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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 perform its duty, broadcasting
instrument readings back to Earth until there was some final, catastrophic failure in its
And if he did return? Well, he could keep alive, and perhaps even sane, for a few more months.
But that was all, for the hibernation systems were useless with no computer to monitor them. He
could not possibly survive until Discovery II made its rendezvous with Japetus, four or five years
He put these thoughts behind him, as the golden crescent of Saturn rose in the sky ahead. In
all history, he was the only man to have seen this sight. To all other eyes, Saturn had always
shown its whole illuminated disk turned full toward the Sun. Now it was a delicate bow, with the
rings forming a thin line across it – like an arrow about to be loosed, into the face of the Sun
Also in the line of the rings was the bright star of Titan, and the fainter sparks of the
other moons. Before this century was half gone, men would have visited them all; but whatever
secrets they might hold, he would never know.
The sharp-edged boundary of the blind white eye was sweeping toward him; there was only a
hundred miles to go, and he would be over his target in less than ten minutes. He wished that
there was some way of telling if his words were reaching Earth, now an hour and a half away at the
speed of light. It would be the ultimate irony if, through some breakdown in the relay system, he
disappeared into silence, and no one ever knew what had happened to him.
Discovery was still a brilliant star in the black sky far above. He was pulling ahead as he
gained speed during his descent, but soon the pod’s braking jets would slow him down and the ship
would sail on out of sight – leaving him alone on this shining plain with the dark mystery at its
A block of ebony was climbing above the horizon, eclipsing the stars ahead. He rolled the pod
around its gyros, and used full thrust to break his orbital speed. In a long, flat arc, he
descended toward the surface of Japetus.
On a world of higher gravity, the maneuver would have been far too extravagant of fuel. But
here the space pod weighed only a score of pounds; he had several minutes of hovering time before
he would cut dangerously into his reserve and be stranded without any hope of return to the still
orbiting Discovery. Not, perhaps, that it made much difference…
His altitude was still about five miles, and he was heading straight toward the huge, dark
mass that soared in such geometrical perfection above the featureless plain. It was as blank as
the flat white surface beneath; until now, he had not appreciated how enormous it really was.
There were very few single buildings on Earth as large as this; his carefully measured photographs
indicated a height of almost two thousand feet. And as far as could be judged, its proportions
were precisely the same as TMA-l’s – that curious ratio 1 to 4 to 9.
“I’m only three miles away now, holding altitude at four thousand feet. Still not a sign of
activity – nothing on any of the instruments. The faces seem absolutely smooth and polished.
Surely you’d expect some meteorite damage after all this time!
“And there’s no debris on the – I suppose one could call it the roof. No sign of any opening,
either. I’d been hoping there might be some way in.
“Now I’m right above it, hovering five hundred feet up. I don’t want to waste any time, since
Discovery will soon be out of range. I’m going to land. It’s certainly solid enough – and if it
isn’t I’ll blast off at once.
2001 A Space Odyssey, Arthur Clarke