Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Author:Arthur C. Clarke [Clarke, Arthur C.]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
Tags: Science Fiction - General
ISBN: 9780345297303
Publisher: Del Rey

* * *

It might have been the cabin of a spaceship, but it was not. The walls were covered with metres and instruments; there were no windows — merely a large screen in front of the pilot. The vessel could carry six passengers, but at the moment Jan was the only one.

He was watching the screen intently, absorbing each glimpse of this strange and unknown region as it passed before his eyes. Unknown — yes, as unknown as anything he might meet beyond the stars, if his mad plan succeeded. He was going into a realm of nightmare creatures, preying upon each other in a darkness undisturbed since the world began. It was a realm above which men had sailed for thousands of years; it lay no more than a kilometre below the keels of their ships — yet until the last hundred years they had known less about it than the visible face of the moon.

The pilot was dropping down from the ocean heights, towards the still unexplored vastness of the South Pacific Basin. He was following, Jan knew, the invisible grid of sound waves created by beacons along the ocean floor. They were still sailing as far above that floor as clouds above the surface of the Earth…

There was very little to see; the submarine’s scanners were searching the waters in vain. The disturbance created by their jets had probably scared away the smaller fish; if any creature came to investigate, it would be something so large that it did not know the meaning of fear.

The tiny cabin vibrated with power — the power which could hold at bay the immense weight of the waters above their heads, and could create this little bubble of light and air within which men could live. If that power failed, thought Jan, they would become prisoners in a metal tomb, buried deep in the silt of the ocean bed.

“Time to get a fix,” said the pilot. He threw a set of switches, and the submarine came to rest in a gentle surge of deceleration as the jets ceased their thrust. The vessel was motionless, floating in equilibrium as a balloon floats in the atmosphere.

It took only a moment to check their position on the sonar grid. When he had finished with his instrument readings, the pilot remarked; “Before we start the motors again, let’s see if we can hear anything.”

The loudspeaker flooded the quiet little room with a low, continuous murmur of sound. There was no outstanding noise that Jan could distinguish from the rest. It was a steady background, into which all individual sounds had been blended. He was listening, Jan knew, to the myriad creatures of the sea talking together. It was as if he stood in the centre of a forest that teemed with life — except that there he would have recognised some of the individual voices. Here, not one thread in the tapestry of sound could be disentangled and identified. It was so alien, so remote from anything he had ever known, that it set Jan’s scalp crawling.


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