Slim is a boy whose astronomer father is visiting the country estate of an important industrialist. The industrialists son, Red, has found two strange animals, and he enlists Slim in a plan to turn the animals into a circus act. The astronomer, meanwhile, tells the industrialist that he has been in contact with space aliens who want to open up their world to interstellar trade. Their world needs help, the astronomer says; ever since the atomic wars that destroyed their old civilization, the world has been regressing. Unless something is done, their culture may be facing total collapse. Youth is one of the rare Asimov stories with alien characters. Safe for kids to read too.
40 pages with a reading time of ~45 minutes (10029 words), and first published in 1952. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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There was a spatter of pebbles against the window and the youngster stirred in his sleep. Another, and he was awake.
He sat up stiffly in bed. Seconds passed while he interpreted his strange surroundings. He wasn’t in his own home, of course. This was out in the country. It was colder than it should be and there was green at the window.
The call was a hoarse, urgent whisper, and the youngster bounded to the open window.
Slim wasn’t his real name, but the new friend he had met the day before had needed only one look at his slight figure to say, “You’re Slim.” He added, “I’m Red.”
Red wasn’t his real name, either, but its appropriateness was obvious. They were friends instantly with the quick unquestioning friendship of young ones not yet quite in adolescence, before even the first stains of adulthood began to make their appearance.
Slim cried, “Hi, Red!” and waved cheerfully, still blinking the sleep out of himself.
Red kept to his croaking whisper, “Quiet! You want to wake somebody?”
Slim noticed all at once that the sun scarcely topped the low hills in the east, that the shadows were long and soft, and that the grass was wet.
Slim said, more softly, “What’s the matter?”
Red only waved for him to come out.
Slim dressed quickly, gladly confining his morning wash to the momentary sprinkle of a little lukewarm water. He let the air dry the exposed portions of his body as he ran out, while bare skin grew wet against the dewy grass.
Red said, “You’ve got to be quiet. If Mom wakes up or Dad or your Dad or even any of the hands then it’ll be ‘Come on in or you’ll catch your death of cold.’”
He mimicked voice and tone faithfully, so that Slim laughed and thought that there had never been so funny a fellow as Red.
Slim said, eagerly, “Do you come out here every day like this, Red? Real early? It’s like the whole world is just yours, isn’t it, Red? No one else around and all like that.” He felt proud at being allowed entrance into this private world.
Red stared at him sidelong. He said carelessly, “I’ve been up for hours. Didn’t you hear it last night?”
“Was there a thunderstorm?” Slim never slept through a thunderstorm.
“I guess not. But there was thunder. I heard it, and then I went to the window and it wasn’t raining. It was all stars and the sky was just getting sort of almost gray. You know what I mean?”
Slim had never seen it so, but he nodded.
“So I just thought I’d go out,” said Red.
They walked along the grassy side of the concrete road that split the panorama right down the middle all the way down to where it vanished among the hills. It was so old that Red’s father couldn’t tell Red when it had been built. It didn’t have a crack or a rough spot in it.
Red said, “Can you keep a secret?”
“Sure, Red. What kind of a secret?”
“Just a secret. Maybe I’ll tell you and maybe I won’t. I don’t know yet.” Red broke a long, supple stem from a fern they passed, methodically stripped it of its leaflets and swung what was left whip-fashion. For a moment, he was on a wild charger, which reared and champed under his iron control. Then he got tired, tossed the whip aside and stowed the charger away in a corner of his imagination for future use.
He said, “There’ll be a circus around.”
Slim said, “That’s no secret. I knew that. My Dad told me even before we came here–”
“That’s not the secret. Fine secret! Ever see a circus?”
“Oh, sure. You bet.”
“Say, there isn’t anything I like better.”
Red was watching out of the corner of his eyes again. “Ever think you would like to be with a circus? I mean, for good?”
Slim considered, “I guess not. I think I’ll be an astronomer like my Dad. I think he wants me to be.”
“Huh! Astronomer!” said Red.
Slim felt the doors of the new, private world closing on him and astronomy became a thing of dead stars and black, empty space.
He said, placatingly, “A circus would be more fun.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No, I’m not. I mean it.”
Red grew argumentative. “Suppose you had a chance to join the circus right now. What would you do?”
“See!” Red affected scornful laughter.
Slim was stung. “I’d join up.”