifted a little to make more room for him. They were both
big and broad, and there was really not quite enough elbow-room for  both of
them in the space in front of the combine. They worked silently and rapidly,
and soon heard Mikhail Antonovich start his  computer again and  then  begin
humming to himself.
     When they were through Bykov called out:
     "Mikhail, come here, will you."
     " He straightened up and wiped sweat off his forehead. Then  he  kicked
aside the heap of Cracked circuits and  switched on the general control. The
3D reflector scheme appeared on the screen. It  was revolving slowly. "Well,
well, well," said Mikhail Antonovich.
     A blue graph started tick-tick-tick, unreeling slowly.
     "Not too many microholes," Zhilin said quietly. "Microholes be hanged,"
Bykov  said,  made  an ugly face and bent close to the screen. "Look at this
bastard."
     The reflector scheme was tinted blue. Now this blue was  showing ragged
patches of white. Those were the spots where either the mesosubstance layers
were pierced or control cells smashed. There were plenty of white spots, and
to  one  side of the reflector they ran into a big blotch of white taking up
at least one-eighth of the paraboloid's surface.
     "Just  look  at  this  bastard,"  Bykov repeated and thrust  his  thumb
between his teeth. He was thinking.
     Mikhail Antonovich shook his head and went back to his computer.
     "The thing's only  good for fireworks now," Zhilin muttered. He reached
for his overalls, shook Varya out and pulled them on: it had got cold again.
Bykov  was  still  standing  looking  at the  screen and biting  at  a nail.
Presently he picked up the blue graph and ran a cursory eye over it.
     "Zhilin,"  he  suddenly  said in  a  tense  voice.  "Get  a  couple  of
sigma-testers, check them  and go  to  the air-lock. I'll be waiting for you
there.
     Mikhail, drop everything  and start reinforcing the holes.  I said drop
everything." "Where're you going, old chap?" Mikhail
     Antonovich asked in surprise.
     "Outside," Bykov said and went  out. "But what for?" Mikhail Antonovich
asked, turning to Zhilin.
     Zhilin shrugged. He didn't know what for. Repairing  a mirror in  space
and in  flight,  without mesochemists, without  huge crystallisers,  without
reactor  furnaces,  was  absolutely impossible. As absolutely impossible as,
say, pulling the Moon to the Earth with your bare hands. And as it was, with
a corner smashed, the reflector could only impart a spinning movement to the
ship. Just what it did when the thing had happened.
     "Makes no sense," Zhilin said uncertainly.
     He  looked at  Mikhail Antonovich and Mikhail Antonovich looked at him.
They  never said  a word but all of a sudden were both in a terrible  hurry.
Fussily Mikhail Antonovich gathered up his sheets, saying urgently:
     "You go, Vanya. You go quickly."
     In the air-lock Bykov and Zhilin got into space suits and then squeezed
themselves into  the  lift.  The cab raced  along the  gigantic tube of  the
photon reactor  which stringed all the ship's  compartments-from the  living
quarters down to the parabolic reflector.
     "Good," said Bykov.
     "What's good?" asked Zhilin.
     The lift stopped.
     "It's good the lift's in order," said Bykov.
     "Ah." Zhilin was disappointed.
     "It might  have been out of order," Bykov  said sternly. "You'd have to
crawl all of seven hundred feet there and then back."
     They stepped out on to the upper platform of the  paraboloid. The black
ribbed dome of the reflector sloped in a curve from under their feet. It was
enormous:  700 yards in length and 500  yards in  diameter. From where  they
stood they could not  see its edges. Poised over their  heads  was the  huge
silver disc of the  cargo bay. On its sides, slung  far out on  brackets the
hydrogen engines  shot  out silent  furious  blue  flames. An awesome  world
gleamed eerily round them.
     A bank of  carroty fog stretched on their  left.  Far down,  incredibly
deep  underfoot,  the fog  lay-in fat  layers of  cloud with darker  gaps in
between. Still farther and  deeper, the  clouds ran  together  into  a dense
brown  expanse. On  their  right all was enveloped  in an even  pink haze in
which Zhilin saw suddenly the Sun-a small bright pink disc.
     "Take  this," said Bykov. He  thrust a coil of thin cable into Zhilin's
hands. "Make it fast in the lift shaft, will you," he said.
     He  made a noose with the other end of the  cable and fastened it round
his waist. Then he slung both testers round his neck and swung his legs over
the railing.
     "You pay it out," he said. "Here goes."
     Zhilin  stood against the railing, gripping the  cable  with both hands
and  watching  the  thick  awkward  figure in  a bright  space  suit  slowly
disappear beyond the curvature of the dome. The suit gleamed pinkish and the
ribbed dome sent off pinkish reflections too.
     "Pay  it  out  livelier,"  Bykov's angry voice  boomed inside  Zhilin's
helmet.
     The space-suited figure crawled  out of  sight and  there was  only the
bright taut  line of the cable on the ribbed surface now.  Zhilin glanced at
the Sun. It was veiled by haze now, sharply outlined  and almost red. Zhilin
looked down at his feet and saw his own blurred pinkish shadow.
     "Look, Ivan," Bykov's voice said. "Look down!"
     Zhilin  looked. Deep down, bulging  out  of the brown  expanse,  was  a
colossal whitish mass looking  like a monstrous  toadstool. It  was swelling
out  slowly and a  pattern  like a  bunch  of writhing  snakes could be seen
quivering on its surface.
     "An  exospheric protuberance," said  Bykov. "A rare  thing-as far  as I
know. A pity the boys aren't here to see it."
     He meant the planetologists. The mass was suddenly lighted  from within
with trembling lilac luminescence.
     "Whew, what a sight," Zhilin said involuntarily.
     "Pay it out," said Bykov.
     Zhilin  payed   out  more  cable  without  taking   his  eyes  off  the
protuberance. At first it seemed to him as though the ship was going to pass
through  it,  then he  realised it  would  be  far  on  the  starboard.  The
protuberance  tore  off  the brown  mass and sailed towards the  pink  haze,
trailing behind it  a tail of yellow  transparent filaments. Again  a  lilac
glow flickered on in them and died out. Presently the protuberance was  lost
in the pink haze.
     Bykov  worked for  a long  time. He would return  to the platform for a
short rest and then crawl in a  new direction.  When he climbed back for the
third time he had only one tester. "Dropped it," he said laconically. Zhilin
payed out the cable patiently, bracing his foot against the railing. He felt
quite secure  in this  position  and  could watch for  sights.  But  nothing
happened. Only when  the captain climbed up for the sixth time and muttered,
"That'll do," did he realise  that the  carroty wall  on the  left-Jupiter's
cloudy surface -was visibly nearer.
     It was clean and tidy in the control room. Mikhail Antonovich had swept
it out and was sitting  in his usual place, huddled in a fur jacket over his
overalls. It was so  cold in  the room that one could see his breath.  Bykov
sat down in  his chair, 'leaned forward, propping himself against his knees,
and looked closely first at the navigator, then at the engineer.
     "Have you plugged the holes tighter?" he asked the navigator.
     Mikhail  Antonovich nodded  several times. "We've  got  a chance," said
Bykov.  Mikhail  Antonovich  sat up  and  took in  a  noisy  breath.  Zhilin
swallowed. "We've got a chance," Bykov repeated. "A tiny chance. A fantastic
chance." "Go on, Alexei," the navigator begged. "It's like this," Bykov said
and cleared his throat. "Sixteen per cent  of the reflector surface is gone.
