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Space Ark
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-041-8
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction
eBook Length: 133 Pages
Published: April 2003



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Total Readers: 4

From inside the flap

They're back! Moses Mneh, Rita Ten, Walter Centaurus, and the evil President of the New Worlds Confederacy live again in this reissue of the SF cult classic of the 1980s. A mixed band of humans and renegade Simminoids races against time to build Space Ark-Earth's last hope to escape an exploding supernova...and the dark force that will pursue them to the very limits of the universe.


Reviews and Awards

Reviews - Space Ark

"Thomas Hubschman's Space Ark is a welcome reissue of a 1981 science fiction 'cult classic.' A small band of humans and renegade 'Simminoids' must strive to build Space Ark to save themselves from an exploding supernova, while a shadowy evil force hounds them beyond the depths of space and time. A rousing and adventurous science-fiction saga, Space Ark is confidently recommended reading to a new generation of science fiction buffs."

-Midwest Book Review, March 2003


"In this emended reissue of Thomas Hubschman's cult space-opera novel, Space Ark (1981), Moses Mneh, Rita Ten and friends strive to save Earth from an exploding supernova-and the villainous humans who value their power more than the planet's safety."

-Publishers Weekly, 12/16/03




Space Ark (Excerpt)


Space Ark
by
Thomas Hubschman

Chapter One


Morning sunlight streamed in through the big, cathedral windows. Twenty mental retards were at play on the smooth, polished floor. Some were laying wood blocks end to end. I watched one, a bald middle-aged imbecile with tufts of gray hair sprouting just above his earlobes, and thought that, given a perpetual supply of those faceless cubes, he would lay them from here to the end of the universe and back, forming a great, perfect ellipse. His concentration was complete, his determination unshakable. Each day he performed the same ritual?or was it actually an infantile experiment? Only the attendant, a bruiser well over six feet, could break his fascination, and not without a fight.

It was mid-morning. Playtime would continue for another hour. I looked out through the clear polysilicate wall. It was full spring on Earth. When I last left my home planet, it was deep in the grip of a northern winter, the capital of the New Worlds Confederacy blanketed beneath ten inches of snow. The big outer-planet shuttles were being diverted to landing fields further south. The President was vacationing in Jamaica.

Since my return I had spent a good part of my time watching the small buds of a sycamore tree slowly open. Imprisoned as I was, I became a connoisseur of the crocus and the hyacinth. What else could I do? Branded as mentally defective by a government I had spent ten years serving?for the most part in capacities such as Waste Control Inspector for the Jovan moon system?now I was condemned to spend the rest of my days in a state hospital. Was this the thanks I got for my long years of service, not to mention the final, nearly fatal mission that ultimately landed me in this sorry mess?

As I scanned a clump of lilacs near the small park adjoining the hospital grounds, I realized what a mistake I had made in reporting my fateful discovery directly to a politician. I should have gone first to my immediate superior in the Division for Colonial Affairs, let him spring it on his own boss, and him on his, until word reached the President through ordinary official channels. That way I would have spared myself the humiliation of being diagnosed a fool (how could I know my speech would sound like gobbledygook after several days of hyperphotic travel?) and perhaps have saved the solar system as well from a cataclysmic fate. The President might be able to silence one junior-grade civil servant, but he could hardly keep under wraps a piece of news an entire governmental department had been exposed to.

Marshall Lynch had been a boyhood hero of mine, along with millions of other youths. He was also my ultimate superior as President of the New Worlds Confederacy. I would have laughed at, then probably slugged, anyone who maligned the man, until the day he had me thrown into this booby hatch for telling him that the end of the world, our entire solar system, was at hand.

The gray-haired moron had reached the wall and was beginning a second line of blocks, keeping them strictly parallel with the first. Drool had accumulated on his bottom lip. His baggy pants were half off. He looked like any two-year-old cutting a back molar. Only the regularity of the lines he was constructing suggested a more mature, however twisted, intelligence.

He never invited me to join his game. But he seemed to know I took a special interest in it. When his daily project approached my usual post near the window, his eye would catch my own and a flicker of something?was it cunning??came alive there. In his childish mind perhaps he saw me as an accomplice. He might even be hoping to make me his playmate, as others had tried to do when I was first placed on the ward. A gang of retarded adults can be every bit as impetuous as the infants they emulate. It was boredom with my unfertile adult imagination that finally caused them to leave me in peace. If I had had to defend myself from their collective will, I would have been mincemeat by now.

