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Three survived, p.1
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       Three Survived, p.1

           Robert Silverberg
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Three Survived




  Copyright © 1969 by Robert Silverberg.

  Introduction copyright © 2010 by Agberg, Ltd.

  All rights reserved.

  Published by Wildside Press LLC.



  IN THE 1960s, the second decade of my career as a professional writer, I moved away from the moribund science-fiction magazines of that period and began a second specialty as a writer of books for young readers: high-school-age readers, mainly, though I did a few for a much younger age level. Most of them were on archaeological and historical subjects, but, of course, I did some science fiction too.

  One of my regular publishers at that time was Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, which had become one of the leading houses in its field under the editorship of Ann Durell. I wrote both science fiction and non-fiction for her, starting out with a future-ice-age novel, Time of the Great Freeze, in 1964, and following it later that year with The Man Who Found Nineveh, a biography of the pioneering archaeologist Austen Henry Layard. After that came another s-f book, Conquerors From the Darkness, another archaeological biography, To The Rock of Darius, and so on for a good many years.

  In 1966 Holt launched Pacesetter Books, a series of books aimed for reluctant readers. As the prospectus for the series explained, “These books will be for a varied readership with one thing in common: a seventh grade and up interest level but a fifth grade reading level.” The books had to be short, fast-paced, told in a straightforward uncomplicated way without flashbacks or viewpoint shifts, and “should build from an immediately interest-catching beginning to a good strong climax and on to a satisfying resolution at the end.” Science fiction books were particularly welcomed, and Ann Durell invited me to offer her one.

  I could certainly do that. I had begun my career writing fast-paced stories of just that kind for the pulp magazines. The part about a fifth-grade reading level seemed irrelevant to me; I had no idea what the reading level of my pulp-magazine audience had been, but I knew that the stories had to move quickly, build to a strong climax, and finish with a satisfying resolution. And I had plenty of material on hand that could readily be reworked for this new series of books.

  So in the summer of 1966 I expanded “Death’s Planet,” a story that I had written a decade earlier for a shortlived science fiction magazine called Super-Science Fiction, into a Pacesetter book that was published in February, 1967 under the title of Planet of Death.

  The structure of the original story provided me with all the action I needed, and in the expansion I followed the Pacesetter style suggestions, moving everything rapidly along by keeping my sentences short, using plenty of dialog, and avoiding complex grammatical constructions. It worked well enough so that Ann Durell quickly asked me to do a second book for the series.

  I wrote the second one, Three Survived, in June of 1968. It, too, was expanded from a Super-Science Fiction novelet, also called “Three Survived,” that I had written in 1956 using the same fast-paced technique. The book was published in May of 1969, the fourteenth Pacesetter book to that point.

  What became of the Pacesetter series after that, I can’t say. By the time Planet of Death was published I had begun to drift away from writing books for young readers, because I was busy now with such complex science-fiction novels as Son of Man, Tower of Glass, Downward to the Earth, Dying Inside, and other such books of that very fertile period. In time the Holt company underwent a reorganization; my two Pacesetter books went out of print, and they have not been reissued in the past thirty-five years. I suppose they are among the least well known of all my novels. But the new century has brought many things back to life, and here they are again, back to back in a single volume.

  — Robert Silverberg

  August, 2010


  TOM RAND was in his cabin when the spaceship blew its overdrive. One moment he was standing next to his bunk, looking over some work he was doing. The next moment he was flat on his face, wondering what was going on.

  He shook the grogginess out of his skull and sat up. He heard alarm sirens wailing. Signal lights flashed on the cabin wall. DANGER! DANGER!

  The other lights in the cabin faded. Then they came on again, much brighter than before. And faded. And got bright again. And faded once more.

  The ship’s gravity went cockeyed next. Everything that wasn’t nailed down started to fly around. That included the passengers. Tom Rand felt himself rushing toward the ceiling. He reached up and let his arms take the shock of the collision.

  Then the emergency gravity took control. Rand fell back to the floor. The lights stopped flickering.

  But he knew that the ship’s troubles weren’t over. Its troubles were just beginning, and the big question was how bad the troubles were.

  And the answer was, very bad.

  A low humming sound came throbbing through the cabin wall. It grew higher and higher in pitch until it became a thin, sharp scream. Just when the sound was unbearable, it stopped. And the starship Clyde F. Bohmer came snapping out of special space with a jolt that made Tom Rand’s eyeballs jiggle.

  We’ve had it, Rand thought.

  We aren’t going to get home on this ship.

  Things grew quiet for a moment. Rand picked himself off the floor and grabbed for his cabin phone. With shaky fingers he punched the INFO button.

  “What happened?” he asked.

  “We have suffered a failure in the main overdrive generator,” said the master computer’s calm voice. “The result has been total destruction of the front section from Compartments 10 through 14.”

  “Are you saying that half the ship has blown up?”

  “Not exactly half,” the computer replied. “In terms of the actual percentage of destruction, about 38 per cent of —”

  “Never mind,” said Rand. “What shape is the overdrive unit in?”

