Stories from Atalanta’s Worlds


Joseph E. Swift



Chronologically, these events take place

between those in The Brazen Anvil

and The Dark Lord’s Kingdom.






            The worst part was waiting for the launch-signal. Zito had checked all the systems half a dozen times and there was nothing to do now but to sit in the wave-rider’s cramped cockpit, listening to the dull monotone of voices reciting numbers. He couldn’t tell the human from the computer-generated voices. Headquarters Habitat had left Callisto seventy hours ago and he had spent most of that time in high-gravity exercise, running about the habitat’s circumference against its spin. He was psyched-up like a weightlifter and ready for the 2.3 gees ahead of him.

            Zito, like most of the aerostat-tenders, was a cyborg roustabout. The massive skeleton and powerful shoulders needed to anchor his motorized limbs allowed him to work in Jupiter’s gravity-field more easily than the compact spacer-types who companied the habitat. He could also interface the computers in his arms with the wave-rider’s controls, plugging his nervous-system directly into the ship to maneuver the delta-winged shuttle as thoughtlessly as a vulture riding the thermals over the African savanna.

            There was no sense fretting over the delay; he couldn’t launch until the habitat had entered the safe zone. Because Jupiter’s magnetic field was offset from its geometric figure, like an eccentric cam gear connection, there was a particle-free zone extending some 7000 kilometers above the clouds on one side of the planet. Tankers and tenders could drop from the heavily shielded habitat into the atmosphere without danger from the 35 MeV radiation that bathed Jupiter and the inner moons.

            Claxons echoed down the corridors and across the central gardens. Zito smiled and readied his body for sudden weightlessness followed by acceleration. The hatch irised open below him and the davits were released. The habitat’s spin flung him into space.

            The sun was in eclipse and Jupiter was a vast blackness devouring the stars. The flicker of aurora and superbolt in the invisible clouds below seemed like messages from another dimension. Through the ports, Zito could see the habitat departing, spinning off wave-riders in a long arc. He fired the drivers and dropped out of orbit. The planet’s gravity pulled him in.

            As the ship fell through the thin smog of hydrocarbon aerosols in the stratosphere, it crossed the terminator into sunlight, and the cloudscape stretched out visibly below him—belts and zones in contrasting orange and white, planet-sized cyclone-ovals circled by dark filamentary rings, ostrich-plume cumulus forming lacy patterns, thunderheads thrusting skyward like colliding continents.

            The wave-rider rode its own shockwave as it dropped into the atmosphere. Its gothic-arch shape channelled the energy of the wave, generating lift, instead of dispersing it wastefully as sonic boom. The underside glowed white-hot, but Zito was comfortable, and the aerodynamically inert upper surface allowed radio-contact with habitat and weather-satellites even during entry.

            Outside air-temperature rose steadily from a base of 173 below, 1.9 degrees for every kilometer of descent. Atmospheric pressure rose to one bar, the point chosen as zero altitude, and continued to rise as the wave-rider plunged through wispy, white ammonia-crystal cirrus. Zito injected oxygen into the hydrogen shockwave, and external combustion drove him forward like a schoolboy’s hand launching a paper airplane across a classroom.

            He roared down a clear-sky corridor between the blue, cloud-studded canopy above and the dark ammonium-hydrosulfide cloudscape below, complete with towering crags, vast canyons, and rolling hills of clouds in oranges, reds, and browns. Bolts of lightning flickered among the peaks and there were holes in the cloud-deck through which he could see the blue water-ice of the lowest condensation level, like cold mountain lakes in an autumn landscape.

            “Atmospheric pressure one-point-four,” the computer said, unimpressed by the view. “Temperature minus one-oh-eight. Altitude minus 20 kilometres and steady.”

            Zito turned over the helm to the computer and relaxed in his acceleration couch. He touched on the couch’s sound-system and inserted a study-cassette.

            “University of Callisto, Department of Classical Studies. Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound. Mountainous country, and in the middle of a deep gorge a rock, towards which Kratos and Bia carry the gigantic form of Prometheus. Hephaestus follows dejectedly with hammer, nails, etc. Kratos speaks. ‘Now have we journeyed to a spot of earth remote—the Scythian wild, a waste untrod. And now, Hephaestus, thou must execute the task our father laid on thee, and fetter this malefactor to the rocks…’”

            On the screen, Zito called up the blueprints of Aerostat Seven’s extractor system—a huge compressor, an expansion turbine to liquefy the atmosphere, a cold trap to take off simple hydrogen at 23 degrees Kelvin, and a liquefier to remove helium-4 by way of its superfluidity characteristics. The problem seemed to be with the cold trap. The last tanker had returned with its usual cargo of deuterium, helium-3, and ammonia badly contaminated with ordinary hydrogen, necessitating re-processing in orbit before it could be refined into ship-grade fusion-fuel. Zito had a new cold-trap assembly in the hold, ready for installation. With luck, he could have it installed and the old one returned to the shop in one 11-hour rotation.

