Jupiter

Jupiter by Ben Bova Read Free Book Online

Book: Jupiter by Ben Bova Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ben Bova
Tags: Science-Fiction, Fantasy
headquartered here. People can't stay out there for more than a few weeks at a time: radiation buildup, you know.' 'We're shielded here?' Grant asked.
    'Hell, yes. Superconducting magnets, just like the storm cellars aboard spacecraft, only bigger. And we're orbiting close enough to Jupiter so that we're inside the van Allen belts, below the heaviest radiation fields.'
    'That's good.'
    'Understatement of the year!'
    They walked along the corridor for what seemed like kilometers. Karlstad appeared almost to glide along, pale and slim and seemingly just about weightless. Like a ghost, Grant thought. A pallid, insubstantial phantom. Most of the doors they passed were closed, although they went through an open area that was obviously a galley or cafeteria. People were lining up and getting trays, piling food on them, moving to tables and sitting down. Hearty aromas of hot food and spices wafted through the area, making Grant truly salivate. 'Is it lunchtime?' Grant asked.
    'Dinner,' Karlstad answered. 'Your clock is off by seven or eight hours.'
    Grant hadn't realized that the old
Roberts
ran on a different clock. He had assumed that all space vehicles kept the same time.
    They passed through more open areas, workshops and exercise gyms, then a long span with doors spaced close together. The carpeting here seemed newer, thicker, even though it was the same bland gray as elsewhere. 'Executive territory,' Karlstad murmured. Each door bore a nameplate.
    At last they stopped at a door that said:

    L. ZHANG WO
    STATION DIRECTOR

    'Here you are,' said Karlstad.
    'You're not going in with me?' Grant asked.
    Karlstad raised his hands in mock horror. 'He wants to see you, not me. I'm just the delivery boy. Besides,' he hesitated a heartbeat,'the less I see of the Old Man, the better.'

Chapter 8 - Li Zhang Wo
    Karlstad walked away, leaving Grant standing alone before the closed door of the director's office. Feeling a little nervous, Grant balled his fist to knock on the door, then hesitated.
    There's nothing to be afraid of, he told himself. You haven't done anything wrong. Besides, this is a chance to talk to the top man; you can tell him you're an astrophysicist and bringing you here was a mistake, maybe get him to send you back to Earth or at least to the Moon.
    Summoning up his courage, he tapped lightly on the door.
    No response.
    He glanced up and down the corridor. No one in sight. Karlstad had melted away. It was as if no one wanted to be anywhere near here.
    Taking a deep breath, Grant rapped on the door again, harder.
    Again no response. He wondered what to do. Then a muffled voice from inside the office said, 'Enter.'
    Grant slid the door open and stepped in. The room was overly warm, sticky with humidity, like a hothouse. Grant felt perspiration break out on his upper lip, yet the director wore a high-collared tunic buttoned all the way up to the throat as he sat behind his desk.
    Director Wo's office was austere, rather than imposing. The room was about the same size as his own quarters, Grant guessed, furnished with a large curved desk of gleaming metal, its surface completely clear except for a small computer screen and an incongruous vase of delicate red and white chrysanthemums. There was a chair of tubular stainless steel padded with fawn-colored cushions in front of the desk, and a small oval conference table with four stiff plastic chairs in the far corner. The wallscreen behind the desk showed a stark desert: empty sand stretching to the horizon beneath a blazing sun. It made Grant feel even more uncomfortably hot. The other walls were utterly bare: the only decoration in the room was that paradoxical vase of flowers on the director's desk.
    They can't be real, Grant thought. Nobody would waste the time and resources to grow flowers on this station. Yet they looked real enough. And the vase was a graceful Oriental work of art, like something from a museum.
    Without looking up from his desktop screen, Dr Wo gestured

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