The question is: can we make  the other eighty-four per cent work? Less than
that in fact,  because another  ten  percent  or  so  is-uncontrollable, the
control cells being smashed."
     The navigator and engineer listened intently, craning their necks.
     "The answer is we can," said Bykov. "We can  try anyway. We  must shift
the  plasma burning  point  so as  to  compensate  asymmetry  in the damaged
reflector."
     "I see," Zhilin said in a trembling voice.
     Bykov threw him a glance.
     "That  is our only chance.  Ivan and  I are  going to  reorientate  the
magnetic  traps. I've seen Ivan in action. You, Misha, will calculate a  new
position for the burning point in accordance with the pattern of the damage.
You'll have that  pattern straight away. It's  a hell of a  lot of work, but
it's the only chance we've got."
     His eyes were full  on the navigator. Mikhail Antonovich looked  up and
their  glances met.  They understood  each other immediately and completely.
They understood  it  might be  too late. That down there, where pressure was
terrific,  corrosion  would eat  into  the  ship's  hull  so that she  might
dissolve like a lump of sugar in  boiling water before they  finished.  That
they couldn't  even hope to achieve  complete compensation. That  nobody had
ever attempted  before to steer ships with such a  compensation, the engines
at least one-third below rated power.... .
     "It's the only chance we've got," Bykov said loudly.
     "I'll do it, old chap," said Mikhail Antonovich. "It's not difficult to
calculate a new point. I'll do it."
     "I'll give  you the  pattern  of the  dead areas  straight away," Bykov
repeated. "And we must hurry  all we can.  Overgravity'1'1 soon be on us and
make all work a hundredfold harder. And if we fell too deep the reactor'd be
too  risky  to switch-might start  off a  chain  reaction  in the compressed
hydrogen..." he paused and said, "make gas out of us."
     "I see,"  said Zhilin.  He  felt  a  terrible urge to start  that  very
minute, at once. He liked very much that tiny fantastic chance.
     Mikhail Antonovich  stretched  out a stumpy hand  and said  in  a  thin
voice:
     "The pattern, give me the pattern, Alexei."
     On the emergency panel three red lights flashed' on.
     "There  you are,"  said Mikhail Antonovich. ''Fuel's running out in the
emergency engines."
     "Never mind," Bykov said and rose.


     CHAPTER THREE

     MEN IN THE ABYSS

     1. The planetologists play while the navigator is caught smuggling.

     "Load her," said Yurkovsky.
     He  was hanging at the periscope, his face thrust into the  suede frame
cover.  He was hanging  horizontally,  stomach down,  legs and elbows spread
wide, with the  thick log-book and  fountain-pen floating within easy reach.
Mollard slid the breech  open smartly, pulled  a case of  bomb-probes out of
the rack  and, pushing it this way and  that, forced it into the rectangular
slit of the  loading  chamber. The  case  slid slowly  and  noiselessly into
place. Mollard closed the breech, locked it and said:
     "Ready, Voldemar."
     Mollard was  bearing weightlessness very  well. Sometimes he  made rash
movements  and  hung  at the  ceiling  so that he had to be pulled back, and
sometimes he felt like being sick, but for a man experiencing weightlessness
for the first time in his life his performance was very creditable.
     "Ready," Dauge said at the exospheric spectre-graph.
     "Fire," ordered Yurkovsky.
     Dauge pressed the trigger.  They  heard  the  deep  doo-doo-doo  of the
breech, immediately  followed  by the tick-tick-tick of the spectrograph. In
the periscope Yurkovsky saw white balls of fire flare  up one after  another
and race  upwards  in  the orange fog  through  which  the Tahmasib  was now
falling. Twenty balls of  fire for twenty bomb-probes, each carrying a meson
emitter.
     "Lovely," Yurkovsky said quietly. Pressure was increasing  outside. The
bomb-probes were exploding closer and closer because of the greater drag.
     Dauge  was speaking into  the  dictaphone, glancing  at  the  reference
device of the spectroanalyser.
     "Molecular hydrogen-eighty-one point three five, helium-seven point one
one,  methane-four  point  one  six,  ammonia-one  point  zero  one....  The
unidentified line is increasing.... I  told them we should have an automatic
reader-it's so inconvenient...."
     "We're  falling,"  said  Yurkovsky.  "Just  look   how  we're  falling.
Methane's down to four already...."
     Dauge, turning adroitly,  was keeping up with the readings on the other
equipment.
     "So far Kangren's right,"  he  said.  "There. The bathometer's  dead-at
three hundred atmospheres. No more pressure readings."
     "Never mind," said Yurkovsky. "Load her."
     "Is it worth  it?"  said Dauge. "Without the bathometer synchronisation
will be faulty."
     "Let's try," said Yurkovsky. "Load her."
     He looked back at  Mollard. He was swaying against the ceiling, smiling
ruefully.
     "Pull him down, Grigory," said Yurkovsky.
     Dauge straightened  up, caught Mollard by his foot and pulled him down.
"Charles,"  he said patiently. "Try and  avoid rash  movements. Thrust  your
toes in here and hold fast."
     Mollard heaved a  sigh and slid the hatch open.  The spent case floated
out of  the chamber, hit him in  the chest and  rebounded towards Yurkovsky,
who dodged it.
     "Oh, again," Mollard said guiltily. "I am terribly sorry, Voldemar. Oh,
this weightlessness."
     "Go on, load her," said Yurkovsky.
     "The Sun," Dauge said suddenly.
     Yurkovsky plunged  his  face in the  periscope frame.  For  a  fleeting
moment he saw a reddish disc vague against the orange fog.
     "It's the last we'll see of it," Dauge said and coughed.
     "You  have said that three times," Mollard said, closing the breech and
bending  down to  make quite  sure  he'd done  a good  job of it. "Adieu, le
soldi, as Captain  Nemo  used to say.  But it turns out it was not the  last
time. I am ready, Voldemar."
     "So am I," said Dauge. "But shouldn't we really call it a day?"
     At that moment Bykov strode in to a loud clang of his magnetic boots.
     "Knock off," he said morosely.
     "But why?" Yurkovsky enquired, turning to him. .
     "Big pressure outside. Another half-hour and your bombs'll be exploding
in this bay."
     "Fire,"  Yurkovsky  said hastily.  Dauge  hesitated,  then  pulled  the
trigger. Bykov listened to the doo-doo-doo in the breech and said:
     "Enough's enough. Batten all  the instrument portholes. And  spike this
thing," he pointed at the bomb-release. "Spike it good and proper."
     "Are periscopic observations still allowed?" asked Yurkovsky.
     "Yes," said Bykov. "You may play a little more."
     He turned and strode out.
     "Just as  I  told  you-not  a  damned  thing,"  said  Dauge. "Not  with
synchronisation gone."
     He  switched  off his  equipment  and  recovered  the  reel out of  the
dictaphone.
     "Grigory,"  said  Yurkovsky. "I have a shrewd suspicion Alexei's "up to
something. What do you think?"
     "I don't know," Dauge  said and glanced  at him. "What makes  you think
so?"
     "Just something in his ugly mug," said Yurkovsky. "I know my man."
