In the very near future, humanity has fully harnessed the sea’s immense potential, employing advanced sonar technology to control and harvest untold resources for human consumption. It is a world where gigantic whale herds are tended by submariners and vast plankton farms stave off the threat of hunger.
Former space engineer Walter Franklin has been assigned to a submarine patrol. Initially indifferent to his new station, if not bored by his daily routines, Walter soon becomes fascinated by the sea’s mysteries. The more his explorations deepen, the more he comes to understand man’s true place in nature—and the unique role he will soon play in humanity’s future.
A lasting testament to Arthur C. Clarke’s prescient and powerful imagination, The Deep Range is a classic work of science fiction that remains deeply relevant to our times.
About the Author
Date of Birth:December 16, 1917
Date of Death:March 19, 2008
Place of Birth:Minehead, Somerset, England
Place of Death:Sri Lanka
Education:1948, King's College, London, first-class honors in Physics and Mathematics
Read an Excerpt
There was a killer loose on the range. The South Pacific air patrol had seen the great corpse staining the sea crimson as it wallowed in the waves. Within seconds, the intricate warning system had been alerted; from San Francisco to Brisbane, men were moving counters and drawing range circles on the charts. And Don Burley, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, was hunched over the control board of Scoutsub 5 as it dropped down to the twenty-fathom line.
He was glad that the alert was in his area; it was the first real excitement for months. Even as he watched the instruments on which his life depended, his mind was ranging far ahead. What could have happened? The brief message had given no details; it had merely reported a freshly killed right whale lying on the surface about ten miles behind the main herd, which was still proceeding north in panic-stricken flight. The obvious assumption was that, somehow, a pack of killer whales had managed to penetrate the barriers protecting the range. If that was so, Don and all his fellow wardens were in for a busy time.
The pattern of green lights on the telltale board was a glowing symbol of security. As long as that pattern was unchanged, as long as none of those emerald stars winked to red, all was well with Don and his tiny craft. Air — fuel — power — this was the triumvirate that ruled his life. If any one of these failed, he would be sinking in a steel coffin down toward the pelagic ooze, as Johnnie Tyndall had done the season before last. But there was no reason why they should fail, and the accidents one foresaw, Don told himself reassuringly, were never those that happened.
He leaned across the tiny control board and spoke into the mike. Sub 5 was still close enough to the mother ship for radio to work, but before long he'd have to switch to the ultrasonics.
"Setting course 255, speed 50 knots, depth 20 fathoms, full sonar coverage. Estimated time to target area 40 minutes. Will report at ten-minute intervals until contact is made. That is all. Out."
The acknowledgment from the Rorqual was barely audible, and Don switched off the set. It was time to look around.
He dimmed the cabin lights so that he could see the scanner screen more clearly, pulled the Polaroid glasses down over his eyes, and peered into the depths. It took a few seconds for the two images to fuse together in his mind; then the 3-D display sprang into stereoscopic life.
This was the moment when Don felt like a god, able to hold within his hands a circle of the Pacific twenty miles across, and to see clear down to the still largely unexplored depths two thousand fathoms below. The slowly rotating beam of inaudible sound was searching the world in which he floated, seeking out friend and foe in the eternal darkness where light could never penetrate. The pattern of soundless shrieks, too shrill even for the hearing of the bats who had invented sonar millions of years before man, pulsed out into the watery night; the faint echoes came tingling back, were captured and amplified, and became floating, blue-green flecks on the screen.
Through long practice, Don could read their message with effortless ease. Five hundred feet below, stretching out to the limits of his submerged horizon, was the Scattering Layer — the blanket of life that covered half the world. The sunken meadow of the sea, it rose and fell with the passage of the sun, hovering always at the edge of darkness. During the night it had floated nearly to the surface, but the dawn was now driving it back into the depths.
It was no obstacle to his sonar. Don could see clear through its tenuous substance to the ooze of the Pacific floor, over which he was driving high as a cloud above the land. But the ultimate depths were no concern of his; the flocks he guarded, and the enemies who ravaged them, belonged to the upper levels of the sea.
Don flicked the switch of the depth selector, and his sonar beam concentrated itself into the horizontal plane. The glimmering echoes from the abyss vanished, and he could see more clearly what lay around him here in the ocean's stratospheric heights. That glowing cloud two miles ahead was an unusually large school of fish; he wondered if Base knew about it, and made an entry in his log. There were some larger blips at the edge of the school — the carnivores pursuing the cattle, ensuring that the endlessly turning wheel of life and death would never lose momentum. But this conflict was no affair of Don's; he was after bigger game.
Sub 5 drove on toward the west, a steel needle swifter and more deadly than any other creature that roamed the seas. The tiny cabin, now lit only by the flicker of lights from the instrument board, pulsed with power as the spinning turbines thrust the water aside. Don glanced at the chart and noted that he was already halfway to the target area. He wondered if he should surface to have a look at the dead whale; from its injuries he might be able to learn something about its assailants. But that would mean further delay, and in a case like this time was vital.
