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The Fourth Science Fiction Megapack

Isaac Asimov


  The Fourth Science Fiction Megapack is copyright © 2012 by Wildside Press LLC.

  All rights reseved.

  Cover art copyright © 2012 by Diversipixel/Fotolia.

  * * * *

  “Zora and the Land Ethic Nomads,” by Mary A. Turzillo, originally appeared in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction. Copyright © 2007 by Mary A. Turzillo. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “Food for Friendship,” by E.C. Tubb, is copyright © 1956, 2003 by E.C. Tubb. Reprinted by permission of Cosmos Literary Agency.

  “The Life Work of Professor Muntz,” by Murray Leinster, originally appeared in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1949.

  “Tiny and the Monster,” by Theodore Sturgeon, originally appeared in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1947.

  “Beyond Lies the Wub,” by Philip K. Dick, originally appeared in Planet Stories, July 1952.

  “Pictures Don’t Lie,” by Katherine MacLean, originally appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, August, 1951.

  “The Big Trip Up Yonder,” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., originally appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1954.

  “Storm Warning,” by Donald A. Wollheim, originally appeared in Future Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1942.

  “The Application of Discipline,” by Jason Andrew, originally appeared in School Days: Tales with an Edge. Copyright © 2010 by Jason Andrew. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “Tom the Universe,” by Larry Hodges, originally appeared as an audiobook in Escape Pod, April 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Larry Hodges. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “Wild Seed,” by Carmelo Rafalá, originally appeared in The West Pier Gazette and Other Stories. Copyright © 2008 by Carmelo Rafalá. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “Tabula Rasa,” by Ray Cluley, originally appeared in Not One Of Us #46 (October 2011). Copyright © 2011 by Ray Cluley. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “The Eyes of Thar,” by Henry Kuttner, originally appeared in Planet Stories, Fall 1944.

  “Regenesis,” by Cynthia Ward, originally appeared in Nature. Copyright © 2000 by Cynthia Ward. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “Not Omnipotent Enough,” by George H. Scithers and John Gregory Betancourt, is original to this publication. Copyright © 2012 by John Gregory Betancourt.

  “Plato’s Bastards,” by James C. Stewart is copyright © 2011 by James C. Stewart. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “Pen Pal,” by Milton Lesser, originally appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1951.

  “The Arbiter,” by John Russell Fearn, originally appeared in Startling Stories, May 1947. Reprinted by permission of Cosmos Literary Agency.

  “The Grandmother-Granddaughter Conspiracy,” by Marissa Lingen, originally appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine #39. Copyright © 2009 by Marissa Lingen. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “Top Secret,” by David Grinnell (pseudonym of Donald A. Wollheim) originally appeared in Sir!, April 1948.

  “Living Under the Conditions,” by James K. Moran, originally appeared in On Spec #69 (Summer 2007). Copyright © 2007 by James K. Moran. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  “Sense of Obligation,” by Harry Harrison, originally appeared in Analog in 1961. It was later published in revised book form as Planet of the Damned.

  “Angel’s Egg,” by Edgar Pangborn, originally appeared in Galaxy, June 1951.

  “Youth,” by Isaac Asimov, originally appeared in Space Science Fiction, May 1952.


  Zora let them in, of course. How many friends do you have when you live in the Martian arctic? And they were friends, after all, despite their smell (days, weeks, in an environment suit did not improve the cheesy odor their bootliners emitted).

  They seemed more like friends because they were young, just kids, like her. In fact they seemed even younger than Zora. None of them had given birth. She remembered the innocent kid she’d been before Marcus, before the contract with the Corps, before Mars. And before the hard hard work of making a place to live in the cold and tenuous atmosphere of a place where she was a pilgrim and a pioneer.

  Even if they had been strangers, you don’t turn away travelers through the faded orange desert of Mars. To do so is tantamount to murder.