     For a while everybody was  silent, only Mollard,  overcome by a feeling
of nausea, heaved occasional sighs. Presently Dauge said:
     "I'm famished. Where's our  soup, Charles? You spilt our soup and we're
hungry. Who's on duty today, Charles?"
     "I am," said Charles. At  the mention  of food the nausea came over him
again. But he said: "I shall go and make some more soup."
     "The Sun." said Yurkovsky.
     Dauge pressed his black eye to the viewer.
     "You see," said Mollard. "The Sun again."
     "But that isn't the Sun," said Dauge.
     "No," said Yurkovsky. "It doesn't look like the Sun."
     The  distant  luminescent mass  in the light-brown haze paled, swelling
and  drifting  apart  in  greying  patches,  and then disappeared. Yurkovsky
watched,  his  teeth  clamped  together  so hard  that  his  temples  ached.
Farewell, Sun, he thought. Farewell, Sun.
     "I'm hungry," Dauge said testily. "Let's go to the galley, Charles."
     He pushed off the wall deftly, sailed towards  the door and opened  it.
Mollard  too pushed  off and  hit his  head against the wall above the door.
Dauge  caught him by  his spread-fingered hand and pulled  him out into  the
gangway. Yurkovsky heard Grigory ask, "How's life-good?" and Mollard answer,
"Good,  but very inconvenient." "Never mind,"  Dauge  said cheerily. "You'll
get used to it soon."
     Never mind, Yurkovsky thought, it'll be all  over soon. He glanced into
the periscope. He saw the brownish  fog  grow still  denser overhead,  while
deep below  in the  incredible depths of  the hydrogen  abyss into which the
ship  was  falling an eerie pinkish light beckoned to him. He shut his eyes.
To live, he  thought. To live long.  To live eternally.  He clutched at  his
hair.  To live  even if he were deaf, blind, paralysed. Just to feel the sun
and the  wind on his skin  and a friend by his side. And pain, impotence and
pity. Just as now. He tore at his hair. Let it be just as now, but for ever.
Suddenly he became aware he  was breathing laboriously and came  to himself.
The feeling of unbearable, unreasoning terror was gone. This had happened to
him  before: on Mars twelve  years  before, in Golconda ten years before and
again on Mars  the year before last. A spasm of crazy desire just to live, a
desire as  obscure  and primordial as protoplasm  itself.  It swooped on him
like a black-out. But  it always passed.  It had  to  be  endured like sharp
pain. And  he  must start doing something. Alexei had ordered the instrument
portholes to be  battened. He took his hands from his face, opened his  eyes
and saw he was sitting on the floor.  The ship's  fall was  being braked and
things were acquiring weight.
     Yurkovsky  reached for a small panel and shut the instrument portholes,
the  orifices  in  the  ship's  hull  through  which  the receptors  of  the
instrumentation are thrust out. Then he  carefully spiked the breech of  the
bomb-release, collected the scattered bomb-cases and stacked  them neatly on
the rack. Then  he glanced through the  periscope and it seemed  to him that
the darkness overhead had become denser and the glow underneath stronger. He
thought  that no one before had penetrated Jupiter  to  such a depth  except
Sergei  Petrushevsky,  may he rest  in peace, and  even he had probably been
blown up earlier. His reflector was smashed too.
     He  went  out into the gangway  and headed for the mess  room, glancing
into all the cabins  on his way. The Tahmasib was still falling, though more
slowly every  minute, and Yurkovsky walked on tiptoe  as though under water,
balancing  with outspread arms and making involuntary little skips every now
and then. In the quiet gangway  Mollard's muffled  call  came  to him like a
war-cry:  "How's  life, Gregoire,  good?" Apparently Dauge  had managed  'to
restore the  Frenchman's high  spirits. He could not catch Dauge's response.
"Good," he muttered  and  even did not notice he  was no  longer stammering.
Good-in spite of everything.
     He glanced into Mikhail Antonovich's cabin. It  was dark and there  was
an odd  spicy smell. He went in and switched on the  light. In the middle of
the cabin lay a  ripped suit case. Never before had  he seen a suit case  in
such a state. It looked as though a bomb-probe had gone  off inside it.  The
mat-finished   ceiling   and   the   walls   were   spattered  with   brown,
slippery-looking  blotches. These gave off a spicy aroma. Spiced mussels, he
defined  promptly. He  was  very  fond  of  spiced  mussels  but  they  were
unfortunately  never  part of space flyers' rations.  He looked  around  and
spotted  a bright black patch-a  meteoric hole  '-just above  the  door. All
sections of the living quarters were air-tight. When the hull was pierced by
a meteorite, the  air supply was automatically cut until the synthetic resin
layer between the  ship's sheetings had had time to seal the hole. It took a
second, at the most two seconds, but pressure might drop quite substantially
in  that time. It was  not dangerous  for  man  but it would  be  fatal  for
contraband tinned food. Tins would just explode. Particularly when spiced. A
plain  case of smuggling, he thought. The  old glutton. Well,  you'll get it
hot from the captain. Bykov's never stood for smuggling.
     Yurkovsky gave the cabin a last glance and noticed that the black patch
shone  silver.  Aha, he  thought. Somebody must  have  been metallising  the
holes. Quite right too, for such a pressure would have just forced the resin
stoppers out. He switched off the light and  stepped  back into the gangway.
He felt dead tired and lead-heavy in his whole body. Oh,  damn, I'm cracking
up, he  thought, and suddenly he realised that the  tape  on  which his mike
hung  was  cutting  into  his  neck. Then he understood.  The  Tahmasib  was
arriving. Their  flight was coming to an end. In a few minutes gravity would
be  doubled,  overhead  there  would be  six thousand  miles  of  compressed
hydrogen  and under  their  feet forty  thousand miles  of  supercompressed,
liquid and solid hydrogen.
     Every  pound of  their  weight  would increase to  two  or  more.  Poor
Charles, he thought. Poor Misha.
     "Voldemar," Mollard called  from behind him.  "Voldemar, help us  carry
the soup. It's a very heavy soup."
     He looked  back. Dauge and Mollard,  both  flushed  and sweating,  were
pushing through the door of  the galley a heavily-swaying trolley with three
steaming  pots  on  it.  Yurkovsky  made  to meet  them  and only then fully
realised how heavy he had become. Mollard uttered a  vague sound and sank to
the  floor. The Tahmasib stopped. The ship,  her  crew, passengers and cargo
had arrived at their last port of call.

     2.  The  planetologists  interrogate  the  navigator  while  the  radio
astronomer interrogates the planetologists.

     "Who cooked  this meal?" asked  Bykov. He  ran his  eye  round them and
stared at the pots again. Mikhail Antonovich was breathing in gasps, leaning
heavily against the table top.  His face was  purplish and bloated. "I did,"
Mollard said  timidly. "But what's wrong  with  it?" asked Dauge.  They  all
spoke  in  hoarse  voices, only able to wheeze out a  few  words at  a time.
Mollard  smiled crookedly  and lay back on the  sofa. He felt quite bad. The
Tahmasib  had stopped and their weight was becoming unbearable. Bykov looked
at Mollard.
     "That meal will kill you," he said. "You'll eat and never get up again.
It'll crush you, you understand?"
     "Christ," Dauge said, annoyed. "I forgot all about gravity."
     Mollard lay still, eyes closed,  breathing heavily. His jaw was hanging
open.
