A scientist who has led a drab but blameless life decides to sell his soul to a demon, or maybe the Devil himself, in exchange for a task. If memory serves, the demon heads the terrestrial branch of Hell, but is only one of many in the Universe. He is not in charge of Hell, but hopes to win the next election, for he is not only clever, but justifiably proud of his work on Earth. He looks forward to providing this puny man with whatever he wants, which will take only a finite amount of time; he can return through time and resume his own ambitions. It doesn't matter whether the man wants wealth, pleasure, or fame; the task will not take long from his point of view, and another soul will be lost to heaven forever. So the demon agrees readily before hearing what the task is. It's always worked before. Heaven trembles.

And then the scientist states his terms. The demon's task is to provide the scientist with safe transportation and measuring instruments in space and time, because he has never felt much attachment to other people but is curious about everything. He will deduce the physical laws, structure, and history of the entire Universe. Oh, and he wants no hints or interruptions, so please be silent; he will deduce all this by himself. The demon exclaims, more or less, "But that will take longer than the entire duration of the cosmos!" He realizes that having been stung like this, he will never be elected to a higher position even if he still wants to after returning from so long a period as the scientist's assistant. Heaven smiles. The scientist directs the demon to the Earth's core, where, he says, he would like to resolve some longstanding questions in physics.

The story was read in an English-language anthology, probably in the 1960s or 70s.


As noted by Lorendiac, this does match with "Pact", by Poul Anderson (under the pen name of Winston P. Sanders), available here. This was the answer to Short story fantasy elections in Hell, where they note that Ashmadai is trying to win an election in Hell, and makes a deal with Professor Clipp to have him retrieve the Seal of Solomon in exchange for one request fulfilled on his death bed.

The section with Clipp's request:

‘Yes... Carry my soul along. You know the ways and methods, I presume. I wish to explore the material universe.”


“The entire cosmos.” Clipp plucked feverishly at his blankets. “I don’t want anything, including knowledge, handed me on a platter. I want to find out for myself. We can start by studying the interior of the Earth. Some interesting problems to be solved there, you know, core structure and magnetism and whatnot. Then the sun. I could happily spend a thousand years, I think, studying nuclear reactions under solar conditions, not to speak of the corona and sunspots. Then the planets. Then Alpha Centauri and its planets. And so on and on. Of course, cosmological questions will require us to shuttle a good deal in time also. . . .” His longing blazed so brightly that Ashmadai covered eyes with one wing-flap. “The metagalactic space-time universe! I cannot imagine myself ever losing interest in its origin, evolution. structure, its— yes— its destiny—”

“But that’ll take a hundred billion years!” screamed Ashmadai.

Clipp gave him a toothless wolfs grin. “Ah, so? Before that time, probably entropy will be level, the stars exhausted, space will have expanded to its maximum radius, collapsed again and started re-expanding. A whole new cycle of creation will have begun,”

“Yes,” Ashmadai sobbed.

“Wonderful!” beamed Clipp.
“A literally eternal research project, and no reports to file or grants to apply for!”

“But I have work to do!”

“Too bad,” said Clipp unfeelingly. “Remember, I shall not want any of your idiotic conversation. You are nothing but my means of transport. Which puts me one up on Kepler. I wonder if perhaps he too, and— ah... ah..."

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