A century into the future, technology has solved most of the problems that have plagued our time. However, a new problem is on the horizon—one greater than humanity has ever faced. A massive asteroid is racing toward Earth, and its impact could destroy all life on the planet.
Immediately after the asteroid—named “Kali” after the Hindu goddess of chaos and destruction—is discovered, the world’s greatest scientists begin researching a way to prevent the disaster. In the meantime, Cpt. Robert Singh, aboard the starship Goliath, may be the only person who can stop the asteroid. But this heroic role may demand the ultimate sacrifice.
“Entertaining . . . [Clark] handles both ideas and characters with deftness and wit.” —Chicago Sun-Times
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About the Author
Date of Birth:December 16, 1917
Date of Death:March 19, 2008
Place of Birth:Minehead, Somerset, England
Place of Death:Sri Lanka
Education:1948, King's College, London, first-class honors in Physics and Mathematics
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OUT OF AFRICA
Captain robert singh enjoyed these walks through the forest with his little son, Toby. It was, of course, a tamed and gentle forest, guaranteed to be free of dangerous animals, but it made an exciting contrast to their last environment in the Arizona desert. Above all, it was good to be so close to the ocean, for which all spacers had a deep-seated empathy. Even here, in this clearing more than a kilometer inland, he could hear faintly the roar of the monsoon-driven surf against the outer reef.
"What's that, Daddy?" asked the four-year-old, pointing to a small, hairy face, fringed with white whiskers, peering at them through a screen of leaves.
"Er — some kind of monkey. Why don't you ask the Brain?"
"I did. It won't answer."
Another problem, thought Singh. There were times when he pined for the simple life of his ancestors on the dusty plains of India, though he knew perfectly well that he would have been able to tolerate it only for milliseconds.
"Try again, Toby. Sometimes you speak too quickly — House Central doesn't always recognize your voice. And did you remember to send an image? It can't tell you what you're looking at unless it can see it as well."
"Whoops! I forgot."
Singh called for his son's private channel, just in time to catch Central's reply.
"It's a White Colobus, Family Cercopithecidae —"
"Thanks, Brain. Can I play with it?"
"I don't think that's a good idea," Singh interjected hastily. "It could bite. And it probably has fleas. Your robotoys are much nicer."
"Not as nice as Tigrette."
"Though not so much trouble — even now she's house trained, thank goodness. Anyway, it's time to go home." And to see what progress, he added to himself, Freyda is making in her problems with Central ...
Ever since the Skylift Service had set the house down in Africa, there had been a succession of glitches. The latest, and potentially most serious, was with the food recycling system. Although it was guaranteed to be fail-safe so that the risk of actual poisoning was astronomically small, there had been a curious metallic taste to the filet mignon the night before. Freyda had suggested wryly that they might have to revert to a life of pre-electronic hunter-gatherers, cooking their food over wood fires. Her sense of humor was sometimes a little bizarre: the very idea of eating natural meat hacked from dead animals was, of course, utterly revolting....
"Can't we go down to the beach?"
Toby, who had spent most of his life surrounded by sand, was fascinated by the sea; he could not quite believe that it was possible for so much water to exist in one place. As soon as the North East Monsoon slackened, his father would take him out to the reef and show him the wonders that were now hidden by the angry waves.
"Let's see what Mother has to say."
"Mother says it's time for you both to come home. Have you two men forgotten we've visitors coming this afternoon? And Toby — your room is a mess. Time you cleaned it up — not left it to Dorcas."
"But I programmed her —"
"No arguments. Home — both of you!"
Toby's mouth started to pucker in an all-too-familiar response. But there were times when discipline took precedence over love: Captain Singh cradled Toby in his arms and started to walk back to the house with his gently wriggling bundle. Toby was too heavy to carry very far, but his struggles quickly subsided and his father was soon glad enough to let him proceed under his own power.
