Orphans of the Sky, p.1Robert A. Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein
Copyright © 1941, 1963 by Robert A. Heinlein, © 1988 The Robert and Virginia Heinlein Library Foundation
Cover design by Passageway Pictures
Books by Robert A. Heinlein
FOR US, THE LIVING
BEYOND THIS HORIZON
FARMER IN THE SKY
THE PUPPET MASTERS
THE ROLLING STONES
REVOLT IN 2100
THE STAR BEAST
TUNNEL IN THE SKY
TIME FOR THE STARS
THE DOOR INTO SUMMER
CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY
HAVE SPACESUIT – WILL TRAVEL
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
PODKAYNE OF MARS
THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS
I WILL FEAR NO EVIL
TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE
THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST
JOB: A COMEDY OF JUSTICE
THE CAT WHO WALKS THROUGH WALLS
TO SAIL BEYOND THE SUNSET
Collections of 2 or more novellas, short stories, etc.
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON
WALDO AND MAGIC INC.
THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH
ASSIGNMENT IN ETERNITY
THE MENACE FROM EARTH
THE UNPLEASANT PROFESSION OF JONATHAN HOAG
ORPHANS OF THE SKY
THE WORLDS OF ROBERT A. HEINLEIN
THE PAST THROUGH TOMORROW
THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG (quotations)
TAKE BACK YOUR GOVERNMENT
GRUMBLES FROM THE GRAVE (edited by Virginia Heinlein)
Robert A. Heinlein
The Proxima Centauri Expedition, sponsored by the Jordan Foundation in 2119, was the first recorded attempt to reach the nearer stars of this galaxy. Whatever its unhappy fate we can only conjecture. . . .
—Quoted from The Romance of Modern Astrography, by Franklin Buck, published by Lux Transcriptions, Ltd., 3.50 cr.
"THERE'S A MUTIE! Look out!"
At the shouted warning, Hugh Hoyland ducked, with nothing to spare. An egg-sized iron missile clanged against the bulkhead just above his scalp with force that promised a fractured skull. The speed with which he crouched had lifted his feet from the floor plates. Before his body could settle slowly to the deck, he planted his feet against the bulkhead behind him and shoved. He went shooting down the passageway in a long, flat dive, his knife drawn and ready.
He twisted in the air, checked himself with his feet against the opposite bulkhead at the turn in the passage from which the mutie had attacked him, and floated lightly to his feet. The other branch of the passage was empty. His two companions joined him, sliding awkwardly across the floor plates.
"Is it gone?" demanded Alan Mahoney.
"Yes," agreed Hoyland. "I caught a glimpse of it as it ducked down that hatch. A female, I think. Looked like it had four legs."
"Two legs or four, we'll never catch it now," commented the third man.
"Who the Huff wants to catch it?" protested Mahoney. "I don't."
"Well, I do, for one," said Hoyland. "By Jordan, if its aim had been two inches better, I'd be ready for the Converter."
"Can't either one of you two speak three words without swearing?" the third man disapproved. "What if the Captain could hear you?" He touched his forehead reverently as he mentioned the Captain.
"Oh, for Jordan's sake," snapped Hoyland, "don't be so stuffy, Mort Tyler. You're not a scientist yet. I reckon I'm as devout as you are—there's no grave sin in occasionally giving vent to your feelings. Even the scientists do it. I've heard 'em."
Tyler opened his mouth as if to expostulate, then apparently thought better of it.
Mahoney touched Hoyland on the arm. "Look, Hugh," he pleaded, "let's get out of here. We've never been this high before. I'm jumpy—I want to get back down to where I can feel some weight on my feet."
Hoyland looked longingly toward the hatch through which his assailant had disappeared while his hand rested on the grip of his knife, then he turned to Mahoney. "O.K., kid," he agreed, "it's a long trip down anyhow."
He turned and slithered back toward the hatch, whereby they had reached the level where they now were, the other two following him. Disregarding the ladder by which they had mounted, he stepped off into the opening and floated slowly down to the deck fifteen feet below, Tyler and Mahoney close behind him. Another hatch, staggered a few feet from the first, gave access to a still lower deck. Down, down, down, and still farther down they dropped, tens and dozens of decks, each silent, dimly lighted, mysterious. Each time they fell a little faster, landed a little harder. Mahoney protested at last.
"Let's walk the rest of the way, Hugh. That last jump hurt my feet."
"All right. But it will take longer. How far have we got to go? Anybody keep count?"
"We've got about seventy decks to go to reach farm country," answered Tyler.
"How do you know?" demanded Mahoney suspiciously.
"I counted them, stupid. And as we came down I took one away for each deck."
"You did not. Nobody but a scientist can do num- bering like that. Just because you're learning to read and write you think you know everything."
Hoyland cut in before it could develop into a quarrel. "Shut up, Alan. Maybe he can do it. He's clever about such things. Anyhow, it feels like about seventy decks—I'm heavy enough."
