Hal Clement

Heavy Planet


Mission of Gravity was first published in Astounding Science Fiction, April-July 1953. “Under” was first published in The Essential Hal Clement, Volume 3 (NESFA Press, 2000) and has appeared in Analog, January 2000. “Lecture Demonstration” was first published in Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology, edited by Harry Harrison (Random House, 1973). Star Light was first published in Analog, June — September 1970. At the author’s request, this novel follows the Ballantine paperback text as modified by the author and should be considered the definitive text of this novel. “Whirligig World” was first published in Astounding Science Fiction, June 1953.

All stories appear by permission of the author.



The wind came across the bay like something living. It tore the surface so thoroughly to shreds that it was hard to tell where liquid ended and atmosphere began; it tried to raise waves that would have swamped the Bree like a chip, and blew them into impalpable spray before they had risen a foot. The spray alone reached Barlennan, crouched high on the Bree’s poop raft. His ship had long since been hauled safely ashore. That had been done the moment he had been sure that he would stay here for the winter; but he could not help feeling a little uneasy even so. Those waves were many times as high as any he had faced at sea, and somehow it was not completely reassuring to reflect that the lack of weight which permitted them to rise so high would also prevent their doing real damage if they did roll this far up the beach. Barlennan was not particularly superstitious, but this close to the Rim of the World there was really no telling what could happen. Even his crew, an unimaginative lot by any reckoning, showed occasional signs of uneasiness. There was bad luck here, they muttered — whatever dwelt beyond the Rim and sent the fearful winter gales blasting thousands of miles into the world might resent being disturbed. At every accident the muttering broke out anew, and accidents were frequent. The fact that anyone is apt to make a misstep when he weighs about two and a quarter pounds instead of the five hundred and fifty or so to which he has been used all his life seemed obvious to the commander; but apparently an education, or at least the habit of logical thought, was needed to appreciate that. Even Dondragmer, who should have known better … Barlennan’s long body tensed and he almost roared an order before he really took in what was going on two rafts away. The mate had picked this moment, apparently, to check the stays of one of the masts, and had taken advantage of near-weightlessness to rear almost his full length upward from the deck. It was still a fantastic sight to see him towering, balanced precariously on his six rear-most legs, though most of the Bree’s crew had become fairly used to such tricks; but that was not what impressed Barlennan. At two pounds’ weight, one held onto something or else was blown away by the first breeze; and no one could hold onto anything with six walking legs. When that gale struck?but already no order could be heard, even if the commander were to shriek his loudest. He had actually started to creep across the first buffer space separating him from the scene of action when he saw that the mate had fastened a set of lines to his harness and to the deck, and was almost as securely tied down as the mast he was working on. Barlennan relaxed once more. He knew why Don had done it — it was a simple act of defiance to whatever was driving this particular storm, and he was deliberately impressing his attitude on the crew. Good fellow, thought Barlennan, and turned his attention once more to the bay. No witness could have told precisely where the shore line now lay. A blinding whirl of white spray and nearly white sand hid everything more than a hundred yards from the Bree in every direction; and now even the ship was growing difficult to see as hard-driven droplets of methane struck bulletlike and smeared themselves over his eye shells. At least the deck under his many feet was still rocksteady; light as it now was, the vessel did not seem prepared to blow away. It shouldn’t, the commander thought grimly, as he recalled the scores of cables now holding to deep-struck anchors and to the low trees that dotted the beach. It shouldn’t — but his would not be the first ship to disappear while venturing this near the Rim. Maybe his crew’s suspicion of the Flyer had some justice. After all, that strange being had persuaded him to remain for the winter, and had somehow done it without promising any protection to ship or crew. Still, if the Flyer wanted to destroy them, he could certainly do so more easily and certainly than by arguing them into this trick. If that huge structure he rode should get above the Bree even here where weight meant so little, there would be no more to be said. Barlennan turned his mind to other matters; he had in full measure the normal Mesklinite horror of letting himself get even temporarily under anything really solid. The crew had long since taken shelter under the deck flaps — even the mate ceased work as the storm actually struck. They were all present; Barlennan had counted the humps under the protecting fabric while he could still see the whole ship. There were no hunters out, for no sailor had needed the Flyer’s warning that a storm was approaching. None of them had been more than five miles from the security of the ship for the last ten days, and five miles was no distance to travel in this weight. They had plenty of supplies, of course; Barlennan was no fool himself, and did his best to employ none. Still, fresh food was nice. He wondered how long this particular storm would keep them penned in; that was something the signs did not tell, clearly as they heralded the approach of the disturbance. Perhaps the Flyer knew that. In any case, there was nothing further to be done about the ship; he might as well talk to the strange creature. Barlennan still felt a faint thrill of unbelief whenever he looked at the device the Flyer had given him, and never tired of assuring himself once more of its powers. It lay, under a small shelter flap of its own, on the poop raft beside him. It was an apparently solid block, three inches long and about half as high and wide. A transparent spot in the otherwise blank surface of one end looked like an eye, and apparently functioned as one. The only other feature was a small, round hole in one of the long faces. The block was lying with this face upward, and the “eye” end projecting slightly from under the shelter flap. The flap itself opened downwind, of course, so that its fabric was now plastered tightly against the flat upper surface of the machine. Barlennan worked an arm under the flap, groped around until he found the hole, and inserted his pincer. There was no moving part, such as a switch or button, inside, but that did not bother him — he had never encountered such devices any more than he had met thermal, photonic, or capacity-activated relays. He knew from experience that the fact of putting anything opaque into that hole was somehow made known to the Flyer, and he knew that there was no point whatever in his attempting to figure out how it was done. It would be, he sometimes reflected ruefully, something like teaching navigation to a ten-day-old child. The intelligence might be there — it was comforting to think so, anyway — but some years of background experience were lacking. “Charles Lackland here.” The machine spoke abruptly, cutting the train of thought. “That you, Barl?”

“This is Barlennan, Charles.” The commander spoke the Flyer’s language, in which he was gradually becoming proficient. “Good to hear from you. Were we right about this little breeze?”

“It came at the time you predicted. Just a moment — yes, there is snow with it. I had not noticed. I see no dust as yet, however.”

“It will come. That volcano must have fed ten cubic miles of it into the air, and it’s been spreading for days.” Barlennan made no direct reply to this. The volcano in question was still a point of contention between them, since it was located in a part of Mesklin which, according to Barlennan’s geographical background, did not exist. “What I

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