            Zito cleared the screen and sat back to listen to the play, idly watching the cloudscape drift by. As far as Zito was concerned, Jupiter and not Earth or Saturn was the most beautiful planet in the System. Others, with fewer years in Jovian Fuels’ employ, had become blasé about the cloudy vistas only wave-rider crews had ever seen, but he still looked forward to every flight. In fact, it was the overwhelming beauty of Jupiter’s atmosphere which had stimulated him to sign up for the course in classical studies. He was searching for something that computers and planetologists couldn’t tell him.

            The play concluded. Zito removed the chip and tucked it into his shipsuit-pocket as the aerostat appeared in the distance. It drifted toward him—a hundred Earth-tons of nuclear-powered factory suspended from a kilometre-wide hot-air balloon. Through the ports he could see the robots at the controls. They were general-purpose humaniforms, capable of monitoring the weather, controlling the extraction process, and maintaining altitude by means of reactor waste-heat. If something should go wrong, there was nowhere to land. The aerostat would drop into greater and greater heat and pressure until it was crushed.

            Zito stalled deliberately, reducing airspeed. The airstream reached the intakes of the vectored-thrust engines at the ship’s stern. He shifted into vertical thrust and the wave-rider hovered beneath the aerostat. They mated with a clang and the shuttle hung from the docking trapeze.

            Zito called in. “Waverider Four mated with Aerostat Seven. Ready to board.” There was more than the usual amount of static on the line. “I say again, Base…”

            “This is Base. We have an emergency situation.” There was a long pause, broken by voices in the background. “Anticyclone forming 2000 kilometers west. Aerostat Eight is directly in its path.”

            It was a serious matter. Base Central laboured mightily at all times to collate the data collected by the net of satellites surrounding Jupiter, but white storm-ovals often appeared without warning out of the depths and spread across the face of the planet like plague-sores. The robots were capable of maintaining position under normal conditions, but in emergencies their “instinct” for double redundancy was a liability. They were capable of arguing calmly over the next course of action while the aerostat shook itself to pieces. A human being might panic, but he could also make split-second decisions based on an intangible thing Zito’s colleagues called cloud-sense—not unlike the instincts of a terrestrial river-pilot.

            “I can rendezvous in twenty minutes,” Zito said.

            Base hesitated. “Are you volunteering, Zito? You know we can’t ask you to do that. You could be swept into the wind-shears along the edge of the South Tropic Belt.” They could have ordered him home, too, but they didn’t.

            “Yes, I’m volunteering. We can’t afford to lose another wind-bag. Besides, if we don’t make production goals, we could lose our bonuses.” He laughed. “And I’ve already spent most of mine.”

            “All right, Zito. But for God’s sake, be careful. We can’t afford to lose a good bag-man either.”

            Aerostat Eight was already menaced by the storm. The plume-head rose out of a deep blue-gray hole and spread into a towering cumulus top. It looked like a nuclear mushroom-cloud, complete with lightning playing around the edges. The aerostat was being swept toward it by gale-force winds, and Zito had to accelerate to overtake it before it was caught by the downdraft along the storm front.

            The mating took precise timing. Zito closed cautiously as the two craft tossed like ships on heavy seas. There was a clang and a lurch as they mated too roughly, but no damage-lights flashed. The added mass of the shuttle steadied the larger craft, but they began to drop swiftly. Zito left the controls and suited up; the gondola interior would be in vacuum for the robots’ comfort. He climbed up into the lock, sealed himself in, and opened the hatch to the aerostat’s access lock.

            It was at that moment that the lightning struck. Sealed inside the lock, he did not see the jagged bolt flash out of the cloud-wall and into the complex array of lightning-rods surrounding the gondola, nor the spectacular display of ball-lightning and Saint Elmo’s fire that danced about the superstructure, but he felt his hair stand up within his helmet, and his skin crawled with static.

            Something went terribly wrong. Instead of being channelled harmlessly through the aerostat via the massively shielded cables attached to the lightning-rods and bled back into the atmosphere, the charge burst through the shielding and cascaded along the gondola’s internal wiring, setting off a power-surge in the central computer.