     "We'll  have the soup,"  said Bykov. "And nothing more. Not a bite." He
glanced  at  Mikhail Antonovich  and grinned  mirthlessly.  "Not a bite," he
repeated.
     Yurkovsky took the ladle and served the soup.
     "A heavy meal," he said.
     "Smells tasty," said Mikhail  Antonovich. "Won't you  give me  a little
more, Vladimir old man?"
     "No more," Bykov said harshly. He was sipping his soup  slowly, holding
his spoon  in a childish way in  his fist,  which  was smeared with graphite
lubricant.
     They began eating  in  silence. Mollard made an attempt  to get  up and
sank back again. "I can't," he said. "Excuse me, but I can't."
     Bykov put down his spoon and rose.
     "I recommend all passengers to get into their  acceleration absorbers,"
he  said.  Dauge shook his head. "As  you  like," said Bykov. "But make sure
Mollard gets into his."
     "Right," said Yurkovsky.
     Dauge  took  up  Mollard's  plate,  sat  down   beside  him  and  began
spoon-feeding him expertly. His eyes closed, he was swallowing noisily.
     "And where's Ivan?" asked Yurkovsky.
     "On watch,"  said Bykov.  He took the  pot with  the remaining soup and
strode heavily towards the hatchway. With pursed lips Yurkovsky  watched the
stooped figure go.
     "My mind's made  up, boys," Mikhail Antonovich said in a pitiful voice.
"I'm going to start slimming. This won't do. I'm over four hundred and fifty
pounds  now-the mere thought  of  it makes  me shudder.  And that's  not the
limit. We're still falling a little."
     He leaned against the back  of his chair, crossing his bloated hands on
his  stomach. Then he  wriggled a little,  transferred  his hands on to  the
armrests and almost immediately was asleep.
     "Fatty's  asleep,"  Dauge said,  turning to  look at  him. "The  ship's
aground  and  the navigator's  asleep. One more spoonful, Charles," he said.
"For Daddy. That's good. Now for Mummy."
     "Excuse  me,  I can't," Mollard murmured. "I can't. I'll 'lie down." He
lay back and started mumbling incoherently in French.
     Dauge put the plate on the table.
     "Mikhail," he called softly. "Misha."
     Mikhail Antonovich snored away.
     "Watch  me  wake him  up," said  Yurkovsky. "Mikhail," he  said softly.
"Mussels. Spiced mussels."
     Mikhail  Antonovich started and woke up.  "What?"  he mumbled.  "What?"
"Troubled conscience," said Yurkovsky.  Dauge  fixed the navigator with  his
eye. "What are you up to, you in the control room?" he said.
     Mikhail  Antonovich's red lids  blinked, then he shifted in  his chair,
mumbled faintly: "Oh, I quite forgot..." and tried to get up.
     "Stay put," said Dauge.
     "What're you up to there?" asked Yurkovsky.
     "And what's the ruddy use anyway?"
     "Nothing  special," Mikhail  Antonovich said  and looked  back  at  the
hatchway. "Nothing, boys, honest. We're just...."
     "Misha," said Yurkovsky. "We can see he's up to something."
     "Spill the beans, fatty," Dauge said fiercely.
     Again the navigator tried to get up.
     "Stay put,"  Yurkovsky said implacably. "Mussels. Spiced mussels. Speak
up."
     Mikhail Antonovich flushed poppy-red.
     "We're  not children," said Dauge. "We've faced death before. What  the
hell are you plotting there?"
     "There is a chance," the navigator mumbled faintly.
     "There's always a chance," said Dauge. "Be specific."
     "A tiny  chance," said Mikhail  Antonovich.  "Really,  boys,  I must be
off."
     "What  are  they doing?"  asked  Dauge.  "What're  they so  wrapped  up
in-Alexei and Ivan?"
     Mikhail Antonovich looked longingly at the hatchway.
     "He doesn't want  to tell you,"  he whispered. "Doesn't want to raise a
false hope in you.  But  he hopes to get us out of this. They're rearranging
the  magnetic trap system.... And please stop pestering me!" he shouted in a
thin voice, struggled up and hobbled to the control room.
     "Mon dieu," Mollard said softly and .lay back again.
     "Oh,  nonsense,  straw-clutching," said Dauge;  "It's just  that  Bykov
can't sit still  with  the Old Floorer about  to  get us. Come  on. Come on,
Charles, we'll put you in the acceleration absorber. Captain's orders."
     Between them  they got Mollard  on his  feet and  walked him  along the
gangway. His head was lolling.
     "Mon dieu," he mumbled. "Excuse me. I am a bad space flyer. I am only a
radio astronomer."
     It was no easy job  to drag Mollard along when  they  had difficulty in
walking themselves,  but still they got  him  to his cabin and then into the
acceleration  absorber.  He  lay  in  the  oversize  box, small,  miserable,
blue-faced, fighting for breath.
     "You'll feel better in a moment, Charles," said Dauge. Yurkovsky nodded
and winced with the pain in his back. "Have a rest," he said.
     "Good," said Mollard. "Thank you, camarades."
     Dauge slid the top in place and tapped on it. Mollard tapped back.
     "Well,  that's  that," said Dauge.  "I  wish  we  could  get a pair  of
antigrav suits."
     Yurkovsky  went to the  door without saying  anything. There were  only
three  such  suits on board their  ship-for  her crew.  The passengers  were
expected to  take  to their  acceleration absorbers whenever the  G-load was
increased.
     They  made a  round of the cabins and  collected all  the  blankets and
cushions they could 'lay their hands  on. Back  in the observation  bay they
made themselves as comfortable as they could at the two periscopes, then lay
back  and were  silent for  a while, resting. Breathing was difficult.  They
felt as though heavy weights had been laid on their chests.
     "Reminds  me of the time  I had acceleration training," said Yurkovsky.
"Had to slim a lot."
     "So had I," said Dauge. "But I don't remember much. What's  that spiced
mussel nonsense?"
     "Quite a delicacy,  isn't it?" said Yurkovsky. "Our navigator had a few
tins stowed away and they went bang in his suit case."
     "No,"  said Dauge. "Not again?  What a glutton.  What a  smuggler. He's
'lucky Bykov's busy."
     "Bykov probably doesn't know yet," said Yurkovsky.
     And never will,  he  thought. They fell  silent, then  Dauge  took  the
observation  logs   and  began  leafing  through   them.  They  made  a  few
calculations, then had an argument about the meteoric attack. Dauge  said it
was a stray swarm. Yurkovsky claimed it was a ring. "A ring round
     Jupiter?"  Dauge  said  contemptuously. 'That's right," said Yurkovsky.
"I've  suspected  one for  .a long  time. Now it's been proved."  "No," said
Dauge.  "Anyway it's  not  a  ring.  It's  a half-ring."  "Perhaps  it  is,"
Yurkovsky  agreed.  "Kangren's a wizard," said Dauge. "His calculations  are
amazingly exact." "Not quite," Yurkovsky demurred.
     "Why not?" 'asked Dauge.
     "Because  temperature increases have been markedly  slower,"  Yurkovsky
explained.
     "That's  inner luminescence of a non-classical type,"  Dauge  retorted.
"That's just it- non-classical," said Yurkovsky.
     "Kangren couldn't have possibly taken account of it," said Dauge.
     "But he should," said Yurkovsky. "There  have  been arguments about  it
for the last hundred years and lie should have taken it into account."