I sized him up for a possible confrontation. Unlike most of his mental contemporaries, he was a lightweight. I could take him with one hand behind my back.

His line, until now strictly parallel to the one already stretching from one end of the ward to the other, veered off radically as it came near where I was standing. He added more blocks in a seemingly haphazard way, causing the line to zig and zag. I watched, wondering if something in his brain had gone haywire.

The pattern now stretched almost to the window. For a moment I thought he would continue on until the thick polysilicate wall stopped him. But then the line of blocks abruptly came to a halt and, after a quick furtive look over his shoulder he returned to the middle of the pattern. Hurriedly, he extended the lines between two points of the zigzag, forming an imperfect parallelogram. Then he added several blocks to one corner of the figure, making a small triangle.

If you mentally erased the blocks between the points of the pattern, the figure looked like a molecular diagram or even a constellation. First I tried to fit it into the shape of an atomic structure. It came close to the configuration of some carbonates I once had to sketch for a chemistry class, but it was too loose a pattern to make anything definite out of it.

Next I matched it with the constellations visible from the northern hemisphere. Here I was on more familiar territory. I was no astronomer, but any spacedog knows the constellations. Stars are to him what channels and sandbars are to a river pilot. I started with Ursa Major and worked my way south. None of them quite fit.

I continued across the ecliptic into the southern hemisphere. The game was getting tedious. I didn?t really expect to find a set of stars to match the imbecileís block figure. Still, did I have anything better to do? Sadly, this was the best mental stimulation I had had for several days.

I worked my way to the Southern Cross without success. I was running out of stars. It was almost snack time and, childish as it seemed, I looked forward to my cookies and milk as much as any of my impaired brethren. But thanks to my long years of academic training, I was also determined to solve the conundrum on the floor in front of me. I passed quickly through Libra and Scorpius, heading towards Ophiuchus at the very tip of the southern hemisphere. Then something made me pause and retrace my route in the direction of the Southern Cross. Was I mistaken, or did that lopsided parallelogram and the triangular cluster of blocks at one of its points look like??

I moved to one side to better orient myself to the northern end of the constellation. Imagine my amazement when I saw that it fit perfectly. There on the floor beneath me, made of plastic childrenís blocks, was Centaurus?the very star system I had just escaped from by the bare skin of my teeth!

The man watched my reaction with that look of cunning I had observed earlier. Only this time there was added an undeniable and mature intelligence. I started to say something, but the finger he placed across his lips reminded me that we were being watched. I heard the attendantís heavy tread approaching. My astronomical friend began rearranging his blocks. I pretended an interest in a group of starlings on the lawn outside. The attendant came to a halt just a few feet away from us. My friend continued moving his blocks about as if trying to form a new pattern. Unable to produce the figure he wanted, he pushed them all together and began again. More drool issued from his bottom lip. The hair on the back of my head, like so many tentacles, sensed the attendantís powerful presence behind me. Thus far he had left me alone, perhaps under orders. But from the way I had seen him manhandle some of the other "patients," he didn?t seem like the sort who enjoyed leaving anyone unmolested.

Unsuccessful a second time, the balding man suddenly began to throw a temper tantrum. I had seen a number of such outbursts in the past week. I hardly paid them any attention anymore, except to put plenty of distance between myself and the one acting out. But this was no ordinary tantrum. The imbecilic figure kicking his feet in the air and screaming at the top of his lungs was not just a more intriguing version of the other retards. He was play-acting, and doing a good job of it, I noted as I jumped aside so as not to catch one of his kicks.

But whatever differences I myself had noted between this man and the other patients, the attendant saw merely another opportunity to exercise his sadistic bent for keeping order. With one swat of his meaty hand he sent the man flying across the shiny floor, only coming to rest after slamming into one of the thick polysilicate windows and bouncing back half a dozen feet toward the attendant. The brute reached down and picked him up by the scruff of the neck with little more effort than a mother cat might pick up a kitten, and dragged him to the Quiet Room at the end of the ward.

When the attendant returned a few minutes later, he eyed me carefully before dealing with some of the other patients who were also acting out. I noticed that when one threw a tantrum a number of others would behave the same way shortly afterward. But these strictly sympathetic outbursts were easily controlled. A slap or two administered here and there, and everyone was back to playing blocks and paper dolls.

