Дэймон Найт: Orbit 11

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Дэймон Найт Orbit 11
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    Orbit 11
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Orbit 11: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Orbit 11

By Damon Knight

Proofed By MadMaxAU

Copyright © 1972, by Damon Knight

All rights reserved

Published by arrangement with the author’s agent.

Originally published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

All rights reserved which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address G. P. Putnam’s Sons 200 Madison Avenue New York City 10016

SBN 425-02316-8

BERKLEY MEDALLION BOOKS are published by Berkley Publishing Corporation

200 Madison Avenue New York, N.Y. 10016


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-15585

Berkley Medallion Edition, MARCH, 1973

Gene Wolfe


“Heading unchanged,” Gladiator said. “Speed unchanged.” She flashed figures on the cathode-ray-tube terminal at the command console to substantiate it.

Daw nodded. Twenty-eight firing studs stretched along the mid-band of the console. They would permit him, Daw, alone on the bridge (as he liked it) to launch every missile aboard the ship; even if Gladiator’s central processing unit were knocked out or under system overload, there would be strike vectors from the independent minicomputers that clung, embryonic self-brains, to the walls of the missile foramens.

But there was no need for the minis. His ship was untouched; he could order Gladiator herself to do the shooting. Instead he asked, “Drive?”

And Gladiator answered: “No indication of drive in use.”


“Shall present course be maintained? Present course is a collision course in point three one hours.”

“Match their velocity and lay us alongside. How long?”

“One point forty-four hours.”

“Do it. Meantime maintain battle stations.” Daw flipped on his console mike without touching the switch that would have put his own image on the terminals in every compartment of the ship. Naval tradition decreed that when the captain spoke he should be seen as well as heard, but Daw had watched tapes of his own long, brown face as he announced, in what he felt to be unbearable stiff fashion, various unimportances, and he found it impossible to believe that his crew, seeing the same stretched cheeks and preposterous jaw, would not snicker.

“This is your captain. The ship sighted last night is still on her course.” Daw chewed his lower lip for a moment, trying to decide just what to say next. The crew must be alerted, but it would be best if they were not alarmed. “There is no indication, I repeat, no indication, that she is aware of our presence. Possibly she doesn’t want to scare us off—she may want peace, or she may just have something up with her sleeve. Possibly something’s wrong with her sensors. My own guess—which isn’t worth any more than yours—is that she’s a derelict; there’s no sign of drive, and we haven’t been able to reach her on any frequency. But we have to stay sharp. Battle conditions until further notice.”

He flicked off the mike switch. Several como lights were blinking and he selected one: the reactor module. Mike switch again. “What is it, Neal?”

“Captain, if you could give me a breakdown on the radiation they’re putting out, it might be possible for me to work up an estimate of how long it’s been since they’ve used their drive.”

“I’m happy to hear that you know their engineering,” Daw said. “Especially since Gladiator’s been unable to identify even the ship type.”

Neal’s face, seen in the CRT, flushed. He was a handsome, slightly dissipated-looking man whose high forehead seemed still higher under a thick crest of dark hair. “I would assume their drives are about the same as ours, sir,” he said.

“I’ve done that. On that basis they shut down only an hour before we picked them up. But I’m not sure I believe it.” He cut Neal off and scanned the rest of the lights. One was from the ship’s cybernetics compartment; but Polk, the cyberneticist, was bunking with the systems analyst this trip. Daw pushed the light and a woman’s face appeared on the screen. It was framed in honey-toned hair, a face with skin like a confection and classic planes that might have shamed a fashion model. And a smile, he had seen that smile often before—though as seldom, he told himself, as he decently could.

“Yes, Mrs. Youngmeadow?”

“Helen, please. I can’t see you, Captain. The screen is blank.”

“There’s some minor repair work to be done on the camera here,” Daw lied. “It’s not important, so we’ve given it low priority.”

“But you can see me?”

“Yes.” He felt the blood rising in his cheeks.

“About this ship, Captain . . .” Helen Youngmeadow paused, and Daw noticed that her husband was standing behind her, beyond the plane of focus. “Captain, everyone on the ship can hear me—can’t they?”

“I can cut them out of the circuit if you prefer.”

“No—Captain, may I come up there?”

“To the bridge? Yes, if you like. It’s a long way.”

Another como light. This time the alternate bridge module—in appearance much like his, but lacking the battered Old and New Testaments bound in steel and magnetically latched to the console. “Hello, Wad,” Daw said gently.

Wad made a half-salute. His young, dark-complexioned face showed plainly the strain of two years’ involvement in a hell that demanded night and day a continual flow of deductions, inferences, and decisions—all without effect. Looking at Daw significantly, he drew a finger across his throat, and Daw gave him the private circuit he had offered Mrs. Youngmeadow.

“Thanks, Skipper. I’ve got something I thought you ought to know abbout.”

Daw nodded.

“I’ve been running an artifact correlation on the visual image of that ship.”

“So have I. Electronic and structural.”

“I know, I got your print-out. But my own analysis was bionic.”

“You think that’s valid?”

Wad shrugged. “I don’t know, but it’s interesting. You know what the biologists say: Man has reached the stage where he evolves through his machines. The earliest spacecraft resembled single-celled animals—pond life. The dilettante intellectuals of the time tried to give them a sexual significance—that was the only thing they knew—but they were really much closer to the things you find in a drop of pond water than to anything else.”

“And what does your analysis say about this ship?”

“No correlation at all. Nothing higher than a tenth.”

Daw nodded again. “You think the lack of correlation is significant?”

“It suggests to me that it may have originated somewhere where life forms are quite different from what we are accustomed to.”

“Mankind has colonized some queer places.”

With heavy significance Wad said, “Would it have to be mankind, Captain?” He was speaking, Daw knew, not to him but to his instructors back home. If his guess were correct he would, presumably, be given some small number of points; if not, he would lose ground. In time he would, or would not, be given his own command. The whole thing embarrassed Daw and made him feel somehow wretched, but he could not really blame Wad. He was Wad. To keep the ball rolling—mostly because he did not want to answer the other como lights—he said, “Men have spread their seed a long way across the galaxy Wad. We’ve seen a lot of strange ships, but they’ve always turned out to be of human origin.”

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