showed great detail through the telescope, and Bowman had sent back to Earth as many photographs as he could take.
But Japetus held most of his attention. One half of the satellite — which, like its companions, turned the same face
always towards Saturn — was extremely dark and showed very little surface detail. In complete contrast, the other was largely covered by a brilliant white oval, about six hundred kilometres long and three hundred wide. It sat in the middle of Japetus, with its narrow ends pointing to the poles. It was so even and so sharp-edged that it looked as if it had been painted there. Because it looked so flat, Bowman wondered if it might be a lake of frozen liquid, but that would not explain its even appearance.
However, Bowman had little time to study it in detail; the most dangerous part of the voyage was rapidly approaching. As it flew past Jupiter, the ship had used the planet's gravity to increase her speed. Now she must do the opposite. She had to slow down as much as possible so she did not escape from the Solar System and fly on to the stars. Her present path was designed to trap her, so she would become another moon of Saturn, going round on a three-million-kilometre-long oval orbit. At its near point she would come close to the planet; at its far point she would touch the orbit of Japetus.
The computers back on Earth, though their information was always three hours late, had told Bowman that everything was in order. The ship had to fly over the dark side of Saturn, out of radio contact with Earth and losing speed all the time, then rise up again into the sunlight and fly on for another three million kilometres. It would take her fourteen days to make that climb, crossing the paths of all the inside moons. Then she would meet Japetus.
If she failed, she would fall back towards Saturn and repeat her twenty-eight day orbit. But the next time round, Japetus would be far away, almost on the other side of the planet.
It was true that they would meet again, when the orbits of ship and moon came together for a second time. But that would be so many years ahead that, whatever happened, Bowman knew he would not see it.
When Bowman had first seen Japetus, the curious bright oval area had been partly in shadow. Now, as the moon moved slowly along its seventy-nine day orbit, it was coming into the full light of day.
As he watched it grow, Bowman began to have a worrying feeling. He never mentioned it to Mission Control because he did not want them to think he was going mad. Perhaps he was; he had almost made himself believe that the bright oval was an enormous empty eye, staring at him as he approached. But it was not completely empty. When the ship was eighty thousand kilometres out, and Japetus was twice as large as the Earth's familiar Moon, he noticed a tiny black spot at the exact centre of the oval. However there was no time, then, for any detailed examination. The meeting-point was getting close.
For the last time, Discovery's main engines started up. David Bowman felt a sense of pride, and of sadness. These engines had brought the ship here from Earth with total efficiency. Soon there would be no more fuel, and then Discovery would be as dead as an asteroid, a helpless prisoner of gravity. Even when the rescue ship finally arrived a few years into the future, it would not be economical to refuel her. She would continue to orbit, empty and alone.
The whistle of the main jets died away. Only the side jets continued to move Discovery gently into orbit. Then even they shut down. The ship was now circling Japetus at a height of eighty kilometres.
Discovery had become a satellite of a satellite.
' I'm coming round to the daylight side again, and it's just as I reported on the last orbit. This place seems to have only two kinds of surface material. The black stuff looks burnt - very like burnt toast.
' I still can't make any sense of the white area. It has a very sharp edge, and there are no surface details at all. Picture a sea of frozen milk - though sometimes I feel that it's moving slowly.
'... I'm over the white area again, on my third orbit. This time I hope to pass closer to that mark I noticed at its centre, on my way in. If my calculations are correct, I'll go within eighty kilometres of it — whatever it is.
'...Yes, there's something ahead, just where I calculated. It's coming over the horizon — and so is Saturn. I'll move to the telescope ...
' Hello! - it looks like some kind of building - completely black. No windows or other features. Just a big object standing ... at least a kilometre high. It reminds me - of course! It's just like the thing you found on the Moon !This isTMA-1's big brother!'
Call it the Star Gate.
For three million years it had circled Saturn, waiting for a meeting that might never come. When it was created, a moon was destroyed, and the broken pieces still orbited the planet.
Now the long wait was ending. On another world, intelligence had been born and was escaping from its home. An ancient experiment was almost at an end.
The creatures who had begun that experiment, so long ago, had not been human. But they were flesh and blood. And as soon as they were able to, they flew to the stars.
In their explorations, they met with life in many forms. And when they found it had some intelligence, they encouraged its growth.When the explorers came to Earth, they made changes to many types of animal. They would not know, for at least a million years, which of their experiments would succeed. But there was no need for them to wait and watch. The servants they had left behind would do that for them.
As time passed, those first explorers of Earth went through many changes themselves. As soon as they could build machines that were better than their bodies, they left their bodies and became machines. In time, they learned to store knowledge in the structure of space itself. Then they freed themselves from the machines and turned into creatures of pure energy.
Now they were lords of the Galaxy, and beyond the reach of time. They could move as they wanted among the stars. But despite their godlike powers, they had not completely forgotten their beginning.
And they still watched the experiments that had been started so long ago.
There's been no reaction to my signals, and every time I fly over, I'm a bit further away from TMA-2. At the moment my closest approach is a hundred kilometres. That will increase slowly as Japetus turns beneath me, then it will drop back to zero. I'll pass directly over it in thirty days, but by that time it will be in darkness.
' So I'd like you to agree to this plan. I want to leave the ship in one of the space vehicles and take a close look. If it seems safe, I'll land beside it — or even on top of it.