The home shared by Robert Singh, Freyda Carroll, their son, Toby, his beloved minitiger, and assorted robots would have seemed surprisingly small to a visitor from an earlier century — a cottage rather than a house. But in this case appearances were extremely deceptive, for most of the rooms were multifunctional and could be transformed on command. Furniture would metamorphose, walls and ceiling would vanish to be replaced by vistas of land or sky — or even space, convincing enough to deceive anyone except an astronaut.
The complex of central dome and four hemicylindrical wings was not, Singh had to admit, very pleasing to the eye, and it looked distinctly out of place in this jungle clearing. But it fitted perfectly the description "A machine for living in"; Singh had spent virtually all his adult life in such machines, often in zero gravity. He would not feel comfortable in any other environment.
The front door folded upward, and a golden blur erupted toward them. Arms outstretched, Toby rushed forward to greet Tigrette.
But they never met; for this reality was thirty years earlier and half a billion kilometers away.CHAPTER 2
RENDEZVOUS WITH KALI
As the neural playback came to an end, sound, vision, the scent of unknown flowers, and the gentle touch of the wind on his decades-younger skin faded and Captain Singh was back in his cabin aboard the space-tug Goliath, while Toby and his mother remained on a world he could never revisit. Years in space — and neglect of the mandatory zero-gee exercises — had so weakened him that he could now walk only on the Moon and Mars. Gravity had exiled him from the planet of his birth.
"One hour to rendezvous, Captain," said the quiet but insistent voice of David, as Goliath's central computer had been inevitably named. "Active Mode as requested. Time to leave your memochips and come back to the real world."
Goliath's human commander felt a wave of sadness sweep over him as the final image from his lost past dissolved into a featureless, simmering mist of white noise. Too swift a transition from one reality to another was a good recipe for schizophrenia, and Captain Singh always eased the shock with the most soothing sound he knew — waves falling gently on a beach, with sea gulls crying in the distance. It was yet another memory of a life he had lost, and of a peaceful past now replaced by a terrifying present.
For a few more moments he delayed facing his awesome responsibility. Then he sighed, and removed the neural input cap that fitted snugly over his skull. Like all spacers, Captain Singh belonged to the "Bald is Beautiful" school, if only because hairpieces were a nuisance in zero gravity. The social historians were still staggered by the fact that one invention, the portable "Brainman," could change the appearance of the human race within a single decade — and restore the ancient art of wigmaking to the status of a major industry.
"Captain," said David. "I know you're there. Or do you want me to take over?" It was an old joke inspired by all the insane computers in the fiction and movies of the early electronic age. David had a surprisingly good sense of humor: he was, after all, a Legal Person (nonhuman) under the famous Hundredth Amendment, and shared — or surpassed — almost all the attributes of his creators. But there were whole sensory and emotional areas that he could not enter. It had been felt unnecessary to equip him with the senses of smell and taste, though it would have been easy to do so. And all his attempts at telling dirty stories were such disastrous failures that he had abandoned the genre.
"All right, David," retorted the captain. "I'm still in charge." He removed the mask from his eyes, wiped away the tears that had somehow accumulated, and turned reluctantly toward the viewport. There, hanging in space before him, was Kali.
It looked harmless enough — just another small asteroid, shaped so exactly like a peanut that the resemblance was almost comical. A few large impact craters, and hundreds of tiny ones, were scattered at random over its charcoal-black surface. There were no visual clues to give any sense of scale, but Singh knew its dimensions by heart: 1295 meters maximum length, 656 meters minimum width; Kali would fit easily into many city parks.
No wonder that, even now, most of mankind could still not believe that it was the instrument of doom. Or, as the Chrislamic Fundamentalists were calling it, "The Hammer of God."
