Authors: Gregory Benford
COMING OF AGE
AMONG THE STARS
Matt Bohles was content with the pleasures of low-g life in the Jovian Orbital Lab. Even if a
man did get to feel a bit squeezed, growing up in a tin can 600 million klicks from Mother Earth…
But the International Space Administration was losing its patience with the slow advance of science. There was talk of closing down the lab. The Earthside pols wanted publicity, adventure and profits—and not necessarily in that order.
So Matt had a bright idea. He figured he’d steal a spacesuit. Grab a spare shuttlecraft. And discover life on Jupiter…
THE JUPITER PROJECT
An early version of this novel was serialized in
Amazing Science Fiction,
Sept.-Nov., 1972. This is a revised and expanded edition, incorporating information from recent explorations of the Jupiter system.
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with
Thomas Nelson edition published 1975
Berkley edition / October 1980
All rights reserved
Copyright © 1975 by Gregory Benford.
Revised edition copyright © 1980 by Gregory Benford.
Cover illustration by Rick Sternbach.
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part,
by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.
For information address: Berkley Publishing Corporation,
200 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016.
A BERKLEY BOOK ® TM 757,375
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
James Nelson Benford
…who has been there in spirit,
if not in fact.
Father of all! in every age
By saint, by savage, and by sage,
Maybe I should start off with a big, gaudy description. You know—Jupiter’s churning pinks and browns, the swirling white ammonia clouds like giant hurricanes, the spinning red spots. That kind of touristy stuff.
Except I don’t feel like writing that kind of flowery crap. I’m practical, not poetic. When you’re swinging around Jupiter, living meters away from lethal radiation, you stick to facts. You get so vectors and grease seals and hydraulic fittings are more important than pretty views or poetry or maybe even people.
That’s always been my trouble—people. The way I see it is, there are always going to be some types you can’t get along with. That’s something you’ve got to face. Maybe it’s chemistry. Or as the psychers put it, “orthogonal personality constellations.” Bullshit, I’d say. But then, I’m no expert.
I tend to solve my “group dynamics adjustment” problems by going to the low-g gym. Work off the tension. We’re supposed to be psychologically in synch out here, with everybody packed into the Can, but even the psychers admit there’s always some friction somewhere. I find that working up a good sweat does wonders for my sociability index, and takes the edge off my voice. Not that I’m any great athlete; Matt Bohles will never show up in the Olympics. But at seventeen I wasn’t going to turn into a slab or flab, either, even if I did live in a steel box.
So that’s how I came to be playing zero-g squash with Yuri Sagdaeff in the first place. I wouldn’t search him out for any other reason, that’s for sure. I’d never liked him—“orthogonal personality constellation,” y’know—and I was pretty sure the feeling was mutual. But up to then we had avoided each other.
Usually I’m pretty easygoing about games. Win some, lose some—it’s no big deal. But something told me it was important to win this year’s squash tournament. I’d never even come close before, but this time…well, something in my subconscious was saying
do it, dummy.
So I was really pushing. I came up against Yuri in the semifinals. I guess that’s where all the trouble started.
I was losing.
I couldn’t figure it out. Things kept going wrong. Not that I was going to give up, of course. My father says a Bohles isn’t really a Bohles if he has the word
in his vocabulary. Dad says it in this kind of cornball way of his, but basically he’s right. That’s the way I’ve been brought up. So I dug in and swore at myself under my breath, and got ready for the next point.
But, as I said, I was losing.
Yuri had just served the ball as hard as he could. I watched it carom off the wall of the tube and slam into the forecourt. The squash court is a cylinder, with its top the forecourt wall and the bottom the backcourt—only there isn’t any real top and bottom, or up and down, because there isn’t any gravity. The object is to bounce a black rubber ball off both ends of the cylinder—forecourt and backcourt—before your opponent can snag the ball with his racket.
I gathered my legs under me, trying to judge how fast that ball was moving and where I could intercept it. I knew it was probably hopeless—that ball was traveling
—and if I missed it Yuri would have me down, 18 to 12.
I clenched my racket and jumped. The hard thing to remember, even after you’ve been out in space for years, is that in zero gravity just a little push will get you where you’re going in a hurry. Sure, your
knows it’s true, but your body has to learn it all over again if you’ve been working in a g-field for a while.
So I overshot.
Too anxious, I guess. I jumped from one side of the tube, about halfway up the cylinder. An instant later I was coasting across, watching that squash ball bouncing back at me from the forecourt, one eye on the ball and the other on the tube wall I was approaching.
It wasn’t that the ball was too far away, at all. I could reach it with the racket. But by the time it was within range of the mighty Bohles right arm, I would have to be halfway through my somersault. That tube wall was coming up fast, remember: I had to turn over in midair and get my legs out in front to brake my velocity when I ploughed into it.
have been able to swat that ball and then flip with plenty of time to spare. If I’d judged it right. Only I hadn’t.