     "You're  ashamed, that's all,"  said Dauge. "You  had  such a row  with
Kangren that time in Dublin and now you're ashamed."
     "You're a fool," said Yurkovsky.
     "Of course you're ashamed," said Dauge.
     "I  was right," said Yurkovsky. "I took the non-classical  effects into
account."
     "I  know,"  said Dauge. "But if you do," said Yurkovsky, "why don't you
stop your nonsense?"
     "Don't shout  at me,"  said  Dauge. "This is no  nonsense. You took the
non-classical  effects into account all  right, but look at the  price we're
paying for it."
     "It's the price you're  paying,"  Yurkovsky said, getting angry. "I see
you haven't read my latest paper."
     "Well," said Dauge, "don't get shirty. My back's got numb."
     "So's mine," said Yurkovsky.
     He turned over and got on all fours. It wasn't  easy. He  reached up to
the periscope and glanced into it.
     "Have a look," he said.
     They looked  into the periscopes.  The Tahmasib was  floating in a void
filled with a pinkish light. There was absolutely nothing to rest their eyes
on. Just an even pinkish light everywhere. It seemed they  were looking at a
phosphorescent screen. After a long silence Yurkovsky said:
     "Rather dull, isn't it?"
     He straightened the cushions and lay down again.
     "No one  has  seen  this before,"  said  Dauge. "It's metallic hydrogen
radiation."
     "A fat  lot  of  good  such observations  will do us," said  Yurkovsky.
"Suppose we pair a periscope with the spectrograph?"
     "Rubbish,"  Dauge said, hardly able to move his lips. He slid on to the
cushions and also lay on his back. "A pity," he said. "To think  that no one
has ever seen this before."
     "I feel  just rotten doing nothing," said Yurkovsky. Dauge rose  on  an
elbow suddenly and craned  his neck, listening. "What's happened?" Yurkovsky
asked.
     "Quiet," said Dauge. "Listen."
     Yurkovsky listened. A faint low rumbling came from  somewhere, changing
in  volume like a giant bumble-bee buzzing. The rumbling rose in pitch, then
died down.
     "What's that?" said Dauge.
     "I  dunno," Yurkovsky said in an  undertone. He sat up. "Surely not the
engine?"
     "No, it's  from that side." Dauge waved a hand at the periscopes. "Well
now...."  They listened and  again heard a rumbling  sound  swelling into  a
high-pitched buzz, then dying down.
     "Must have  a look," said Dauge. The giant bumble-bee was silent for  a
second,  then buzzed again.  Dauge rose to his knees and  buried his face in
the periscope frame. "Look!" he shouted.
     Yurkovsky crawled to his periscope.
     "Just look at that!" Dauge shouted again.
     A multitude  of huge iridescent spheres were sailing upwards out of the
yellowish-pink  abyss like so many  soap-bubbles.  It  was a sight  of  rare
beauty. The spheres, all of different sizes, were rising with a low rumbling
sound  that swelled  as they  shot  past the ship  and  out  of sight. Dauge
clutched  at  the drum  of  the range-finder.  One of  the spheres,  looking
especially  huge and pulsating, was passing quite close to them, and, for  a
moment,  the  bay reverberated to an  unbearably low, sort of nagging rumble
and rocked a little.
     "Hey, you in the observatory," Bykov was heard on the intercom. "What's
that outside?"
     "Phenomena," Yurkovsky said, bending his head to the mike.
     "What phenomena?" asked Bykov.
     "Bubbles of some kind," Yurkovsky explained.
     "That much I understand myself," Bykov muttered and cut off.
     "This  is  no longer  metallic hydrogen,"  Yurkovsky said when the last
bubbles were gone.
     "There," said Dauge. "Diameters of six hundred, ten hundred  and  three
thousand five hundred yards-provided of course there's been no distortion of
perspective. That's all I've been able to manage. What could it be?"
     Two  more  bubbles shot past them in the pinkish  void outside.  A bass
rumble swelled and died away.
     "That's  the planet's mechanism in action," said Yurkovsky.  "But we'll
never learn its workings...."
     "Bubbles  in  gas," said  Dauge.  "Not  gas really- "it's  as dense  as
petrol."
     He turned  and saw  Mollard sitting in  the doorway, his  head  pressed
against the jamb. All the skin on his face seemed to have sagged to his chin
under the pull of gravity. His forehead was white and his neck ripe-cherry.
     "It's  me," he said. Then he turned on his stomach  and crawled  to his
place at the breech. The planetologists looked at him in silence, then Dauge
got up, took two cushions-one of his and one of Yurkovsky's-and made Mollard
more comfortable. Nobody said a word.
     "Very dull," Mollard said finally. "I can't be alone. I want to talk."
     "Delighted to see you, Charles," Dauge said sincerely. "We  too find it
dull and are talking all the time."
     Mollard wanted to  sit up but  thought better of it and remained lying,
breathing heavily, his eye fixed on the ceiling.
     "How's life, Charles?" Yurkovsky asked with interest.
     "Life's good," Charles said and smiled wanly. "Only short."
     Dauge  lay down  and  also  Stared  at the  ceiling.  Life's  short, he
thought. Much  too  short. He  swore  in Lettish  softly.  '"Pardon?"  asked
Mollard.
     "He's swearing," explained Yurkovsky.
     Suddenly Mollard said,  "My friends!"  in a high-pitched voice and  the
planetologists turned to him.
     "My friends!"  Mollard repeated. "What shall  I do?  You're experienced
space flyers. You are great men and heroes. Yes, heroes. Mon dieu! You faced
death more often  than I  looked  into  a  girl's  eyes." He shook  his head
ruefully  on the cushion. "But I am not experienced. I am  afraid and I want
to talk much, but the end is near and I don't know how."
     He  was  looking  at  them  with  bright eyes. Dauge  muttered, "Damn,"
awkwardly and  glanced at Yurkovsky. He was  lying back, his head cradled in
his arms, looking at Mollard out of the corner of his eye.
     "I can tell you  a story of how I nearly got a leg sawn off," Yurkovsky
suggested.
     "Excellent," Dauge said happily. "And then you tell us something funny,
Charles."
     "You are always joking," said Mollard.
     "Or  we  can  sing,"  said  Dauge.  "It's  been  done-I  read about  it
somewhere. Can you sing us something, Charles?"
     "Sorry," said Mollard. "I've gone to pieces."
     "Not in the least," said Dauge. "You're doing fine, Charles. That's the
main thing. Isn't Charles doing fine, Vladimir?"
     "Of course he is," said Yurkovsky. "Just fine."
     "Our  captain's not napping," Dauge continued in a cheery  voice. "Have
you noticed, Charles? He's thought something up, our captain has."
     "Yes," said Mollard. "Oh, yes. Our captain is our big hope."
     "I should think so," said Dauge. "You just can't imagine how big a hope
he is."
     "Six-foot-six," said Yurkovsky.
     Mollard laughed.
     "You are always joking," he said.
     "And in the meantime we shall talk  and observe," said Dauge.  "Want to
have a peep in the periscope, Charles? It's beautiful. It's something nobody
has  ever seen  before." He rose  and  looked  into the periscope. Yurkovsky
noticed his  back  arch suddenly.  Dauge seized the periscope frame with his
both hands. "Good God," he breathed out. "A spaceship!"
