The Project Gutenberg eBook of Floor of Heaven

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Title: Floor of Heaven

Author: T. D. Hamm

Illustrator: Dan Adkins

Release date: November 8, 2023 [eBook #72070]

Language: English

Original publication: New York, NY: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1960

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


Floor of Heaven


Illustrated by ADKINS

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Amazing Stories January 1961.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

The three crew members of the Ad Astra looked at one another, grinning weakly, in the whispering silence after the motors had kicked off. This was the culminating point of a half-century of preparation; behind them was the satellite launching station—ahead of them, a faint red dot, was Mars.

Bryan, nominal head of the expedition, touched the shutter studs that opened their windows on the universe. They stood silently, the three of them; Bryan and Hughes looking back at the majesty of the retreating Earth—Williams, rigid with ecstasy at the forward port.

The stars were his passion and his joy. Women filled a momentary need, men he accepted or rejected as they could help him to achieve his goal. Now, as astrogator of the Ad Astra he had fulfilled his dream; and now before him Canopus, Rigel, Cassiopeia and Aldebaran lay jewel-like on the dark velvet of space.

How stars had absorbed the thoughts of mankind since the beginning, he thought happily, and what dreams had the ancient Chaldeans known as they mapped the routes of the galleons of space? And the poets.... "See how the floor of Heaven is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold—" he quoted softly.

"My, that's pretty," Bryan said solemnly behind him. "Who said that?"

"Williams did—" returned Hughes equally dead-pan.

Williams flushed under their good-natured grins. "Shakespeare said it, you uneducated yokels," he said loftily. "How come you aren't cheating each other at gin rummy yet? Last I heard one of you owed the other a million dollars."

"It was only six hundred thousand," Hughes grinned, "and I'm about to take him double or nothing!"

The weeks passed slowly. Barely audible, the computers ticked, keeping the ship on course. Bryan and Hughes wrangled amiably over their interminable card-games, throwing an occasional, joking aside to Williams watching the stars, absorbed as a miser fingering his jewels.

Mars, from a minute speck, grew to a planet lying bloody in the cold rays of the distant sun. Strapped down in obedience to the computer-given signal, the ship reversed, fired its rockets and touched down on her supporting pillars of flame and became only a shining needle dwarfed in the immensity of the pinkish-red desert.

They looked at each other doubtfully, conscious of anti-climax. This was little different from the far reaches of the Gobi plateau where they had trained for weary, boring months. Bryan and Hughes drew the lots as the two to don their heated, protective suits and explore within cautious distance of the ship. Williams, restless and bored, watched their horseplay resentfully. Even the tenuous atmosphere of the dead world dimmed the splendor of the heavens; why didn't they hurry and get it over with? He shivered a little watching Bryan and Hughes trudging clumsily in the sand, throwing out a comment occasionally for the benefit of the tape recorder in the cabin.

"This is different from the deserts back home," Hughes said. "Back there you get the feeling they're just waiting for somebody to move in, but here...."

"It's more like a haunted house," Bryan finished for him. Williams, adjusting his headphones, was conscious of a deepening of his faint uneasiness—why didn't they hurry up and get back! All they really had to do was build a cairn and plant the Federation flag. They had found a few rocks and Bryan was stooping to bury the prepared canister with the data of the flight—

Williams watching incredulously as Bryan and Hughes reeled and staggered, was dimly conscious of a sudden faint tremor along the ship. There was an abrupt metallic shrieking in his headset, a background of thundering, grinding bedlam, and over it Bryan's voice frantic—

"Cave-in! Lift ship—lift ship!"

It had been the one constant in the shifting, nebulous mass of theory drilled into them. They were valuable—the ship was irreplaceable. With a last unbelieving look of horror at the gigantic crack widening under the very feet of his companions, Williams threw himself into the control seat and threw the lever over to "takeoff" position. The rockets fired and the ship rose majestically, the thousand foot fiery splendor of her trail blotting out the space-suited figures toppling into the thundering chasm.

Hours later, Williams pulled himself up, looking around dazedly. The motors had shut off and the great ship was coasting noiselessly along the return track; only the computers ticked steadily and the air-valves made a muted shushing in the silence. Funny he hadn't noticed the silence on the way out—sometimes he had even been irritated with the noise Bryan and Hughes had made with their eternal wrangling over their cards. Automatically he pushed the forward viewing plate button feeling the familiar sense of timeless peace as he looked out on the eternal suns.

Mechanically he ate and slept in the days that followed, dimly aware of a giggling, wild-eyed stranger in some remote corner of his mind, waiting to overtake him if he showed awareness of his presence. He pushed away too, the thought of Bryan and Hughes, forgetting in the sameness of his days that he had ever been anything but alone. At first he had cried a little in his lonesomeness, but as the weeks went on he remembered only that once there had been others who had deserted him. He nodded familiarly to the stars, smiling a little; there was only himself and them, shining steadfastly above him. They would never change—never desert him!

Time went by unnoticed. The green dot of Earth became a glowing green and blue orb, circled by a tiny white dot. The computer changed its rhythm—above the control board the "strap-in" warning flashed unseen as the rockets fired swinging the ship into the turnover, ready for orbit with the satellite ferry station. Williams gazing with dreamy pleasure at the jewelled curtain above him was hurled against the port by the sudden surge of acceleration. The ship heeled over, twisted, then turned——

Williams hung head down, screaming, as the black curtain tore, the stars falling dizzily away—below him....

He screamed once, falling face down through the stars, through the gold-inlaid, dizzying, beautiful, sickening....

A year later, the psychiatrists, quite pleased with themselves found him ready for duty again; not in Space of course, but the hero of the first Mars expedition was always sure of a job with Space Authority. Now he could even look up at the stars at night without screaming with vertigo.

Tonight walking confidently along the country road, fragrant and dotted with shining pools after the recent rain, he looked up thinking nostalgically, "the patines of bright gold...."

A coldness about his feet halted him. He looked down and once again the black curtain tore before his eyes—once more they were there, the cold unfriendly stars, swinging in the empty void—

Below him.

Falling downward past the whirling suns, he screamed, hardly aware of the choking wetness in his lungs....

About him the inch-deep shining pool rippled for a moment and was still, reflecting once more the floor of Heaven.