find some of the familiar patterns of stars. Perhaps none of them had ever been seen without the help of a telescope.
Most were concentrated in a shining belt which completely circled the sky Bowman wondered if this was his own galaxy, seen from a point much closer to its shining, crowded centre.
He hoped that it was; then he would not be so far from home. But this, he realized at once, was a childish thought. He was so far from the Solar System that it made little difference whether he was in his own galaxy or the most distant one that any telescope had ever found.
He looked back to see the thing from which he was rising, and had another shock. There was no surface covered with great patterns, nor any copy of Japetus. There was nothing — except a black shadow, like an open door into a dark room. As he watched, that black shadow slowly filled with stars, as if a hole in space had been repaired.
The vehicle was turning slowly, bringing more new stars into view, and then a great red sun appeared in the window. It was many times larger than the Moon as seen from Earth. Bowman could look at it without discomfort; judging by its colour, it was not hotter than a dying coal. This was a star that had left behind the fire of its youth, and was settling into a peaceful middle age.
The vehicle stopped turning; the great sun lay straight in front. Though there was no feeling of movement, Bowman could tell that he was getting closer to it. Ahead of him, one of the stars was becoming rapidly brighter, and was beginning to move against its background. It came up to him with unexpected speed; and he saw that it was not a world at all.
It was an enormous structure of metal, hundreds of kilometres across. In different places across its surface were great buildings which were as large as cities, and arranged around these, in neat rows and lines, were hundreds of smaller objects. After some time Bowman realized that these were spaceships. He was flying over an enormous orbital car park.
Because he could see no familiar object, it was almost impossible to calculate the size of the ships. But some were certainly enormous; perhaps kilometres long. They were of many different designs — round balls, thin pencils, flat circles. This must be one of the meeting places for the commercial traffic of the stars.
Or it had been — perhaps a million years ago. Bowman could not see any signs of activity anywhere. This great space-port was as dead as the Moon.
It was not only the absence of movement. There were great holes in the structure, caused by asteroids crashing through it over many years. This was not a working car-park now; it was a resting place for dead vehicles.
He had missed its builders by ages, and when he understood this, Bowman's heart sank. He had not known what to expect, but at least he had hoped to meet with some intelligence. Now, it seemed, he was too late. He had been caught in an ancient, automatic trap, which was still working when its makers had died long ago. It had carried him across the Galaxy, and left him in this dead sea of stars to die when his air-supply ended.
Well, he had already seen wonderful things for which many men would give their lives. Four of his companions already had; he had no reason to complain.
The ruined space-port was still sliding past him at high speed. In a few more minutes, it had fallen behind.
His destination was not there — but far ahead in the great red sun which his vehicle was unmistakably falling towards.
Now there was only the red sun filling the sky from side to side. He was so close now that he could see great clouds of gas moving across its surface.
He did not even try to understand how big this planet was. The sizes of Jupiter and Saturn had been beyond his imagination, but everything here was a hundred times larger. He could only accept the pictures that were flooding into his mind, without attempting to think what they meant.
As that sea of fire grew beneath him, Bowman expected to be afraid — but, curiously, he now felt only a slight nervousness. He knew that he was under the protection of a higher intelligence. He was now very close to the red sun, but someone — or something — was protecting him from the heat, so perhaps there was reason to hope.
The vehicle was now moving in a shallow curve almost parallel to the surface of the star. And, as he looked down, Bowman saw something new. Moving across the ocean of hot gas were thousands of bright spots. They shone in a soft light that became brighter and fainter every few seconds. And they were all traveling in the same direction, like fish moving up a river. Bowman felt that their movement had some purpose. He would probably never know what it was.
He was moving through a new kind of world, which few people had ever dreamed of. Beyond sea and land and air and space lay the regions of fire, which only he had been lucky enough to see. It was too much to expect that he would also understand.
It seemed that walls of some material like smoked glass were thickening around him, cutting out the red light and hiding the view. It became darker and darker. A moment later, the vehicle settled on a hard surface and stopped.
Stopped on what? Bowman asked himself. Then light returned and, as he looked around him, Bowman knew he must be mad. He was prepared, he thought, for anything. But he had never expected everything to be completely ordinary.
The vehicle was resting on the polished floor of a large hotel room, the same kind of room that you might find in any city on Earth. He was staring at a coffee table, a sofa, a dozen chairs, a writing desk, various lamps, a half-filled bookcase with some magazines lying on it, and even a bowl of flowers.
For many minutes Bowman did not move from his seat. It all seemed real, but there was still the question of air. So he closed the helmet of his suit. Then he opened the door of the vehicle and stepped out into the room.
Like a man in a dream, he walked across to the coffee table. On it sat a normal Bell System Picturephone, complete with local phone book. He bent down and picked it up with his thick gloved hands. It showed, in the familiar type he had seen thousands of times, the name: ^ Then he looked more closely and, for the first time, he had proof that, although all this might look real, he was not on Earth.
He could read only the word WASHINGTON; the rest of the printing was unclear, like a copy of a newspaper photograph. He opened the book and looked through the pages. They were all plain sheets of white material which certainly was not paper, though it looked very much like it.
He lifted the telephone and pressed it against the plastic of his helmet. If there had been any sound, he would have heard it. But, as he had expected, there was only silence.
So — it was all a copy, though a very careful one. And it was clearly not intended to deceive but — he hoped — to make him feel at home. He would not remove his suit, though, until he had completed his voyage of exploration.