' I'm sure this is the only thing to do. I've come more than a billion kilometres — I don't want to be stopped by the last hundred.'
For weeks the Star Gate had watched the approaching ship. Its makers had prepared it for many things, and this was one of them. It watched, then it listened to the ship's signals, but it did nothing.
There was a long pause, then it saw that something was falling down towards it. It searched its memory and made the decisions it was built to make.
Beneath the cold light of Saturn, the Star Gate woke its sleeping powers.
Discovery looked just as he had last seen her from space, floating in lunar orbit with the Moon taking up half the sky. Now he was leaving, perhaps for the last time, the metal world that had been his home for so many months. Even if he never returned, the ship would continue to send signals back to Earth, until finally its electrical systems failed. And if he did return? Well, he could stay alive for a few more months. But that was all, because the hibernation systems were useless with no computer to operate them. He could not possibly continue to live until Discovery II arrived in four or five years time.
He put these thoughts behind him as the black block of TMA-2 climbed above the horizon. He turned the vehicle right round and used the engines to slow his speed. He was still about eight kilometres high now, and heading straight for the enormous black object. It was as featureless as the flat surface below him, and until now he had not realized how enormous it really was. And as far as could be seen, its sizes had exactly the same 1 to 4 to 9 relationship as those of TMA-1.
'I'm only five kilometres away now. Still no sign of activity — nothing on any of the instruments. The sides and top seem absolutely smooth and polished. Now I'm directly over it, about a hundred and fifty metres up. I'm going to land. It's certainly solid enough.
'Just a minute — that's odd ..."
Bowman's voice died away. He was not frightened; he simply could not describe what he was seeing. He had been hanging above a black block, but now the top of it seemed to be moving away from him, down to the surface of Japetus, and then lower. It was exactly like looking at a drawing of a square box, where suddenly the near side can become the far side. Now it seemed he was looking straight down a black hole in the ground. And, even more strange, although its sides went down for a long way, they never seemed to get closer together.
David Bowman had time for just one broken sentence, which the scientists waiting in Mission Control, fourteen million kilometres away, never forgot:
' The thing's hollow — it goes on for ever — and — oh my God - it's full of stars!'
The Star Gate opened. The Star Gate closed.
In a moment of time too short to be measured, Space turned and twisted on itself.
Then Japetus was alone again, as it had been for three million years — alone, except for an empty ship, sending back to its makers messages which they could not believe or understand.
Chapter 41 Grand Central
David Bowman seemed to be dropping down a hole several thousand metres deep. He was moving faster and faster - but the far end never changed its size, and remained always at the same distance from him.
Time was also behaving strangely, as he realized when he looked at the vehicle's small clock. Normally, the tenth-of-a-second window moved past so quickly that it was almost impossible for him to read the numbers. Now the numbers seemed to be slowing down. At last, the counter stopped between five and six.
But he could still think, and watch, as the black walls moved past him at a speed he could not even begin to guess. He was not at all surprised, or afraid. He had travelled those millions of kilometres in search of a mystery, and now it seemed that the mystery was coming to him.
The end of the passage, which had stood still for so long, began to move towards him. For a moment he wondered if he had fallen right through Japetus. But when the vehicle came out into the light, he knew this place was unlike any known world. It was big, perhaps much bigger than Earth, but all the surface that Bowman could see was covered with large artificial shapes, some kilometres long on each side. And at the centre of many of those were large black holes - like the one that he had come out from.
The sky above, at first, looked soft and milky-white. But as he looked closer, he realized that it was covered with many small black spots. They reminded Bowman of something so familiar, but so crazy that for a time he refused to accept the idea. Those black holes in the white sky were stars. It was like looking at a photographic negative of the Milky Way1
Where am I ? Bowman asked himself. But even as he asked the question, he knew that he could never know the answer. It seemed that Space had been turned inside out: this was not a place for Man. Although the vehicle was comfortably warm, he felt suddenly cold and started to shake.
Something was coming over the horizon. At first it looked like a circle, but that was because it was moving directly towards him. As it approached and passed beneath him, he saw that it was tube-shaped, and several hundred metres long. It was pointed at each end, but there was no sign of a jet engine.
He moved his eyes to another screen to watch the thing drop behind him. It had ignored him completely, and now it was falling out of the sky, down towards one of those thousands of great holes. A few seconds later it dived into the planet, and Bowman was alone again.
Then he saw that he was sinking down towards the surface. One of the holes grew larger beneath him, and then the empty sky closed above him. The clock slowed and stopped. Once again his vehicle was falling between black walls towards another distant group of stars. But now he was sure he was not returning to the Solar System, and suddenly he realized what this place must be.
It was like some kind of enormous crossroads, allowing the traffic of the stars to move into different areas of space and time. He was passing through a Grand Central Station2 of the Galaxy.
Chapter 42 A Different Sky
Far ahead, the walls of the hole were becoming faintly light again. And then the darkness suddenly ended, as the tiny vehicle shot upwards into a sky lit up with stars.
He was back in space as he knew it, but a single look told him he was light-centuries from Earth. He did not even try to
1 Milky Way: a galaxy of about 100,000 stars, including the Sun.
2 Grand Central Station: the main railway station in New York
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