Encounters – Four Stories of encounters with the Other by Arthur C. Clarke.
At The End Of Orbit (1961) – He was asleep, and dreaming his inevitable painful dream. A four chapter novelette.
If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth… (1951) – He had long wondered what lay outside; and now, Marvin’s father was taking him on the long-awaited trip…
Guardian Angel (1950) – Earth’s cities lay in the shadow of alien spaceships, watched over by a benevolent Overlord who never revealed himself. Perhaps because . . . A five chapter novelette.
Encounter In The Dawn (1950) – At the rim of the Milky Way
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS (1917 – 2008) was a British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host. Clarke is probably best known for co-writing the screenplay for the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Clarke’s science fiction writings earned him a number of Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as a number of others. For many years Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov were known as the “Big Three” of science fiction.
IT was in the last days of the Empire. The tiny ship was far from home, and almost a hundred light-years from the great parent vessel searching through the loosely packed stars at the rim of the Milky Way. But even here it could not escape from the shadow that lay across civilization: beneath that shadow, pausing ever and again in their work to wonder how their distant homes were faring, the scientists of the Galactic Survey still labored at their never-ending task.
The ship held only three occupants, but between them they carried knowledge of many sciences, and the experience of half a lifetime in space. After the long interstellar night, the star ahead was warming their spirits as they dropped down towards its fires. A little more golden, a trifle more brilliant than the sun that now seemed a legend of their childhood. They knew from past experience that the chance of locating planets here was more than ninety per cent, and for the moment they forgot all else in the excitement of discovery.
They found the first planet within minutes of coming to rest. It was a giant, of a familiar type, too cold for protoplasmic life and probably possessing no stable surface. So they turned their search sunwards, and presently were rewarded.
It was a world that made their hearts ache for home, a world where everything was hauntingly familiar, yet never quite the same. Two great land masses floated in blue-green seas, capped by ice at either pole. There were some desert regions, but the larger part of the planet was obviously fertile. Even from this distance, the signs of vegetation were unmistakably clear.
They gazed hungrily at the expanding landscape as they fell down into the atmosphere, heading towards noon in the subtropics. The ship plummeted through cloudless skies towards a great river, checked its fall with a surge of soundless power, and came to rest among the long grasses by the water’s edge.
No one moved: there was nothing to be done until the automatic instruments had finished their work. Then a bell tinkled softly and the lights on the control board flashed in a pattern of meaningful chaos. Captain Altman rose to his feet with a sigh of relief.
“We’re in luck,” he said. “We can go outside without protection, if the pathogenic tests are satisfactory. What did you make of the place as we came in, Bertrond?”
“Geologically stable — no active volcanoes, at least. I didn’t see any trace of cities, but that proves nothing. If there’s a civilization here, it may have passed that stage.”
“Or not reached it yet?”
Bertrond shrugged. “Either’s just as likely. It may take us some time to find out on a planet this size.”
“More time than we’ve got,” said Clindar, glancing at the communications panel that linked them to the mother ship and thence to the Galaxy’s threatened heart. For a moment there was a gloomy silence. Then Clindar walked to the control board and pressed a pattern of keys with automatic skill.
With a slight jar, a section of the hull slid aside and the fourth member of the crew stepped out onto the new planet, flexing metal limbs and adjusting servo motors to the unaccustomed gravity. Inside the ship, a television screen glimmered into life, revealing a long vista of waving grasses, some trees in the middle distance, and a glimpse of the great river. Clindar punched a button, and the picture flowed steadily across the screen as the robot turned its head.
“Which way shall we go?” Clindar asked.
“Let’s have a look at those trees,” Altman replied. “If there’s any animal life we’ll find it there.”
“Look!” cried Bertrond. “A bird!”
Clindar’s fingers flew over the keyboard: the picture centred on the tiny speck that had suddenly appeared on the left of the screen, and expanded rapidly as the robot’s telephoto lens came into action.
“You’re right,” he said. “Feathers — beak — well up the evolutionary ladder. This place looks promising. I’ll start the camera.”
The swaying motion of the picture as the robot walked forward did not distract them: they had grown accustomed to it long ago. But they had never become reconciled to this exploration by proxy when all their impulses cried out to them to leave the ship, to run through the grass and to feel the wind blowing against their faces. Yet it was too great a risk to take, even on a world that seemed as fair as this. There was always a skull hidden behind Nature’s most smiling face. Wild beasts, poisonous reptiles, quagmires — death could come to the unwary explorer in a thousand disguises. And worst of all were the invisible enemies, the bacteria and viruses against which the only defense might often be a thousand light-years away.
A robot could laugh at all these dangers and even if, as sometimes happened, it encountered a beast powerful enough to destroy it — well, machines could always be replaced.
Excerpt From: Arthur C. Clarke. “Encounters – Four Stories.”
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