            Zito saw the control-panel lights beside him flicker and die. To his astonishment, the shuttle disengaged and dropped away beneath him. With his enhanced reflexes, he reached up and seized the hatch-wheel, engaging the magnets in his palms. He looked down past his dangling legs and saw the shuttle spinning away into the clouds.

            Freed of the shuttle’s weight, the aerostat began to toss and shudder again, and Zito was shaken like a rat in a ship-ferret’s jaws, his Jupiter weight of nearly half a ton suspended over a literally bottomless drop.

            He lifted his knees and clamped them over the superstructure, engaging the magnets in his kneecaps. Supported more securely now, he punched to open the lock, but the controls had been shorted out. He braced himself and tried to turn the wheel manually, but it would not budge. The motors in his arms raced, his back strained nearly to the point of muscle-damage, but he had to give it up. The mechanism appeared to have been fused.

            He rested and contemplated his situation as the wind whistled past him and the clouds swirled about. Zito thanked whatever gods that he was a cyborg—a normal man would already have fallen to his death—but he could not hang there much longer. There was a chance he could make his way up the side.

            The magnets in his arms were designed to hold torqueless tools for free-fall work, or to cling to ships in construction on orbit, and he wasn’t sure they would hold his weight under two and a third gees. Likewise, the few handholds available on the superstructure were designed to anchor roustabouts in zero gravity, for the aerostats were usually towed onto orbit for major repairs. Would they hold?

            He didn’t have a hell of a lot of choice.

            Zito swung his feet up and hooked his boot-toes over the hatch-wheel, then walked his hands down the bulkhead until he was hanging upside-down like a circus performer. The blood rushed to his head, and he prayed he would not black out until he had found a handgrip. He felt about, the sensors in his fingers as sensitive as the nerve-endings of a human hand, yet immune to the cold. The aerostat was dropping fast. Already, brick-red ammonium-hydrosulfide snow was swirling about him, collecting in the creases in his suit, coating the gondola with a layer of pink ice.

            He found a grip and, holding his breath for fear, swung down until he was hanging from one of the anchors that surrounded the hatch. From there, it was a long, slow climb up the side of the gondola. The aerostat was swinging all the while, and often he was horizontal beneath it, pressing his body against the icy steel, lest a gust of wind catch him and tumble him into oblivion. His breathing was heavy, and warning lights flashed, ignored, inside his helmet.

             One of the stanchions pulled half-free with a tearing sound and for an instant he thought it was all over. He rested, cursing himself for his stupidity, and before continuing he tapped the button on his wrists that switched on the heaters in his hands. Thereafter, he waited for the ice to melt before suspending his weight from his grip.

            Finally, with a sigh of relief, he clambered into the rat-walk that circled the gondola at access-port level. He chuckled at his sudden sense of security, wondering how one who was not space-immune to vertigo might feel in his position. Crawling along the rat-walk was like walking the plank on a dirigible in a hurricane.

            He found the extractor-room access-port and, replacing his hand with a socket-wrench from his tool-belt, began to remove the bolts. So intent was Zito on his labour that he did not notice the two-meter-wide SPIDER crawling toward him down the bulkhead, until he glanced up into its multi-eyed face. Startled, he cried out and nearly fell backward off the ship. Then he laughed.

            “What the hell are you doing out here?” he demanded.

            The robot peered at him in the robotic equivalent of puzzlement. “Repair the ship,” it said, through Zito’s helmet-radio. The Self-Programming Intelligent Device for External Repairs had been created to work on the outside of aerostats—too dangerous for human beings—and rarely interacted with the cloud-miners. This one was 3459.

            “The damage was internal, not external,” Zito said. “Or are you just out for a breath of fresh ammonia?”

            It lifted one of its eight magnetic feet and put it down again. Zito understood this to mean indecision or lack of comprehension.

            “Once I get this hatch open, you can come inside with me. It’s not a fit night out for man nor bot.”

            As if to underscore his words, there was a flash and the crack of thunder. Zito hurried, and in a moment, he was crawling through the hatch.

            “Come on in, then, and mind you wipe all your feet.”

            The SPIDER crawled into the lock with him and clung to the ceiling over his head. Zito cycled through the lock and peered into the extractor-room. There were sparks flying from shorted equipment, and the huge turbines threw monstrous, flickering shadows. Zito threw the switch by the hatch and shut them down.