  “The overdrive unit is a complete loss. The voyage has been interrupted.”

  “Interrupted? You bet!” Rand couldn’t bring himself to laugh at the computer’s choice of words.

  If the overdrive was gone, the computer — the ship’s brain — would be the one to know. And if the overdrive was gone, there was no way they could reach Earth. They’d starve to death first.

  Overdrive is what gets you from star to star without having to spend your whole life making the trip. A spaceship blasts off from a planet using ordinary rocket drive, but after a couple of days it switches to overdrive. The overdrive pushes the ship out of the regular universe and into special space.

  You travel fast in special space. Instead of taking ten or twenty years to go from one star to another, you do it in two or three months. The universe is a big place, and overdrive is the only way to get around it in a hurry.

  But a spaceship’s overdrive is a complicated gadget. Sometimes it decides to blow up, nobody knows why.

  And when it does —

  It had happened aboard the Clyde F. Bohmer, which was making a hop back to Earth from the distant planet Rigel IV. It had happened without warning, and it had happened fast. Now the ship had been knocked out of special space and crippled.

  “What about casualties?” Rand asked.

  The computer hummed for an instant. Usually it gave answers without a pause, but right now it had plenty of work to do in all parts of the ship. Rand, who was a space engineer by trade, couldn’t blame it if its timing was a little slow right now.

  It said, “The air loss was serious in Compartments 8 and 9. Emergency walls are in place and new air supplies have been pumped in. Eight men are injured or dead there. The officers’ bridge was destroyed
: no survivors known. Engine room destroyed: several survivors, condition serious. Some passengers unharmed although deaths have been observed. Radon clouds are causing dangers in lower levels of the ship. Lifeships 3, 7, 8 are ready for use. Some of the remaining lifeships are damaged and not in working order. Computer section functioning and —”

  Rand put the phone down. He had heard what he needed to know.

  Now he had to get into action.

  The ship was a wreck. And of the 38 men who had been on board when they set out from Rigel IV, possibly 10 were still alive. And most of those weren’t in very good shape. Rand counted up the death roll:

  Six officers, all of them dead.

  Twelve passengers, “some unharmed,” according to the computer’s first report from the scanning pickups, but “deaths have been observed.”

  There had been twenty crewmen. A dozen of them had been up front in the engine room. Most of them had probably been killed in the moment of the blowup. Probably all. The computer had said, “Several survivors, condition serious,” but maybe the computer was confused. Even computers could get confused when something as bad as this hit a ship. Those men had to be dead up there.

  Eight other crewmen had been in Compartments 8 and 9. They hadn’t felt the full fury of the explosion. But those eight men had had a heavy dose of exposure to space before the emergency walls moved into position. They were as good as dead, Rand figured. Some of them might still be living, but not for long.

  He decided that he was lucky to be alive.

  Now what, though?

  The only thing that made sense to do was to abandon ship. Get off it in a hurry, Rand thought, before something else blows up. Get off and head for the nearest planet where there might be a rescue signal beacon.

  It was a waste of time even to think about making repairs. The ruined ship didn’t stand a comet’s chance of getting to Earth or anywhere else. With the overdrive gone, the Clyde F. Bohmer could only drift helplessly in space.

  Rand knew where the lifeships were located. He was the kind of practical man who always checked out things like that when he boarded a spaceship.

  There was a lifeship just up the passageway from his cabin.

  First, though, he had to see what he could do for the other survivors. If there were any survivors.

  He pushed open his cabin door and headed out into the passageway to have a look around.


  A HOT CLOUD of oily gray smoke hit him in the face the moment he stepped out of his cabin. It stung his nostrils and made his eyes start to weep.

  Radon, Rand thought in sudden fear.

  He remembered that the computer had told him, “Radon clouds are causing dangers in lower levels of the ship.” Radon, a radioactive gas, set free somehow by the explosion in the overdrive generator — deadly poison in the passageways!

  He flung his arm across his face and ducked back inside his cabin. Then his moment of panic passed. He was still alive; that meant he couldn’t have stepped into a radon cloud. If the smoke out there had been radon, he would be dead now. It was that simple.

  Probably the radioactive gas was a danger only on the lower levels. That was what the computer had said. Rand realized that the computer would have taken steps to keep the radon from spreading up here to his part of the ship. Every level must be sealed now.

  The smoky cloud in the passageway, then, was most likely plain old smoke, of the kind that the human race had known for a million years. That was better than having radon out there. But it still wasn’t good news. It told him that the ship was now on fire, along with all its other troubles.

  He had to go out there, though. He opened his door a second time and forced himself into the dense wall of thick smoke.

  Rand knew what his first two stops would have to be. First, Professor Loder’s cabin. Then, Number Six Hold, where the cargo of anti-virus drugs was stored. Professor Loder and those drugs were the only two really important things aboard this ship. They had to be rescued, if anything at all got rescued.

  Rand didn’t have any fancy ideas about his own importance. He was important mainly to himself. He was just a skilled space engineer who had been working for a while in a lab on Rigel IV, and who now was on his way home to Earth.