"Maybe he'd like to count the blades on my knife."
"Stow it, I said. Dueling is forbidden outside the village. That is the Rule." They proceeded in silence, running lightly down the stairways until increasing weight on each succeeding level forced them to a more pedestrian pace. Presently they broke through into a level that was quite brilliantly lighted and more than twice as deep between decks as the ones above it. The air was moist and warm; vegetation obscured the view.
"Well, down at last," said Hugh. "I don't recognize this farm; we must have come down by a different line than we went up."
"There's a farmer," said Tyler. He put his little fingers to his lips and whistled, then called, "Hey! Shipmate! Where are we?"
The peasant looked them over slowly, then directed them in reluctant monosyllables to the main passageway which would lead them back to their own village.
A brisk walk of a mile and a half down a wide tunnel moderately crowded with traffic—travelers, porters, an occasional pushcart, a dignified scientist swinging in a litter borne by four husky orderlies and preceded by his master-at-arms to clear the common crew out of the way—a mile and a half of this brought them to the common of their own village, a spacious compartment three decks high and perhaps ten times as wide. They split up and went their own ways, Hugh to his quarters in the barracks of the cadets—young bachelors who did not live with their parents. He washed himself, and went thence to the compartments of his uncle, for whom he worked for his meals. His aunt glanced up as he came in, but said nothing, as became a woman.
His uncle said, "Hello, Hugh. Been exploring again?"
"Good eating, Uncle. Yes."
His uncle, a stolid, sensible man, looked tolerantly amused. "Where did you go and what did you find?" Hugh's aunt had slipped silently out of the compartment, and now returned with his supper which she placed before him. He fell to—it did not occur to him to thank her. He munched a bite before replying.
"Up. We climbed almost to the level-of-no-weight.
A mutie tried to crack my skull."
His uncle chuckled. "You'll find your death in those passageways, lad. Better you should pay more attention to my business against the day when I'll die and get out of your way."
Hugh looked stubborn. "Don't you have any curiosity, Uncle?"
"Me? Oh, I was prying enough when I was a lad. I followed the main passage all the way around and back to the village. Right through the Dark Sector I went, with muties tagging my heels. See that scar?"
Hugh glanced at it perfunctorily. He had seen it many times before and heard the story repeated to boredom. Once around the Ship—pfui! He wanted to go everywhere, see everything, and find out the why of things. Those upper levels now—if men were not intended to climb that high, why had Jordan created them?
But he kept his own counsel and went on with his
meal. His uncle changed the subject. "I've occasion to visit the Witness. John Black claims I owe him three swine. Want to come along?"
"Why, no, I guess not—Wait—I believe I will."
"Hurry up, then."
They stopped at the cadets' barracks, Hugh claiming an errand. The Witness lived in a small, smelly compartment directly across the Common from the barracks, where he would be readily accessible to any who had need of his talents. They found him sitting in his doorway, picking his teeth with a fingernail. His apprentice, a pimply-faced adolescent with an intent nearsighted expression, squatted behind him.
"Good eating," said Hugh's uncle.
"Good eating to you, Edard Hoyland. D'you come on business, or to keep an old man company?"
"Both," Hugh's uncle returned diplomatically, then explained his errand.
"So?" said the Witness. "Well—the contract's clear enough:
"Black John delivered ten bushels of oats,
Expecting his pay in a pair of shoats;
Ed brought his sow to breed for pig;
John gets his pay when the pigs grow big.
"How big are the pigs now, Edard Hoyland?"
"Big enough," acknowledged Hugh's uncle, "but Black claims three instead of two."
"Tell him to go soak his head. 'The Witness has spoken.' "
He laughed in a thin, high cackle.
The two gossiped for a few minutes, Edard Hoyland digging into his recent experiences to satisfy the old man's insatiable liking for details. Hugh kept decently silent while the older men talked. But when his uncle turned to go he spoke up.
"I'll stay awhile, Uncle."
"Eh? Suit yourself. Good eating, Witness."
"Good eating, Edard Hoyland."
"I've brought you a present, Witness," said Hugh,
when his uncle had passed out of hearing.
"Let me see it."
Hugh produced a package of tobacco which he
had picked up from his locker at the barracks. The Witness accepted it without acknowledgment, then tossed it to his apprentice, who took charge of it.
"Come inside," invited the Witness, then directed his speech to his apprentice. "Here, you—fetch the cadet a chair."
"Now, lad," he added as they sat themselves down, "tell me what you have been doing with yourself."
Hugh told him, and was required to repeat in detail all the incidents of his more recent explorations, the Witness complaining the meanwhile over his inability to remember exactly everything he saw.