            The unlikely pair negotiated a narrow rat-walk over the reactors, the SPIDER crawling outside the railing while Zito squeezed his shoulders between the ice-coated liquefiers and the gurgling compressors until he could crack the hatch to the bridge and swing inside. The pilot-robots sat in stunned silence before the control panel, circuits fried outright by the lightning-strike. They twitched uncontrollably, and in the flickering light from the viewport their skeletal forms threw macabre shadows on the bulkhead behind.

            Zito strode across the floor, leaned over the panel between them, and examined the instruments. The altimeter gave him a shock and looking out the port in a lightning-flash, he saw the water-ice cloud-deck seething like an arctic sea below. Out there, the temperature was zero, the pressure ten bars.

            Frantically, he began ripping panels open to expose the circuits beneath. Inside his helmet, he tongued open a stimulant-packet and swallowed its contents. Instantly, it seemed, adrenalin poured into his bloodstream. He worked like a madman, ripping out circuits, cutting and splicing wires, jury-rigging one repair after another. Finally, he was rewarded with blinking lights and a reassuring hum. He watched with satisfaction as the board lit up, panel by panel.

            “Let’s see if we can get comfortable, shall we?” he said aloud.

            Zito flooded the bridge with breathing-mixture and removed his helmet when the monitors told him it was safe. The SPIDER helped him remove one of  the robots and haul it into a corner, and Zito sat at the controls, re-fitting the couch for his own considerably wider form. The SPIDER sat at his feet, not complaining about the warmth and the corrosive oxygen. Zito switched on the comm and tried to contact Base. There was not even the expected static—only the booming radio-voice of Jupiter itself. He guessed the antenna had been destroyed outright.

            “Is that what you were trying to fix out there?” he said to the SPIDER. “Sounds like there’s nothing left to repair.”

            He left the channel open, preferring the basso-profundo stomach-rumblings of Jupiter to the dismal wail of the storm. It was a driving white blizzard now, shading subtly into freezing rain. Air-pressure was close to 20 atmospheres now. For safety’s sake, Zito increased the gondola’s internal pressure. But there were limits. When the reactors had succeeded in generating 10% extra lift, the aerostat would rise at 25 meters per second, and if Zito reduced cabin-pressure too fast, he would be in danger of the bends.

            Zito sat back, shifting his weight until the couch had shaped itself to his body contours. He sighed with pleasure at the support, then took another stimulant. The couch would attempt to wake him if his breathing indicated the sleep-state, but he was already bone-weary and doubted if the mild electric shock would do the trick. There was real danger in this. The stimulant would enhance the effects of the air-pressure. He could succumb to oxygen-intoxication and end up roaring drunk.

            Now he was ready to plug himself in. He connected the couch-arm controls directly to the socket in his wrist. Like the wave-rider, the aerostat would respond directly to his nerve-impulses, releasing hot gases into the balloon envelope, cutting off the flow, even dropping stored  ballast or opening a seam if he had to rise or drop out of trouble quickly. But after the delicate and responsive shuttle, it would be incredibly sluggish, like a trireme with not enough rowers. The instrument readings danced in holographic figures of fire on the port before him, superimposed on the view outside. He would be warned of any dangerous crosscurrents or wind shears in time to respond, but he would have to remain awake and vigilant. For hours.

            His own life-sign readouts appeared as well. They were not good. If the storm drifted into the shears along the South Tropic Belt, where adjacent jet-streams flowed in opposite directions with a relative velocity near the speed of sound, he would be in for the ride of his life. How long could he maintain the delicate balance between exhaustion and drug-induced euphoria?

            The aerostat had dropped below the water troposphere into depths that few living humans had seen. The darkness was Stygian, lit only by the flicker of superbolts in the distance. Far below, unseen in depths not even robots had penetrated, would be a viscous, shoreless sea of pressure-liquidized hydrogen.

            Zito jerked awake from dreams of crushing gravities and helpless immobility before vague black threats. For a moment he was convinced he was being watched, but there was no-one in the cabin but the robots and himself. He shuddered. The instruments informed him that the aerostat was rising again. He giggled at the news.

            “Are you ready?” Zito said to the twitching pilot-robot beside him. He turned to the SPIDER sitting patiently in the middle of the floor. “Roll over and play dead.”

            It flopped over on its back and curled up its legs. Zito nearly slid off his couch in laughter. Outside the port, reddish clouds swirled in the light from the cabin as the aerostat spiralled up the inside of the storm-vortex. Zito ignored the sight as he pondered how to teach the SPIDER to fetch.


