Tom Godwin's "The Nothing Equation" (short story, science fiction, free): Loneliness can drive people nuts!
Couple of days back, Project Gutenberg posted this story along with 2 Silverberg oldies ("The Hunted Heroes", & "Postmark Ganymede"). I normally don't jump into the story so soon after seeing it, but one from the author of "The Cold Equations" warranted a different treatment.
This story has rigged premises, but I still liked it. Parts of it are meant to be creepy, but I didn't get any creeps.
Story summary."Earth's Galactic Observation Bureau" has installed an "observation bubble, ten thousand light-years beyond the galaxy's outermost sun." This bubble is a very small spherical structure with "hypersensitive instruments" outside the hull. It must be manned by someone but cannot support more than one person. And the lone human crew cannot communicate with outside universe because radiation used by communications devices interferes with delicate instruments.
A man is posted there on a 6 months' duty. First man posted, Horne, committed suicide after 3 months - a fact discovered only after the originally scheduled 6 months lapsed & the ship arrived with replacement. Last entry in his diary read: "it hates us and doesn't want us here. It hates me the most of all and keeps trying to get into the bubble to kill me." "No sign of any inimical entity or force could be found."
Second man, Silverman, was found alive but crazy after his 6 months; he kept blabbering about something that was trying to get inside the bubble to kill him. Investigations found no evidence of any entity.
This is the story of third man, Green. We see him deposited in the bubble. Bubble is such a tiny structure among the immense nothingness around, & it's very thin - about the thickness of cardboard (but very strong material). And it has 6 windows that cannot be closed or curtained off; through them, you look at the immense Nothing surrounding you.
Green soon starts getting frightened. He sees the beginning of little cracks in the walls of the inner wall of bubble (where there are none). What happens if even a tiny crack appears? The big Nothing outside will creep in! He begins having hallucinations - the Nothing is staring at him through the windows he cannot close! He builds a little tent inside the structure with available bedding & cloths - so the Nothing cannot look at him!
Six months later, the visiting ship will find him a mad man, babbling about "Nothing" that was attempting to kill him! And we see the ship install yet another guinea pig there was 6 more months!!!
- Eric Frank Russell's "Tieline": Another loneliness story that is driving the protagonist crazy. Only person on an entire planet doing a fixed time duty - planet acts as a space lighthouse.
Fact sheet.First published: Amazing Stories, December 1957.
Download full text from Project Gutenberg.