“Ah!” I cried, and Yuri laughed at the same time.
Automatically I stretched out my arms to the side and rotated them, to spin me head over heels. Partway into the somersault I had an idea—or maybe just a reflex. Anyway, I flailed around awkwardly with my racket, aiming at a spot behind my back where I knew the ball must be passing.
The ball hit the plastic rim of my racket. I finished up my flip and cocked my head around just in time to see the ball drift lazily back into the forecourt, taking its own sweet time.
Then my boots hit the wall and I cushioned to a stop against it. Yuri yelled, started to jump and then thought better of it. The ball bounced softly off the red forecourt wall and came off at an angle. A second later it hit the tube wall and became a dead ball by the rules of the
“Tsk,” I said mildly. “It looks like you don’t get that point after all.”
“Luck?” Yuri said darkly.
Yuri pushed off the backcourt wall and glided down to the forecourt. He did a partial repel off the red forecourt and snared the ball, all in one deft movement.
He was good, no doubt about it. He does a lot of no-g work repairing rocket boosters, and he practices. But something was bothering me about this game. I was missing shots I shouldn’t have, not getting into position fast enough. And I had a suspicion why.
“Your serve.” he said, tossing the ball to me. Yuri is burly, muscular, and pretty imposing seen up close. He has close-cropped black hair, a square jaw and a squat, flat nose; squint your eyes a bit and he can look like a badly drawn design for a tank.
The tank said to me, “Winded?”
“Hell no! Medical Division has been worrying about you, Yuri, a heart attack, so I thought I’d take it easy an you.” Even as I said it I knew it sounded pretty lame, just a lot of phony bravado. It did some good, though—Yuri started turning slightly purple. But then he blinked, as if he were reminding himself that I was razzing him from a position of weakness, and turned away with a grunt.
I decided to try my hunch. I drifted to the back of the cylinder and braked to a stop. Yuri crouched against the wall of the tube midway between the two end walls.
I brought my racket around and served the ball in a diagonal away from him. It hit the forecourt wall with a
and seemed to be traveling pretty fast to me. Yuri pushed off, taking all the time in the world, and swatted the little black ball as it went by him.
Ordinarily, to win the point I’d be turning by this time, wind-milling my arms, getting set up for the shot. But I wasn’t concerned about the point: I wanted to watch Yuri. One of the tough parts of no-g squash is the fact that maneuvering takes all your attention, usually with your back to your opponent. You can’t keep your eye on the ball a lot of the time. So a sort of Gentlemen’s Convention has evolved; it says that you should get out of the way between your opponent and the ball, so that when he does get a glance at it he can see.
I maneuvered my shot, not taking any special pains to get into the right position. I watched Yuri out of the corner of my eye. He glided across the tube, looked back at me and kicked off again. This time he followed a line that passed between me and the ball for several seconds, blocking my view of where the ball was bouncing off the tube wall.
I pretended not to notice. I pushed off to my left, opposite the way Yuri was going. The ball came flying out of the forecourt, struck the tube wall and twisted off to the side. Yuri had put spin on it—spin I would’ve detected if I had seen the ball’s first bounce.
I was moving one way and the ball, suddenly, was doing just the opposite, and closing with me all the while. I writhed around, trying to reach the tube wall and get another push, but I wasn’t close enough. I made a stab with my racket, but the ball sailed past and
hollowly against the blue backcourt wall.
“I believe that makes—” Yuri said.
“Nineteen,” I finished.
Okay, what he’d done wasn’t illegal. It was merely outside the Gentleman’s Convention, and without a referee I couldn’t prove it. Now I understood why I’d been missing shots by a few centimeters, having trouble anticipating his moves and losing sight of the ball. Yuri was playing to make that happen.
The next serve was Yuri’s. I proved once more that we Bohles are slow learners: Yuri used his same serve, but placed it about a foot further away than usual, so my hit-it-on-the-somersault trick didn’t work that time. Besides, I wasn’t really concentrating. I was simmering with anger, kicking myself for not noticing Yuri’s tactics before.
It was my serve. I took a deep breath; the air smelled sour, flat. I hit the ball viciously, taking out my anger on it, and it came off the forecourt badly aimed. It made a nice, clean setup for Yuri. He hit a quick one past me and I couldn’t catch the ball on the rebound. Point to him.
Yuri served, we had a respectable rally that left me winded, and he outfoxed me with a little dink shot to take the game 21 to 13. Game, set, match.
I drifted to a stop in the middle of the court. “Remarkable placement, Yuri,” I said mildly. “You must be quite a growing boy, getting bigger every day. It’s getting harder and harder to see around you.”
Yuri gave me his lummox look. “You imply something?”
“Nothing I can prove.”
“Precisely put. Everyone knows I have been practicing to beat you. It would be bad form for you to complain after losing so badly.”