     A spaceship  hung  motionless  outside. They  saw  her clearly  in  all
details  and  she  seemed  to  be at  a distance of  a mile  or  so from the
Tahmasib. She was a first-class photon cargo ship, with  parabolic reflector
which  looked like a  hooped skirt,  globular living  quarters, a flat cargo
bay, and three cigarshaped emergency rockets flung far  out on brackets. She
hung vertically  and was completely  motionless. And she  was  grey  like  a
black-and-white film still.
     "Who's that?" Dauge mumbled. "Surely not Petrushevsky?"
     "Look at her reflector," said Yurkovsky. The reflector of the grey ship
was chipped.  "They've had  bad luck too,"  said Dauge.  "Oh," said Mollard.
"There's  another  one."  The  second  spaceship-an  exact  replica  of  the
first-hung farther and lower.
     "She's  got  a  chipped  reflector  too,"  said  Dauge. "I've  got it,"
Yurkovsky said suddenly. "It's our
     Tahmasib. A mirage."
     It was  a  double mirage. A string of iridescent  bubbles raced upwards
and the ghost Tahmasibs  rippled and vanished.  But three more  appeared- to
the right and higher.
     "What beautiful bubbles," said Mollard. "And they sing."
     He  lay on his  back again. His nose had  started  bleeding and  he was
blowing it, wincing  and glancing  at the planetologists  to make sure  they
were not looking. Of course they weren't.
     "There," said Dauge. "And you say it's dull."
     "I don't," said Yurkovsky.
     "Yes, you do," said Dauge. "You keep whining that it's dull."
     They both avoided looking at Mollard. The bleeding couldn't be stopped.
The blood would  congeal  of itself. They really  ought to get him into  his
acceleration absorber, but. ... Never  mind,  it  would congeal. Mollard was
blowing his nose softly.
     "There's another mirage," said Dauge, "but it's not a ship."
     Yurkovsky looked in the periscope. No, he thought. It just doesn't make
sense. Not  here in Jupiter. Slowly  gliding below and past the Tahmasib was
the peak of an enormous grey cliff. Its base was lost  in the  pinkish haze.
Another cliff rose near by, bare, vertical, deep-creviced. A little  further
there was a whole range  of similar sharp sheer peaks.  The  silence in  the
observation bay was now  filled with  creaking, rustling and  faint rumbling
like echoes of far-off mountain-slides.
     "This is no mirage," said Yurkovsky. "This looks like a core."
     "Rubbish," said Dauge.
     "Perhaps Jupiter has a core after all."
     "Stuff and nonsense," Dauge said impatiently.
     The  mountain range under  the  Tahmasib now stretched as  far as  they
could see.
     "Look over there," said Dauge.
     Above  the jagged  peaks a dark silhouette loomed,  grew,  assumed  the
shape  of  a  huge  fragment  of  black  rock, then disappeared. Immediately
another appeared, then  a third,  while in the  distance  some roundish grey
mass shimmered palely, only just visible. The mountain range, which had been
sinking  slowly, slipped out of view. Yurkovsky, without taking his eyes off
the sight, picked up his mike. In the silence his joints cracked.
     "Bykov," he called. "Alexei."
     "Alexei's not here, Vladimir,"  they  heard the navigator's  voice. The
voice was hoarse and faltering. "He's in the engine."
     "Mikhail, we're passing over some cliffs," said Yurkovsky.
     "What cliffs?" Mikhail Antonovich asked in a frightened voice.
     In the distance  a huge plain fringed by  low hills slid  into view and
then vanished in the pinkish haze.
     "We don't understand it yet," said Yurkovsky.
     "I'll have a look right away," said Mikhail Antonovich.
     Another mountain range was gliding  past  them.  Its base was far above
them and  its  tops were thrust downwards. It was  an eerie, fantastic sight
and  Yurkovsky  took it for  a mirage  at  first, but  it  wasn't.  Then  he
understood and said, "It's  no core, this, Grigory. It's a graveyard." Dauge
did not understand. "It's  a graveyard of  worlds," said Yurkovsky.  "Jupe's
gobbled them up."
     Dauge didn't say anything for a while, then he muttered:
     "What discoveries.... Ring,  pinkish radiation, graveyard of worlds....
A pity."
     He turned and called Mollard. 'There was no answer. He was lying on his
face.
     They dragged  Mollard all the way to his cabin, brought him round there
and he instantly fell asleep in the acceleration absorber as  though  he had
fainted. Then they returned to their periscopes. Under the ship, next to her
and over her  fragments of  unborn worlds-mountains,  cliffs, huge  fissured
rocks, grey  transparent clouds of dust-swam  slowly past in the streams  of
compressed hydrogen. Then the Tahmasib drifted  off and the periscopes again
showed nothing but a pinkish void all round them.
     "I'm  fagged  out," said  Dauge. He  turned to lie on his  side and his
bones cracked.  "Hear that?" "Yes," said Yurkovsky. "Let's go on observing."
"Yes," said Dauge. "I thought  it  was a core," said Yurkovsky. "It couldn't
be,"  said Dauge. Yurkovsky rubbed his face with his hands. "That's what you
say," he said. "Let's go on."
     They were to see and hear much more, or it seemed to them they did, for
they were  both utterly exhausted and often on the verge of a blackout. Then
they were unaware of their surroundings  except for the even pinkish  light.
They saw  broad  stark zigzags  of  lightning propped  between  the darkness
overhead and the pinkish haze beneath, and heard the iron clang of the lilac
discharges that pulsated in them. They saw quivering films of substance rush
hard by with a thin whistle. They watched weird  shadows  which  stirred and
moved about, and Dauge argued they  were three-dimensional,  while Yurkovsky
insisted  he was just delirious. And they heard  howling, and squeaking, and
rattling, and strange noises  like voices. Dauge suggested they record them,
but noticed Yurkovsky  was  fast asleep, lying  on  his stomach.  He  turned
Yurkovsky over and was back in his place when  through the open door crawled
Varya,  white-specked blue  and dragging her belly, sidled to Yurkovsky  and
clambered on to his knees. Dauge wanted to shoo her away but found he had no
strength  left  for the  effort. He could not  even raise his head.  Varya's
sides  heaved heavily and she was blinking. The  bosses  on her muzzle stood
out and her two-foot tail jerked spasmodically in time to her breathing.

     3. Time to take leave but the radio astronomer doesn't know how to.

     It  was hard,  unbelievably hard to work under those conditions. Zhilin
had had several blackouts. His heart would just stop beating and he would be
plunged into a bloody mist. And all  the time there was a  taste of blood in
his mouth. And each time Zhilin was  acutely mortified because Bykov  worked
on untiringly, with  the  steady  rhythm and precision of a machine.  He was
drenched in sweat, probably found the work just as  hard, but apparently was
able  to  retain consciousness by force of will. After two hours  Zhilin had
lost all understanding  of  their purpose,  all  hope  and  even  desire  to
survive,  but after  each black-out he picked up where  he had left  because
Bykov was at his side. Once he  had come to and there was no Bykov. He wept.