* * *
It had often been suggested that Goliath's bridge had been copied from the starship Enterprise: after a century and a half, Star Trek was still affectionately revived from time to time. It was a reminder of the naive dawn of the Space Age, when men dreamed it might be possible to defy the laws of physics and race across the Universe more swiftly than light itself. But no way of avoiding the speed limit set by Einstein had been discovered — and although "wormholes in space" had been proved to exist, nothing even as large as an atomic nucleus could pass through them. Yet despite this, the dream of really conquering the interstellar gulfs had not wholly died.
Kali filled the main view-screen. No magnification was needed, for Goliath was hovering only two hundred meters above its ancient, battered surface. And now, for the first time in its existence, it had visitors.
Though it was a commander's privilege to take the first step on a virgin world, Captain Singh had delegated the landing to three crew members more experienced in extravehicular activities. He was anxious not to waste any time: most of the human race was watching, and waiting for the verdict that would decide the fate of the Earth.
It is impossible to walk on the smaller asteroids; gravity is so feeble that a careless explorer can easily achieve escape velocity and go heading off on an independent orbit. One member of the contact team was therefore wearing a self-propelled hard suit fitted with external grasping arms. The other two rode on a small space-sled that could easily have been mistaken for one of its Arctic analogues.
Captain Singh and the dozen officers gathered around him on Goliath's bridge knew better than to bother the EVA team with unnecessary questions or advice, unless some emergency arose.
The sled had now touched down on the summit of a large boulder several times its own size, blasting away a surprisingly impressive cloud of dust as it did so.
"Touchdown, Goliath! Can see the bare rock now. Shall we anchor?"
"Looks as good a place as any. Go ahead."
"Deploying drill ... seems to be going in easily ... won't it be great if we strike oil?"
There were a few low groans on the bridge. Such feeble jokes served to relieve tension, and Singh encouraged them. Ever since rendezvous there had been a subtle change in the crew's morale, with unpredictable swings between gloom and juvenile humor — "whistling past the graveyard" as the ship's physician had privately labeled it. She had already prescribed tranquilizers for one mild case of manic-depressive symptoms. It would grow steadily worse in the weeks and months ahead.
"Erecting the antenna — deploying the radio beacon — how are the signals?"
"Loud and clear."
"Good. Now Kali won't be able to hide."
Not, of course, that there was the slightest danger of losing Kali — as had happened many times in the past with asteroids that had been poorly observed. No orbit had ever been computed with greater care, but some uncertainty still existed. There was still a slim chance that the Hammer of God might miss the anvil.
Now the giant radio telescopes on Earth and lunar Farside were waiting to receive the pulses from the beacon, timed to a thousandth of a millionth of a millionth of a second. It would be more than twenty minutes before they reached their destination, creating an invisible measuring rod that would define Kali's orbit to within a matter of centimeters.
A few seconds later, the SPACEGUARD computers would give their verdict of life or death: but it would be almost an hour before the word got back to Goliath.
The first waiting period had begun.
TUNGUSKA, SIBERIA, 1908
The cosmic iceberg came in from the direction of the sun, so no one saw its approach until the sky exploded. Seconds later, the shock wave flattened two thousand square kilometers of pine forest, and the loudest sound since the eruption of Krakatoa began to circle the world.
Had the cometary fragment been delayed a mere two hours on its age-long journey, the ten-megaton blast would have obliterated Moscow and changed the course of history.
The date was June 30, 1908.
SPACEGUARD had been one of the last projects of the legendary NASA, back at the close of the Twentieth Century. Its initial objective had been modest enough: to make as complete a survey as possible of the asteroids and comets that crossed the orbit of Earth, and to determine if any were a potential threat. The project's name — taken from an obscure Twentieth-Century science-fiction novel — was somewhat misleading; critics were fond of pointing out that "Spacewatch" or "Spacewarn" would have been much more appropriate.