I waited anxiously for the time when my new friend would be released from the Quiet Room. Up to now I had made it a point to show that I was not like the others. My speech, impaired by my experience on Alpha-II and by my dash home to warn Earth of the impending disaster threatening the solar system, seemed to be returning to normal. I was eager to try speaking again with an adult?and preferably not the heavy-handed attendant.

The man was released the next day and returned to the ward. He wore a big pout and an ugly bruise as the attendant dragged him across the floor and deposited him next to a group of younger patients playing peekaboo. They paid him no mind as he sat making faces at his feet like any sulking child. His performance was so good, in fact, that I wondered if I had been mistaken earlier. Maybe the pattern he had made with those blocks was just the product of chance. There were scores of constellations visible from Earth. The odds of putting one together haphazardly were perhaps not so great. But why Centaurus? And why that particular look of cunning? No, taken as a whole, the episode was too pregnant with possibility.

My problem was to find a way to communicate with him without letting the attendant know what we were up to. That would be more difficult than it might at first seem. I was pretty certain that I was under some kind of surveillance, despite the diagnosis of imbecility that had accompanied me to the hospital. If my friend was also mentally sound, then he had also been misdiagnosed or had been placed here for entirely non-medical reasons. I still had no notion that anyone could be kept in an institution against his will for "political" reasons. I half-believed that my own confinement was some kind of mistake. But my education in this respect was about to take a great leap forward.

I found my opportunity that night. The night attendant was much more lackadaisical than his daytime counterpart, though hardly less sadistic. If he found someone awake after lights out, he used a thick leather strap to ensure that order, as he perceived it, was restored. But after a while, around midnight, he usually dozed off. During my first couple days on the ward, when I still believed that some honest mistake had been made in my case, I tried to reason with the staff. I was more concerned with getting my message out to the scientific community than with regaining my freedom, much as I longed for it. But I might have saved my breath. Whatever the condition of the patients themselves, the mental state of the staff was even more hopeless. They scarcely seemed human. Their eyes showed little trace of intelligence and they seemed incapable of understanding even the simplest idea.

I waited till I heard the long snores of the night attendant at the far end of the ward. Then I cautiously slipped out from under my bedclothes and tiptoed toward the bed the baldheaded man was occupying.

My feet scarcely made any noise on the hard, highly polished floor. But my knees were trembling at the thought of being found out by the attendant and his thick leather strap. I didn?t think myself a coward, but I had witnessed that strap in action a couple times in the past week. There may be more sophisticated means of working oneís will on another, but I doubt that many left welts the size that strap did.

I stopped breathing when the attendantís snores ceased abruptly and the cot creaked under the weight of his shifting body. White moonlight was pouring in through the big arched windows. On the lawn outside a doe and her fawn were nibbling at something in the grass, visitors from the dense forest that surrounded the hospital on three sides. The doe raised her head and listened, as if she too feared the night attendant. Then the cot creaked again, the man gave a great sigh and his snoring resumed. The doe resumed feeding.

I tiptoed closer to the manís bedside. The other patients were all sleeping, for the most part peacefully. Only one was stirring, probably from a dream he was having. I prayed that his dream would soon end. I would have a bit of explaining to do if the attendant caught me confabbing with another patient at this time of night.

I finally reached the manís bedside and gently touched his shoulder. He started, turned over and squinted up at me in the moonlight. Happily, he did not cry out.

"Itís me," I whispered. But how would he know who "me" was, unless he had a better view of my face than I did of his. So I identified myself by the figure he had made for me on the floor that morning. "Centaurus."

He immediately drew himself up on one arm and placed the other on my shoulder.

"I knew you?d respond," he said, studying my face with great intensity. Even in the dim light, his bright blue eyes shone with a keen intelligence. This man was no more related to the drooling imbecile I had earlier confronted than I was to a chimpanzee. "We have a lot to talk about."

We did indeed. Our only problem was how to do so without being discovered. So, before going any further he showed me how to make a convincing image of myself out of some pillows and a rubber ball, which he arranged beneath the covers on my bed. Then we returned to his bedside, which I agreed to hide beneath if the attendant made a bed check.

"I?m Boston Common," he said. "Thatís not my real name," he added. "Itís just as well you don?t know my real name in case you?re interrogated."

"Why would I be interrogated? I don?t have any information I haven?t already given freely."

"I know," he said. "I know more about you than you realize, especially why you?re here."

"In that case, I?d appreciate your sharing that information. All I know is, I had a temporary speech problem. And for that I got thrown into a mental hospital."