But Bykov  soon  returned,  placed  a messtin of soup at  his side and said,
"Eat." He ate and pitched into his work. Bykov's face was white and his neck
purple and hanging  in  folds. He  was  breathing heavily and hurriedly, his
huge mouth wide open. And he never said a  word. Zhilin was thinking: if  we
do break out of this I won't go  on any interstellar flights  or expeditions
to Pluto or anywhere before I am like  Bykov.  As ordinary and  even dull in
times of routine. As morose and even slightly ridiculous. So much so that it
was hard to believe in all those stories about the Golconda and Callisto and
other  places. Zhilin remembered that behind Bykov's back young space flyers
would  poke  fun at the Red-Haired Hermit-incidentally,  how did he  come by
that  odd nickname?-but he had  never heard  a pilot or scientist of Bykov's
generation speak  slightingly about him.  If I  come out I must become  like
Bykov.  If I don't I  must die like Bykov. When  Zhilin blacked  out,  Bykov
stepped over him silently and finished his  work. When Zhilin came to, Bykov
went silently to his place.
     Then Bykov said,  "Come on," and they filed out of the  magnetic-system
chamber. Everything was swimming in front of Zhilin's eyes, he wanted to lie
down and bury his nose in something soft and wait until he was picked up. He
got  stuck in the hatchway following Bykov and lay down after  all, his nose
pressed against the cold  floor, but  came to rapidly  and  saw Bykov's boot
close to  his  face.  The boot was tapping  impatiently. Must  be  quite  an
effort-tapping one's boot with a G-load like this,  he thought. Must try it.
He made a supreme effort  and  forced himself through the  hatchway. Then he
squatted to batten  the hatch more securely.  The lock wouldn't  obey and he
clawed at  it with his scratched fingers. Bykov towered near by like a radio
mast, looking at him steadily from above.
     "Just a  moment," Zhilin said hurriedly. "Just a. moment." Finally  the
hatch was locked.
     "Ready," Zhilin said and got up. His knees were shaking.
     "Come on," said Bykov.
     They went  back to the  control room. Mikhail Antonovich was asleep  in
his  chair  at  the  computer. His  lips hung loose and he was  snoring. The
computer was on. Bykov leaned  over the navigator, picked up the mike of the
intercom and said:
     "All passengers are summoned to the mess-room."
     "What?"  Mikhail  Antonovich  asked,  startled   out  of   his   sleep.
"What-already?"
     "Yes,"  said  Bykov.  "Let's  go  to  the  mess  room."  He  didn't  go
immediately,  but  stood and absently watched Mikhail Antonovich get out  of
his chair, grunting and wincing. Then he came to and said, "Come on."
     They went to the mess room.  Mikhail Antonovich made  straight for  the
sofa, plopped  down  and folded  his arms on  his  stomach. Zhilin  too  sat
down-to  stop his knees  shaking-and  stared at the table-top. Dirty  plates
still  stood in a pile on it. Presently the door opened and in stumbled  the
passengers.  The  planetologists  had Mollard between them. He hung  limply,
dragging his  feet and clutching  at  their shoulders. In his hand he had  a
balled handkerchief covered with dark spots.
     In silence  Dauge and Yurkovsky seated  Mollard on to the  sofa and sat
down on either side of him. Zhilin ran his eye over them all. What  horrible
mugs,  he  thought. Surely  I  can't look  like  them?  He touched  his face
stealthily. His cheeks  felt very thin, while  his chin seemed  as  thick as
Mikhail Antonovich's. He felt pins and needles in his face.  As if I've been
sitting on it, he thought.
     "Well," said Bykov. He got up  from a chair  in  a corner,  went to the
table  and  leaned on  it  heavily. Mollard gave  Zhilin  a sudden  wink and
covered his face with the spotted handkerchief. Bykov glanced at him coldly.
Then he rested his glance on the opposite wall.
     "Well,",  he repeated. "We have finished refitting the Tahmasib. We can
now use the photon propulsion unit and that is precisely what I have decided
to  do.  However  -I  should  like  first  to  let  you  into  all  possible
consequences.  I warn  you  the  decision's final  and  I'm not proposing to
consult you and ask for your opinions."
     "Please make it shorter, Alexei," said Dauge.
     "The decision is final," said Bykov. "But I consider you're entitled to
know how it might  end.  First, the reactor's activation might touch  off an
explosion  in the  compressed  hydrogen round us. And  that  would  mean the
Tahmasib's total destruction. Second, the plasma's first flash might destroy
the  reflector-the  outer surface of the mirror's  probably whittled away by
corrosion  by  now. Then we'd stay here and.... It's  clear  what that would
mean. Third, the Tahmasib might fight her way out of Jupiter and-"
     "That's clear," said Dauge.
     "And the food would be delivered to Amaltheia," said Bykov.
     "For which  the food  would  be  eternally  grateful  to  Bykov,"  said
Yurkovsky. Mikhail Antonovich smiled wanly. He didn't find it funny.
     Bykov was looking at the wall.
     "I'm  giving  the  start  right  away," he said.  "The  passengers  are
requested to take their  places  in the acceleration absorbers.  All of you.
And without  any of your tricks,"  he glanced  at the planetologists.  "It's
going to be eight G's. If not more. Carry out orders. Engineer Zhilin, check
on compliance and report to me."
     He ran his eye over them, then turned and strode into the control room.
     "Mon dieu;' said Mollard. "What a life."
     His nose was bleeding again. Dauge jerked his head and said:
     "We need someone  who's lucky.  Any lucky  dog among you? We absolutely
need someone who's lucky."
     Zhilin got up.
     "It's  time.  Comrades," he said.  He  wished everything would  soon be
over. He desperately wished everything was  over and done with. They had all
remained seated. "It's time, Comrades," he repeated in confusion.
     "There's  about ten per cent  of probability  of a  favourable result,"
Yurkovsky  said musingly  and started rubbing his cheeks. Mikhail Antonovich
grunted and struggled up out of the sofa.
     "Boys," he said.  "Looks we  ought to bid farewell to one another. Just
in case, you know. Anything might happen." He smiled piteously.
     "We might as well," said Dauge. "Yes."
     "And I again don't know how," said Mollard.
     Yurkovsky rose.
     "I'll tell you what," he said. "Let's go and get into  the acceleration
absorbers. Bykov might come any moment and then-I'd  prefer to be burned up.
He's a heavy hand-I remember to this day, though it was ten years ago...."
     "Quite,"  Mikhail  Antonovich  said and fussed.  "Come on,  boys,  come
on.... But let me kiss you first."
     He kissed  Dauge, then Yurkovsky, then turned to Mollard and kissed him
on the forehead.
     "Where will you be, Misha?" asked Dauge.
     Mikhail Antonovich kissed Zhilin, gave a little sob and said:
     "In the acceleration absorber-same as everyone."
     "And you, Vanya?"
     "Me too," said Zhilin. He was holding Mollard by his shoulders.
     "And the captain?"
     They were in the  gangway  now and  everyone stopped. There were a  few
more steps before separation.
     "Alexei Petrovich  says he doesn't trust automation  inside Jupe," said
Zhilin. "He'll steer her himself."
     "Just  like  Bykov,"  Yurkovsky said with a  wry smile.  "A  knight  in
shining armour."
     Mikhail Antonovich gave a little whimper and headed for his cabin.
     "Let me help you. Monsieur Mollard," said Zhilin.
     "Please," Mollard said and Obediently clutched at Zhilin's shoulder.
     "Good luck  and  quiet plasma," said Yurkovsky. Dauge  nodded  and they
parted. Zhilin led Mollard to his cabin and helped him into the absorber.