The long-range receiver bleeped plaintively, and Don switched over to Transcribe. He had never learned to read code by ear, as some people could do, but the ribbon of paper emerging from the message slot saved him the trouble.
AIR PATROL REPORTS SCHOOL 50–100 WHALES HEADING 95 DEGREES GRID REF X186593 Y432011 STOP MOVING AT SPEED AFTER CHANGE OF COURSE STOP NO SIGN OF ORCAS BUT PRESUME THEY ARE IN VICINITY STOP RORQUAL
* * *
Don considered this last piece of deduction highly unlikely. If the orcas — the dreaded killer whales — had indeed been responsible, they would surely have been spotted by now as they surfaced to breathe. Moreover, they would never have let the patrolling plane scare them away from their victim, but would have remained feasting on it until they had gorged themselves.
One thing was in his favor; the frightened herd was now heading almost directly toward him. Don started to set the co-ordinates on the plotting grid, then saw that it was no longer necessary. At the extreme edge of his screen, a flotilla of faint stars had appeared. He altered course slightly, and drove head on to the approaching school.
Part of the message was certainly correct; the whales were moving at unusually high speed. At the rate they were traveling, he would be among them in five minutes. He cut the motors and felt the backward tug of the water bringing him swiftly to rest.
Don Burley, a knight in armor, sat in his tiny, dim-lit room a hundred feet below the bright Pacific waves, testing his weapons for the conflict that lay ahead. In these moments of poised suspense, before action began, he often pictured himself thus, though he would have admitted it to no one in the world. He felt, too, a kinship with all shepherds who had guarded their flocks back to the dawn of time. Not only was he Sir Lancelot, he was also David, among ancient Palestinian hills, alert for the mountain lions that would prey upon his father's sheep.
Yet far nearer in time, and far closer in spirit, were the men who had marshaled the great herds of cattle on the American plains, scarcely three lifetimes ago. They would have understood his work, though his implements would have been magic to them. The pattern was the same; only the scale of things had altered. It made no fundamental difference that the beasts Don herded weighed a hundred tons and browsed on the endless savannas of the sea.
The school was now less than two miles away, and Don checked his scanner's steady circling to concentrate on the sector ahead. The picture on the screen altered to a fan-shaped wedge as the sonar beam started to flick from side to side; now he could count every whale in the school, and could even make a good estimate of its size. With a practiced eye, he began to look for stragglers.
Don could never have explained what drew him at once toward those four echoes at the southern fringe of the school. It was true that they were a little apart from the rest, but others had fallen as far behind. There is some sixth sense that a man acquires when he has stared long enough into a sonar screen — some hunch which enables him to extract more from the moving flecks than he has any right to do. Without conscious thought, Don reached for the controls and started the turbines whirling once more.
The main body of the whale pack was now sweeping past him to the east. He had no fear of a collision; the great animals, even in their panic, could sense his presence as easily as he could detect theirs, and by similar means. He wondered if he should switch on his beacon. They might recognize its sound pattern, and it would reassure them. But the still unknown enemy might recognize it too, and would be warned.
The four echoes that had attracted his attention were almost at the center of the screen. He closed for an interception, and hunched low over the sonar display as if to drag from it by sheer will power every scrap of information the scanner could give. There were two large echoes, some distance apart, and one was accompanied by a pair of smaller satellites. Don wondered if he was already too late; in his mind's eye he could picture the death struggle taking place in the water less than a mile ahead. Those two fainter blips would be the enemy, worrying a whale while its mate stood by in helpless terror, with no weapons of defense except its mighty flukes.
Now he was almost close enough for vision. The TV camera in Sub 5's prow strained through the gloom, but at first could show nothing but the fog of plankton. Then a vast, shadowy shape appeared in the center of the screen, with two smaller companions below it. Don was seeing, with the greater precision but hopelessly limited range of light, what the sonar scanners had already told him.
Almost at once he saw his incredible mistake: the two satellites were calves. It was the first time he had ever met a whale with twins, although multiple births were not uncommon. In normal circumstances, the sight would have fascinated him, but now it meant that he had jumped to the wrong conclusion and had lost precious minutes. He must begin the search again.
As a routine check, he swung the camera toward the fourth blip on the sonar screen — the echo he had assumed, from its size, to be another adult whale. It is strange how a preconceived idea can affect a man's understanding of what he sees; seconds passed before Don could interpret the picture before his eyes — before he knew that, after all, he had come to the right place.
"Jesus!" he said softly. "I didn't know they grew that big." It was a shark, the largest he had ever seen. Its details were still obscured, but there was only one genus it could belong to. The whale shark and the basking shark might be of comparable size, but they were harmless herbivores. This was the king of all selachians — Carcharodon — the Great White Shark. Don tried to recall the figures for the largest known specimen. In 1990, or thereabouts, a fifty-footer had been killed off New Zealand, but this one was half as big again.