The attendant stirred again. We waited to see if he would get up this time or merely turn over again and go back to sleep. A minute passed before we again heard his rhythmic snoring.

"Listen to me," Boston said. "We don?t have much time. But you probably know that already. We know whatís happening. Some of us do, anyway. Those who haven?t buried their heads in the sand. We knew even before you returned from Alpha Centauri. But there was nothing we could do?not officially. We were fools even to approach the President with our knowledge."

"President Lynch knows?"

"Of course he knows."

"Then, why did he put me here? I personally took readings in the Centaurian system. I saw what the first shock waves were doing to Alpha-II."

"Thatís precisely why he didn?t want you on the loose. Your speech difficulty was just a pretext. We had already warned him months ago."

I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. You must keep in mind that I had paid little attention to the politics of the New Worlds Confederacy. During the Civil War two decades earlier, like most boys I had idolized the Lynches on our own side and scorned those on the opposing side. Even the evidence I had found on Alpha-II of radiation warfare?banned by solar law for half a century?had caused me little concern. I had rationalized that, when the enemy was as cruel as the forces of the United Planets had been, any means to oppose them were justifiable. It would never have occurred to me that Marshall Lynch could have anything but the best welfare of his people in mind.

"But the President couldn?t intend to just sit by while the solar system and everyone in it is destroyed," I said rather more forcefully than was prudent. Boston put his finger to his lips, reminding me of the gesture he had made earlier in the day. "The man is not an imbecile himself, is he?"

"Of course he isn?t. Marshall Lynch is a shrewd, I?d almost say brilliant, man if he weren?t so blind to everything except his own self-interest. Even there, he suffers from tunnel vision.

"Listen to me, Walter," he said, using my real name and again laying his hand on my shoulder. "We have less than a month to organize an evacuation of the solar system."

"A month? Your calculations are off by three weeks at least. Even if the evacuation were to start this moment, we?d be lucky to save more than a few thousand people."

"Not so," he said. "This is still April. By our most recent calculations we have until early June before the first shock waves hit. Even after that we may have a week or two grace period."

"What are you talking about? In April I was still back on Alpha-II, trying to survive a mammoth hurricane?." I said, suddenly stopped by my own thought. "Unless?."

"Exactly," he said. "Time lag. I don?t know what speeds you hit to get back here as fast as you did. But you obviously gained some time. Four or five weeks, I?d guess."

"I get to live those weeks over again?"

"All it means is that you arrived back on Earth a month earlier than you expected to. You probably didn?t go through compensation. The only thing that matters now is that you, and a few others like us, are all this planet has left to get it out of the sorriest mess itís ever been in."

"What about the government?"

"There is no real government. Just a bunch of petty potentates who would sooner see this entire planetary system go up in smoke than lose the fat bank accounts they?ve spent their lives acquiring, mostly off someone elseís sweat."

This sounded like sedition to me. But I had no alternative explanation for our leaderís failure to act. He represented not just the states of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. He was President of the entire solar system.

"Whatís your plan?" I said.

"First we have to get out of here. Thatís both easier and more difficult than it seems. The staff here are all Cretins?literally. I don?t know how much you spacedogs read the underground press, but these institutions have been run by such people ever since the end of the war."

"?Cretins??"

"Man-made idiots. Surgical creations. Like the Simminoids."

"But the Simms are animals, animals with human hands, maybe sometimes with a voice box added. Even so, Simms were raised up from the purely animal level. But, if what you say is true, the people you?re talking about were deliberately reduced to something less than human."

"In more ways than one. If you don?t believe me, take a look at our keeperís brow the next time you get close to him. Thereís a surgical scar just behind his right temple."

How could a government lobotomize its own people? And how could it stand idly by while its entire population was destroyed by a supernova?

"What about them?" I said, indicating the beds nearby.

"Hard to say how many are man-made??idiogents,? they?re called. You can bet some are, though. Wasn?t mental retardation cured a hundred years ago? Isn?t that what they taught us?"

"This is awful."

"Itís been a long time in coming. Some saw it even before the war. I was not among them, I?m sorry to say. I was like you, a regular babe in the woods. I learned my lesson late, and painfully," he said, touching his temple.

"You mean they??"

"They did. Luckily, it didn?t take. ?Even Homer nods.? Another week in this place, though, and I?ll turn into an imbecile by osmosis. We have to get out of here, Walter. And we have to do it fast. So, listen up."