Herrell McCray was on a spaceship going from Earth to the thriving colonies circling Betelgeuse Nine when suddenly he found himself in darkness and utter silence. McCray had no idea where he was, how he got there, or even what happened to the ship he was on for that matter. He didn’t know that he had been taken and was being studied by an alien named, Hatcher.
This science-fiction novelette is by award winning writer, Frederik George Pohl Jr. (1919 – 2013). It’s short and entertaining. Pohl’s, writing style supasses time and space. It’s a classic tale of space adventure and each week we will bring you part of the book to read. Enjoy the book and maybe it will inspire you. Pohl never wrote a second book for, The Five Hells of Orion even though his millions of fans certainly would have loved to know what happened after the end of this book. Enjoy this adventure into the cosmos and beyond!
His name was Herrell McCray and he was scared.
As best he could tell, he was in a sort of room no bigger than a prison cell. Perhaps it was a prison cell. Whatever it was, he had no business in it; for five minutes before he had been spaceborne, on the Long Jump from Earth to the thriving colonies circling Betelgeuse Nine. McCray was ship’s navigator, plotting course corrections–not that there were any, ever; but the reason there were none was that the check-sightings were made every hour of the long flight. He had read off the azimuth angles from the computer sights, automatically locked on their beacon stars, and found them correct; then out of long habit confirmed the locking mechanism visually. It was only a personal quaintness; he had done it a thousand times. And while he was looking at Betelgeuse, Rigel and Saiph … it happened.
The room was totally dark, and it seemed to be furnished with a collection of hard, sharp, sticky and knobby objects of various shapes and a number of inconvenient sizes. McCray tripped over something that rocked under his feet and fell against something that clattered hollowly. He picked himself up, braced against something that smelled dangerously of halogen compounds, and scratched his shoulder, right through his space-tunic, against something that vibrated as he touched it.
McCray had no idea where he was, and no way to find out.
Not only was he in darkness, but in utter silence as well. No. Not quite utter silence.
Somewhere, just at the threshold of his senses, there was something like a voice. He could not quite hear it, but it was there. He sat as still as he could, listening; it remained elusive.
Probably it was only an illusion.
But the room itself was hard fact. McCray swore violently and out loud.
It was crazy and impossible. There simply was no way for him to get from a warm, bright navigator’s cubicle on _Starship Jodrell Bank_ to this damned, dark, dismal hole of a place where everything was out to hurt him and nothing explained what was going on. He cried aloud in exasperation: “If I could only _see_!”
He tripped and fell against something that was soft, slimy and, like baker’s dough, not at all resilient.
A flickering halo of pinkish light appeared. He sat up, startled. He was looking at something that resembled a suit of medieval armor.
* * * * *
It was, he saw in a moment, not armor but a spacesuit. But what was the light? And what were these other things in the room?
Wherever he looked, the light danced along with his eyes. It was like having tunnel vision or wearing blinders. He could see what he was looking at, but he could see nothing else. And the things he could see made no sense. A spacesuit, yes; he knew that he could construct a logical explanation for that with no trouble–maybe a subspace meteorite striking the _Jodrell Bank_, an explosion, himself knocked out, brought here in a suit … well, it was an explanation with more holes than fabric, like a fisherman’s net, but at least it was rational.
How to explain a set of Gibbon’s _Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?_ A space-ax? Or the old-fashioned child’s rocking-chair, the chemistry set–or, most of all, the scrap of gaily printed fabric that, when he picked it up, turned out to be a girl’s scanty bathing suit? It was slightly reassuring, McCray thought, to find that most of the objects were more or less familiar. Even the child’s chair–why, he’d had one more or less like that himself, long before he was old enough to go to school. But what were they doing here?
Not everything he saw was familiar. The walls of the room itself were strange. They were not metal or plaster or knotty pine; they were not papered, painted or overlaid with stucco. They seemed to be made of some sort of hard organic compound, perhaps a sort of plastic or processed cellulose. It was hard to tell colors in the pinkish light. But they seemed to have none. They were “neutral”–the color of aged driftwood or unbleached cloth.
Three of the walls were that way, and the floor and ceiling. The fourth wall was something else. Areas in it had the appearance of gratings; from them issued the pungent, distasteful halogen odor. They might be ventilators, he thought; but if so the air they brought in was worse than what he already had.
McCray was beginning to feel more confident. It was astonishing how a little light made an impossible situation bearable, how quickly his courage flowed back when he could see again.
He stood still, thinking. Item, a short time ago–subjectively it seemed to be minutes–he had been aboard the _Jodrell Bank_ with nothing more on his mind than completing his check sighting and meeting one of the female passengers for coffee. Item, apart from being shaken up and–he admitted it–scared damn near witless, he did not seem to be hurt. Item, wherever he was now, it became, not so much what had happened to him, but what had happened to the ship?
He allowed that thought to seep into his mind. Suppose there had been an accident to the _Jodrell Bank_.
He could, of course, be dead. All this could be the fantasies of a cooling brain.
McCray grinned into the pink-lit darkness. The thought had somehow refreshed him, like ice water between rounds, and with a clearing head he remembered what a spacesuit was good for.
It held a radio.
He pressed the unsealing tabs, slipped his hand into the vacant chest of the suit and pulled out the hand mike. “This is Herrell McCray,” he said, “calling the _Jodrell Bank_.”
No response. He frowned. “This is Herrell McCray, calling _Jodrell Bank_.
“Herrell McCray, calling anybody, come in, please.”
But there was no answer.
Thoughtfully he replaced the microphone. This was ultrawave radio, something more than a million times faster than light, with a range measured, at least, in hundreds of light-years. If there was no answer, he was a good long way from anywhere.
Of course, the thing might not be operating.
He reached for the microphone again–
He cried aloud.
The pinkish lights went out. He was in the dark again, worse dark than before.
For before the light had gone, McCray had seen what had escaped his eyes before. The suit and the microphone were clear enough in the pinkish glimmer; but the hand–his own hand, cupped to hold the microphone–he had not seen at all. Nor his arm. Nor, in one fleeting moment of study, his chest.
McCray could not see any part of his own body at all.