Leonov's Tether

He heard his own cry, like thunder in a windlass, rising over the hull of the ship

Photo by The New York Public Library on Unsplash

“He’d never have known that the ship would get lost. But it had to, didn’t it? So how could he tell when to expect help?”

“He may have gone to the other side - to a world completely unknown to any other man now known to you. There are many universes, maybe hundreds or even thousands, and they all have the same problems. What had happened to them all? How had he ended his work here in the first place?”

“But -”

“No, no! Don’t be so frightened. He wasn’t lost, he came to the end of his tether here and we’re both safe, don’t we? We’re still here. We won’t even have gone far before he arrives.”

It was so possible - even considering the distance, and he had never had anyone to blame for being stranded here, that they could have sent him on his way the normal way. And even if they’d let him out of their sight, that was very unlikely, for he could never have known the ship would arrive. He had only the barest hope of escaping all the people he’d seen and of reaching the city of Haven and seeing how it had changed.

But he was not a coward - he told himself, if he left a message he would call in Haven from his home world.

For the first half of an hour he had thought of leaving - if he didn’t get out of that ship and escape from it, he would be dead. This was madness, and with what he had learned about computers and galactic empires, it was impossible.

And yet it could be done. He had not given his ship away, not even on a very urgent request from his father’s secretary, whose husband had run away in the storm. And there was always a way to leave a message without being detected - and if he left a fragment of the first hint, that would be all the clues he could provide to anyone on this planet.

The starship was heading at full velocity towards the sun; it had scarcely touched the sun’s surface, and its distance was so great that it would still be nearly nolight when it reached the thin inner atmosphere.

The stars glowed and shimmered beneath him as he listened, with a muffled roar that drowned out all other noises in the ship’s interior. And then he heard his own cry, like thunder in a windlass, rising over the hull of the ship.

He jerked upright in his seat, staring at the stars. For a second he thought he had never heard such screams before, but then he realized that it was the cry of Leonov.

He had always thought, It’ll kill all you love me.

Then something happened - but only for an instant, for there was an incredible shock, as if a very great hand had smothered his heart. Leonov was not a warm neutron, but a neutron with enough mass to crush a thousand small planets.

In a second he was aware of a burning red glare that filled the forward view screen, searing into the brain every hour that the ship was moving. Now, its glow could not have been caused by the impact, because Leonov was not a neutron. The red glare was caused by the explosion of a heavy atomic bomb within one hundred times the mass of the ship.

“Something’s wrong!” said the ship’s computer and its voice was so faint that the passengers could hardly understand it. “Something wrong with the ship?”

Then Leonov’s hands let go, and for half a minute he was in total silence. He could hardly make out any of the other ships in the ship’s forward view. Then suddenly he knew the ship couldn’t be the one. It must be a ship on the other world, with an atmosphere of its own.

The next thing he remembered was that Leonov had gone very fast through the red glare. And now - as suddenly as if it had happened earlier in the night - he was the missing part of the ship, and the red flare had extinguished everything. The ship was on the other side of the sun!

In a second Leonov was dead in space, and Leonov lay motionless in the seat. His last vision came from the rear of the ship, where a red corpuscle surrounded him. And it did not even flash on and off; it was completely blank. But it was only for an instant, and the red spot had lasted another fifteen seconds or so.

For a moment he thought of anything. What could he do with her? Even if only she had had the crew, which was impossible! Even if he should be able to get a message out of her - could he reach her only while he waited for the ship to leave?

He could do nothing. He could only wait. And then he remembered that he was the one who had insisted on returning to Earth.


Editor’s Notes

The text here came out of a regular sample when I was training another fiction model. It had the default generation settings for samples in gpt-2-simple.

I’ve added capitalization, quotation, formatting and emphasis.

I removed this word from the very beginning: “killed”, to start the story better grammatically.