As far as I know there has never been a rule against pets in a space station. We had never had any pets until Sven Olsen decided he wanted one. None of us ever figured out why he chose the pet he did.
I first saw Claribel when I was working in my office. I heard a musical whistle near my ear and thought it had come over the radio. I waited for the news to follow. Instead, there was a lovely song. I looked up and had my first view of Claribel.
She was a small yellow canary, hanging very still in the air. Her wings were folded quietly at her sides. She could stay that way because nothing has any weight in space. Before I recovered from the surprise of seeing a canary in our space station, she did a kind of backward loop. No earthbound canary could have done it.
In no time at all, Sven's pet was everybody's pet. We had a little trouble hiding her when important guests came to visit the space station. We couldn't be sure if we were breaking any rule having her there. But we liked her too much to take a chance on losing her.
Claribel always got noisy when we hid her. Sometimes we had to think fast to explain the peeps and whistles that came from the oddest places. There were a few narrow escapes, but then who would ever dream of looking for a canary in a space station?
All of us at the station were on duty for twelve hours at a time. This was not as hard as it sounds, since you need little sleep in space. Of course there is no "day" and "night" when you are always floating in sunlight. But we found it easier to think of time as being divided into day and night.
One "morning" when I woke up, I could scarcely drag myself out of bed. I was still only half awake when I joined the other men at breakfast. I noticed they seemed unusually sleepy, too. Then I saw that one seat at the table was empty.
"Where's Sven?" I asked.
"He's looking for Claribel," someone answered. "He can't find her. She usually wakes him up."
Just then Sven appeared at the door. In his hand lay a tiny bunch of yellow feathers, with claws sticking up in the air.
"What happened?" we asked.
"I don't know," said Sven sadly. "I just found her like this."
"Let's have a look at her," said Jock Duncan, our cook and doctor. We waited in silence while he held Claribel against his ear, trying to hear a heartbeat.
Presently he shook his head. "I can't hear her heart. But that does not prove she's dead. Let's try giving Claribel some oxygen."
Claribel was put into a face mask. It was as large as an oxygen tent for her. To our delighted surprise, she came back to life at once. Beaming broadly, Sven removed the mask and she hopped onto his finger. She sang her song, then fell over again in his hand.
"I don't understand what's wrong with her," said Sven. "She's never done this before."
For the last few minutes I had been trying to remember something. My mind seemed to be working very slowly, as if I were still sleepy.
Suddenly I understood. "There's something wrong with the air!" I yelled. "That's why Claribel passed out. I just remembered that coal miners often take canaries down into mines to warn the men when the air is bad."
"Oh, no!" said Jim, our engineer. "The alarm would have gone off. We have two good warning systems."
"The second alarm isn't connected yet," another man reminded him. That really upset Jim. He left without a word. The rest of us passed around the oxygen bottle like an Indian peace pipe. We gave Claribel more oxygen, and she came back to life.
Ten minutes later Jim came back and explained what had happened. During the night, part of an air line had frozen and the alarm had failed to go off. Half a million dollars worth of engineering instruments had let us down. Without Claribel, all of us might have died.
Today, if you should visit a space station, don't be surprised if you hear a canary singing. It means you have a double safeguard at the cost of some birdseed.
Arthur C Clarke
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