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I read this short story in the 1960s but it probably dates from the 1950s. Probably an American or British author.

For reasons I can't recall a maniac gains control of a space ship's control room and kills the entire crew. The only deaths I can remember are two crewmen who try to gain access to the control room by climbing between the ship's double hull; the maniac finds a way to compress the two hulls, crushing them to death. After having killed everyone the maniac congratulates himself, unaware that the last of the ship's oxygen has just run out.

Further details:

  • I'm almost sure I read it in an American anthology and not a magazine.
  • The killer was definitely human and I believe the ship was a civilian vessel.
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  • 1
    Could you add any more details you may remember?
    – Adamant
    May 30, 2016 at 5:14
  • What makes you think it was from the 50s? Style? Cultural references? Level of technology?
    – user14111
    May 30, 2016 at 5:31
  • 1
    I would like to read this. May 30, 2016 at 16:42
  • 2
    It was mood and atmosphere, very creepy and violent. I read this in junior high - I had been reading SF since I was eleven but I had never come across a story like this one. May 30, 2016 at 21:59
  • Silent Running was novelized by SBS in 1972.
    – Spencer
    Feb 2, 2021 at 0:36

2 Answers 2

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I'm pretty sure this is "The Intruders" (1964) by Robert Rohrer, published in Amazing Stories, October 1964. The only missing point is that it wasn't ever anthologized, it was only ever republished in Thrilling Science Fiction, February 1973. You can read the story at the Internet Archive.

The viewpoint character is a spaceman named Harley who has gone space-mad and killed his partner MacMahon:

He still hadn't been able to find the monster MacMahon had been talking about over the radio. Harley had been crouching in the companionway below the control room, watching MacMahon. He had heard MacMahon say, "...a monster, I tell you, a monster. I can't find him anywhere.... No, he still has it.... All right, I'll try to. Out." MacMahon had turned from the radio, clutching to his stomach the hand Harley had hit with the meat cleaver. Then Harley had entered the control room, and MacMahon had tried to force him into the vault, and Harley had put MacMahon 'tween hulls.

A ship docks to his to retrieve him, but in his delusion he thinks he is being attacked by monsters:

There. There, in the lower left corner of the viewport, if he craned his neck, he could see the tail fin of another ship.

And then realization hit him. The monster had escaped, and it had brought back several of its comrades. They were going to blast in and destroy the ship. They were going to...

Four astronauts come aboard to check on things, but Harley is in hiding and MacMahon's body is hidden between the hulls. Not expecting a murderer, the astronauts split up to search the ship. Harley kills one who is searching a storage compartment, and the others realize he is using the ventilation system or the inter-hull space to move around and go after him.

"Watch for Lieutenant Harley. He's trying to pick us off singly. He’s either going from room to room through the ventilation system or by the girders 'tween hulls. Lindstrom and I are going to look for him together."

But this is a trick by Harley; he decoys them down into the inter-hull space by dropping his shoes, then kills the fourth astronaut to take control of the command chair. He the initiates a high-g manoeuvre:

The indicator on the panel jumped to 10g. There was a groan as the shock-absorbing girders 'tween hulls yielded slightly to the pressure of the outer shell.

"Captain, I can hardly move!"

"Harley must have gotten to the control room. We've got to get out of here."

Harley heard the two creatures scuttling up the side of the inner hull. At maximum g, the outer hull would be pulled to within two inches of the inner. The indicator needle jumped to 20g then to 30.

"Sir, my foot! It's caught!"

"Can't you get it out?"

"No — no. I can't move."

"Pull on the rope. Pull!"

"Can't—get out—my foot—" "The outer hull's pressing in. You've got to get free! Harley! Harley, if you can hear me, stop this!"

We won't answer him, ship. He doesn't exist. The needle shot to 40g; the outer hull sank to within three feet of the inner.

"Captaaaaainn! My foot, it's crushed, my foot!"

"Harley, for the love of God, don't do this! We'll take you back to Earth! We'll take you away from this place! You'll be safe! If you stay here much long..."

Then the needle shot up to 50g, and the outer hull snapped to within one foot of the inner. The rest was a confused jumble of crackling bones and screaming.

And sure enough, at the end he's about to run out of air:

Somewhere, far down in the heart of the rocket, there was a hiss as the last tank of compressed air was released into the ventilation system.

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  • Nicely done! This one has been intriguing to me. Apr 29 at 1:52
  • DavidW - thank you! I have been looking for this story so long I've been going space-mad! Apr 29 at 13:27
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I believe that you are looking for Destination: Void (1965), by Frank Herbert.

In the future, mankind has tried to develop artificial intelligence, succeeding only once, and then disastrously. A transmission from the project site on an island in the Puget Sound, "rogue consciousness!", was followed by slaughter and destruction, culminating in the island vanishing from the face of the earth.

The current project is being run on the moon, and the book tells the story of the seventh attempt in a series of experiments to create artificial consciousness. For each attempt, the scientists raise a group of clones. These clones are kept isolated and raised to believe that they will be the crew of a spaceship that will colonize a planet in the Tau Ceti solar system (Tau Ceti has no habitable planet; its choice—should they manage to reach it—is part of the planned frustration of the crew). The spaceship will take hundreds of years to reach the system and the crew will spend most of their time in hibernation. Along with the crew of six, the ship carries thousands of other clones in hibernation, intended to populate the new colony and, if necessary, provide replacements for any crew members who die along the way.

The crew are just caretakers: the ship is controlled by a disembodied human brain, called "Organic Mental Core" or "OMC", that runs the complex operations of the vessel and keeps it moving in space. But the first two OMCs (Myrtle and Little Joe) become catatonic, while the third OMC goes insane and kills two of the umbilicus crew members. The crew is left with only one choice: to build an artificial consciousness that will enable the ship to continue. The crew knows that if they attempt to turn back they will be ordered to abort (self-destruct).

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. It appears that you have cut-and-pasted in the plot summary from the Destination: Void page on Wikipedia, and you haven't made any effort to actually tie this to any of the details in the question. The point of a story-id answer is to show how the story you are suggesting matches the question.
    – DavidW
    Feb 3, 2021 at 4:22
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    I've edited this to provide attribution to the source of the quote and to indicate what is the quote and what isn't. Please do so yourself in the future.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Feb 3, 2021 at 16:42
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    I checked this story and it is not the one I am looking for. The villain was definitely a human being. Feb 3, 2021 at 19:25
  • Sorry about that. I really did try to put a link to the wiki that way but I couldn't quite figure out how to do so. Feb 5, 2021 at 16:40

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