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قراءة كتاب Scrimshaw

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‏اللغة: English
Scrimshaw

Scrimshaw

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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SCRIMSHAW

The old man just wanted to get back his memory—and the methods he used were gently hellish, from the viewpoint of the others....

BY MURRAY LEINSTER

Illustrated by Freas

Pop Young was the one known man who could stand life on the surface of the Moon's far side, and, therefore, he occupied the shack on the Big Crack's edge, above the mining colony there. Some people said that no normal man could do it, and mentioned the scar of a ghastly head-wound to explain his ability. One man partly guessed the secret, but only partly. His name was Sattell and he had reason not to talk. Pop Young alone knew the whole truth, and he kept his mouth shut, too. It wasn't anybody else's business.

The shack and the job he filled were located in the medieval notion of the physical appearance of hell. By day the environment was heat and torment. By night—lunar night, of course, and lunar day—it was frigidity and horror. Once in two weeks Earth-time a rocketship came around the horizon from Lunar City with stores for the colony deep underground. Pop received the stores and took care of them. He handed over the product of the mine, to be forwarded to Earth. The rocket went away again. Come nightfall Pop lowered the supplies down the long cable into the Big Crack to the colony far down inside, and freshened up the landing field marks with magnesium marking-powder if a rocket-blast had blurred them. That was fundamentally all he had to do. But without him the mine down in the Crack would have had to shut down.

The Crack, of course, was that gaping rocky fault which stretches nine hundred miles, jaggedly, over the side of the Moon that Earth never sees. There is one stretch where it is a yawning gulf a full half-mile wide and unguessably deep. Where Pop Young's shack stood it was only a hundred yards, but the colony was a full mile down, in one wall. There is nothing like it on Earth, of course. When it was first found, scientists descended into it to examine the exposed rock-strata and learn the history of the Moon before its craters were made. But they found more than history. They found the reason for the colony and the rocket landing field and the shack.

The reason for Pop was something else.

The shack stood a hundred feet from the Big Crack's edge. It looked like a dust-heap thirty feet high, and it was. The outside was surface moondust, piled over a tiny dome to be insulation against the cold of night and shadow and the furnace heat of day. Pop lived in it all alone, and in his spare time he worked industriously at recovering some missing portions of his life that Sattell had managed to take away from him.

He thought often of Sattell, down in the colony underground. There were galleries and tunnels and living-quarters down there. There were air-tight bulkheads for safety, and a hydroponic garden to keep the air fresh, and all sorts of things to make life possible for men under if not on the Moon.

But it wasn't fun, even underground. In the Moon's slight gravity, a man is really adjusted to existence when he has a well-developed case of agoraphobia. With such an aid, a man can get into a tiny, coffinlike cubbyhole, and feel solidity above and below and around him, and happily tell himself that it feels delicious. Sometimes it does.

But Sattell couldn't comfort himself so easily. He knew about Pop, up on the surface. He'd shipped out, whimpering, to the Moon to get far away from Pop, and Pop was just about a mile overhead and there was no way to get around him. It was difficult to get away from the mine, anyhow. It doesn't take too long for the low gravity to tear a man's nerves to shreds. He has to develop kinks in his head to survive. And those kinks—

The first men to leave the colony had to be knocked cold and shipped out unconscious. They'd been underground—and in low gravity—long enough to be utterly unable to face the idea of open spaces. Even now there were some

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