"You youngsters have no capacity," he pronounced. "No capacity. Even that lout"—he jerked his head toward the apprentice—"he has none, though he's a dozen times better than you. Would you believe it, he can't soak up a thousand lines a day, yet he expects to sit in my seat when I am gone. Why, when I was apprenticed, I used to sing myself to sleep on a mere thousand lines. Leaky vessels—that's what you are.
Hugh did not dispute the charge, but waited for the old man to go on, which he did in his own time.
"You had a question to put to me, lad?"
"In a way, Witness."
"Well—out with it. Don't chew your tongue."
"Did you ever climb all the way up to no-weight?"
"Me? Of course not. I was a Witness, learning my
calling. I had the lines of all the Witnesses before me to learn, and no time for boyish amusements."
"I had hoped you could tell me what I would find there."
"Well, now, that's another matter. I've never climbed, but I hold the memories of more climbers than you will ever see. I'm an old man. I knew your father's father, and his grandsire before that. What is it you want to know?"
"Well—" What was it he wanted to know? How could he ask a question that was no more than a gnawing ache in his breast? Still— "What is it all for, Witness? Why are there all those levels above us?"
"Eh? How's that? Jordan's name, son—I'm a Witness, not a scientist."
"Well—I thought you must know. I'm sorry."
"But I do know. What you want is the Lines from the Beginning."
"I've heard them."
"Hear them again. All your answers are in there, if you've the wisdom to see them. Attend me. No— this is a chance for my apprentice to show off his learning. Here, you! The Lines from the Beginning—and mind your rhythm."
The apprentice wet his lips with his tongue and began:
"In the Beginning there was Jordan, thinking His lonely thoughts alone.
In the Beginning there was darkness, formless, dead, and Man unknown.
Out of the loneness came a longing, out of the longing came a vision,
Out of the dream there came a planning, out of the plan there came decision—
Jordan's hand was lifted and the Ship was born!
"Mile after mile of snug compartments, tank by tank for the golden corn,
Ladder and passage, door and locker, fit for the needs of the yet unborn.
He looked on His work and found it pleasing, meet for a race that was yet to be.
He thought of Man—Man came into being—checked his thought and searched for the key.
Man untamed would shame his Maker, Man unruled would spoil the Plan;
So Jordan made the Regulations, orders to each single man,
Each to a task and each to a station, serving a purpose beyond their ken,
Some to speak and some to listen—order came to the ranks of men.
Crew He created to work at their stations, scientists to guide the Plan.
Over them all He created the Captain, made him judge of the race of Man.
Thus it was in the Golden Age!
Jordan is perfect, all below him lack perfection in their deeds.
Envy, Greed, and Pride of Spirit sought for minds to lodge their seeds.
One there was who gave them lodging—accursed Huff, the first to sin!
His evil counsel stirred rebellion, planted doubt where it had not been;
Blood of martyrs stained the floor plates, Jordan's Captain made the Trip.
Darkness swallowed up—"
The old man gave the boy the back of his hand, sharp across the mouth. "Try again!"
"From the beginning?"
"No! From where you missed."
The boy hesitated, then caught his stride:
"Darkness swallowed ways of virtue, Sin prevailed throughout the Ship . . ."
The boy's voice droned on, stanza after stanza, reciting at great length but with little sharpness of detail the old, old story of sin, rebellion, and the time of darkness. How wisdom prevailed at last and the bodies of the rebel leaders were fed to the Converter. How some of the rebels escaped making the Trip and lived to father the muties. How a new Captain was chosen, after prayer and sacrifice.
While he was breaking his fast after sleep an orderly came to the door of his uncle's compartments. "The scientist requires the presence of Hugh Hoyland," he recited glibly.
Hugh knew that the scientist referred to was Lieutenant Nelson, in charge of the spiritual and physical welfare of the Ship's sector which included Hugh's native village. He bolted the last of his breakfast and hurried after the messenger.
"Cadet Hoyland!" he was announced. The scientist looked up from his own meal and said:
"Oh, yes. Come in, my boy. Sit down. Have you eaten?"
Hugh acknowledged that he had, but his eyes rested with interest on the fancy fruit in front of his superior. Nelson followed his glance. "Try some of these figs. They're a new mutation—I had them brought all the way from the far side. Go ahead—a man your age always has somewhere to stow a few more bites."
Hugh accepted with much self-consciousness. Never before had he eaten in the presence of a scientist. The elder leaned back in his chair, wiped his fingers on his shirt, arranged his beard, and started in.
"I haven't seen you lately, son. Tell me what you have been doing with yourself." Before Hugh could reply he went on: "No, don't tell me—I will tell you. For one thing you have been exploring, climbing, without too much respect for the forbidden areas. Is it not so?" He held the young man's eye. Hugh fumbled for a reply.
But he was let off again. "Never mind. I know, and you know that I know. I am not too displeased. But it has brought it forcibly to my attention that it is time that you decided what you are to do with your life. Have you any plans?"
"Well—no definite ones, sir."
Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein / Science Fiction / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes