Authors: Isaac Asimov,Robert Silverberg
Tags: #Retail, #Personal
“If you were in Darkness, what would you want more than anything else—what would it be that every instinct would call for?”
“Why, light, I suppose.”
“And how would you get light?”
Theremon pointed to the switch on the wall. “I’d turn it on.”
Sheerin said, “Where will light come from, when the generators stop? You’d be out on the street in the Darkness. And you want light. So you burn something. Ever see a forest fire? Ever go camping and cook a stew over a wood fire? Heat isn’t the only thing burning wood gives off, you know. It gives off light, and people are very aware of that. And when it’s dark they want light, and they’re going to
“So they’ll burn logs,” Theremon said without much conviction.
“They’ll burn whatever they can get. They’ve got to have light. They’ve got to burn something, and wood won’t be handy, not on city streets. So they’ll burn whatever is nearest. A pile of newspapers? Why not? What about the newsstands that the papers on sale are stacked up in? Burn them too! Burn clothing. Burn books. Burn roof-shingles. Burn anything. The people will have their light—and every center of habitation goes up in flames! There is the end of the world you used to live in.”
“A PLEASURE … THIS IS A VERY GOOD BOOK.”
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This edition contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition.
NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED
A Bantam Spectra Book / published by arrangement with Doubleday
Doubleday edition published November 1990 Bantam edition / September 1991
SPECTRA and the portrayal of a boxed “s” are trademarks of Bantam Books,
a division of Random House, Inc.
This novel is based on the true story “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov, which first appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in 1941. Certain character and place names have been changed at the author’s discretion.
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1990 by Nightfall, Inc. and Agberg, Ltd.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-32469.
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Kalgash is an alien world and it is not our intention to have you think that it is identical to Earth, even though we depict its people as speaking a language that you can understand, and using terms that are familiar to you. Those words should be understood as mere equivalents of alien terms—that is, a conventional set of equivalents of the same sort that a writer of novels uses when he has foreign characters speaking with each other in their own language but nevertheless transcribes their words in the language of the reader. So when the people of Kalgash speak of “miles,” or “hands,” or “cars,” or “computers,” they mean
units of distance,
information-processing machines, etc. The computers used on Kalgash are not necessarily compatible with the ones used in New York or London or Stockholm, and the “mile” that we use in this book is not necessarily the American unit of 5,280 feet. But it seemed simpler and more desirable to use these familiar terms in describing events on this wholly alien world than it would have been to invent a long series of wholly Kalgashian terms.
In other words, we could have told you that one of our characters paused to strap on his quonglishes before setting out on a walk of seven vorks along the main gleebish of his native znoob, and everything might have seemed ever so much more thoroughly alien. But it would also have been ever so much more difficult to make sense out of what we were saying, and that did not seem useful. The essence of this story doesn’t lie in the quantity of bizarre terms we might have invented; it lies, rather, in the reaction of a group of people somewhat like ourselves, living on a world that is somewhat like ours in all but one highly significant detail, as they react to a challenging situation that is completely different from anything the people of Earth have ever had to deal with. Under the circumstances, it seemed to us better to tell you that someone put on his hiking
boots before setting out on a seven-mile walk than to clutter the book with quonglishes, vorks, and gleebishes.
If you prefer, you can imagine that the text reads “vorks” wherever it says “miles,” “gliizbiiz” wherever it says “hours,” and “sleshtraps” where it says “eyes.” Or you can make up your own terms. Vorks or miles, it will make no difference when the Stars come out.
If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!
Other world! There is no other world! Here or nowhere is the whole fact.
It was a dazzling four-sun afternoon. Great golden Onos was high in the west, and little red Dovim was rising fast on the horizon below it. When you looked the other way you saw the brilliant white points of Trey and Patru bright against the purplish eastern sky. The rolling plains of Kalgash’s northernmost continent were flooded with wondrous light. The office of Kelaritan 99, director of the Jonglor Municipal Psychiatric Institute, had huge windows on every side to display the full magnificence of it all.
Sheerin 501 of Saro University, who had arrived in Jonglor a few hours before at Kelaritan’s urgent request, wondered why he wasn’t in a better mood. Sheerin was basically a cheerful person to begin with; and four-sun days usually gave his normally ebullient spirits an additional lift. But today, for some reason, he was edgy and apprehensive, although he was trying his best to keep that from becoming apparent. He had been summoned to Jonglor as an expert on mental health, after all.
“Would you like to start by talking with some of the victims?” Kelaritan asked. The director of the psychiatric hospital was a gaunt, angular little man, sallow and hollow-chested. Sheerin, who was ruddy and very far from gaunt, was innately suspicious of anyone of adult years who weighed less than half of what he did. Perhaps it’s the way Kelaritan looks that’s upsetting me, Sheerin thought. He’s like a walking skeleton. —“Or do you think it’s a better idea for you to get some personal experience of the Tunnel of Mystery first, Dr. Sheerin?”
Sheerin managed a laugh, hoping it didn’t sound too forced.
“Maybe I ought to begin by interviewing a victim or three,” he said. “That way I might be able to prepare myself a little better for the horrors of the Tunnel.”
Kelaritan’s dark beady eyes flickered unhappily. But it was
Cubello 54, the sleek and polished lawyer for the Jonglor Centennial Exposition, who spoke out. “Oh, come now, Dr. Sheerin! ‘The horrors of the Tunnel!’ That’s a little extreme, don’t you think? After all, you’ve got nothing but newspaper accounts to go by, at this point. And calling the patients ‘victims.’ That’s hardly what they are.”
“The term was Dr. Kelaritan’s,” said Sheerin stiffly.
“I’m sure Dr. Kelaritan used that word only in the most general sense. But there’s a presupposition in its use that I find unacceptable.”
Sheerin said, giving the lawyer a look compounded equally of distaste and professional dispassion, “I understand that several people died as a result of their journey through the Tunnel of Mystery. Is that not so?”
“There were several deaths in the Tunnel, yes. But there’s no necessary reason at this point to think that those people died
as a result
of having gone through the Tunnel, Doctor.”
“I can see why you wouldn’t want to think so, Counselor,” said Sheerin crisply.
Cubello looked in outrage toward the hospital director. “Dr. Kelaritan! If this is the way this inquiry is going to be conducted, I want to register a protest right now. Your Dr. Sheerin is here as an impartial expert, not as a witness for the prosecution!”
Sheerin chuckled. “I was expressing my view of lawyers in general, Counselor, not offering any opinion about what may or may not have happened in the Tunnel of Mystery.”
“Dr. Kelaritan!” Cubello exclaimed again, growing red-faced.
“Gentlemen, please,” Kelaritan said, his eyes moving back and forth quickly from Cubello to Sheerin, from Sheerin to Cubello. “Let’s not be adversaries, shall we? We all have the same objective in this inquiry, as I see it. Which is to discover the truth about what happened in the Tunnel of Mystery, so that a repetition of the—ah—unfortunate events can be avoided.”
“Agreed,” said Sheerin amiably. It was a waste of time to be sniping at the lawyer this way. There were more important things to be doing.
He offered Cubello a genial smile. “I’m never really much interested in the placing of blame, only in working out ways of heading off situations where people come to feel that blame has to be placed. Suppose you show me one of your patients now, Dr. Kelaritan. And then we can have lunch and discuss the events in the Tunnel as we understand them at this point, and perhaps after we’ve eaten I might be able to see another patient or two—”
“Lunch?” Kelaritan said vaguely, as though the concept was unfamiliar to him.
“Lunch, yes. The midday meal. An old habit of mine, Doctor. But I can wait just a little while longer. We can certainly visit one of the patients first.”
Kelaritan nodded. To the lawyer he said, “Harrim’s the one to start with, I think. He’s in pretty good shape today. Good enough to withstand interrogation by a stranger, anyway.”