  Yes, it taxed her family’s own systems, because of course she and Marcus had to offer to let them use the deduster and recycle their sanitary packs. Her family’s sparse larder was at their command She had to offer them warm baths and hot drinks, even before their little Sekou had taken his bath. They needed the bath much worse than Sekou did.

  Smelly and needy as they were, they were society, animals of her species in a dangerous world of wide, empty skies and lonely silences.

  It is said that Martians can take any substance and ferment it into beer, cheese, or a bioweapon. When she and Marcus first came to Mars, she naively believed they would bring their ethnic foods and customs with them. More than that, that they would revive ancient Kiafrikan traditions. They would drink palm wine from a calabash, they would learn to gengineer yams to grow in the artificial substrate that passed for soil on Mars, that they would tell old stories by the dim light of two moons instead of one bright one.

  * * * *

  Somehow learning Swahili takes a back burner to scraping together a life out of sand and rock and sky.

  What she had not counted on was that all the Kiafrican culture that would ever come to Mars was embedded in hers and Marcus’s two fine-tuned brains, and that even researching their mother culture wasn’t going to be easy over thirty five to a hundred million miles from home, three to thirty light minutes away from the electronic resources of Earth. And when you’re that far from home (or when your home is that far from Earth), your culture consists of the entity that you owe your life to, that controls even the air you breathe, and the few humans you meet, your neighbors several tens of kilometers away, who are kind enough to tell you how to pickle squash blossoms stuffed with onion mush, how to sex cuy, and what to do if the bacteria in your recycler go sour.

  Not that there aren’t traditions. One of them is the toy exchange, and thank Mars for that. Zora managed to exchange a perfectly useless sandyfoam playhouse for a funny little “authentic” camera. Somebody had bought a carton of them, along with the silver emulsion film and chemicals they ate, and Sekou, less than three mears old, had been entranced with the flat images he could make of her, Marcus, and everything else inside the hab.

  If he had been old enough to wear an environment suit, he probably would have done portraits of the rover.

  Marcus couldn’t understand why anybody with enough brains to stay alive on Mars would make such a thing, but it turned out it was a way of getting rid of an unmarketably small amount of silver mined from what the manufacturer had hoped to make a fortune on.

  Sekou was beside himself with excitement when the Land Ethic Nomads had turned up. Not only were they new subjects for his photography hobby, they listened to his endless questions about the world outside the hab.

  Listened, not answered.

  The Land Ethic Nomads had different ideas about Mars than Zora and Marcus, and sometimes Zora worried that little Sekou would absorb them and want to run away with them when he was older. Zora and Marcus Smythe believed that humanity had an imperative to go forth and know the universe. One time Zora had heard a Catholic child reciting something called a catechism: Why did God make me? To know, love and serve him.

  But how do you know God? By knowing the universe. And you can
only know it by exploring it.

  That was why the Smythes were on Mars.

  The Land Ethnic Nomads had a different idea. They believed the land, meaning the surface of planets, moons, and asteroids, was sacred. Humans could try to know, to explore, But they must not destroy. If life existed on Mars, if it had ever existed, or had the potential of existing, humankind must not impose its own order over the land.

  Land was sacred. All land. Even the surfaces of stars, even the spaces between stars were sacred.

  Humans, they said, did not belong on Mars.

  If asked why they lived on Mars, most Land Ethic Nomads would shrug and say it was their mission to convince people to go home, back to Earth.

  Tango and Desuetuda pretty much left Sekou alone. Hamret liked to play with him, and admired the camera and the toy rover. But this new nomad, Valkiri, sat for long hours reading to the boy, telling him tales.

  “The earth is so b beautiful. And she was so sad when her children deserted her to go to the cold, dim sky of Mars. Can you draw a picture of the sad sad Earth? Let me help you. Here’s her eyes, all full of tears.”

  Valkiri’s voice faltered. She was aware of Zora standing over her. She turned the slate over and began to draw flowers (flowers!) on the reverse.