There were two doors that opened easily. The first one took him into a small but comfortable bedroom. He opened a cupboard door and found four suits, white shirts, underwear and pyjamas.
Next to the bedroom was a bathroom with all the expected things, all of which worked in a perfectly normal manner. And after that was a small kitchen with electric cooker, fridge, cupboards and drawers, sink, table and chairs. Bowman realized that he was hungry.
First he opened the fridge. The shelves were filled with packages and cans; they all looked perfectly familiar from a distance, though the print on their labels was unclear. However, there were no eggs, milk, butter, fruit, or any other types of unprocessed food.
Bowman picked up a package. The larger words on it said that it contained bread, but it seemed too heavy. He opened the paper at one end. It was full of a blue substance. Apart from its odd colour, it looked rather like bread pudding. But this is silly, Bowman told himself. I am almost certainly being watched, and I must look a fool wearing this suit. If this is an intelligence test, I've probably failed already.
Without hesitation, he walked back into the bedroom and began to undo his helmet. When it was loose, he lifted it a little and smelled the atmosphere cautiously. He seemed to be breathing perfectly normal air.
He dropped the helmet on the bed and took off his suit. Then he walked back into the kitchen and ate some of the blue substance. The taste was complicated, but pleasant enough. He looked around for something to drink. There were some cans of beer at the back of the fridge. He opened one, and found that it held more of the blue food.
In a few seconds, he had opened half a dozen of the other packages and cans. Whatever their labels, their contents were the same. So he filled a glass with water from the kitchen tap, and tasted it cautiously.
It was terrible, but that was because it had no taste at all; the tap was supplying totally pure water. His hosts were obviously taking no chances with his health.
Feeling much better, he then had a quick shower and dressed himself in clothes from the cupboard. He lay down on the bed. Above it was the usual hotel-type ceiling TV screen. At first he thought that, like the telephone, it was just a copy. But the control unit beside the bed looked so real that his fingers moved to the ON button. The screen lit up.
He pressed the channel button, and saw a well-known African broadcaster, discussing his country's wild life. Bowman listened for a few seconds, happy to hear a human voice again. Then he changed channels and found himself watching a cowboy film. He changed again and again, and saw a number of TV programmes from different parts of the world.
However, all of them were about two years old. That was around the time TMA-1 had been discovered. It meant that the black object had spent its time recording the radio waves.
He continued to change channels, and suddenly recognized a familiar scene. There, on the screen, was the room he had first arrived in. However, instead of his vehicle, it contained a famous actor who was having a noisy argument with an actress. Bowman was shocked at first — and when the camera followed the angry couple to the bedroom, he almost expected someone to come in.
So his hosts had based their idea of life on Earth on TV programmes. He had learned all he needed to know for the moment, so he turned off the set. He knew he was exhausted, but it seemed impossible that he could sleep. He switched off the light, and within seconds had passed beyond the reach of dreams.
For the last time, David Bowman slept.
Since there was no more use for them, the hotel rooms disappeared back into the mind of their creator. Only the bed remained, on which David Bowman lay. He did not wake; he did not dream. Something entered his mind, and he moved into a type of consciousness that no man had ever experienced before. At first it seemed that Time was running backwards, but then he understood.
His memory was being examined. He was reliving his past, one experience at a time. There was the living-room with its coffee table and telephone — there the vehicle — there the burning red sun — there the black hole he had fallen so far down.
Now he was on Discovery again, and the rings of Saturn filled the sky. Before that he was talking to Hal, talking to Frank Poole, talking to Earth.
He was travelling back down the passages of time. All his knowledge and experience was leaving him as he moved back to his childhood. But nothing was being lost; everything that he had ever been, at every moment of his life, was being moved to a safer place. As one David Bowman died, another would continue to live.
And in an empty room, in the fires of a star twenty-thousand light years from Earth, a baby opened its eyes and began to cry.
Then it became silent, as it saw that it was not alone.
A ghostly, shining square had formed in the empty air. Moving across it were bars of light and shadow.
It was a sight to hold the attention of any child — or any man-ape. But, as it had been three million years before, it was only the outside shape of more complicated forces. It held the baby's attention, while his mind was examined and explored, and changed.
With eyes that already held more than human intelligence, the baby stared at the glass object, seeing — but not yet understanding — the mysteries that lay beyond. It knew that it had come home, that here was the beginning of many races besides its own, but it also knew that it could not stay. Beyond this lay another birth, stranger than any in the past, and now the moment had come.
The metal and plastic of the forgotten vehicle, and the clothing once worn by David Bowman, flashed into flame. The last connections with Earth were gone.
But the child hardly noticed. He knew that he was still a baby, and would remain one until he had decided on a new form. Or he might pass beyond the need for any form.
And now it was time to go. He knew his destination, but there was no need to return the way he had come. With three million years of knowledge, he now understood that there were more ways than one to move through space. The ancient Star Gate had served him well, but he would not need it again.
Confident, because he knew that he was not alone, he travelled across the light-years. Stars slipped p.isl on each side at unbelievable speed. The Milky Way became faint as it fell behind him.
Then he was back, exactly where he wished to be, in the space that men called real.
There before him, a shining toy that no Star-Child could ignore, floated the planet Earth with all its peoples.
He had returned in time. Down there the alarms would be Hashing across computer screens as the human race prepared for its final war.
A thousand kilometres below, he saw that a bomb was going to explode in the atmosphere. It was no danger to him, but he preferred a cleaner sky. He held it in his mind, and it burned quickly and silently.
Then he waited, wondering about his other untested powers. Though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next.
But he would think of something.
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