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I'm trying to identify a short story I read as a teenager about a kind of alien tunnel or cave that the government is investigating. They keep sending volunteers in and each one gets killed unless they do certain things like walk forward then backwards or hold their arm above their head. Through trial and error they figure out about half the tunnel, then they get a super agent to try and figure out the rest. I apologize if my description is sketchy or outright wrong. This was a long time ago.

One of the analogies in the story was that if a bug accidentally crawled into a can, it wouldn't understand why it would be harder to walk side to side rather than straight forward, or that the solution would be to turn around.

Any help?

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Sounds like Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys. A scientist creates a matter transmitter to the moon to explore an alien structure. Every time someone is transmitted through, they are in fact duplicated on the other side, with the minds in tandem for a brief period of time. The duplicates navigate through the alien artifact, and they slowly learn the way through, but every wrong move kills the duplicate and turns the men sent through hopelessly insane.

The creator of the transmitter realizes that what he needs to find is someone who is suicidal, so they won't go completely insane when they are killed, and can be sent through again and again until the path through the artifact is finally completed.

He finds a man who leads what can only be described as an adventurous life, with loads of death defying sports in it- think of someone for whom base jumping has become stale and old.

There's also a bit of a sort-of love triangle subplot which really only serves to emphasize certain character points, and the bug in a can analogy is indeed used in the story (thanks Organic Marble!).

  • Agreed, the bug in can analogy quoted by the OP is straight out of Rogue Moon. The final guy isn't really a superman, he just likes getting killed (as you state). – Organic Marble Jul 1 '15 at 2:53

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