  * * * *

  “Marcus,” Zora whispered when everybody had retired that night, Sekou asleep on a bed of blankets at the foot of their bed, ostensibly because the nomads needed his room, but more because Zora didn’t trust their guests entirely “Marcus, they were preaching at our son.”

  “Let them preach,” Marcus said shortly. “Children know what they see, not what triflers story to them.”

  She curled against him, wanting the solace of his taut, warm body. She loved him better than life, angry as he sometimes made her with his silent deep thoughts. She didn’t want to outlive him. She wanted to lose herself in his body, but but she knew Sekou was old enough to notice if his parents made love. She listened a long time to the soft singing in the rooms below. Valkiri making a silky music on a polished drum, Tango’s rough bass, gruff in his Mars-dry throat, Desuetuda’s voice too soft to hear much of the time, soaring in emotion. Sweet the contrast between Tango’s damaged harshness and the sweetness of the two women and the drum. Propaganda songs.

  Zora turned to him and put her hand on his chest. “Marcus, why do we have to keep them here? Couldn’t we give them some consumables and tell them to leave?”

  “In the morning, Zora. Tomorrow early, I’ll invent some reason to make them leave. Tell them Sekou has an Earth virus, that should shift them out of here.”

  She traced the ritual scars on his cheek. “That’s a good plan, baby. Play them for the fools they are.” Though she liked Tango and Desuetuda. It was the new one, Valkiri, she didn’t much care for.

  “Is it just playing? Listen to the boy breathe. May have a virus, right enough.”

  Zora fell silent. Pleading illness, her mother always said, was inviting the devil to supper. And, having lost Earth, and her family, and so much else, she sometimes wondered if Mars were enough recompense.

  Sekou seemed so fragile. Nobody wants to outlive her own child.

  She slept poorly and woke early.

  * * * *

  But the solar flare subsided in the night, and while the radiation count went down, the nomads bustled around packing. Zora had a chance to talk to Desuetuda, when the two were exchanging hydroponic stimulants recipes they didn’t want to trust to electronic mail. But Desuetuda, almost an old friend, wasn’t the problem. It was Valkiri.

  Marcus helped them drag their equipment back to their rover, and when he took his helmet off after returning, Zora could see he was scowling.

  “Not much cooperation there,” he said. “I don’t think that new girl, that Valkiri, will last long with the tribe.”

  “Where’d she come from?”

  “Lunar nomads. Last of her tribe there. Rest gave up, sold themselves to a cheap labor outsourcer on Earth—you can’t live off the land on Luna.” He made a small disapproving sound in his throat. “I wish I could talk to this group’s tribe chief. The rest of the tribe’s rovers went ahead a day. Tango says they hunkered down and rode the storm out with free radical repair drugs.”

  “A good way to die young.”

  “But painless. Stupid. And the drugs also reduce their use of consumables by about fifteen percent. Anyway, Valkiri jumped all over me. Implied we were child endangering just to have little ones here, on the Pharm. Hoped Sekou would beg us to go back to Earth.”

  * * * *

  When visitors leave, there is always cleaning up to do. Environmental parameters on oxygen and water consumption must be recalibrated to the normal settings. The hab must be tidied. Reports of the visit must be logged in and the balance sheets of consumables must be recalculated so that things will last until enough energy is generated by the solar panels and the nuke.

  So Zora didn’t notice the anomaly until after fifteen hours.

  * * * *

  She had just put on the top segment of her environment suit, ready to recheck the entry airlock, which she always did when there had been visitors, because once Chocko, a nomad from a different tribe, had left so much grit in the airlock that it froze open. When she looked at the detector in the airlock, she almost dropped her helmet.

  The radiation warning was going off like gangbusters.

  She looked around wildly for Sekou, who was playing quietly in the high pressure greenhouse. Well, not playing so much as trying out an adult role—he was clumsily transplanting a frostflower.

