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Clash by Night [Secure eReader]
eBook by Henry Kuttner

eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: This remarkably inventive novella, published originally in the February 1943 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, sculpts a complicated feudal society based on decadence and warfare, a tragic warrior hero and a brilliantly imagined Venus within its compass of 25,000 words. "Clash By Night" foreshadows the full-length novel, Fury, which appeared in Astounding three years later. The novella is centered on Brian Scott, a so-called "Free Companion" who is a warrior for one of the competing undersea civilizations of Venus. The novel portrays what Scott intends to be his last mercenary battle. A decadent humanity lives on Venus under the planet's seas. They are the descendants of survivors exiled from Earth after the destructive atomic wars. Life for most of these inhabitants of the Keeps is pleasant though corrupt and is so detailed by Kuttner with great precision and force through the eyes of Scott, whose mercenary services as a warrior are available to the highest bidder. These wars among the undersea Keeps give point to what would otherwise be an aimless, luxurious existence in these shells under the fierce Venusian seas. As Brian Scott, in the employ of the besieged Montana Keep, makes alliances with other mercenaries of the Doones to fight a war for property, he comes to a truer understanding of the nature of his life and of his fate.

eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2002


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Introduction

A half mile beneath the shallow Venusian Sea the black impervium dome that protects Montana Keep rests frowningly on the bottom. Within the Keep is carnival, for the Montanans celebrate the four-hundred-year anniversary of Earthman's landing on Venus. Under the great dome that houses the city all is light and color and gaiety. Masked men and women, bright in celoflex and silks, wander through the broad streets, laughing, drinking the strong native wines of Venus. The sea bottom has been combed, like the hydroponic tanks, for rare delicacies to grace the tables of the nobles.

Through the festival grim shadows stalk, men whose faces mark them unmistakably as members of a Free Company. Their finery cannot disguise that stamp, hard-won through years of battle. Under the domino masks their mouths are hard and harsh. Unlike the undersea dwellers, their skins are burned black with the ultraviolet rays that filter through the cloud layer of Venus. They are skeletons at the feast. They are respected but resented. They are Free Companions--

We are on Venus, nine hundred years ago, beneath the Sea of Shoals, not much north of the equator. But there is a wide range in time and space. All over the cloud planet the underwater Keeps are dotted, and life will not change for many centuries. Looking back, as we do now, from the civilized days of the Thirty-fourth Century, it is too easy to regard the men of the Keeps as savages, groping, stupid, and brutal. The Free Companies have long since vanished. The islands and continents of Venus have been tamed, and there is no war.

But in periods of transition, of desperate rivalry, there is always war. The Keeps fought among themselves, each striving to draw the fangs of the others by depriving them of their reserves of korium, the power source of the day. Students of that era find pleasure in sifting the legends and winnowing out the basic social and geopolitical truths. It is fairly well known that only one factor saved the Keeps from annihilating one another -- the gentlemen's agreement that left war to the warriors, and allowed the undersea cities to develop their science and social cultures. That particular compromise was, perhaps, inevitable. And it caused the organization of the Free Companies, the roving bands of mercenaries, highly trained for their duties, who hired themselves out to fight for whatever Keeps were attacked or wished to attack.

Ap Towrn, in his monumental "Cycle of Venus," tells the saga through symbolic legends. Many historians have recorded the sober truth, which, unfortunately, seems often Mars-dry. But it is not generally realized that the Free Companions were almost directly responsible for our present high culture. War, because of them, was not permitted to usurp the place of peace-time social and scientific work. Fighting was highly specialized, and, because of technical advances, manpower was no longer important. Each band of Free Companions numbered a few thousand, seldom more.

It was a strange, lonely life they must have led, shut out from the normal life of the Keeps. They were vestigian but necessary, like the fangs of the marsupians who eventually evolved into Homo sapiens. But without those warriors, the Keeps would have been plunged completely into total war, with fatally destructive results.

Harsh, gallant, indomitable, serving the god of battles so that it might be destroyed -- working toward their own obliteration -- the Free Companies roar down the pages of history, the banner of Mars streaming above them in the misty air of Venus. They were doomed as Tyrannosaur Rex was doomed, and they fought on as he did, serving, in their strange way, the shape of Minerva that stood behind Mars.

Now they are gone. We can learn much by studying the place they held in the Undersea Period. For, because of them, civilization rose again to the heights it had once reached on Earth, and far beyond.

These lords shall light the mystery Of mastery or victory, And these ride high in history, But these shall not return.

The Free Companions hold their place in interplanetary literature. They are a legend now, archaic and strange. For they were fighters, and war has gone with unification. But we can understand them a little more than could the people of the Keeps.

This story, built on legends and fact, is about a typical warrior of the period -- Captain Brian Scott of Doone's Free Companions. He may never have existed--

Copyright © 1943 by Henry Kuttner


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