Дэймон Найт: Orbit 4

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Дэймон Найт Orbit 4
  • Название:
    Orbit 4
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    Berkley Medallion
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    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
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Orbit 4: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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“This is a choice collection of haunting tales collected by the founder of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Most of the stories typify the emerging new domain of science fiction, with its emphasis less on the ‘out-there’ than on the ‘right-here, right-now.’ Harlan Ellison, for example, in ‘Shattered Like a Glass Goblin,’ paints a picture of a houseful of hippies in the thrall of drugs and bestiality that is much too believable for comfort. In ‘Probable Cause,’ Charles Harness cites the use of clairvoyance in a case before the Supreme Court; and Kate Wilhelm portrays the agonizing problems of a computer analyst working on a robot weapon which requires the minds of dead geniuses to operate effectively. These are only a few of the many celebrated science fiction writers whose stories are included in the anthology, ‘Orbit 4.’ ”

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All rights reserved

Published by arrangement with the author’s agent

Originally published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons


BERKLEY MEDALLION BOOKS are published by Berkley Publishing Corporation

200 Madison Avenue

New York, N.Y. 10016


Printed in the United States of America

Kate Wilhelm, who appeared in orbit 1 with “Staras Flondercins,” in orbit 2 with “Baby, You Were Great,” in orbit 3 with “The Planners,” offers another complex and fascinating story, in which fantasy and reality so intermingle that they can no longer be distinguished. When asked why she writes this way, the author suggests a look at the front page of the daily newspapers.


By Kate Wilhelm

We are three. We drive along the coast slowly until Paula says, “This one.” Then we get out of the car and walk around the house nonchalantly, wade through the dunes to the ocean and swim there alone, away from the crowds that form a solid crust like soiled snow up and down the public beaches. How Paula knows this house is empty, but not that one, we don’t know. She is never wrong. Subliminal signs that only she can perceive? A shade drawn wrong, a chair outside that should have been moved from the sun, a garment, long since dried, sun-bleached even, still flapping in the wind? We never know, and she can’t tell us.

Paula is the windsong, quick, nimble, restless, long hair salt-dulled most of the time, too thin, sharp elbows, knees, cheekbones, collarbones. No makeup; she is in too much of a hurry. A nail breaks and she bites it even again. She never pauses to examine anything; her restless gaze flicks here and there, noting perhaps, not lingering, and she says, “We have to go back. A storm is coming.” How does she know?

Gregory says she noticed the grey in the water far out near the horizon. That and the feel of the wind on her skin, and the way the clouds scudded now, all were clues for her. But he can’t tell when a storm is coming. Gregory is her twin brother. Both are fifteen this summer. Gregory is the rock around which the wind sings and flutters, departing to pry into this and that, but always whirling back again. Gregory can give reasons for most of her conclusions, but he can’t reach the conclusions intuitively as she can.

Dan Thornton stirred in his seat and opened his eyes slowly. There was no sound that had roused him, nothing out of the ordinary. He listened for a moment to the familiar soft humming of the computer at his right side and before his gaze turned to it he knew the rippling play of lights would be normal. The instrument panel before him showed nothing abnormal either, no flashing amber light, or worse, the steady throbbing of the red light. Systems okay. He yawned and stretched. Time to make the routine checks. He opened and closed relays, turned the television camera on and studied the passengers, all piled in boxes like rows of frozen goods on a supermarket shelf; he turned the camera off again. Readings on his instruments, all normal. He got out the food capsules carefully, and put them on a sectioned dish and slid it into the recon unit. He waited until the light went on, killing two more minutes, then slowly drew out the dish of scrambled eggs and bacon, toast and honey. He dropped another capsule into a cup and slid it in, then sat down with his breakfast. Presently he had coffee and his first cigarette. He looked over the book titles on the spools. He dropped the spool he selected and some of the thread-tape unwound as it rolled across the cabin. He kicked it hard and abruptly sat down. The computer was calling him.

The alarm clock hummed, and Thornton woke up groggily, feeling the ache of unrested muscles. He turned oil the clock before it could start its second phase: a raucous buzz that sounded like fifty men with fifty saws clearing a swath through a forest. His hand left the clock and groped for his notebook and he wrote down the dream details before they began to flit away. He paused and tried to remember something: a dream within the dream? Nothing came of it, and he wrote about the cabin he had seen, and the books on spools like thread. The re-constituter for food struck him as a particularly good idea, one he had never encountered before. He finished the dream sequence and only then stretched and felt each muscle protest again.

He padded in bare feet across the room to the bathroom and stood under a hot shower for ten minutes. The icy follow-up failed to revive him and he knew that his efficiency would be at about 60% of normal unless he took his zoom-wowie pills. He looked at the small bottle disdainfully, but swallowed two capsules and only then looked at his face.

“This is the way we start most of our days, old man,” he said to the face. “Aches, try to shock the system into awareness, then the pep pills and a gallon of coffee. It’s no good, old man. You know it’s no good.”

The old man in the mirror didn’t answer, and he was almost sorry. The day the image did answer, he’d quit, just walk out and never come back, and that would be nice. Shaving, he repeated to himself, emphasizing each syllable of it, “That would be nice!”

At the office he was met by his secretary who handed a memo to him. Meeting for nine sharp. The Secretary would be present. End. He crumpled it and nodded to Jeanne. It was 8:45.

“Coffee?” he asked.

The girl nodded as he started through the doorway to his inner office, a cubicle ten by ten. “I poured a cup, and there’s more in the pot,” Jeanne said. “Shall I start on the mail?”

“Sure, honey. And, Jeanne, try to winnow it way down, huh?”

She smiled sympathetically and he started on the coffee. He tried not to look at his desk, which Jeanne had cleaned up as much as possible, but which still was a jumble of plans, memoes, doodles, slide rules, schematics . . . The coffee was blistering hot, strong, black. The day began to seem less infernal. When he left for the conference in ten minutes he was carrying his third coffee with him. He grinned at Jeanne, and his stride was purposeful and his back straight.

There were fifteen men at the conference that morning, and all of them looked as bad as Thornton, or worse. They had all been driving on twelve-to-eighteen-hour days for seven months now, and the end was not in sight. Thornton could almost envy the union-protected maintenance men. He nodded to others and there were low greetings and hurried conversations in the shorthand that passed for talk. He thought, one bomb right here, right now, and poof, there goes the Special Institute for Applied Research.

He saw that the Secretary was already in the room, cloistered by several bodies near the window, speaking in his low monotone to Halvern, the Director of the Institute. The clock chimed softly and Halvern moved toward the long table, the Secretary following, still talking, like a priest mumbling incomprehensible prayers.

Introductions were unnecessary since the Secretary had been there before. Thornton thought of his bomb and enlarged it a bit in his mind, still not The Bomb, of course, but slightly bigger than the one he had contemplated earlier. Would the war stop then? He knew it would not, but there would be those on the outside who would sanctify him. He grinned at the thought, and for a moment he was afraid the grin had reached the outside of his face. But there were no looks askance, and deliberately he turned his thoughts from that line and became attentive to what the Secretary was saying:

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