            The SPIDER paced back and forth in the cabin, ignored, a socket-wrench gripped in its repair-mandibles. Zito sat, his free elbow on the couch-arm, chin resting on his balled metallic fist as he stared into the storm outside. His eyelids drooped and his head nodded, then snapped up again.

            The cloudscape was parting like a red sea, and at the end of a long corridor between kilometers-high walls of cloud he could see a complex pattern of feathery white stuff, swirling hypnotically. It was windshear. The storm-oval was breaking up under its influence, splitting in two, and the aerostat was being swept into the gap. Zito leaned over the couch-arm and nudged the pilot-robot next to him. “Surf’s up,” he said.

            The robot twitched, shaking its head and shrugging him off. Zito was offended.

            “Talk about a skeleton at the feast. I can’t take you anywhere.” He reached out and removed the program-chip at the base of its brainstem. It froze, contorted like a catatonic in a hospital-bed. Zito fumbled in his shipsuit pocket, pulled out his study-chip, and inserted it. Still contorted in a declamatory pose, the robot began to recite, its chirping voice blending with the radio-rumble of Jupiter itself.

            “…Now have we journeyed to a spot of earth remote—the Scythian wild, a waste untrod. And now, Hepaestus. thou must execute a task our father laid on thee, and fetter this malefactor to the rocks…”

            “Fetter this malefactor ,” Zito mumbled, and began to strap himself more tightly into his couch.

            “…Now, buckle this! And handsomely! Let him learn, sharp though he be, he’s a dull blade to Zeus…”

             “We’ll see. We’ll see,” said Zito. He gazed at the wall of windshear rushing toward him. “Blow, Wind. Crack your cheeks. Sorry, that’s the wrong play.”

            “…For boons bestowed on mortal men I am straightened in these bonds. I sought the fount of fire in hollow reed hid privily, a measureless resource for man, and mighty teacher of all arts…”

            The fount of fire? A measureless resource? Of course. It was fusion-fuel—deuterium and helium-3, ignited by laser-fire and fusing in magnetic containment in imitation of the stars. A mighty teacher of all arts, it was indeed.

            “…A god ye behold in bondage and in pain, the foe of Zeus and one at feud with all the deities that find submissive entry to the tyrant’s hall…”

            The tyrant’s hall. He loved the image. Long corridors of cloud, echoing with the footsteps of the unseen god. And men like Titans, boldly stealing the fount of fire. Though Zito had always felt more like Peter Rabbit in Farmer MacGregor’s Garden—an insignificant creature, a thing that could be squashed.

            “Go thou and worship. Fold thy hands in prayer and be the dog that licks the foot of power! Nothing care I for Zeus: yea, less than naught…”

            Zito felt a rush of pride. He could challenge the gods, like Prometheus. He could raise his titanium fist and shake it at the heavens, while thunderbolts crashed about him. I am Cyborg, he thought, a robot’s strength, a man’s will. Invincible.

            “Fire-thief! Dost hear me? I’ve a word for thee…”

            At the sound of the voice, Zito’s head snapped up and he peered into the swirling cloud. The god rose before him, towering over the tiny aerostat. Zeus Cloudgatherer. Father Jupiter himself. Zito had never looked upon him before. Always he had entered the halls in silence, riding the wave without a telltale sonic boom. Always he had heard the distant rumour of the god’s presence while he worked. And always he had departed again in scramjet haste, leaping for the passing habitat and a quick getaway.

            But now a face as vast as a planet looked down upon him, cloudy brows knitted in rage over eyes that flashed like lightning. But Zito was too far gone to fear. He rode his euphoria like the whirlwind, hurled his hubris in the tyrant’s teeth.

            “What do you mean, fire-thief? We take a little hydrogen, a little helium. What of it? You’ve got 1.4229x10 to the 15 cubic kilometers of the stuff. And what good does it do where it is? What do you do with all that mass? You make a pretty impressive cloud-display, and you’ve got a hell of a satellite collection, but I’ll tell you something, Mister Cloudgatherer, Mister All-Father—as far as the human race is concerned, you’re just a fuel-depot on the way to the stars.”

            “Zeus by thy dark defiance is not moved.”

            “No? Well, I’ll tell you something else. We didn’t steal your fire; you never had it. We’re the ones who can imitate the sun, not you, though you gave it a good try in the beginning. You just couldn’t gather the critical mass. That’s lucky for us, I suppose, because we couldn’t have evolved in a two-sun system, and your mass is just right for our purposes, just enough for a little gravity-assist to Saturn, and just enough to keep the asteroid belt from accreting into a planet, so we can gather up the ores and minerals like pebbles on a beach.