  He wanted very much to get out of this mess alive. But he knew that it wouldn’t be any great loss to anyone else if he didn’t.

  Professor David Loder, though, was the great man of anti-virus research. He had spent the last five years on Rigel IV, trying to develop a drug to deal with a deadly virus disease. The disease was plaguing Earth’s colonists on a dozen different planets.

  Now Dr. Loder was going home to Earth to test his drug. Once the drug won approval on Earth, it could be shipped to the planets where the virus epidemics were raging.

  No other man could have produced that cargo of drugs. Professor Loder and his work spelled the difference between life and death for whole planets. Tom Rand meant to see to it that those years of work hadn’t been wasted.

  Choking and gasping, he made his way through the smoke-filled passageway, trying not to breathe very often or very deeply. He could hardly see a thing. Tears were streaming down his cheeks as the smoke went to work on his eyes.

  Professor Loder was in Cabin Fifteen. Rand found the right door and banged on it with his fists. No answer came.

  He banged again, harder. Still no sound from the other side. After a moment he tried the door. It wasn’t locked. He shoved it open and went in.

  “Professor Loder!” he called.

  The professor was there, all right. Rand saw the small, white-haired man huddled at his desk. His head was slumped forward. A pencil was tightly clutched in his fingers. He wasn’t moving.

  Rand crossed the cabin in three quick steps.

  “Professor?” he said hopefully. “Professor Loder?” He shook the little man’s bony arm. Loder’s head wobbled, but he didn’t wake up.

  “Professor Loder!” Rand shouted, as though he could call the great scientist back from the dead by yelling at him. “Snap out of it, professor!”

  Loder must have been at work when the sudden shift out of special space had come. The jarring shock had been too much for the frail old man.

  Rand went through the routine of checking the professor’s pulse, of trying to find some spark of life somewhere. It was useless.

  “Is he dead?” a quiet voice asked.

  Rand looked around and scowled in disgust. Anthony Leswick stood by the door.

  “Yes, he’s dead,” Rand snapped. He felt like adding, “And you’re still alive. There isn’t any justice in the universe, is there?” But he didn’t say it.

  Of all the people Rand didn’t feel like meeting right this minute, Leswick led the list. Rand had been bugged by Leswick since the beginning of the voyage. He didn’t like the first thing about the man. He couldn’t stand Leswick’s pale, skinny face or his little shiny eyes or his high-pitched voice. And he really despised the so-called “science” that Leswick claimed to be an expert in. Metaphysical Synthesis. What kind of science was that?

  No kind of science at all, Rand thought. Just some big-sounding words, adding up to absolutely nothing. Metaphysical Synthesis! An empty science, a zero science. A phony science.

  “Most of the others are dead too,” the thin man in the doorway said. “I’ve been checking all the cabins. It’s a great tragedy, isn’t it? Luckily, when the explosion came I was —”

  “Yes,” Rand said tightly. “Suppose you get yourself out of my way now. I want to check on the drug cargo.”

  He shouldered past Leswick and out into the passageway, feeling hollow and angry inside. It wasn’t right, he told himself. For a genius like David Loder to be killed, and somebody like Anthony Leswick to survive —

  All during the trip Leswick had been talking up Metaphysical Synthesis. He even gave a lecture on it one night. He had a whole string of degrees from colleges and universities on Earth, but Rand wasn’t impressed by that.
What counted was what Leswick said, not what degrees he could flash around. And what he said struck Rand as a load of nonsense.

  Metaphysical Synthesis, as far as Rand could figure it out, was a mixture of a lot of things. It was a study that tried to tie together history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and half a dozen other ologies. Everything that went into Metaphysical Synthesis was pretty fuzzy, and what came out was even fuzzier. As an engineer, Rand liked things to have exact rules.

  The speed of light was an exact thing. The pull of gravity was an exact thing. The power of a spaceship’s drive unit was an exact thing. You could measure and calculate all those things and know where you were and where you were heading.

  But to patch together a bunch of foggy and confused subjects that had no exact rules at all, and claim that you’d found the secrets of the universe — no. Rand couldn’t buy one bit of that. What bugged him most of all was how smug and cocky Leswick was about his so-called “science.” He acted as if he knew it all.

  And Leswick was still alive, though David Loder was dead. It wasn’t fair! It wasn’t fair!

  Swallowing his anger, Rand stumbled through the smoke to the end of the passageway. In a few moments he came to the hatch that led to the ship’s inner service shaft. His only way of getting to the storage hold and the drugs was down that shaft. Even with Loder dead, the drugs still might save millions of lives.

  But the hatch was closed. And it wouldn’t open.

  Frowning, Rand tugged on the handle. When that failed to do anything, he pressed the emergency release knob. The hatch still didn’t open.

  Instead, a red light went on over it, and the voice of the ship’s computer came from a loudspeaker:

  “This hatch is closed for reasons of safety.”

  “I know,” said Rand. “But I’ve got to get down there to save those drugs!”

  “Dangerous radioactive gases have been released in the lower levels. All connecting hatches have been sealed. This prevents spread of the gases to the upper levels.”

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