Theodore Sturgeon's "What Dead Men Tell" (novelette, puzzle, free): Need to pass test to join immortality brigade
Note: Original short story version of "More Than Human", "Baby is Three", is also online as part of one of the magazine scans I've linked in the past (I've personally read only the novel version).
Central idea here is a variant of the ancient Sanskrit story of the enchanted pool from Mahabharat: someone vastly more powerful is going to kill the protagonist unless he "correctly" answers certain questions, mostly of a moral nature. In this story, moral questions are mixed with some physics & mathematics questions too.
Story summary.A group of responsible immortals are out recruiting, & Hulon looks like a likely candidate. So they approach him with the offer: if he passes a test, he joins their ranks; else he'll be killed because he will know too much.
Test comprises lonely walk through a tunnel with curious topological & gravitational properties. Death awaits him here, & when he thinks he's conquered it, he will be asked certain questions that he must correctly answer.
- "What is basic is important.
What is basic is simple.
So what is complicated isn't important. It might be interesting or exciting--it might even be necessary to something else that's complicated--but it's not important."
- "People think if it's bigger, it's better. They think if a little is good, a lot has just got to be wonderful. They can see the sense of balance in a diet or in bridge, but they stop too easily at things like that, & don't try to balance enough other things. Or enough other kinds of things".
Fact sheet.First published: Astounding, November 1949.
Download full text as part of the scans of Astounding issue it originally appeared in.
Among the stories from Analog/Astounding issues edited by John Campbell.
Related: Stories of Theodore Sturgeon; immortality fiction.