These thoughts flashed through his mind in an instant, and in that same moment he saw that the great beast was already maneuvering for the kill. It was heading for one of the calves, and ignoring the frantic mother. Whether this was cowardice or common sense there was no way of telling; perhaps such distinctions were meaningless to the shark's tiny and utterly alien mind.
There was only one thing to do. It might spoil his chance of a quick kill, but the calf's life was more important. He punched the button of the siren, and a brief, mechanical scream erupted into the water around him.
Shark and whales were equally terrified by the deafening shriek. The shark jerked round in an impossibly tight curve, and Don was nearly jolted out of his seat as the autopilot snapped the sub onto a new course. Twisting and turning with an agility equal to that of any other sea creature of its size, Sub 5 began to close in upon the shark, its electronic brain automatically following the sonar echo and thus leaving Don free to concentrate on his armament. He needed that freedom; the next operation was going to be difficult unless he could hold a steady course for at least fifteen seconds. At a pinch he could use his tiny rocket torps to make a kill; had he been alone and faced with a pack of orcas, he would certainly have done so. But that was messy and brutal, and there was a neater way. He had always preferred the technique of the rapier to that of the hand grenade.
Now he was only fifty feet away, and closing rapidly. There might never be a better chance. He punched the launching stud.
From beneath the belly of the sub, something that looked like a sting ray hurtled forward. Don had checked the speed of his own craft; there was no need to come any closer now. The tiny, arrow-shaped hydrofoil, only a couple of feet across, could move far faster than his vessel and would close the gap in seconds. As it raced forward, it spun out the thin line of the control wire, like some underwater spider laying its thread. Along that wire passed the energy that powered the sting, and the signals that steered the missile to its goal. It responded so instantly to his orders that Don felt he was controlling some sensitive, high-spirited steed.
The shark saw the danger less than a second before impact. The resemblance of the sting to an ordinary ray confused it, as the designers had intended. Before the tiny brain could realize that no ray behaved like this, the missile had struck. The steel hypodermic, rammed forward by an exploding cartridge, drove through the shark's horny skin, and the great fish erupted in a frenzy of terror. Don backed rapidly away, for a blow from that tail would rattle him around like a pea in a can and might even damage the sub. There was nothing more for him to do, except to wait while the poison did its work.
The doomed killer was trying to arch its body so that it could snap at the poisoned dart. Don had now reeled the sting back into its slot amidships, pleased that he had been able to retrieve the missile undamaged. He watched with awe and a dispassionate pity as the great beast succumbed to its paralysis.
Its struggles were weakening. It was now swimming aimlessly back and forth, and once Don had to sidestep smartly to avoid a collision. As it lost control of buoyancy, the dying shark drifted up to the surface. Don did not bother to follow; that could wait until he had attended to more important business.
He found the cow and her two calves less than a mile away, and inspected them carefully. They were uninjured, so there was no need to call the vet in his highly specialized two-man sub which could handle any cetological crisis from a stomachache to a Caesarean.
The whales were no longer in the least alarmed, and a check on the sonar had shown that the entire school had ceased its panicky flight. He wondered if they already knew what had happened; much had been learned about their methods of communication, but much more was still a mystery.
"I hope you appreciate what I've done for you, old lady," he muttered. Then, reflecting that fifty tons of mother love was a slightly awe-inspiring sight, he blew his tanks and surfaced.
It was calm, so he opened the hatch and popped his head out of the tiny conning tower. The water was only inches below his chin, and from time to time a wave made a determined effort to swamp him. There was little danger of this happening, for he fitted the hatch so closely that he was quite an effective plug.
Fifty feet away, a long gray mound, like an overturned boat, was rolling on the surface. Don looked at it thoughtfully, wondering how much compressed air he'd better squirt into the corpse to prevent it sinking before one of the tenders could reach the spot. In a few minutes he would radio his report, but for the moment it was pleasant to drink the fresh Pacific breeze, to feel the open sky above his head, and to watch the sun begin its long climb toward noon.
Don Burley was the happy warrior, resting after the one battle that man would always have to fight. He was holding at bay the specter of famine which had confronted all earlier ages, but which would never threaten the world again while the great plankton farms harvested their millions of tons of protein, and the whale herds obeyed their new masters. Man had come back to the sea, his ancient home, after aeons of exile; until the oceans froze, he would never be hungry again....
Yet that, Don knew, was the least of his satisfactions. Even if what he was doing had been of no practical value, he would still have wished to do it. Nothing else that life could offer matched the contentment and the calm sense of power that filled him when he set out on a mission such as this. Power? Yes, that was the right word. But it was not a power that would ever be abused; he felt too great a kinship with all the creatures who shared the seas with him — even those it was his duty to destroy.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Deep Range"
Copyright © 1957 Arthur C. Clarke.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part One: The Apprentice,
Part Two: The Warden,
Part Three: The Bureaucrat,