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They are ignorant of any purpose in life or of the existence of anything but the ship which is the only world they know. Once there were books and films, but their ancestors deemed them evil and destroyed them. Now they while away their time with futile games and elaborate spiritual rituals, Those who have duties pursue them routinely, never thinking to ask why; they merely obey the System as laid down by generations long forgotten. They worship the tree, the wind and the grass - but blindly having never seen or felt any of these things. All they believe, with their intricate web of superstitions, is that when the trembling comes and the stars stand still in the heavens, then too will come the end. But what end? How can they know? The end of their games and rituals? The end of the ship that is their shell and their world?

One person only, Jon, possesses the secret of reading - passed on to him by his late father along with an envelope marked: "To be opened only in emergency". Jon has hidden this envelope along with his treasured if profane dictionary.

One day the ship tilts and the tremor (of propulsion motors) commences. The stars stand still in the sky. All run in terror to the meeting hall where the leader, Joe, intones a service of obeisances. But Jon is missing. Recognising that this must be the emergency he has gone to open the envelope. And reading its contents he begins to comprehend at last the purpose and meaning of the ship. To his intense shock he realises that it is a space ship, now in its 900th year of flight. The "end" that all have dreaded is in fact the landing of the ship on a planet - a landing which Jon is to effect from the ship's Control Room. He goes to the room, unlocks it with a key from the envelope. But as he gazes in awe at the controls, Joe appears and wildly accuses him of heresy. To save the ship, Jon is forced to kill Jo and menace the rest of the community with death is they interfere.

Finally with the aid of the ship's ingenious computor system, Jon is able to land on a "safe" planet. Bravely he and his wife approach the exit and the new land - just as the ship's creators had intended 900 years previously.

Written by Clifford Simak
Dramatised by Clive Exton
Directed by Roger Jenkins

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