     "How's life, Vanya?" Mollard asked sadly. "Good?"
     "Good, Monsieur Mollard," said Zhilin.
     "And how are the girls?"
     "Very good," said Zhilin. "There're nice girls on Amaltheia."
     He smiled politely, slid the top in place and switched off the smile. I
wish it was all over, he thought. He walked the length of the gangway and it
looked very  bare to him. He tapped on each  shock-absorber, got the replies
and went back to the control room.
     Bykov sat in the senior pilot's place. He was in an antigrav  suit.  It
looked like a silk worm's cocoon,  from one  end of which  a mop of red hair
was sticking out. The  face was as ordinary as always, only sterner and very
tired. \ "All set, Alexei Petrovich," said Zhilin.
     "Good,"  said  Bykov.  He  glanced  at  Zhilin  sideways. "Not  afraid,
youngster?"
     "No," said Zhilin.  He wasn't afraid. He  only wished it  would all  be
over soon. And  then he  suddenly wished to see Father  as he used to emerge
out of his spaceship after a long trip, stout, moustachioed, helmet in hand.
And to introduce Father to Bykov.
     "Go, Ivan," said Bykov. "I give you ten minutes."
     "Quiet plasma to you, Alexei Petrovich," said Zhilin.
     "Thanks," said Bykov. "Go."
     I  must bear it out, Zhilin thought. Surely I will bear it  out. He was
at  the door  of  his  cabin  when  he  spotted Varya.  Varya  was  crawling
laboriously,  hugging the  wall,  dragging her  wedge-shaped  tail. Catching
sight of Zhilin she raised her triangular muzzle and winked slowly.
     "You poor beast,"  said Zhilin. He seized her by the loose skin on  her
neck, dragged her inside, slid open the top of his acceleration absorber and
looked at his watch. Then he threw Varya into the box-she felt very heavy as
she  quivered  in his hands-and  got  in  himself.  He lay  back in complete
darkness and listened to the gurgling of the absorber mixture while his body
was  becoming lighter  and  lighter. It  was very pleasant,  only Varya kept
jerking at his side, her  bosses  prickling his hand. I must bear it out, he
thought. Like he does.
     In  the control room Bykov jabbed at the ribbed key of the starter with
his thumb.



     EPILOGUE
     J-STATION, AMALTHEIA

     The chief of the Station  has no eye for the setting  Jupiter and Varya
gets her tail pulled.

     'The   setting   of  Jupiter   is   also  a   spectacular   sight.  The
yellowish-green exospheric glow  dies out  and stars flicker  up  one  after
another in the darkening sky like diamond needles against black velvet.
     But  the  chief  of  the  J-Station  saw  neither  the  stars  nor  the
yellowish-green glow above the cliffs. His eyes were on the icy field of the
spacedrome.  Just where  the  colossal tower  of  the  Tahmasib  was falling
slowly,  in a barely perceptible movement. The first-class cargo photon ship
was indeed colossal. It  was so huge it  even dwarfed the bluish-green plain
pitted with  black round  spots it was falling on. From the spectrolite dome
it seemed the  ship was free-coasting. But in real fact it  was being  towed
into place. Hidden  in the shadows of the  cliffs on  the sides of the field
there were powerful winches, and bright filaments of  hawser would sometimes
sparkle into view in the sun's rays. The  sun shone full on the ship and she
was all  in sight, from the huge bowl of the  reflector to the globe of  the
living quarters.
     Never before  had so  badly damaged  a  ship  come  to  Amaltheia.  The
reflector was cracked on the edge so that there was a dense distorted shadow
in the  huge bowl. The  six-hundred-foot  tube  of the photon reactor looked
mottled as  though eaten away  by scab.  The emergency  rockets protruded at
awkward  angles on  the  twisted  brackets,  the cargo bay was lop-sided and
looked like a round tin that had been trodden on by a magnetic boot. Part of
the  food  has perished,  thought the chief. What  nonsense I'm thinking. As
though that mattered. But one thing's certain: the Tahmasib is going to stay
here for a while.
     "Quite a price to pay for chicken broth," said Uncle Hoak.
     "Yes,"  the  chief muttered. "Chicken broth. Stop it, Hoak.  You  don't
really mean it."
     "Why not?" said Hoak. "The boys could do with some chicken broth."
     The spaceship settled on the plain and was lost in the shade. Only  the
ship's titanium sides glowed a faint  green, then there  were  pin-points of
light  and  the  fuss of tiny  black  figures. Jupiter's shaggy  hump dipped
behind the cliffs  and they darkened and  became taller, and a gorge was lit
bright for an instant, revealing the trellis-work of the antennae.
     The  radiophone  in the chief's pocket  sang mosquito-like. He got  the
smooth case out and pressed reception.
     "Listening," he said.
     The switchboardman's tenor-gay,  with  no  diffidence-came  to him in a
rattle:
     "Comrade chief, Captain Bykov's arrived with crew and passengers and is
waiting for you in your office."
     "Coming," said the chief.
     Together with Uncle Hoak he took the lift down and went to  his office.
The  door  was wide open.  The room was full  of  people  who all 'spoke and
laughed loudly. Still in the gangway the chief heard a gay yell:
     "How's life-good? How're the boys- good?"
     The  chief  lingered  in  the  doorway,  his  eyes  searching  for  the
newcomers. Hoak was breathing noisily just behind him and the chief  knew he
was grinning  from ear to ear. It would be interesting to look at a grinning
Hoak, but the chief didn't turn. He  saw Mollard, his hair wet after a bath.
The Frenchman was gesticulating wildly and laughing his head off. There were
girls round him, Zoya, Galya, Nadya, Jane, Yuriko-in fact, all the Station's
girls-who were laughing heartily too. Mollard had a way of gathering all the
girls round him. Then the chief spotted Yurkovsky, or rather the back of his
head, and a nightmarish monster on his shoulder. The monster was jerking its
head here and there  and  yawning  horribly,  while a  few  daredevils  kept
pulling at its tail. Dauge was not  in sight but could be heard as easily as
Mollard. He  was yelling: "Hands off! Let me go! Ah-ah!" A huge young fellow
he  did not know  was standing to  the  side,  very handsome  and very  pale
compared with the group  of local space flyers with whom he was engaged in a
lively conversation. Mikhail  Antonovich Krutikov was  sitting  in  a  chair
beside the chief's  desk.  He was talking away, waving his short pudgy hands
and sometimes pressing a balled lace-trimmed handkerchief to his eyes.
     Only then did  the chief recognise Bykov.  He was pale  to the point of
blueness and there were  bluish bags  under his bloodshot eyes that spoke of
prolonged exposure to high acceleration. Round  him stood department  chiefs
and the  chief of the spacedrome. He was speaking to them, but  in so  low a
voice that the chief could not understand a word and only saw his  lips move
slowly  in  the effort of speech. This was the quietest group in  the  room.
Presently Bykov looked up and saw the chief. He got up, a whisper ran around
and there was a general hush.
     They both moved at the same time, their magnetic soles clanging against
the metal floor,  and  met in  the  middle of the room. They shook hands and
stood for  a while silently and motionlessly. Then Bykov disengaged his hand
and said:
     "Comrade Kangren, I report the spaceship Tahmasib with its cargo."


Last-modified: Wed, 27 Feb 2002 20:06:31 GMT
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