Nightfall, p.1

  Nightfall, p.1

Nightfall
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Nightfall


  THE CITY WILL BURN

  “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 get it.”

  “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.

  NIGHTFALL

  A Bantam Spectra Book / published by arrangement with Doubleday

  PUBLISHING HISTORY

  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.

  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher,

  eISBN: 978-0-307-79239-6

  Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, New York, New York.

  v3.1

  TO THE READER

  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 their own units of distance, their own grasping-organs, their own ground-transportation devices, their own 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.

  —I.A.

  —R.S.

  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!

  —EMERSON

  Other world! There is no other world! Here or nowhere is the whole fact.

  —EMERSON

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  To the Reader

  Epigraph

  One:­ Twilight

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Two:­ Nightfall

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Three:­ Daybreak

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Dedication

  Other Books by This Author

  About the Authors

  ONE

  TWILIGHT

  [1]

  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.”

  “What about Gistin 190?” Cubello asked.

  “She’s another possibility, but she’s not as strong as Harrim. Let him get the basic story from Harrim, and then he can talk to Gistin, and—oh, maybe Chimmilit. After lunch, that is.”

  “Thank you,” said Sheerin.

  “If you’ll come this way, Dr. Sheerin—”

  Kelaritan gestured toward a glassed-in passageway that led from the rear of his office to the hospital itself. It was an airy, open catwalk with a 360-degree view of the sky and the low gray-green hills that encircled the city of Jonglor. The light of the day’s four suns came streaming in from all sides.

  Pausing for a moment, the hospital director looked to his right, then to his left, taking in the complete panorama. The little man’s dour pinched features seemed to glow with sudden youth and vitality as the warm rays of Onos and the tighter, sharply contrasting beams from Dovim, Patru, and Trey converged in a brilliant display.

  “What an absolutely splendid day, eh, gentlemen!” Kelaritan cried, with an enthusiasm that Sheerin found startling, coming from someone as restrained and austere as he seemed to be. “How glorious it is to see four of the suns in the sky at the same time! How good it makes me feel when their light strikes my face! Ah, where would we be without our marvelous suns, I wonder?”

  “Indeed,” said Sheerin.

  He was feeling a little better himself, as a matter of fact.

  [2]

  Half a world away, one of Sheerin 501’s Saro University colleagues was staring at the sky also. But the only emotion she felt was horror.

  She was Siferra 89, of the Department of Archaeology, who had been conducting excavations for the past year and a half at the ancient site of Beklimot on the remote Sagikan Peninsula. Now she stood rigid with apprehension, watching a catastrophe come rushing toward her.

  The sky offered no comfort. In this part of the world the only real light visible just then was that of Tano and Sitha, and their cold, harsh gleam had always seemed joyless, even depressing, to her. Against the deep somber blue of the two-sun-day sky it was a baleful, oppressive illumination, casting jagged, ominous shadows. Dovim was in view also—barely, just rising now—right on the horizon, a short distance above the tips of the distant Horkkan Mountains. The dim glow of the little red sun, though, was hardly any more cheering.

  But Siferra knew that the warm yellow light of Onos would come drifting up out of the east before long to cheer things up. What was troubling her was something far more serious than the temporary absence of the main sun.

  A killer sandstorm was heading straight toward Beklimot. In another few minutes it would sweep over the site, and then anything might happen. Anything. The tents could be destroyed; the carefully sorted trays of artifacts might be overturned and their contents scattered; their cameras, their drafting equipment, their laboriously compiled stratigraphic drawings—everything that they had worked on for so long might be lost in a moment.

  Worse. They could all be killed.

  Worse yet. The ancient ruins of Beklimot itself—the cradle of civilization, the oldest known city on Kalgash—were in jeopardy.

  The trial trenches that Siferra had sliced in the surrounding alluvial plain stood wide open. The onrushing wind, if it was strong enough, would lift even more sand than it was already carrying, and hurl it with terrible force against the fragile remains of Beklimot—scouring, eroding, reburying, perhaps even ripping whole foundations loose and hurling them across the parched plain.

  Beklimot was a historical treasure that belonged to the entire world. That Siferra had exposed it to possible harm by excavating in it had been a calculated risk. You could never do any sort of archaeological work without destroying something: it was the nature of the job. But to have laid the whole heart of the plain bare like this, and then to have the lousy luck of being hit by the worst sandstorm in a century—

  No. No, it was too much. Her name would be blackened for aeons to come if the Be
klimot site was shattered by this storm as a result of what she had done here.

  Maybe there was a curse on this place, as certain superstitious people were known to say. Siferra 89 had never had much tolerance for crackpots of any sort. But this dig, which she had hoped would be the crowning achievement of her career, had been nothing but headaches ever since she started. And now it threatened to finish her professionally for the rest of her life—if it didn’t kill her altogether.

  Eilis 18, one of her assistants, came running up. He was a slight, wiry man who looked insignificant beside the tall, athletic figure of Siferra.

  “We’ve got everything nailed down that we were able to!” he called to her, half breathless. “It’s all up to the gods now!”

  She replied, scowling, “Gods? What gods? Do you see any gods around here, Eilis?”

  “I simply meant—”

  “I know what you meant. Forget it.”

  From the other side came Thuvvik 443, the foreman of the workers. He was wild-eyed with fear. “Lady,” he said. “Lady, where can we hide? There is no place to hide!”

  “I told you, Thuvvik. Down below the cliff.”

  “We will be buried! We will be smothered!”

  “The cliff will shelter you, don’t worry,” Siferra told him, with a conviction she was far from feeling. “Get over there! And make sure everybody else stays there!”

  “And you, lady? Why are you not there?”

  She gave him a sudden startled glance. Did he think she had some private hiding place where she’d be safer than the rest?

  “I’ll be there, Thuvvik. Go on! Stop bothering me!”

  Across the way, near the six-sided brick building that the early explorers had called the Temple of the Suns, Siferra caught sight of the stocky figure of Balik 338. Squinting, shading his eyes against the chilly light of Tano and Sitha, he stood looking toward the north, the direction from which the sandstorm was coming. The expression on his face was one of anguish.

  Balik was their chief stratigrapher, but he was also the expedition’s meteorological expert, more or less. It was part of his job to keep the weather records for them and to watch out for the possibility of unusual events.

 
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