With a total budget seldom exceeding ten million dollars a year, a worldwide network of telescopes — most of them operated by skilled amateurs — was established by 2000. Sixty-one years later, the spectacular return of Halley's Comet encouraged more funding, and the great fireball of 2079 — luckily impacting in mid-Atlantic — gave SPACEGUARD additional prestige. By the end of the century it had located more than a million asteroids, and the survey was believed to be 90 percent complete. However, it would have to be continued indefinitely: there was always a chance that some intruder might come rushing in from the uncharted outer reaches of the Solar System.
As did Kali, detected in late 2109 as it fell sunward past the orbit of Saturn.CHAPTER 3
STONES FROM THE SKY
"There's never been so much talent gathered here in the White House since Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
— PRESIDENT JOHN KENNEDY TO A DELEGATION OF UNITED STATES SCIENTISTS
"I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors lied than that stones could fall from the sky."
— PRESIDENT THOMAS JEFFERSON ON HEARING A REPORT OF A METEORITE FALL IN NEW ENGLAND
"Meteorites don't fall on the Earth. They fall on the sun — and the Earth gets in the way."
— JOHN W. CAMPBELL
That stones could indeed fall from the sky was well known in the ancient world, though there might be disagreement as to which particular gods had dropped them. And not only stones, but the precious metal Iron. Before the invention of smelting, meteorites were a main source of this valuable element: no wonder that they became sacred, and were frequently worshiped.
But the more enlightened thinkers of the Eighteenth Century's "Age of Reason" knew better than to believe such superstitious nonsense. Indeed, the French Academy of Science passed a resolution explaining that meteorites were of completely terrestrial origin. If any appeared to come from the sky, it was because they were the result of lightning strikes — a perfectly understandable error. So the curators of Europe's museums threw away the worthless rocks their ignorant predecessors had patiently collected.
By one of the most delightful ironies in the history of science, just a few years after the French Academy's pronouncement, a massive shower of meteorites descended a few kilometers outside Paris in the presence of impeccable witnesses. The Academy had to make a hasty recantation.
Even so, it was not until the dawn of the Space Age that the magnitude, and potential importance, of meteorites was recognized. For decades scientists doubted — and even denied — that they were responsible for any major formations on Earth. Almost incredibly, until well into the Twentieth Century some geologists believed that Arizona's famous "Meteor Crater" was misnamed — they argued that it had a volcanic origin! Not until space probes had shown that the Moon and most of the smaller bodies in the Solar System had been subjected to a cosmic bombardment for ages was the debate finally resolved.
As soon as they started to look for them — particularly with the new vision provided by cameras in orbit — geologists found impact craters everywhere. The reason they were not much more common was now obvious: all the ancient ones had been destroyed by weathering. And some were so enormous that they could not be seen from the ground, or even from the air: their scale could be grasped only from space.
All this was very interesting to geologists, but too remote from ordinary human affairs to excite the general public. Then, thanks to Nobel Laureate Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter, the minor science of meteoritics suddenly became front-page news.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Hammer of God"
Copyright © 1993 Arthur C. Clarke.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Encounter One: Oregon, 1972,
1. Out of Africa,
2. Rendevous with Kali,
Encounter Two: Tunguska, Siberia, 1908,
3. Stones from the Sky,
Encounter Three: Gulf of Mexico, 65,000,000 BP,
4. Death Sentence,
6. The Senator,
7. The Scientist,
8. Chance and Necessity,
9. Bay of Rainbows,
10. A Machine for Living In,
11. Farewell to Earth,
12. The Sands of Mars,
13. The Sargasso of Space,
14. The Amateur,
15. The Prophet,
16. Paradise Circuit,
19. The Unexpected Answer,
20. The Reborn,
24. Shore Leave,
25. Europa Station,
26. Mass Driver,
27. Dress Rehearsal,
28. Birthday Party,
32. The Wisdom of David,
34. Contingency Plan,
38. Terminal Diagnosis,
41. Command Decision,
43. Friendly Fire,
44. Murphy's Law,
45. The Impossible Sky,
Sources and Acknowledgments,