            “Our ancestors used to stand on the beach and look out to sea and wonder, like we do with our telescopes, and then they paddled about in the shallows like we putter about in the solar system. But then they set sail across the ocean, like we will, and they colonized all the continents, and the little islands everywhere. It might take us a bit longer to colonize the stars, but…”

            “…Time hath not yet taught thy rash, imperious will over wild impulse to win mastery…”

            “What do you mean? We’re not in danger of destroying ourselves anymore. We came close, I’ll admit that, and if we’d lost our higher civilisation, we never could have started over on Earth again, because we’d used up all the resources that we could get our hands on without high technology. But we’ve got a sizeable population spread out through the System now, and that’s our insurance. We’re not chained to one rock anymore…”

            “…See now, if thou wilt not obey my will, what storm, what triple-crested wave of woe unshunnable shall come upon thee.”

            The aerostat was swept into the windshear. It began to spin, to swing like a great bell. Zito was shaken in his restraints and the SPIDER stopped pacing to grip the deck as it tilted up beneath her.

            “…The winged hound of Zeus, the tawny eagle, shall violently fall upon thy flesh and rend it as twere rags, and every day and all day long shall thine unbidden guest sit at the table, feasting at thy liver till he hath gnawed it black. Look for no term to such an agony till there stand forth among the gods one who shall take upon him the suffering and consent to enter Hell far from the light of sun, yea, the deep pit and murk of Tartarus, for thee.”

            Zito saw the eagle coming. A great winged shape appeared out of the mist and swept past the port. Its eyes blazed. Its cry was like the thunder. It circled wide and returned again, talons stretching out. Zito felt the shock of its landing as it seized the gondola and clung by its talons to the underside. He heard the scream of protesting steel as the great beak ripped open the hull. In a moment, he would be exposed to the outside atmosphere, asphyxiated, then torn to shreds by the explosion as hydrogen mixed with oxygen.

            He panicked. His defiance, his proud speeches were forgotten. He tore open his restraints and leaped for his helmet. The SPIDER read his fear in his strange behaviour. It ran back and forth for a moment in startling imitation of animal panic, then turned to face the threat to the human being in its charge. As Zito cowered, it stood like an eight-legged guard-dog, repair mandibles clacking. It beeped defiance.

            The deck split open with a metallic shriek. Zito screamed and threw up his hands before his face.

            But instead of a monstrous avian head, a human figure emerged from the protesting hatch. It was a massive figure, with enormous shoulders and powerful limbs, helmet and armour gleaming in the dim Tartarean light.

            It was Hercules. He had killed the great bird and was come to shatter the Titan’s bonds and free him. “Zito? It’s Yanek. I’m here with the rescue shuttle. Jesus, Zito, you look like hell.”

            Zito fainted. The last sight before his eyes was that of the SPIDER, flopping over on its back and curling up its legs.


            Zito awoke to find himself strapped to an acceleration stretcher in the rescue-shuttle. Glancing past Yanek and the co-pilot, he saw the high, white airstream of the Equatorial Zone outside. As per standard procedure, they were using the Jetstream and Jupiter’s equatorial spin to help attain the 42 kps needed for close-orbit-insertion. He glanced down and saw the SPIDER on the deck beside him. He reached out absent-mindedly and patted 3459’s gleaming torso.

            Zito had survived, but he hadn’t conquered. He had succumbed to Cyborg Syndrome, to delusions of invulnerability, until hallucinatory terrors from the dark corners of his own mind had shaken him right down to his pagan, human roots. In the last moments before Yanek’s appearance, he had been reduced to praying for mercy—not to the benevolent, guardian-angel deity he had believed in as a child, or the mysterious, abstract God the chaplains spoke of, but to Jupiter.

            The planet would never be the same to him again. It was more than gravity and chemistry and wind-patterns now. Zito had a relationship to it, like that of the sailor to the sea, the farmer to the land, the hunter to the herd.

            The scramjet cut in and Zito allowed the acceleration to thrust him down into sleep again.




Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus, quotations from the G.M. Cookson translation, Britannica Great Books of the Western World. The Jupiter Aerostat Factory idea from Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Interstellar Studies, Project Daedalus, 1978—Propellant Acquisition Techniques, by R.C. Parkinson.

No comments

Leave your comment

In reply to Some User