  The sensor for this airlock showed a lot of radiation, an alarming level. Cautiously, terrified, she grabbed a handheld sensor and ran to the airlock of the greenhouse where Sekou was humming to himself and getting his hands dirty

  . Thank Mars the shrilling of the alarm didn’t crescendo when she moved toward him.

  But it didn’t get any softer, either. That meant there was a tremendous beacon of deadly radiation coming from some distance, else moving would make it rise or diminish.

  Where, where, where?

  Think. If she grabbed Sekou, as was her instinct, she’d have to know where to move him, and quickly. Most likely the cooling system of their nuke, the hab’s power source, had sprung a leak. She’d heard of such things.

  But knowing that didn’t help. She closed her eyes to concentrate and, unbidden, an image came to her of a slow trickling of radioactive water seeping into the clean water supply that heated the house.

  “Marcus,” she called in a shaky, low voice. Then she gave in to instinct, cycled through the airlock between her and Sekou and scooped him up into her arms.

  They had no environment suit for him. He was still growing too fast. But if she couldn’t find the source of the leak, she’d have to get him out of the hab, out into the environment.

  Marcus appeared beside her, a sudden angel of rescue. Deliberate and measured movements. Competent. She exhaled a breath of gratitude. as he encircled her and Sekou in his arms.

  “It’s coming from all over,” he said, as if he had read her mind. “Hard to know what could cause such a failure.”

  “There has to be a safe place in the hab,” she said reasonably.

  “Look,” he said, and broadcast his picture of the hab’s health and life systems monitor to her wrist com.


  Sekou had at first been curious at his mother’s urgency, but now he looked scared. He knew what radiation was; children had to know the dangers of their environment, and knowing the signs of radiation, though it was a rare hazard, was just as much a part of their early training as learning to heed airlock failure alarms.

  “It will be fine,” said Marcus, putting his hand on the boy’s head. And to Zora: “I’m looking now at all the sensors in the hab. If there’s a safe place, I can’t find it. I left an evacuation ball in the main entry. Let’s go.”

  * * * *

  Sekou didn’t like the evacuation
ball. “Mama, please, it hurts.”

  “How can the evacuation ball hurt?” She tried not to grit her teeth as she wadded the limp, slick surface around him and tried to force his legs to bend so she could seal it.

  “It hurts my stomach when I have to put my knees up like that.”

  “It will just have to hurt, then!” She tried to pry his left shoe off, then decided he might need shoes—wherever they ended up.

  Marcus intervened. “Take a big breath, my man. Big breath. Hold it. Let it out slow. Now, pull your legs into the ball. See?”

  Sekou, half enveloped by the flaccid translucent thing so like an egg, nodded through tears. His puckered little face, trying so hard to be brave, stabbed Zora’s heart. It occurred to her for the hundredth time that Marcus was just better with children than she was. Marcus winked at Sekou as he pressed the airtight closure shut.

  The transparent ball, designed for animal use, had two handles so Zora and Marcus carried it between them. If only one person were there to carry, it would have been rolled, not a pleasant process for the person inside.

  “Go ahead,” Marcus murmured. “I’ll do the minimum shutdown.”

  “Marcus, I can do it. Sekou wants you.”

  “Sekou wants both of us. Go, girl. I can do it faster and we’ll all be safer.”

  * * * *

  The rover was ready to go, its own nuke always putting out power. She bundled Sekou inside it and fumbled to embrace him through the pliable walls of the ball, finally settling on a clumsy pat on the top of his head.

  “Where to go?” Marcus asked.

  “I don’t know, I don’t know. The Centime’s pharm is within range, but are they at their winter place?” Zora was shaking from the shock of being jerked out of her comfortable hab and, worst of all, seeing her little boy in fear and pain and danger. She fingertipped their code and got back cold silence, then the Gone Fishing message.

  “Strike out for Borealopolis.”

  “We need somebody to sponsor us there. Even if we have enough credit to buy consumables, we need somebody to vouch for us.”

  “Call Hesperson.” Hesperson sold them small electronics and solar cell tech.